Becoming Wyzerr: The 8-Second Rule

By: Bethany Merillat, M.S., M.Ed.

This is the 1st entry in a series of 8 articles centered around the research and science behind Wyzerr, an artificial intelligence company that uses playful gamified surveys to collect feedback data and generate real-time business insights and tasks for managers in retail, food, and hospitality.

In 2015, Microsoft Corporation surveyed 2,000 participants and studied the brains activity of 112 individuals, concluding that since 2000, the year the digital revolution is said to have begun, the average human attention span (the length of time that a person can concentrate or remain interested) has dropped from 12 to 8 seconds (McSpadden, 2015). This information came to be popularly known as the 8-second rule, which posits that, “if users have to wait longer than eight seconds to download a Web page, they will go elsewhere” (PC Magazine Encyclopedia). More generally, it has been applied to the time users will spend deciding whether or not to continue reading a webpage (Liu, White & Dumais, 2010).

Today, attention span is constantly in the news, with writers, reporters and scientist all recounting declining attentions spans and increased inattentiveness and distractedness as technology pervades our lives. Conduct a quick search on Google and articles such as: Tapping into Your Employee’s Goldfish Attention Span and Speaking Their Language (Barnett, 2017), Educational Dangers of Shrinking Attention Spans (Berkowicz & Myers, 2017), and Study Reveals that Online Pop-up ads Reduce Attention Span (PTI, 2017) appear. These articles reference the changing times — we now live in a world where computers, smartphones and smart devices are ubiquitous and an integral part of our everyday lives — capturing and dividing our attention in unprecedented ways. They also suggest that companies are now facing a monumental task of not only vying with their competitors, but competing for our increasingly shrinking attention.

The Movable Ink US Consumer Device Preference Report: Q2 (2014) states that the majority of iPad (43.28%) and iPhone (39.87%) users spent 0 to 3 seconds reading an email, while 52.99% of Android users spent an average of 15 seconds or more viewing emails, and 43.99% of desktop users spent 15 seconds or more viewing an email. Theoretically, emails should be at the high end of the digital engagement spectrum, given that they may contain information personally relevant to us (e.g., a message from a boss, or an invitation to a party). It’s fair to assume that email marketers have up to 15 seconds on average to grab the attention of their consumers. So, if emails are at the top of the digital engagement scale with 15 seconds, where do surveys fall?

At Wyzerr, we believe survey researchers have 8 seconds per question to collect honest feedback. This means the total time it takes for a respondent to read a survey question and input a response should not exceed 8 seconds. If it does, it’ll become more difficult to keep the respondent engaged for the rest of the survey. However, what’s most important about the 8-second rule is its correlation to honesty. If a respondent takes more than 8 seconds to read and answer a question, the likelihood that he/she is dishonest will increase.

Liu, White and Dumais from Microsoft Research (2010) created a Weibull distribution (a way to predict time to failure, or in this case, when a person will lose interest in/leave a webpage) to model dwell time (or how long a user will spend looking at an internet site or document). Analyzing page-visit duration for 205,873 webpages that had captured at least 100,000 visits each, they found that 98.5% of webpages experience a negative aging effect. This means that when a person first visits a webpage, they skim the page and assess it to determine whether or not it is worth investigating further. During this initial “screening,” research suggests that there is a high probability they will abandon the page, but, if the page passes this initial screening, then the abandonment rate will decrease (Liu, White & Dumais, 2010).

Why is this important? Because the researchers found that rate of abandonment was, as could be expected, highly related to the content on the page (Liu, White & Dumais, 2010). Liu, White and Dumais (2010) found that dynamic pages with engaging content had the lowest rates of abandonment, and that document length and the time it takes to review a page were the single most important features in keeping a user engaged (e.g., the longer it takes to scan and read the document, the higher the rate of abandonment) (Liu, White & Dumais, 2010).

Wyzerr has consistently outperformed the competition and captured user attention by keeping our surveys short and engaging, which in turn ensures they are fast, fun and easy. However, this does not just happen by chance. Rather, Wyzerr uses research-backed findings to design surveys which optimize the quantity and quality of responses, while providing an exciting and engaging platform for survey users. We know attention span is short, so we capitalize on what scientists have found to help us capture and keep it. This makes our survey participants not only want to complete surveys, but induces a willingness, and in some cases an eagerness to take another survey — something almost unheard of in the market research industry. Want to find out more about the science behind our success? Come back each week to find out more about how we use research to optimize the survey experience and make surveys that can capture attention, even if the human attention span does happen to be shorter than that of a goldfish.

About the author: Bethany D. Merillat, M.S., M.Ed., is an experimental psychologist with a passion for changing lives through research. She specializes in survey design, online data collection, and interventions to increase health and wellness, and has published number of journal articles in these areas.