Guest Post: Debbie DeWitt, Visix
Websites are ranked by search engines on a number of factors, one of which is dwell time. This is the amount of time a person spends looking at a webpage or site before going back to the Search Engine Result Page (SERP). Understanding dwell time can be useful for crafting compelling digital signage content and a successful signage strategy.
Effective visual communications not only capture audience attention, they inspire people to remain engaged and looking at your screens for as long as possible. The more time a viewer looks at your screen, the more likely they are to have read and understood your messages. It’s a signal that your content strategy is working and appealing to your audience.
Hook Them Quickly
A few years ago, a digital signage analytics firm conducted some research on how long people turn their faces toward a digital sign. The results ranged from 1.5 to 27.0 seconds, with an average of 4.6 seconds. Other studies show even less time – 1.5 to 3 seconds on average in one, 0.6-0.9 seconds in another (in a retail setting across all age groups). No matter which numbers you choose, they all show that you really don’t have very much time at all to grab someone’s attention.
How long you’ve got partly depends on screen placement. A digital sign that can be seen from a good distance away, with nothing blocking line of sight and at eye level, will have more of a chance of getting looks than one placed up high or otherwise obscured. Digital signs near entrances and exits also see less time spent in front of them, since people are usually focused on getting where they need to go and don’t want to block access for others.
It’s pretty rare that someone is walking around your facility for the sole purpose of looking at your digital signs. They’re doing something else, so you need to show something that takes them out of themselves and changes the object of their attention. In a lobby, a large video wall might do that – it’s hard to ignore and makes an impression. More importantly, it makes people stop a moment and change their focus from what they were thinking about to the actual space they’re in.
What you’re really trying to do is change the audience’s type of attention. As people move through a space, they may have little awareness of their surroundings. Their focus can be distracted, selective and the same as when people are multi-tasking. You may get them to glance at a digital sign, but your goal is to get them to shift to sustained attention – this is dwell time.
Make It Sticky
Stickiness is anything that encourages a viewer to stay longer. A website is sticky if a visitor tends to stay for a long time and return often. So, what makes a digital sign sticky?
Having an arresting or appealing image can certainly grab attention, and can also get people to linger a moment or two longer. Motion, like animation or video, can do the same thing. But now that you have them looking, slowing down and focusing attention on the screen, how do you get them to stop and actually engage?
One obvious answer is to have good, relevant content. Is it useful in some way? Do you teach them something new? Do you have a call to action they can follow right then and there? Is there enough information for them to take the suggested action? Make sure all the important details are included.
Design is also a factor. If it seems organized and accessible, people are more likely to take in the information and quickly assess its value to them personally. This means not only having an easy-to-read layout with highly-visible fonts, but also written with exactly enough text and no more than necessary. You don’t even need full sentences – the 3×5 Rule says to use three lines of five words each, or five lines of three words each, and you should try to never go over 20 words in a single message. And while you don’t need to be grammatically complete in digital signage messages, you do need to be accurate, so make sure your spelling and punctuation are correct, and you haven’t made any word choice or grammar errors.
And make it entertaining. It can be funny, a little offbeat or surprising. You can use one thing to grab attention and then another to inform. For example, you might show a video of a snake coming at the camera, which will probably get attention, then show the text “Snakes? Why’d it have to be snakes?”, followed by a message promoting a screening of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” at the campus cinema. You got their attention, gave them a quote that might be familiar, and then finished with specific information.
Asking questions can also get people to pay more attention. People are programmed to answer questions, even when they’re asked by a digital sign. So, instead of just saying “The Annual Sales Meeting is on Friday the 23rd at 3pm”, try something like “When’s the Annual Sales Meeting?”, then the text changes to the answer: “Friday the 23rd at 3pm”. By wording the first part as a question, the person reading it will either be interested (if they don’t know) or answer it in their mind (if they think they know), using the second part as confirmation (I knew it was then!) or as a correction (oops, I thought it was Thursday).
There are a few tricks to help ensure your message can be understood in the short time you have. Make sure that you, as the person most familiar with the message, can read it five times quickly in the time the message is being displayed. Another trick is to read it backwards. Also, make sure it can be read from all angles – don’t design for the ideal audience member who is stationary, directly in front of your screen, and only a few feet away.
