Researchers at the University Of Missouri School Of Journalism propose that, since the brain is engaged through motivation, the most effective way to get readers to visit and stay on a website is to give them proper motivation, such as invoking emotion with stories and pictures. The researchers also say that the simpler the design, the better.
"The brain can only process so much information at a time," said Paul Bolls, an associate professor of strategic communication at the school. "Too much information can overload it and cancel out understanding and retention. Consuming news and advertising involves receiving information, adding previously held knowledge for context and then storage of the new information."
Bolls said that these steps need to be kept in balance.
"If a reader has to work too hard to find the stories they are looking for on a news site, it can defeat their brain's ability to add context and store the new information for the future," he said. "Keeping it simple is key."
Bolls research also looked at how people with different personality types use online media sources differently.
His results suggest there are two types of online media consumers. The first have "reward-seeking" personalities and are more likely to read news online or on mobile devices. They're also likely to engage with websites by leaving comments on stories and uploading user-generated content.
Bolls calls the second type of consumers "threat avoiders." Those individuals may passively view news online from time to time, but don't seek out online news or stay on sites as long as reward seekers do.
Knowing which audience you're targeting can help news organizations, and businesses in general, attract the readers who will be most profitable.
"In order to maximize the amount of revenue they can earn online, news organizations should find ways to specifically target reward seekers and engage them with their websites.
"If news organizations can keep reward seekers on their sites and mobile apps, we have shown that [these visitors] will willingly view many different pages, which will boost advertising revenue,” Bolls said.