In 2000, Professor Charles Hofacker published his book, ‘Internet Marketing’. To set this into context, in the year 2000 the Office for National Statistics reported that 1 in 4 households in the UK was now using the internet, having doubled since 1999. In other words, the internet was still ‘new’ and websites fairly basic. Therefore, when Hofacker published his book, it was a huge help to the Marketing Industry.

 

BBC On This Day

What the BBC website looked like back in 2000

The 5 Stages of Information Processing

  1. Exposure: Is your content present on the website for long enough to be processed?
  2. Attention: What physical factors are there, such as movement and intensity that attract attention when visitors are on a website?
  3. Comprehension and perception: This is the user’s interpretation of the content – how well do they understand the on-page content?
  4. Yielding and acceptance: Is the information (copy) presented accepted, believed and trusted by customers?
  5. Retention: What is the user’s interpretation of the content – how well do they understand the on-page content?

But is Hofacker’s 5 Stages of Information Processing still relevant to us, 20 years on?

Like all good marketing approaches, yes. Anyone who has worked on, with, or been a consumer of poor websites and web pages knows that they still exist. So, how can we use the 5 Stages of Information Processing in our marketing in 2021?

Core principles

First, Hofacker helped reinforce that by suggesting when you design your website (or web page or landing page), you have to, well, design it. Not just throw something up there.

Second, Hofacker was clear that a website has to communicate value to your visitors; like all marketing, it really should be all about your audience and giving something to them.

Third, Hofacker’s 5 Stages of Information Processing show that a website is a marketing tool; and it needs the same amount of thought and planning put into it like any other marketing tool.

Recognising these core principles is essential to ensuring you are creating effective websites, pages and landing pages.

When to use Hofacker’s 5 Stages of Information Processing

There are three key phases that it is really useful to refer back to Hofacker’s 5 Stages.

At the Design Phase

When you are designing a website/page/landing page, make sure that your Design ‘ticks’ each of the five stages. 

If it doesn’t, or one stage is weak at one stage, it’s best to address that while you are still designing your page rather than wait until development or, worse, launch. 

To assess current web pages

Often as marketers, we ‘inherit’ marketing collateral like websites, webpages and landing pages. The 5 Stages of Information Processing can be used as an assessment tool.

Take each stage and assess how well your whole website or individual pages are meeting each stage. You can do this as an initial assessment, then expand it out; with your team agree the criteria required for each stage, then assess each page.

For example:

‘Exposure: Our research shows us that content has to be on a web page for at least 5 seconds for it to be processed. If people are scrolling, they will only see it for 3 seconds so we have to repeat key content twice on one page. Do we do that?’

To build the business case for changing/improving current web pages

Hofacker’s 5 Stages act as ‘gateways’ – if a website fails at each gateway, people don’t move through the next one. In other words, they leave your website. So, if you have the right level of exposure but don’t attract their attention quickly enough, they leave. 

We can now link each stage to bounce rates and assign bounce rate times to each stage eg if people bounce off instantly then you have failed at the first gateway – Exposure. Address this stage first. If they stay on for a few seconds then bounce off, you have failed at Attention. Address this gateway next.

This helps you to build the business case for making improvements – and for knowing where those improvements need to be made.

Conclusion

For such a seemingly simple approach, Hofacker’s Five Stages give Marketers a lot; a structure to follow when designing web pages; a way to assess webpages; and a methodical approach to determine where we need to make improvements and change. This is one to remember as it will be useful for a long time yet.

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About the author

Kara Stanford is a tutor at the Oxford College of Marketing and also a Strategic Marketing Consultant at KMS Marketing, working with SMEs to help them take a structured, effective approach to their marketing.

Hofhacker, C (2000) Internet Marketing, Wiley