Why it's bad to assume your visitors are smart - Dealing with "The 30% Brain"

By Affilorama Group
Why it's bad to assume your visitors are smart - Dealing with "The 30% Brain"


When I first started working in internet marketing, I hated it so much.

All these cheap strategies to gain and hold people's attentions... the long sales letters, the yellow highlighter, the "bonuses", and the "but wait... there's more!"

They all seemed so nasty, and so primitive. I'd come from a background in graphic design, psychology, and technical copywriting, on top of ten years experience as a web user. I thought, "I would SOOO never buy any of these products! It sounds like an infomercial!"

My first few attempts at writing salescopy reflected this attitude. I tried to tone it down, to respect my readers' intelligence. And my sales copy tanked.

I created banners and graphics that weren't just flashing text and fake buttons saying "click here". They also failed miserably.

I created website layouts where everything was in its logical place... and then fielded support tickets from people who couldn't find what they were looking for.

It took a while, but it eventually led me to develop a theory which I now use whenever I'm doing anything for the web.

It's the theory of the 30% brain.

Basically, when we're browsing the internet, our brains aren't really at full capacity. (And when I say we I mean the internet-using population in general.) We might be just wandering around, browsing on our lunch break. We might just be looking for a quick answer. We might have stumbled upon something by accident.

We have a very limited attention span, and if something doesn't grab us, or make complete sense within the first few seconds, we're probably going to shrug our shoulders and go somewhere else.

We're also more prone to making snap judgments based on really shallow factors: Like whether the text on a site is big enough to read. Too small? Move onto the next site. Background color a putrid shade of yellow? Nope, not reading it. Big block of text on a page that looks like hard work to read? Hit your back button and look for another page.

This isn't an insult to anyone, it's simply reflecting the fact that there are so many things gabbing for our attention on the internet, that we can't possibly devote our full attention to everything all the time. We need to cut corners to prevent our brains from overloading!

But this is something you need to account for when creating your website, designing graphics, creating layouts, positioning ads, writing your reviews, writing sales copy... pretty much everything!

If you zoom in on some smaller aspects to web design, you can also see this at work. One of our designers recently created a banner with an image of a big wax seal in the middle of it, to indicate security and authority.

The problem was, if you didn't look at it closely and think about it really hard, it kind of just looked like a big brown splodge thrown at a white wall. I'll leave it to your imagination to think of what I likened it to!

And it's not just design that takes a beating.

You may think that when writing reviews of affiliate products, it's wise to provide a fair and balanced argument. Find some inconsequential "cons" to a product to make it look like you're unbiased. Any logical person will see that they're not really a deal-breaker, right?


Chances are the poor individuals operating at 30% brain capacity reading your review will think "hmmm... I was going to buy, but now you've given me something to think about. I can't decide right now. I might think about it later when my brain is back to normal..."

You may think that having all your articles listed down the side of the page is ugly, cluttered and inefficient, and that it makes much more sense to tuck them away under menu categories.

But if you're hoping that someone arriving at one page is going to click through to another page, you have to assume that they're not going to go digging for the link. If it's not right there on the page, they probably won't find it.

This can be a hard one to grapple with, because we all know beautiful corporate sites with things tucked away nicely, and how "clean" they look.

But keep in mind the intention of the audience: Someone visiting a corporate site is probably trying to find information about that company. They're more dedicated to the cause, actually looking for that information, and not just wandering the web on their lunch break.

For a regular Joe Lunchtime, if it's not immediately obvious, it's hard to lure him in.

So what are the lessons to be learned here?

  • Don't try to be too clever. If you need to explain anything (an ad, where to find information on your site) then that's a fail.
  • Keep in mind that people on the internet aren't their usual rational selves. Don't try to present a "balanced argument", particularly in reviews. It never improves conversions, and often decreases them.
  • As an associated point, don't assume that your audience will stick around to delve deeper and discover the "real you". If your site looks like a dogs dinner, it's obviously targeted at an audience the reader doesn't identify with (boys won't read pink sites!), or does something else to turn a visitor off... they'll just hit that back button.
  • But that's not to say your site needs to be a work of art. It just needs to be inoffensive to the majority of your audience, and put the information that they need (and you want them to see) right in front of their faces.

