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Digital Psychology

Serial position effect: Using structure to boost conversion-rate

Red, blue, yellow, grey, green & grey. Did you know that most people are more likely to remember the first and the last color of that sentence? This is a very basic example of the serial position effect.

The purpose of this article is to help you understand what the serial position effect is and how you can use it in your conversion optimization process.

Furthermore, this article will contain exactly what the serial position does, supported by research and examples. It will describe who theorized the serial position effect and why it is important to understand it.

Finally, this article will describe how this effect relates to online business and how you can use it to increase your conversion rate. 

What is the serial position effect?

Troyer A.K. (2011) defines the effect as follows: “The serial position effect refers to the finding that, on list-learning tasks, the probability of retrieving an item is dependent on the item’s position in the study list.”

This definition explains that if someone has a list of things and wants to memorize that list. He or she is most likely to memorize certain positions of that list. The positions that are most likely to be remembered depend on the list itself.

If you want to use this effect you will need to understand what it does to a user’s brain.

Sidenote: All suggested improvements need to be tested on your website to verify its effectiveness because it won’t work the same for every website.

Who created the serial position effect?

The serial position effect was named and founded by Hermann Ebbinghaus. The German psychologist did a lot of experimental studies about human memory and has discovered several different effects within this area. One of his contributions to the world of psychology was the serial position effect.

What is the effect of the serial position effect on a user’s memory?

The serial position effect is split into two different effects. These effects are called recency and primacy. 

How does the recency effect influence a user’s memory?

A journal by Murphy, J., Hofacker, C., & Mizerski, R. (2006) shows that the recency effect is the tendency to have efficacy to the last items you remember in a list and showed that users are more likely to click on those items again because of this effect.

An example of this would be looking at a long list of items on a website and going to the next page. When returning to the previous page the user experiences the last items as the most recent items. The user feels like these items have more capability for producing their desired result.

You can use this fact by placing essential links that have a higher conversion rate at the bottom of the list so more people are likely to click on those. The study of  Murphy, J., Hofacker, C., & Mizerski, R. (2006) did state that it’s better to place less relevant vital links at the bottom of the list because relevant links perform better with the primacy effect.

How does the primacy effect influence a user’s memory?

In this journal Murphy, J., Hofacker, C., & Mizerski, R. (2006) also describes that the first items in a list are more likely to be remembered because there is less competition from other items in the brain due to the limits of memory storage. This phenomenon is called the primacy effect.

An example of this effect is would be a schoolteacher reading a bunch of names from the new students in their class. When asked which students are in her class afterward it will be more likely that she remembers the student that was on the top of her class list.

Because of this, you want to put the most important links and banners that are relevant to the page first because it will most likely increase the conversion rate.

What is the effect of the serial position effect on a user’s attitude?

Murphy, J., Hofacker, C., & Mizerski, R. (2006) describes that the primacy effect also affects a user’s attitude. A study done by Asch(1946) showed that when describing a people’s traits towards subjects they are most likely to have a positive attitude towards this person when noting the positive character traits first.

An example of using this to increase conversion rates would be when setting up the layout for your reviews. Most websites allow the user to describe a positive a negative trait of the product or service. The person reading these reviews will be more likely to have a positive attitude towards this product or service when the positive traits are shown first.

What is the effect of the serial position effect on a user’s intentions?

In this journal Murphy, J., Hofacker, C., & Mizerski, R. (2006) also describes how the serial position effect affects a user’s intentions when you have a list of experts. It describes that you can use the recency effect by showing the best expert last could have a positive influence on the user’s buying intentions.

You can use this for increasing your conversion rate by making sure that the last experts you show to your users are your best ones. Rather than showing them first because this study showed that is it more effective than using the primacy effect.

What is the effect of the serial position effect on a user’s choices?

The effects that the primacy and recency effect have on user’s behavior, intention, and attitudes change the way people make choices and can be powerful. Murphy, J., Hofacker, C., & Mizerski, R. (2006) showed with countless studies that the primacy and recency effect can and is being used by businesses all over the world to influence people’s choices. 

To be able to use these effects yourself you are going to have to find out if and which effect would work with specific cases. Test them to see if they work better than your control and influence your customers to increase conversion rate and revenue.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this short article about the serial position effect and you will be able to use it in optimizing your business. If you have any comments or questions you can leave them down in the comments below!

References

Troyer A.K. (2011) Serial Position Effect. In: Kreutzer J.S., DeLuca J., Caplan B. (eds) Encyclopedia of Clinical Neuropsychology. Springer, New York, NY.
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-0-387-79948-3_2232

Murphy, J., Hofacker, C., & Mizerski, R. (2006). Primacy and recency effects on clicking behavior. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(2), 522-535.
https://academic.oup.com/jcmc/article-abstract/11/2/522/4617731