You do everything possible to get people to visit your site. You consult with top advertising agencies…you conduct a free-media campaign…you buy airtime on TV and radio, and purchase banner space on top Internet sites. You even pass fliers out at the local mall parking lot, just for the fun of it.

And guess what - it works.

But how do you get your visitors to remember your site once they leave? It's an important question, because etching your website into your customers' minds is central to fostering brand name awareness. Failure to do so risks losing all that traffic you managed to drive to your site to begin with.

So then, let's look at ways to make your website more memorable. MEMORY FOR WHAT?

First, understand that consumers can remember (or fail to remember) many things about your web site. Understanding what you want consumers to remember is important because only when you have nailed this down can you address issues of how you enhance memory.

Think about what you want consumers to remember. Is it your name or web address? What you do? How you are different from or better than other sites or companies? Do you want consumers to remember specific claims, logos of your product, what your product looks or sounds like? Perhaps you want them to remember that some respectable opinion leader endorses your product?

The answer to this question really depends on your market situation. A few guidelines may help.

New Market: If you are new in a market, probably the most important thing you can do is to enhance memory of your site name and/or web-address. If people know your name, they are more likely to perceive you as familiar and legitimate; the more familiar and legitimate you seem, the more likely people will consider spending time on your site and perhaps buying what you sell.

Growing Market: If you are a known company and in a growing market, a critical objective is helping consumers remember the link between your name with what you do.

Mature Market: If you are in a mature market, what is most important is that consumers learn and remember how you are different from or better than competitors. For this reason, memory for specific and differentiating attributes is important. If consumers learn about your product on-line but then buy it in a traditional retail channel, memory for your product's package and logo may be important.

Risk: If your product is risky to buy, try, or use, you will probably want consumers to remember it whether anyone endorsed it, and if so, who.


Recognition asks consumers to remember that they have seen your site, claim, etc., once they are shown it. With recall, we are expecting them to retrieve information from memory, even if they aren't being shown it at present.

Recall is much harder to achieve than recognition because recall assumes that consumers have thought about the information to be remembered so much that that can bring it out of their memory. This is no easy task on the Internet, where billions of web pages bombard consumers with tons of information.

Which is best? How do you decide which is best for your site, recognition or recall? Here it helps to understand how consumers typically buy the product you sell.

Consumers often buy by browsing the web, or by browsing an aisle at a brick-and-mortar store. In this case - "oh yeah, I recognize that box of cereal!" -- purchase is based on recognition. Here, recognition of the brand name, package, and logo are important.

Consumers also buy based on what brands come to mind. In this case, product purchase is based on recall. For example, if you are sitting in your living room thinking about where to buy books online, chances are the options you consider are based on which you can recall from memory.

Sometimes recognition and recall are both important. If you know that some consumers find you by first going through a search engine, while others remember your site and don't have to search, you are going to have to achieve both recognition and recall.


We are unlikely to remember much about something if we haven't paid much attention to it. So our first set of guidelines for enhancing memory is to make sure that you create attention to the thing you want consumers to remember. See the tutorial on attention at to learn how to do that.

Beyond capturing attention, here is what psychological research tells us about other tools that we can use to make things memorable.

Primacy and Recency Effects. We know from academic research that people tend to remember the first and the last item that they see in a sequence better than the content they see in the middle. From a web standpoint that means consumers will be more likely to remember the first and last page they visit on your site than any of the other intervening pages.

If they visit only one page, they will be more likely to remember what they saw first than what they saw last than what they saw in the middle of their viewing. This phenomenon cannot underscore enough how important that first page of your web site is. Since it is the first thing that consumers encounter when they visit your site, it better be fun, interesting, and memorable (using the principles described below).

If they don't remember this first page, how in the world are they going to remember anything else about your site?

Chunking. It has traditionally been thought that the most information an individual can process in short-term memory at any one time is three to seven "chunks" of information. More recent research suggests that the number may be closer to three or four. Knowing this, the marketer can help the consumer remember long and complicated pieces of information by chopping it into digestible chunks.

