Serial Position Effect

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Human psychology is a funny thing, especially when it comes to memory and the ability to recall information when presented in the form of a list. 

Did you know that the order in which you present your ads, products, links, and so on, has a significant impact on your customers and how they behave while on your site? 

Indeed, it’s been proven that people are psychologically inclined to remember and recall the first and last items in a list better than those items in the middle, which is known as the serial position effect. 

That being said, let’s continue to explore the serial position effect phenomenon, it’s two segments/parts known as the primacy and recency effect, how the term came into being, and offer you some tips and advice along the way so you can optimize your website to the best of your abilities in order to market your business more strategically. 

Serial Position Effect: Primacy and Recency Effect

As we previously-mentioned, because of their particular position in a list, the first and the last items are more prone to be remembered than the ones in-between, which is known as the serial position effect. This phenomenon is comprised of two parts known as the primacy and recency effect.

Primacy Effect

“First impressions count” is an often used expression, and not surprisingly so. According to scientific data, the first items/words/products are most easily stored in our short-term memory, which makes it easier for them to be transferred in our long-term memory later due to their position. 

For example, if you read a list of 20 words, in the end you’re more likely to remember the first few words rather than the ones in the middle. This is known as the primacy effect, or the tendency to recall the first items in a list better than the ones that come next.

Recency Effect

Recency effect is the concept that those items in a list that come last are remembered and recalled better than those that come before them. The recency effect is closely related to the primacy effect, which comprise the social position effect, for the information presented in the beginning and the end is more likely to stay in our memory than the information in the middle. 

This is so because the most recent information is stored in our short-term memory, and unlike the information that is positioned in the middle, it’s more likely to stay there. This doesn’t concern only items in a list, but also movie plots, advertisements, content of blog posts, and so on. This is why longer blog posts usually offer a short summary after each section so that the reader doesn’t forget all the information he or she has just read.

Where Does This Term Come From?

The pioneer of investigating human memory, the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, was the first person who coined the term “serial position effect.” It all started by him concluding that there is a link between the order of an item in a list, and our ability to recall that item, which was known as a serial position curve. After conducting numerous studies, he concluded that those items that appear at the beginning and the end of a list are more likely to be remembered that those who happen to be in the middle, calling this memory phenomenon a serial position effect.

The Benefits of Serial Position Effect in Marketing

Since we concluded that certain items are better recalled than others and the main reason for that is merely their position in a list, we can use this phenomenon in most marketing strategies, especially online marketing. Whether when creating a sales pitch, a product list, a set of links, ads on your site – the serial position effect can be used effectively in many ways, so here are some tips that can make your online business flourish.

Describing a Product 

Product copies are essential when it comes to making your product more attractive to the customer so that he or she is compelled to purchase it. Besides paying attention to keywords, the actual benefits and features of the products, and the tone of voice and jargon in which the product is described so it appeals to your buyer persona, there is one more important part that shouldn’t be omitted. We’re talking about the order in which you describe your product’s benefits and features, since it can be the decisive thing about whether or not the customer buys the product.

This being said, first you need to know your target audience, or your buyer persona. Once you have that settled, create a list of the features and benefits you wish to present in your product description. Finally, think about which preferences would be most appealing to your target audience and which would be less appealing, and this is where serial position effect comes into play.

Let’s say that you sell women’s shoes, and your buyer persona is a middle-aged woman who is looking for both comfort and cheap prices. Therefore, it would be a good idea that the first and last information she reads in the product description has to do with the comfort of the shoes and their cost-effectiveness, while the information in the middle can describe the materials they’re made of, the different styles they come in, and so on. This way your target audience will most likely remember the information they are looking for in the product anyway which will increase the chance of them actually buying it.

Order and Customer Preference

If you have a large assortment of products, the order in which you present them on your website can have a serious impact on your sales. It has been statistically proven that if a person has to choose one of more products in a list, all of them with different features and benefits, the first products are most likely to be chosen than those that are in the middle or towards the end. Therefore, when presenting your products on your website, be aware of this phenomenon so you can strategically place those products first that you think will sell the best.

Products and Pricing

Products and their prices go hand in hand, but which is better, for the product description or its price to come first? This product information can be presented in the following ways:

1. Product primacy is when the product alongside its features and benefits is presented first, after which comes the price. When the product information comes first, the customers usually estimate its worth more critically, the most asked question being “do I like it?”
2. Pricing primacy, on the other hand, is when the customer sees the price first, and then the product’s benefits and features. This way, since the customers are already familiar with the basic features of the product, they are attracted by its price which sets the question “is it worth it?”

Since most customers are cost-conscious, especially when it comes to products that are used daily, pricing primacy may be a better strategy to use than product primacy. However, different types of products and different target audiences require different strategies, so pricing primacy would work better for products whose worth is easily recognized, while more complicated products would require product primacy as the better strategy.

There is one more strategy that can come into play, and that’s showing your most expensive product first alongside other cheaper options. This way, after seeing the high price first, every other price will seem reasonable when compared to the first one.

Website Link Placement / Category Pages

Countless studies have found that those links which come first and last on a menu are the ones that receive the most clicks. This being said, when creating category pages you should put the most important categories on top and bottom of the list, while the least important ones in the middle. This way, the first items being the ones that are most likely to be seen/read will most likely receive the highest number of clicks, which also applies to the last items which will most likely be stuck in the short-term memory. The items in the middle are the ones most seemingly to be forgotten, so use the serial position effect phenomenon wisely when placing links on your site and creating your menu.

Search Engine Results

When it comes to search engine results, forget about the recency effect since the primary effect is all that matters here. This doesn’t apply only for paid results, but for organic results as well. Indeed, the first five organic results on Google account for almost 70% of all clicks, the first result accounting for up to 33%. This example demonstrates the primacy effect in its entirety, for the first five results are the ones people feel most compelled to click on rather than going through a couple of pages first and then making a decision. 

How can you use this in your marketing strategy? Well, firstly, you can do it by creating a high-quality and relevant content which is SEO optimized, so it is not dismissed by Google due to too many keywords and irrelevant content. Or secondly, you can buy those visits to your site by using pay-per-click marketing. This way, each time someone clicks on your ad and visits your site you pay a fee to Google.

Final Words

Serial position effect is an effective strategy that can be applied in many situations. Whether when trying to memorize a speech, study for an exam, or improve your marketing strategy, this psychological phenomenon can be extremely effective if used properly. Our short-term and long-term memory play an important part when it comes to choosing which link to click on, which product to buy, or which service to use, so take our advice into consideration and start marketing your business more strategically. 

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