Tactic #37 - Remove the Category drop-down menu from your homepage

Tactic_Remove the Category drop-down menu from your homepage


The category bars and their drop-down menus are standard on most websites, but it's not always the best way to present the product category. These drop-down menus often offer a poor user experience, with very little information, no pictures and often they can disappear before a user has been able to click on their chosen category.

Therefore, removing the categories from the menu bar and the drop-down menus and instead highlighting your categories on the page itself will have more impact on your users. The list of categories should contain at least a title and an image, and ideally a quick description. This will help your visitors to have a visual overview of the type of products that are available on your site and they will be more inclined to click and continue their visit.


  • The Split-attention Effect (Tarmizi & Sweller, 1988)
  • Paradox of Choice (Schwartz, 2004)
  • Intention and Self-regulation (Gollwitzer, 1993-1999)
  • Picture Superiority Effect (Paivio, 1971; Hockey, 2008)

The Research

The Split-attention Effect

The Split-attention Effect occurs when sources of information that are mutually dependent for comprehension are separated either spatially or temporally. For example, if you need both a diagram and written text to understand an instruction but these are given to you separately or at different times, you will find it much harder to digest and understand the information. Whereas if both the text and the image are integrated into one visual then this speeds up the process of comprehension and lightens the demands on your brain.

The Split-attention Effect is especially applicable to learning environments and techniques. Students who are given learning materials that combine all required information into one easy-to-read document will learn faster – and retain knowledge for longer - than those who have to take in the same information from multiple sources.

If you were trying to put together a flat-pack piece of furniture and they provided you with the diagrams on one piece of paper and all the instructions and text on a separate piece of paper so you had to keep moving your attention from one to the other to understand – it would be much harder to follow. Integrating the diagrams and related text into one document on which you can concentrate all your attention will give a much greater chance of understanding and success.

Equally, if you’re trying to sell something online and your customer requires 2 or 3 pieces of information from you in order to feel confident that they are making a correct purchase or decision on your site, then all this information needs to be presented clearly and in one location so that they don’t have to search for it themselves and risk having their attention taken elsewhere.

Paradox of Choice

The Paradox of Choice principle is explored by the American psychologist Barry Schwartz in his book The Paradox of Choice – Why more is less (2004). Schwartz shows how, instead of increasing our capacity to make a decision, an abundance of choice can often lead to feelings of anxiety, loneliness and depression. Even if we might believe we’d be happier if given a larger range of choices in everyday life, we actually make better decisions and end up happier and more satisfied when fewer options are presented to us. Reducing choices will reduce consumer anxiety as too many options is overwhelming for our brains and, having to choose just one option from a large selection of “desirable” options often leads us to feel unsatisfied and hung up on those other possibilities we missed out on. The more choices we are given, the higher our expectations become and the lower our sense of final accomplishment and satisfaction. It can even lead to “suspended action”, where we are so overwhelmed by the choice on offer that we fail to make a decision at all.

This sensation is well known to all during those Christmas shopping trips where we wander aimlessly without a set idea of what we need to purchase in mind and ultimately end up not having bought anything as we spent the whole time deliberating over all the different options on offer. Online dating is also a current example of this Paradox of choice as we are given so many potential matches that we never feel as though we have found “the right one” yet and so continue searching endlessly; rather than considering each profile in terms of its own “potential satisfaction”, we are instead caught up thinking of all the other profiles yet to discover and are constantly worried we are missing out on something better.

The Paradox of Choice is often applied in the world of sales and marketing as it can greatly affect consumer purchase decisions. Whether shopping in store or online, customers can often be put off making that final purchase if shown too many products or if too much cognitive effort is required of them to make a decision. Under this cognitive pressure, customers will tend to either turn away from making any purchase or make a decision that will ultimately leave them feeling unsatisfied. It’s therefore incredibly important to ensure that it is as simple as possible for your customers to make a choice so that they don’t feel overwhelmed and so their final decision is satisfactory for both them and you.