Keep in mind that moving text takes longer to comprehend, especially scrolling text. One way to create movement without sacrificing readability is to have text fade in and out, rather than scroll.
Take a Cue from Websites
There hasn’t been a whole lot written about dwell time on digital signage, but there have been numerous articles about dwell time, bounce rate and other measures for websites. Much of the advice that applies to website design can also apply to digital signs.
For example, we know infographics have a 10-15% higher Click-Through Rate (CTR) on websites, and video gets far longer dwell times, comments and shares than any other media. What we can take away from this is that information presented visually gets attention, and motion gets even more.
Today’s web designers are using storytelling techniques more often to capture and maintain attention. After two or three “episodes” of an ongoing story, people start to actually crave the next installment. People might even get so interested that they start talking about it in break rooms and during their free time. Soon, others want to see the story as well, and will actively seek it out. Digital signage can do much the same thing by having a series of linked messages or branded campaigns that have a more complex message to tell over time.
Cater to Captive Audiences
Meeting points and holding areas call out for digital signs. You’re guaranteed to have a better opportunity to capture and retain attention since people generally linger longer in lounges, cafes and waiting rooms. Unlike in lobbies and hallways, this target audience is in a state of pause. They aren’t going anywhere for a while, so wouldn’t it be better if they were engaging with your digital signs than just reading magazines or checking their phones?
To encourage dwell time, you have to show a series of interesting messages in these areas. Don’t simply repeat three things or it will become monotonous to viewers. Video and long-form campaigns are perfect for this audience. You have enough time to be able to not only shift their attention to sustained mode, but actually educate and motivate them to action. Engaging messages and programming are also proven to reduce perceived wait times, which is especially valuable for the visitor experience to government and healthcare venues.
Personalize the Experience
Interactive displays absolutely increase dwell time. In fact, if a touchscreen has something immediately useful, like wayfinding and directories, it might be the very first place people stop upon entering the building. But you have to make sure that the displays are always informative, clean, and that everything works well. If this is where people are forming their first impression of your organization, make sure it’s a favorable one.
Interactivity allows your audience to drive through the digital signage experience on their own, so they can choose what’s relevant and interesting to them, and spend time in those areas. Much like a website, a touchscreen can offer multiple layers of information and messaging, and appeals to people who are used to smartphones and tablets as sources for everything they want to know – news, weather, facts, history, shopping, social and more.
A viewer who explores an interactive display can rack up several minutes of dwell time. And as long as the information on screen is relevant and designed well, the person going through the process won’t feel like their time had been wasted. They chose to go through all the steps, they chose what to read and for how long, and they decided what type of actions to take in response to your messaging. You’ve increased dwell time by a considerable amount, and it was all the viewer’s idea.
This can work with menu boards, donor boards, wayfinding, or any other interactive content. And you can include organizational messaging and calls to action alongside these specialized subjects, so while the person is exploring the possibilities of, say, a grilled chicken burrito with avocado salsa, they’re also being exposed to your other digital signage content.
Call Them to Action
Besides taking a page from the web designer’s playbook, we can also learn from how digital signage is used in retail spaces. The obvious goal here is to encourage people to buy things. Multiple studies show that people are very likely to immediately purchase an item they have just seen on in-store digital signage. This is a modern take on end-of-aisle and point-of-purchase advertising. For organizational messaging, the correlative is including a call to action.
A call to action is simply giving people something to do with what they’ve just seen on your digital signs. It could be going to a webpage (using a short URL or QR code, or tapping a hotspot on an interactive screen). It could be registering for an event, taking a survey or . This is the organizational equivalent of making an on-the-spot purchase.
Be sure you make the call to action clear and easy to do. Prompting immediate action is best because viewers likely won’t retain the information for long. Just like advertising, you can use limited-time offers and gamification to encourage immediate feedback.
A good call to action not only increases dwell time in front of screens, it continues the interaction off screen into the real world, giving you more opportunity to engage and interact with your target audience. This can transform your visual communications from a push platform to dialogue.
The bottom line is, if people find your digital signage useful, then they’ll give it their sustained attention. Great content will always be your best asset, and you should constantly be experimenting to find ways to not only grab viewers’ attention, but keep it.