How to Deal with the Skip Over Effect in Marketing & Site Design


What is it?

Have you ever had a loud display of salesmanship grab all of your attention and then missed something useful or important following that? If so, you’ve experienced what I call the “skip over effect.”

As a number of studies on multitasking have shown, we each have a limited amount of mental attention and can only closely observe one thing at a time. Additionally, there seems to be a small mental pause before we can devote our attention to the next thing. During that moment, our minds are closed to new input.

As a business owner, you want to avoid falling into that moment where the skip over effect closes your customers’ minds to your offer.

Example A – Trade Shows

I experienced the skip over effect firsthand many years ago, working as a summer camp director at a trade show. I was at the show to recruit new families for camp.

The summer camp across the aisle was a day camp located in central North Carolina—a land of lakes, heat, bugs, and pine trees. Day camps draw from their immediately adjacent cities and are the least expensive type of summer camp. This camp had a double-width display area but little in the form of table coverings, videos, and backdrops. I liked my placement across from them because their customers were going to be different than mine.

I was at the trade show representing a residential summer camp in the mountains of Western North Carolina—a land of whitewater, clear running creeks, cool weather, big views, and hardwood forests. Residential summer camps in this area draw from all over the country and are one of the most expensive types of summer camp, short of international travel camps.

With five minutes to go before parents came pouring through the doors of the show, the day camp brought in two ATVs and a standing sign about their “Four Wheeler Riding Program.” The ATVs meant big trouble for me because they were very different from everything else on our row and sure to soak up the attention of any kids coming my way.

I watched hundreds of parents come down my aisle, kids in tow, only to have the kids climb all over the ATVs while mom or dad paused in front of the booth to hear about a camp they probably had no interest in having their kids attend. And then they Skipped Over my booth.

If I’d been on a different aisle, or even two booths down, I would likely have been fine. But I was right there, too close to the spectacle of the ATVs for people to notice the quality of my offerings.

Example B – Adjacent storefronts

Mamacita’s in Asheville

Mamacita’s in Asheville

Mamacitas-CM-final-02

The space next to Mamacita’s

The restaurant on the left, Mamacita’s, has the best make-your-own burritos in Asheville, and it has a huge volume of customers and reviews. It has bright logos, a sign on the curb, and tables out front. Mamacitas also often has a lunch or even dinner line stretching out the door. The restaurant on the right is closed, out of business, and it’s the third of three worthy restaurants to fail at this location.

The problem? The skip over effect. The people who walk by and decide “not Mamacitas” have already passed the restaurant next door before their minds are ready to consider another dining option.

Ways to Avoid the Skip Over Effect

  1. Move. This is the most important principle—take action to avoid being located immediately adjacent to a business that will suck up everyone’s mental attention. Speak up and ask to be moved at a trade show or any situation where you have a choice. This is especially true if you sell the same class of goods or services.
  2. Get sneakier.
  • Cut a side deal with the other business. This is what I wish I had done with my 5 minutes of time at the trade show with the four wheelers—I could have approached the day camp staff and worked out an alliance, where we each personally directed customers to each other’s booths when we thought the other camp was a good match.
  • Bring people in the side door, literally or figuratively.
  • Change your business to serve a totally different audience, one that is immune to the skip over effect. This, of course, is very difficult to do, but you might have to consider it if you find yourself stuck right next to the best burritos in town.

Implications for Web Design and Conversions

In our site designs, we work very hard not to waste attention on design elements that are not essential to the site visitor. When we see other websites, we’re often amazed at the equal visual weight, or disproportionate emphasis, given to items that do not increase conversions.

When a page is cluttered, or when a design element that has zero influence on conversions has more visual impact than your call to action, you can be sure that your visitors are mentally pausing after their minds “see” those elements. During that mental pause, you are missing a chance to get them to buy or inquire. In the worst cases, they’ll simply leave your cluttered site feeling overwhelmed or like you don’t have what they want.

So, cut down the noise and make sure your site lets visitors to devote their full attention to the actions you want them to take.

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