Intention and Self-regulation

Intention and Self-regulation, notably studied by Gollwitzer first in 1993, proves that setting an intention about how you will reach a certain goal can double or even triple your chances of reaching it. In order to this, the “Implementation Intention” is utilised and follows this set wording: “If (such and such occurs) then (I will take the following steps)…”. Putting your intention in to this set “if - then” formula leads to an objective more likely being achieved than when motivation and desire alone are relied upon. For example, we may be highly motivated to get rid of our bad habits or alter a certain behavioural pattern but it is still difficult to initiate these changes or indeed to maintain them.

Setting a precise intention - or “plan” - greatly increases the likelihood that you will act upon your motivations because then they are connected to something precise such as a future date, situation, happening, etc., which makes them more solid and supplies future triggers. The intention you have set is registered in your brain and can therefore be carried out with the least amount of conscious reflection. You already have the mental representation of your future actions available to you which makes it much easier to actually carry them out. This type of Implementation Intention is particularly effective when used for long-term goals that can be difficult to get started on (such as losing weight, eating healthier, passing exams, doing regular exercise, keeping the house tidier, etc.).

Several scientific experiments have proven the success of this Intention and Self-regulation strategy. One of these, published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, studied the frequency with which three groups of participants (chosen at random with no criteria for initial physical health) exercised over a period of two weeks. Each group was given different instructions before starting: group 1 (witness group) was given a random text to read (not to do with sporting activity at all) and then told to keep track of any exercise they did over the 2 week period; group 2 (motivation group) was given a text on the benefits of sport and the dangers of not exercising regularly and then also asked to keep track of their exercise levels the same as group 1; group 3 (intention group) was not only given the same text as group 2 to read but was also asked to say out loud how often they intended to exercise over the following 2 weeks. The results showed that 91% of group 3 (the intention group) exercised at least once each week, in contrast to 35% of group 2 and 38% of group 1. This clearly shows that being motivated is no greater help than having no motivation at all in fact, and only setting a solid intention will give you an advantage for successfully carrying out an objective.

This principle has numerous professional applications, whether to help your business reach certain goals or indeed to encourage customers to act (or react) in a certain way. For example, to encourage people to use and continue to sign up for a gym membership, it would be more effective to provide them with clear goals and intentions - for example, a list of monthly weight-loss goals or exercise regimes for them to follow each week. This will keep a clear intention in mind and be more likely to turn motivation in to action and achievement.

Picture Superiority Effect

Picture Superiority Effect relates to the fact that the human brain learns and retains information much better when it comes in the form of images rather than words and therefore visual sources can have a much greater and more lasting impact than text. This is where the phrase “a picture paints a thousand words” comes from. Allan Paivio (1971) explains this principle with the theory of “dual coding”: that we retain images better than words because they are coded twice in our memory. Paivio explains that our memories take in information using two different codes: “verbal” codes and “image” codes. When we’re presented with an image it generates both a verbal and an image code (taking the visual image and generating a verbal code using an associated word or phrase) whereas when we’re presented with something that is solely verbal it only generates the one verbal code. When our brain then wants to retrieve information, it finds it easier to locate the images because they have been “dual coded”. This is why we find it both easier to memorise and then later remember information that is presented in a visual manner.

Hockey carried out an experiment in 2008 to demonstrate the Picture Superiority Effect. He asked participants to memorise both random pairs of words and random pairs of images. He then rearranged the pairs so that some of them were no longer with their original partners and asked the participants to identify those that had changed and those that hadn’t. The results overwhelmingly showed that people were able to identify the original image pairings much easier than the word pairings.

Picture Superiority Effect can be utilised in many ways: it is certainly an aid for learning environments to help people learn and retain information more easily, but it can also be highly effective when applied in communications, marketing or advertising to help your message be absorbed better and retained for longer.

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