The paradox of choice and how it affects web design

Michael Gabrian

by Michael Gabrian on 06/08/2017

We face this an overwhelming amount of times every day. For example, when someone asks you where you want to go for lunch. You probably evaluate the dozens of options in the area and say something like, "I don't know, you pick." This is the paradox of choice. It's when we face so many options, we lose the ability to actually make a decision. Let's talk about how too many choices could affect how people engage with your website.

"The hardest decisions in life are not between good and bad or right and wrong, but between two goods or two rights."

- Joe Andrew

What is the paradox of choice?

Psychologist, Barry Schwartz, talks a lot about his findings on the paradox of choice. The more options we have, the more likely we are to face "paralysis", and opt out of making any choice at all. If we do overcome this, we're likely to be dissatisfied with our decisions. This dissatisfaction comes from that opportunity cost of passing up one alternative for the others. The rule of thumb is that providing less options will result in quicker and better decisions. 

So what exactly are our limitations?

Well, let's dig up some information on what we can handle. The average adult can hold 5 to 9 items in their short term memory at a time. 7 is considered the golden number, but with minimalism being more and more prominent in web design, you might see 5 options as the ideal number.

Because of our limitations, it makes sense that we don't want to overwhelm our visitors with links and directions. The concern is that a visitor will land on your page, be bombarded with paths and links, and ultimately leave. Is this the case? It definitely seems to be, especially with the way web design is moving away from cluttered pages.

How do we adjust design to combat the paradox of choice?

So let's talk web design. How does this information effect your landing pages? Well, in essence, we should simplify. If people are overwhelmed by too many decisions, instead of risking engagement, narrow the decisions for them. I mean, will your website overwhelm visitors with choices? Probably not. But that's not to say simplifying your visitors options won't help you.

How can creating buyer journeys help

So what exactly is a buyer journey again? After you've sculpted out your personas, you'll create specific paths they will go down. You'll map out journeys from the point they arrive on your site to the point they convert.

Would it make sense to create a specific path for a visitor and bombard them with 15 next steps? Nah. Think about what actually brought them to the site. Maybe a marketer comes to your site to learn about some things to avoid putting on their website. You'd want to provide just a few relevant next steps, maybe even just one call to action. We create these specific paths so the visitor doesn't have to make those decisions. You already know what they're interested in, so you know what the next appropriate step would be.

The paradox of choice plays an interesting part when optimizing conversion paths. If you'd like to learn some of the other areas of your site you need to improve, click below.

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