How can attention research make your SaaS more magnetic

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Back in the days, before the Internet was in our pockets and businesses didn’t change their headlines every 3 seconds, some of our greatest thinkers paid much attention towards understanding how attention works.

This attention economy phenomenon is as old as the world. Our ability to capture and maintain the attention of an audience whether that’s art, politics or one’s children is ancient.

It’s cliche these days to complain about how we are being bombarded with umpteen sales messages every second and how the Internet has turned into a distraction machine.

Instead of resisting this resource-rich environment, I suggest we do our best in understanding how attention works and use it to our advantage.

Let’s do just that.

Why should you care about all this attention stuff?

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Resonance does not happen without getting your users attention, first.

Our minds are incredibly fast. They process information at very high speeds. For example, once we see an object, it takes our brain as fast as 50 milliseconds to generate an emotion.  That’s fast. And automatic.

We rely on unconscious processing and first impressions to label and sort things out. Some say we decide what we like even before we know what we’re looking at.

Attention is not only about focusing on information, but also to ignore irrelevant stuff. There are always competing motivators that pull us away from our current goals.

Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.

        Cal Newport

The more, the better?

Not always. Barry Schwartz in The Paradox of Choice explains how this intuition is backward. Barry believes that “more is less.” I believe there’s a fine balance between “too much” and “too little.” We don’t want to spend days deciding on a note-taking app when what we want is making a grocery list.

A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.

        Herbert Simon

What makes us decide we like certain things VS others?

Many processes are involved in this, but a lot of it comes to first impressions and aesthetics. For example, Tinder caters to our first impressions bias ( the Halo Effect ). Aesthetics is a significant influencer in what makes users decide to swipe left or right. Tinder is currently processing more than 1.2 billion swipes per day. Not bad.

In the age of screens, there is nothing superficial about beauty.

        Shlomo Benartzi

Yes, but you’re judging the book by its cover

Book covers are purposely designed to summarize a book’s content. They help the reader learn what the book is called, the genre and who wrote it. In the end, that’s precisely what book covers must do, help the reader judge the book.  

You can only give your first customers a good first experience once. It either happens or it doesn’t.

        Patrick Campbell

Why understanding visual attention is essential to your SaaS marketing

Every day, we spend more and more of our time doing activities that involve screens. Having an understanding of how we react to visual stimuli is very important in this online visual world.  

Moreover, since every business is now a digital business, getting people to look at the stuff you want them to look at is an incredibly valuable skill.

What is visual attention?

Countless variables go into what constitutes human attention. I’ll keep this blog post focused on SaaS products and online behavior.

Generally speaking, visual attention is a process that selectively filters visual information. For example, in advertising, attention can be defined as: interrupting attention and fixing it on the thing that’s being sold.

Think of attention as a highlighter.  The yellow ones we used to highlight physical books? As we go through the book, we stress pieces of information so that later, they stand out.

It implies withdrawal from some things to deal effectively with others.

        E. Bruce Goldstein

What grabs attention?

There are a lot of orienting visual reflexes that consistently benefit us throughout our lives. Here are some general things that capture our attention:

Noise / Sound

Some message pop-pup sound, a video starts playing. Bah...

Sudden Movement

Call to Action buttons who bounce up and down.


People laughing together at the same thing forms an immediate connection. We like connection. We pay attention to what we like.


We are wired for stories. Tragic ones, successful ones.


Mystery, Controversy, Puzzles.  These irritate our brains causing the grey cells to do a neurological disco dance.

80/20 understanding on the five most researched Visual Biases

Every time we make a decision we are using many visual biases such as size, salience, position, emotional stimuli, predictability, and many others. Some biases can be minimized while others are unavoidable.

The Attentional Bias

The Attentional Bias suggests that we tend to be affected by our recurring, in the moment thoughts.

This eye tracking study on attentional bias asked people to fixate on one point for 1000ms and then move their eyes up to the next slide.

Results showed that people who are anxious have a bias towards threats ( the angry face ). For example, what anxious people fear most will immediately seize their attention. Also, people who are more depressed are drawn to more negative information.

If we are more of the cheerful type, we are immediately drawn to the smiley face. Addicts are biased towards their favorite drug. Smokers pick up on smoking-related cues around them very quickly, due to their positive associations with smoking.

Our in the moment emotional states massively influence what we put our attention on.