I think there's a bit of talent involved in being able to step back, squint a little, and look at your work with only 30% of your brain active. Particularly when you've been slaving over something for quite some time.

The best advice I have is to "sleep on it" and come back to it with fresh eyes after a period of time. Or get your friends and family to look at something and give their honest opinion.

Also, test, test, test. And when your test results come back and say that your ugly flashing banner with the big "CLICK HERE" works better than your subtle, artistic and informative banner... you won't be offended. It's just the 30% brain in action.


Once again, Christchurch is delving into Winter and Aletta is escaping to sunnier climes. I'll be road-tripping across the U.S for the next three months, so I won't be hanging out in the forum quite so much. (Although it's hard to keep me away.)

Keep soldiering on, you lovely, inspirational people. Keep your eyes peeled for exciting things happening here at the end of July. There will be men in tights, oh yes!

And for all you people in the States, watch out for a small, disheveled-looking blonde chick in an exceedingly family-oriented vehicle, washing her hair in the sinks of your roadside pit stops. It might be me!

steve jones 14 years ago
"Keep in mind that people on the internet aren't their usual rational selves. Don't try to present a "balanced argument", particularly in reviews. It never improves conversions, and often decreases them. "

So don't say,"This product is mediocre, while this product proves to be much more substantial" ? Just say, " Buy this product its the best thing since sliced bread!" ?

Thanks for your article, its been enlightening, as well as your follow up posts to, "why are these people falling for these terrible websites and sales articles?!!?"..

You've been much help.

14 years ago
G'day Aletta, your 30 per cent brain article smacked me on the right side of the head. Right on the money. The truth hurts but you cannot beat an honest opinion. Thanks for the brutality because you make a lot of sense. I have just joined the affiiorama community and your article is the first piece of writing that I have read ... even before tackling the courses. I am impressed. Sandmeister :)
Neo Kanobi 14 years ago
Aletta, Great and Right ON article !!!.

I think the KISS principle should apply to your site and always, always build a site with your Readers in mind and NOT what you THINK they want to read.

Great article and enjoy the sunny States....California weather now a days is really great. :-)

Kenny Perkins 14 years ago
Great post Aletta!!
Iv been thinking about this for the past 2 months but haven't found a name for it. I like the 30% brain haha.

Have a great and safe trip to the states!! If your coming through northern California you must come see Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, San Francisco and many of our other great places!! I wish i could escape California for new zealand to come enjoy winter and have some amazing snowboarding

Safe travels!!
James Pruitt 14 years ago
Great post Aletta. Come by Florida, and checkout the weather here.

I understand what you mean. I hate the infomercial sales pages. I tried it with my first ebook, and sold 7 copies in 6 months and over 10,000 visitors. Went and changed it to be more hyped up and in your face, and BAM started making sales. i think it is ugly, and most of my freinds told me to change it back, but it is what works.
What i like to do when i mention a negative is either compensate for it with my bonuses which closes the question of whether they buy, or turn the negative into a positive. Both methods work for me.

One thing that surprises me is that people don't do bonuses much outside the IM niche. since i started doing bonuses 'limited to 100 people, my conversions went up especially in the competitive relationships niche. and my bonuses aren't that hard. I took the idea from one of Mark's webinars.

Since I didn't have a big enough list to get any of the gurus on, I started just recording myself talking about the topic for an hour to an hour and a half, edit a little, create a box cover, and people eat it up. it creates a bonus that fills any gaps I see in the product, and gives me a chance to actually talk to my customers.

I can put as much information in a 2 hour recording as I would in a 100 page e-book without all the typing. give out the same information and it took 3-4 hours to record and edit rather than 3-4 weeks to type it out.
james Hadfield 14 years ago
Freshly published study of online study habits, conducted by scholars suggests that we may well be in the midst of a transformation in the way we read and think.

As part of the five-year research program, the scholars examined computer logs documenting the behavior of visitors to two popular research sites.

They found that people using the sites exhibited “a form of skimming activity,” hopping from one source to another and rarely returning to any source they had already visited.

