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Stuck in the Middle With Serial Position Effect

Ever be listening to someone and you immediately forget the middle part. Believe it or not, there’s actually a good reason for that. A scientific one. It’s called the Serial Position Effect, where we instantly recall the first and last things to be said or seen.

You can use this method to your advantage when it comes to your conversion rates.  Let’s show you how.

What the Heck is the Serial Position Effect?

The serial position effect is where we have trouble remembering the middle items in a series. Our recall can select the first and last items, no problem. But the middle parts are fuzzy. The effect has a significant impact on user memory and behavior.

Say you’re given a list of nine items. Here’s the percentages of how much you’ll be able to recall those items:

  • 70% recall of the first three items 
  • 60% of the last three items
  • 40% of the middle items 

Your chances of getting it right are better with the first and last items. Not so much with the middle part.

Multiple Datas from Star Trek.

Which Data can you remember the most? (Photo Credit: CBS/Source: Trekcore)

How It Influences Your Memory 

Might seem like this is some magician’s parlor trick. But it isn’t. There’s a very real cognitive effect at play here. 

Let’s take a look at the two parts that make up the serial position effect: primary and recency effect. 

  • Primary Effect. This is our ability to remember the stuff at the top of a list. Most likely because we’re still very interested at the beginning but tend to drift off in the middle. It’s like when we get told a long-winded story with lots of tangents. We’re into it at first, but then it drags and we forget what happens in the middle. This plays into our long-term memory. We retain more at the start but as more information is added, things become hazy.
  • Recency Effect. This is the opposite of the primary effect, where we remember the last bits the most. It’s used a lot in persuasive speech. You leave your audience with the one-two-punch. Or like a punchline in a stand-up routine. This plays into our short-term memory.

Those two effects combined, like the two halves of He-Man’s power sword, create a more powerful effect on our memory recall.

So What is the Optimal List Order? 

Position. Position. Position. That’s what it’s all about. But what is the best position for what you want your customers to see and do?

The Serial Position Curve.

The Serial Position Curve. (Photo Credit: Wikipremed)

Well, that depends on what you want them to remember most about your product or service. And what you want them to do with that information. 

Get ‘em at the Start and Finish 

Think of the first and last position of items or visuals or whatnot as an opportunity to highlight important information and calls-to-action. But make sure you don’t overload ussr with a bunch of information.

A good rule of thumb: limit the amount of information.

Apple iOS store.

The beginning, middle, and end of the Apple Store IOS app for the iPhone 12.

Here we have the Apple Store’s IOS app showcasing the latest iPhone. Let’s break down what’s going on: 

  • Most relevant information is first. Apple ain’t burying the lede here. Everything you need to know about the iPhone 12 is up top so you remember it more. All highlights of the important stuff. 
  • The middle is a repeat of the information. The middle part as you scroll down repeats the highlights from the top with a chance to see more detail. 
  • The end is the closing. Apple ain’t letting you get away. It ends with a bold CTA to shop for your next iPhone, stating its costs and no-contact delivery. BTW, did you notice the sticky bar with a CTA? Now that’s another way to sidestep the social positioning effect. 

Anchor ‘Em So They Don’t Forget 

You can anchor users within your site or app with visual cues or reminders. Streaming services are good at this. Let’s take a look at Disney+.

Disney+ app.

Disney+ app from the start (left) and as you scroll (right).

  • Curation as an anchor. The Disney+ app provides anchor sections at the top, so you can select programming based on interest. 
  • New and noteworthy. New programming is splashed at the top as a cue to watch the latest releases.
  • Keep watching. As you scroll down, you’ll encounter a cue that reminds you to continue watching programs you might’ve had to pause for a snack or bathroom break. Or just simply got distracted from finishing.

How to Use the Serial Position Effect to Boost Your Conversion Rates

Like we said earlier, you can use the serial position effect to improve your conversions. The Apple example above is a good one to study, as it gives the value proposition at the top with the CTA persistent up to the very end. 

But what about landing pages? Let’s take a look at our Helio landing page.

Helio homepage.

Our value prop is front and center in some snazzy marketing copy. There’s also a CTA to try it for free. And as you scroll to the bottom…

Helio Call to Action

We’ve restated what users can accomplish with a clear CTA to sign up for a free account.

Survey Your Audience 

But to tell if your landing page is working, or that you’re highlighting the right information, you might want to survey your target audience. 

  • Rank order. You ask your audience to rank the order of importance of information. Such as “what do they want to know more about your product or service?” 
  • Test their recall. Show them your current landing page and ask them what they remember the most about it. Are they recalling the info you think they should? Or are they stuck on something they shouldn’t be focused on? 

And, of course, you can start surveying your target audience today with Helio. Sign Up For a Free Trial.

See what we did there? Gave you all the important stuff at the beginning of this article, restated it at the end, and hit you with the CTA. Kinda like the serial position effect. Sneaky, ain’t we?