For instance, acronyms are a classic form of chunking. Chunking International Business Machines and Kentucky Fried Chicken down to IBM and KFC helps keep these companies' names on the tips of our tongues. Brand names like IBM and KFC are examples of chunking in a marketing context. Similarly, marketers can facilitate consumers' memory for telephone numbers by providing words rather than individual numbers or digits (1-800-CAL-HOME, 1-800-I-SEE-2020 or 1-800-GO-U-HAUL).

Web addresses will be memorable if the name itself - take, for instance -- creates a chunk that summarizes what the site is for.

Memory for what the site is all about is enhanced if you can draw conclusions chunk disparate pieces of information into a single attribute or benefit. For instance, a headline or tagline like "dedicated to holistic health" chunks's benefits of helping consumers identify, understand, treat, and prevent a variety of health problems through a variety of alternative practices like yoga, acupuncture, meditation, biofeedback, and special diets.

Rehearsal. Rehearsal occurs when we get consumers to silently repeat or actively think about the information we want them to remember. Engaging jingles and slogans may be useful means of inducing rehearsal. Think about how McDonalds got us to remember all the things that they have on their Big Mac: "Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun." This might be challenging in a web context, but the increasing use of sound makes its use increasingly possible.

Recirculation. Water is recirculated when it goes through the same pipe again and again. In the same way, information is recirculated through your short-term memory when you encounter it over and over. Recirculation explains why repetition affects memory. If you want consumers to remember your web address, what you do, etc., just repeat it many times on your site. The more consumers see it, the more they will remember it. Of course, while repetition can increase memory, it doesn't always make your site more likable. Too much repetition of something can be down right annoying - and that may be what customers remember.

Redundant Cues. Memory is also enhanced when the information items to be learned seem to go together naturally. Thus, consumers' memory for your web-address, claims, logo, and so on is better when you can find clever ways to make them say the same thing.

For instance, could use a logo of the earth with a stethoscope, claimed to be the world's largest source for finding information on alternative medical practices and used a picture of Andrew Weil as a spokesperson. All these redundant cues would enhance consumers' memory for the site's name, claims, spokesperson, and benefits.

Dual Coding. A long-standing finding in psychology is that people remember things better when they are represented as pictures. Why?

Picture memory decays less rapidly than memory for words. So use pictures wherever you can. But even more importantly, try to say important things using both pictures and words. This "dual coding" (coding in both the visual and verbal mode) gives consumers two ways to remember, either through the word or how it was presented graphically.

Consumers will remember if they are shown both the name and (next to it) a picture of a globe with a stethoscope on it. If you can state something in print, and also state it aurally, you have provided yet another modality for remembering people can remember the printed word and how it sounded.
Mood. Did you know that the mood we are in affects our memory? Being in a good mood generally helps us remember things. So if you can make your site fun and interesting and affect people's mood, you will increase the likelihood that they will remember it.

Also, we are more likely to recall information that is consistent with our mood. If we are feeling upbeat, we'll be more likely to remember sites that made us feel upbeat. If we are bummed, we'll remember those sites that made us feel the same way.

To make your web site memorable, you have to do the thinking so your visitors don't. This way, they can just sit back and have a memorable experience.

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image of Debbie MacInnis

Dr. Deborah J. MacInnis is the Charles L. and Ramona I. Hilliard Professor of Business Administration at the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California, and a co-author of Brand Admiration: Build a Business People Love. She has consulted with companies and the government in the areas of consumer behavior and branding. She is theory development editor at the Journal of Marketing, and former co-editor of the Journal of Consumer Research. Professor MacInnis has served as president of the Association for Consumer Research and vice-president of conferences and research for the American Marketing Association's Academic Council. She has received the Journal of Marketing's Alpha Kappa Psi and Maynard awards for the papers that make the greatest contribution to marketing thought. She is the co-author of a leading textbook on consumer behavior and is co-editor of several edited volumes on branding.