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Zeigarnik effect Vs linear path concept

10,524 Comments · Web Copy

There is a phenomenon called the Zeigarnik effect named after the Gestalt theorist.  It represents that state of mental tension, and unbalance caused by uncompleted tasks.

When applied to writing web copy, it means that you shouldn’t waste your website with a slew of subjects and topics that will distract your reader. 

It means that you must stick to a single message so that you can lead readers down your intended sales path.  This is the “linear path” method of writing web copy.

To understand this better, think of the psychology of a website visitor:  When web visitors arrive at your site, they scan through the entire site looking for things that interests them. 

If several buttons and links take hold of their attention, they make a mental note of them and start reading the one that interests them most. 

Now, here’ the interesting thing:  While they are reading that page, the Zegarnik effect takes over, creating that mental tension that comes from uncompleted tasks, which, in the case of your visitor, is the urge to click on those other buttons or links.

Since the brain is unable to pay full attention to the topic at hand until those other tasks are completed, this can create a problem, especially if you happen to be in the middle of making a selling proposition when the effect takes over. 

Not only will you lose your readers’ attention, it is unlikely they will go down your intended sales path or take action of any kind, because their brain is compelling them to do the other tasks. 

That’s why it’s advisable to minimize the number of unnecessary links and buttons on your website in order to keep your reader on the linear path.

Likewise, mental tension may appear when, in the course of reading your copy, your reader comes across unfamiliar concepts or terms. 

To combat this, I employ small pop-up windows to explain concepts that might create mental tension. 

That way, readers can click on the link, quickly ease the tension by reading the brief explanation in the pop-up window, and continue reading what I want them to read.  The other way, they might be tempted to click away, never to return.

The linear path concept and the Zeigarnik effect are both very powerful concepts that many web copywriters and website owners fail to understand. 

If you’re ever tempted to include advertising banners on your website, or reciprocal links with other websites, or links to other unrelated pages in your website that don’t contribute to the sales process, remember that you are violating the linear path concept and allowing the Zeigarnik effect to kick in.

Apart from points cited above, what do you have to share about possible causes of readers’ distraction reading web post?

What else should be done to combat potential distraction your web copy readers might have?


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