Before someone can buy your product, sign up to your newsletter, or Like your post, you need to have their attention.

It’s strange, then, that the majority of businesses’ time is spent not on how they’re going to attract users’ attention, but rather on building complex websites, crafting perfect blog articles, and ironing out tiny details of their sales journey.

All these acts are pointless if you don’t first have the traffic, eyeballs, and conscious attention to turn all your effort into hard cash. After all, if a tree falls in the woods, does it even make a sound?

Make sure you don’t skip the most crucial part of your sales journey with these four psychological triggers for capturing and keeping attention in the digital age.

1. Automaticity Trigger

The automaticity trigger is based on our automatic reactions to certain stimuli. Humans have many inbuilt and unconscious mechanisms that function to help keep us survive, and in web design, knowing what these are can be the difference between grabbing attention and losing it.

One of the best ways to harness the automaticity trigger is with colour. Certain colours alert us to situations that may be potentially beneficial or harmful and thus require our attention. For instance, online, we often associate red with importance and warnings, blue with competence and trust, and green with growth and health.

Other sensory cues such as symbols and sounds can also work by triggering specific associations, emotions, or memories. Take Hubspot; its website employs a mix of red and orange to immediately communicate importance and trust, and uses graphic representations to help make its services come across as relatable and familiar.

2. Framing Trigger

While the automaticity trigger applies more to web design, the framing trigger is more about your content marketing, tone of voice, and buyer’s journey.

The framing trigger works on the idea that everyone has their own frame through which they see the world — shaped by their experience, biology, culture, interests, and current mood. This frame is highly adaptive and can expand or contract in any moment, in accordance with the circumstances.

This process is called reframing — something your content should try and do with every word. There are many techniques to use reframing to help capture attention in the digital age, such as inducing fear or FOMO i.e. by writing a blog that taps into people’s essential needs and drivers; using the scarcity effect by focusing you’re advertising on how limited the offer is; or by, as leads into the next trigger, stating something shocking that disrupts their whole paradigm.

3. Disruption Trigger

Disrpution is certainly a way to capture attention in the digital age. Much of the time, though, when this tactic is employed online — i.e. fake news — it’s crude and empty and doesn’t lead to the sort of attention that converts.

There are three factors to using the disruption trigger effectively: Surprise, simplicity, and significance. The first is self-explanatory; simplicity is about not making your audiences’ world more complicated but simpler; and significance is making sure the disruption is meaningful and relevant for your audience.

In its “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign, Patagonia demonstrated how to use the disruption trigger to great effect. The campaign completely went against the grain of what customers would expect, and at the same time was simple and relevant to its own and its customers values.

4. Mystery Trigger

Everyone loves mystery — just look at all our favourite entertainment, from Agatha Christie and J.K Rowling to the London Dungeons and escape room phenomena.

In web design, the mystery trigger is built on four components of any good novel: suspense, emotional buy-in, plot twist, and cliff-hanger. Its aim is to create an air of possibility and wanting-to-know, to make the user think and imagine before hitting them in the face with something completely unexpected.

The mystery trigger plays on several psychological principles such as the Zeigarnik Effect — which states we keep things on our mind until they are resolved — and the uncertainty reduction theory — which is our tendency to reduce uncertainties. Together, this makes the mystery trigger one of the most powerful ways to capture attention in the digital age.