Content is the key to successful marketing, right? Well, yes. Marketers have communicated and been told for years about the importance of using content to drive conversions, build communities, and get more eyes on your Web site.
While content works, the only mantra that has ever been endorsed is “more.” Now, some are starting to ask if there is such a thing as too much content.
Information overload is nothing new, of course. Some people have warned of its dangers ever since the printing press was invented. But the overload today is much different and more acute.
Information overload in the current context was hypothesised more than a decade ago in academic literature, where scholars noted that digital information overload threatens the delicate balance of accessing information, using and modifying it, and putting it to beneficial use.
According to one source in the United Kingdom, in 2000, there were just 23 blogs listed on the Internet; by 2006, that number had grown to 50 million. Other sources say that in 2019, more than 293 billion business and consumer e-mails were sent each day, with more than 500 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute and 500 million tweets posted daily.
Let’s look at information overload in more detail and what can be done to slow it.
“Information overload” defined
If you’re wondering how to prevent information overload, the first step is to understand it.
The term “information overload” was coined by a professor of political science, Bertram Gross, in 1964 — a time that coincided with the early days of computing. Information overload is what happens when too much information is available to a person who needs to complete a task or make a decision. The overwhelming amount of information impacts the decision-making process, resulting in a poorly made decision or the inability to make a decision at all.
Information overload can come from the public, such as when someone wants to buy a new car and encounters thousands of reviews, opinions, and statements. It can also come from the manufacturer, which may occur when a product maker or distributor has an overwhelming amount of information, often in different places, some of which may be difficult to understand.
How much information is too much information?
For content marketers, the key is to present just the right amount of information. The prospect of information overload has content marketers shifting their attention from the quantity of content produced to the quality. Knowing when the information overload limit has been hit is difficult to gauge, of course, since it is basically impossible to know what information your audience is consuming and how they are consuming it.
You may begin to suspect you are guilty of information overload if you start to see an increase in unsubscribe requests or a higher number of people opting out of your business communications.
Consequences of information overload
Information overload can affect recipients in several key ways:
- Stress and mental health problems: Information overload can lead to social alienation.
- Poor decision-making: Humans have limited cognitive capacity, and when that capacity is reduced, the brain shuts down and stops processing new information.
- Fake news: When decision-making is poor, it opens the door for misinformation campaigns.
How to avoid overloading audiences
The key to avoiding information overload is to move away from a high quantity of content and toward higher quality content.
Some leading content creators are already doing this, including The New York Times and Hubspot. Hubspot has repeatedly noted how information overload can harm online marketing and e-commerce. For e-commerce, information overload unearths Hick’s Law, which says that an increased number of choices presented to buyers will increase the time it takes for the buyer to make a decision.
Combat information overload by:
- Offering information at regular times: A single blog released once a week on the same day will become an anticipated event — and one that builds trust.
- Making your content available where your user and followers are: For example, put social content on social sites, and put technical content on technical sites.
- Keeping it short and pertinent: In the case of blog posts, many sites say the optimal length for SEO is 1,500 words or more. Avoid inflating your blog length to reach the recommended length. Shorter content is easier to find and consume, and it can help your target audience avoid the effects of fatigue and information overload.
- Varying content type: Different consumers react differently to different content types. Yes, some want highly detailed white papers, but others prefer TikTok-style eight-second videos. If you can, use a variety of content types. Just make sure that regardless of what you produce, it is high quality.
The amount of information available to consumers today has its benefits and drawbacks. A single term entered into Google can return millions of results in a fraction of a second. The consumer must then select, summarise, sort, and store that information. As a content provider, you have to hope they received the important parts of your message.