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Have We Reached Information Overload?

By Edited Jun 24, 2016 2 0

Info Overload

During a typical Internet browsing session, we are constantly exposed to large amounts of distinct information. "Content", as it is described, is everywhere, and in many different forms. There is text, the foundation of communication. There is audio sound. There is also imagery in the form of photos, graphics, and video. The combination of text and imagery,  with sound, has now created the situation which can be described as information overload.

The primary message of most Internet web pages is now very difficult to determine, based on the excess of information that is presented. The examples are everywhere. Consider the news magazine type of web page shown at the top. This shows a great deal of information on the first screen of a web site. There are ads, links to more content., and other options designed for user interaction. The screen is typical of what visitors can expect when they visit practically any news magazine site. In fact, however, there could be even more information than what is displayed here.

The image does not show the pop-up window that is often shown when the visitor first accesses a site. Often, there are "pop-under" screens as well. These are yet more information screens that display beneath the current screen. Viewers encounter them when they close the primary window. Also used on many sites, including this one, are paid ad blocks that rotate content. The square area to the middle right displays various ads in a loop. After a period of time, perhaps five seconds, the current image ad is automatically replaced with a different ad.

When visitors scroll content pages, they encounter even more information. Obviously, the text content continues as the page is scrolled down. With each newly displayed area of screen real estate, often more ad blocks are displayed. People have come to expect this. Generally, ads shown at the extreme left, or right, of the content page, are quite well received. More often now, ad blocks are displayed in the central portion of the content. The may even include blocks that show new video clips as they become exposed. Depending on the technology used, such video may even begin playing automatically.

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When the end of the display page is reached, more information is often displayed. There will be end of display ads, images, and even videos. There could even be new pop-up screens displayed. In many cases, the entire web page will be redirected to a completely different page, perhaps after a period of time has elapsed.

By themselves, each of these marketing techniques is fairly innocent. The combination, however, defines information overload. Some time ago, the concept only occurred with a few web pages. Now, more and more sites are resorting to such practices. Their designers have decided that they must compete in a stimulating world by providing the same type of stimulus that their competitors produce. Content consumers don't particularly notice, because everyone seems to be doing it. They do, however, react.

Consumers now spend far less time on any web page than they did in the past. This is shown clearly with "Bounce Rate", the measure of time that visitors spend on a web page in relation to the other informational pages that they view on the same site. A poor bounce rate indicates that a viewer arrives at a page and immediately leaves the site to continue their Internet viewing session.

Typical bounce rates in the past were quite good, meaning that people arrived at a web site and they thoroughly explored the available content. Now, viewers often arrive and 80%, or more, leave within a second or two. A recent survey found that about 40% of viewers bounce quickly, on average. The rate is quite different, depending on the type of web page.

As might be expected, the worst bounce rates come from Internet pages that are related to general news or media channels. A re-examination of the image on this article shows that the information overload is high with these types of pages. Viewers feel little loyalty to such pages, (or sites), and they often leave quickly. They may be repelled by loud audio, automatically playing video, pop-up, or other feature.

Other informational sites do poorly with bounce rate as well. Brand pages, such as those related to a particular consumer product, have bounce rates practically as bad as media pages. This may be due to a great deal of information on the page. Viewers come to the page and are bombarded with content. There may be video, audio, pop-ups, and other content displayed during the early part of the visit. Most consumers leave quickly, while a few explore the intricate details that might be presented.

The information now available on the Internet is combining to make basic searches very difficult to satisfy. Consumers have a difficult time getting what they want quickly. They have to endure a great deal of overhead. Content produces have a difficult time getting their messages out. They have to compete in a digital world that is overpopulated with similar messages. This translates into less time per content item.

Up until now, content producers have reacted by creating ever more garish forms of content. Images must be bright. Videos are now action packed. Audio is explosive, and usually grating. Everything is designed to deliver a quick message, one that can be absorbed in a second or two. Done correctly, the message can entice the viewer to either linger on a site, or click a link to get more information.

Unfortunately, the current Internet situation has brought technology to a point where diminishing returns are now common. Expensive video that is attractive is less able to keep the attention of viewers. People are often forced to endure longer video ads in order to eventually receive the actual content that they wish to see. Their reaction is often to abruptly react to the process, and therefore bounce away faster. In severe cases, the viewers make a note never to return to such a site. At the very least, they feel quite negative to such behavioral modification techniques.

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