They typically read no more than one or two pages of an article or book before they would click out to another site. Sometimes they would save a long article, but there is no proof that they ever went back and actually read it.

It is clear that users are not reading online in the conventional sense; indeed, there are signs that new forms of comprehension are emerging as users power surf horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick fixes.

It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the established sense but it is a diverse kind of reading, and behind it lays a diverse kind of thinking—perhaps even a new sense of the self.

Information that was the domain of a few scholars or gurus is now available to all.

The style of reading promoted by the Net, a style that puts effectiveness and closeness above all else, may be weakening our ability for the kind of deep reading that emerged when the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace.

When we read online, we tend to become decoders of information. Our ability to interpret text to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction could be affected.

Never has an interactions system played so many roles in our lives—or exerted such broad influence over our thoughts—as the Internet does today.

Yet, for all that’s been written about the Net, there has been little reflection of how, it is reprogramming us.

The internet’s cerebral influence remains unclear.
physician assistant 14 years ago
this post is very usefull thx!
Eric Bakker ND 14 years ago
Hey all,
Great article. I think it is all that sugar,salt and junk that computers users thrive on that may account for the 30%, haha. I love to write, in fact I have written over a hundred articles (3-5000words) to go on my new site. I have completed an e-book on a very popular health topic and don't want to make the mistakes you all are pointing out. How do I know what is "killer" copy, is there a "standard" somebody can point me to and say "Hey bud, this is the formula that works". Help., I'm tired of all these "guru emails" who all claim a zillion dollars in weeks. I spent 6 months writing my book and I'd like to be on the button when I launch.
Clayton A Terao 14 years ago
Great read! Every now and again, I'll show some of my websites to friends and they all tell me that my sites look horrible.

They make me money though, so I guess I'm doing something right.

Yes, you need to be blunt and to the point when it comes to people on the internet, it seems.

Have fun on your trip, Aletta! Will you be swinging through Seattle? We have a reputation for bad weather, but the summers here are perfect! (plus there are great pies here)
Aletta Is Too Cool 14 years ago
Clayton: Currently in Seattle. Good to see the sun has come out today! I'm off hunting a Cuban sandwich this afternoon (apparently).
Clayton A Terao 14 years ago
@Aletta, enjoy your stay in the Emerald City. If you visit any coffee shops on Capitol Hill, be on the lookout for a dweeby-looking guy submitting articles to EzineArticles on his MacBook.
John Perkins 14 years ago
Bravo Aletta!!
Took me a long time to stop being "snobby" about sitebuilding and just go with what works, it's a lesson that stands repeating :-)
George Gogle 14 years ago
Very helpful insights, thanks! And most importantly, saves time along with other benefits! :)
Justin Wheeler 14 years ago
I both love this article and hate it at the same time. Its such a tragedy that people are so driven by Hype. I designed a sales page for a client the other day full of ferraris and flash houses and sales stats. Was for a crap produ ct made up of PLR with that nauseous special offer going from $47 down to $7 with several exit splashes.

I suspect it sold well.... whereas my low key appeak to viewers intelligence has got me pretty much nowhere... I think I will write REMEMBER THE 30% BRAIN in huge letters and stick it above my desk. Nice article.
Sammie Martinez 14 years ago
Well Aletta, you caught me a head of time and I'm glad for it. As a newbie, I have the exact attitude you are talking about. I must remember your words of wisdom when I start writing.
I hope you have Colorado on your list of US destinations because it is beautiful here now as spring turns to summer.
Stephen Parkin 14 years ago
I was wondering where I was going wrong it seems that you have to stop thinking and just do! I was under the impression that people are rational and wanted relevant and factual information. However it looks like you could just say:-

BUY THIS NOW! and it might be more effective than all the long winded articles I have been trying to write?

Thanks Aletta you may have saved me a lot of time.
cna training 14 years ago
Terrific work! This is the type of information that should be shared around the web. Shame on the search engines for not positioning this post higher!
Frank Smith 14 years ago
A brain in 30%? I can't believe it but I agree and this is the first blog ever read after I have login when I registered here. It makes a lot of sense and its cool to know that you deliver a great idea like this.. It will help me a lot to test if my works is really working with 30% brain.
william eckard 14 years ago
Good article Aletta. So True. it is difficult to find a balance between just acting clever and being too salesy.

