Heuristics are defined as ‘experience-based techniques for problem solving, learning, and discovery’. There are several types of heuristics such as the recognition heuristic that forces your decision based on familiarity. So if you are not familiar with me but are familiar with someone like Chris Brogan, then you most likely will turn to him for help.
There are also availability heuristics that influence a decision based on history and likelihood. So for example, you would not be inclined to worry about blizzards in Los Angeles but you would be cautious about earthquakes. A blizzard could happen but because your mind cannot tie a past occurrence or threat, you don’t think the event is able to happen.
So what does this have to do with content?
When we create content in whatever form we choose, we make an attempt to reach an audience and immerse them in it. We often think of what type of job our target prospect holds, or where they are located or maybe even what they do in their spare time. But we don’t often think of how the mind will process what we are trying to tell it.
We all have heuristic traits whether we recognize it or not. I recently bought new tires for my car and was presented with 2 options: Toyo and Continental. Now I have never heard of Toyo so my natural instinct was to choose the Continental even though they were more expensive and the sales person said he preferred the Toyos. My mind led me to what was familiar.
Now there are plenty of ways we can train ourselves to be more open-minded and branch out from the familiar, to dare to consider the impossible. But how can we create content that reaches people when they block it out?
The simple way to overcome and conquer heuristics that exist is to create some rules for your content. This means your website, your blog posts, your print collateral, everything. Here are some ideas to get you started on creating your own set of rules:
1. Remove the guesswork. If your users are trying to guess what you want them to do next, when your system will be back on, why something didn’t work, etc. then you are enabling them to come to their own conclusions. Remove the guesswork and enforce transparency.
2. Become recognizable. In your content, be consistent with look and feel and even the images you present. Changing or updating your logo every few months is not going to help. Consider how to make things recognizable so your audience is instantly connecting items that were meant to be connected.
3. Keep it simple. I love a great design as much as the next guy or gal, but I value simplicity a little bit more. By keeping things simple, your audience is navigating and consuming in a natural way without distraction.
4. Make connections easy. It’s been said but I will say it again, you should have an easy way for people to contact you on each and every single thing you put out. And please don’t just use a wed form. Give them your phone number and an email.
5. Define the rules for finding content. Have you conducted a usability test? If not, then start doing some research and set one up. Determine 5-10 things that you intend for people to do on your site whether that’s read your latest blog post, sign up for a newsletter, watch a demo, etc and make some assumptions about how long it should take from start to finish to complete the task. Were you right?
When searching for a solution, we will gravitate towards the familiar and leave the unknown un-clicked. Or worse, we may never be able to figure out what it is you want us to do or click on because we are making a decision and your answer doesn’t match. Try defining some rules for your organization and see how your content marries up.
Are you passing the heuristics test? What are you going to do about it?