Basecamp understands this:

Why are we drawn to what’s in the center of the screens?

The middle bias. This study on reward-based crowdfunding found that the middle-option was chosen, even when the investment scale was increased. Backers stuck to the middle option.

Mainly, what is chosen often depends on how the choice is presented. And yes, design influences choices, even unintentionally.

MailChimp understands this:

Look here, look there

Visual Cues. A visual cue is a signal that our brains picks out from the environment when something stands out. It indicates the state of that something.

CrazyEgg understands this:

Did you see that thing over there?

Eye Gazing. Eyes convey vast amounts of information. From the direction of our attention to our beliefs and desires. In real life, eye gazing is helping us communicate better. For example, staring at someone usually implies a request and comes with the expectation of a response.

Seth Godin understands this:

Dancing basketball gorillas

Inattentional blindnes. What is inattentional blindness? Well, other than sounding really official, Wikipedia says:

Inattentional blindness, also known as perceptual blindness, is a psychological lack of attention that is not associated with any vision defects or deficits.


Meaning, when we fail to perceive an unexpected stimulus that is right in front of our face.

Have you seen this experiment with the dancing gorilla?

One of the reasons why we miss that gorilla is because a gorilla showing up in the middle of a basketball game is pretty unlikely to happen in a real-world setting.

How to get your users attention?

Make their pain point or desire obvious

Don’t make them read an essay on how your product works. It’s not that reading is old school, but that your first contact with your users should not be about deep thinking. It should feel more like a casual, easy going first touch.

Tweak your headlines and titles to emphasize information relevant to your user's current mental state.

Evernote understands this:

Keep your communication snappy

If you have to choose between being creative or being clear, go for clarity.

The Attention Ratio (Schwartz, 2004; Kahneman, 2011)  study suggests we respond better to clear, direct and easy-to-understand messages.

Do your best to make your marketing messages easy to scan. Processing Efficacy (Jacoby & Dallas, 1981) suggests we be quick in our presentations. The shorter, the more memorable.

These four letter brands understand this:
“If you confuse, you’ll lose.”

         Don Miller

Make them feel something…

… anything. Any emotion is better than no emotion. We are drawn to ideas that come with an embedded feeling. It doesn’t matter if the emotion is good or bad —we pay attention to whatever is making us feel something.

The affect heuristic gained early attention in 1980 when Robert B. Zajonc suggested that people base their judgments not only on what they think about their decision but also on how they feel about it.

Slack understand this:
People smiling, collaborating and bonding via The Internets.

Make your most important information move

Movement steals our attention. Video is an engaging medium, but most of the times it feels a bit like too much of a commitment. “Where is that play button! Now I have to scroll to where I’m interested.  Put it on 2x. Bah…”

Use Gifs

Using gifs strikes that delicate balance between “too much” or “too little” movement.

Keep it subtle, yes?

How does your SaaS measure up?

There are various tools out there for gathering second opinions and pass a couple of user tests. Use them to better understand how users interact with your product or landing page.

Check ‘em:


Eye tracking tool that identifies exactly what people are focusing on.


EyeQuant uses a combination of leading neuroscience research and powerful AI to predict in real time how users will engage and react to any design, on any device.


UsabilityHub have a great platform for reciprocal reviewing of designs. So you can screenshot yours and upload it into Fivesecondtest. From there you can either decide to pay for user tests or gather up points by reviewing the work of others.


They use Heatmaps to help you see what people care about on your web page, and what they don’t even notice (especially if they should).

User Testing

“In just two hours, capture the critical human insight you need to confidently deliver what customers want and expect.”

“With UserTesting’s on-demand platform, you uncover ‘the why’ behind customer interactions. By understanding intent, you improve experiences, driving greater satisfaction and loyalty.”


Intro to Hotjar... in 60 seconds

In closing

Online users have become smart, sophisticated sifters. They have tried dozens if not hundreds of online products. Their filtering system has become very precise,  instantly blocking out information that is not relevant to their current goals.

Rather than blaming The Distraction Machine, ADD or all those loud mouth marketers, we want to accept that, as humans, we tend to make decisions based on our current schemas.

It's not that we are distracted, but there are not enough interesting messages to capture our attention.

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How can attention research make your SaaS more magnetic

Back in the days, before the Internet was in our pockets and businesses didn’t change their headlines every 3 seconds, some of our greatest thinkers paid much attention towards understanding how attention works.

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