Enjoy your trip!
dental hygienist 14 years ago
Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!
Carol 14 years ago
Much thanks for another wonderful article. I am always searching for awesome WordPress tricks to suggest to my readers. Thanks for making this post. It's just what I was looking for. Truly super post.
Rieke 14 years ago
Hi Aletta and Hi to all of you here!

It's my first visit at Affilorama and looking a little bit around I found this article which reflects my thoughts until it comes to the 30% limit. The point is that we communicate with the mass and not the small intellectual group. looking for great and profund information.

Aletta, thanks for clearing this up for me and enjoy your summer trip!

government grants 14 years ago
I’ve recently started a blog, the information you provide on this site has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work.
Chelo Alfonso 14 years ago
Wow!! first visit here. Me and hubby always joke about the 'secrets' the 'techniques' the 'reviews and all the other long highlighted sales copy etc..but heck!!! we havent made any sales by following the more subtle and sophisticated path...must try this!
Tim 14 years ago
Gret stuff, I enjoyed the article and the comments
sido islwyn 14 years ago
Sigh....ya, you're 100% right on there Aletta. Thanks for the clear writing and humour.
Best, Sid
Waking Up Happy
www.carrozze.it Hot new Italian Jazz artists ,and Gregorian Chant, indie, Celtic is the new category..
vicky francis 14 years ago
Hi Aletta, Your article is great! More up to date content than the great internet gurus. Thank you for your great advice and I know it comes from great experience.

Just started on this site and your info is well received.
Eamonn Riley 14 years ago
Great article! I've spent far too long trying to be subtle. I think the problem often is that because I know a lot sales 'content' is often just a series of triggers, prompts and hype I tend to assume that because I can 'see through it' others might be somehow offended by it. But if I'm honest I have to admit that even I'm a sucker for a good squeeze page with all the bells and whistles and with a picture of a pig sh*tting money. I am fascinated by how compelling it can be even when I have no intention of signing up or buying - even given the '25 year money-back guarantee plus $2000' if I haven't made six figures over the weekend. The truth is I know I'm being led up the garden path and I know I won't be able to close the page without a special offer popping up - just for me of course - and I know that what I'm really looking for is in my own back yard, (or possibly in a back yard somewhere in Kansas) BUT for the 20 minutes or so when I'm supposed to be 'closing down' I am entertained - so for a brief moment like Homer the happy switch is thrown in my brain by all the bright copy and buttons and the dolphins are released, and I am drawn in. I can't ever recall being seduced by subtlety. I much prefer the full on approach...or your money back!
Tim Losee 14 years ago
You caught me just as I was about to create my very first web site. You probably saved me from getting super frustrated and possibly quitting. Thank you! Now I have a greater idea of how to approach my first website. Your awesome!
Fiona McCrostie 13 years ago
Hi Aletta, as some one who has gone through art school and then design at university I can totally relate! Forget being subtle and aesthetically beautiful! Yep the 30% brain definitely exists and I am probably guilty of it myself...I do believe we are programed these days for a quick fix or we just move on(to the next website). Thanks for a great article.
Larry Czaplyski 13 years ago
I don't agree with "Don't try to present a "balanced argument", particularly in reviews."

Why? I was recently looking for reviews for a software product. I couldn't find any on Amazon so I punched in the name and word "reviews" in Google. I got lots of reviews but they were all positive. Then I realized all I was reading were affiliate sites. I gave up!
George Edwards 12 years ago
Hi Alette - my problem is that I would never buy from a sales letter that had those awful tacky buy now buttons, 'limited offer', and dubious testimonials. It makes me wonder if most of the people buying this stuff are stupid, desperate or elderly and just starting to get senile. i.e. not that they are using 30% of their brain - their brain is 30% of what it should be. If they are buying stuff and not really going into any detail - the indications are that they are not informed, buying out of desparation - and the products being sold are just repeatedly taking advantage of a vulnerable minority who can be convinced to e.g. waste their retirement pot. Does anyone have an idea of the age profile of the typical IM product purchaser?