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Digital Marketing Models: Hofacker’s 5 Stages of information processing

Author's avatar By Annmarie Hanlon 01 Jul, 2016
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Use Hofacker's 5 states of information processing to understand how your web copy communicates with your intended audience

Professor Charles Hofacker originally created the 5 stages of information processing in his book ‘Internet Marketing’ originally published in 2000. It was intended to help marketers and advertisers consider how well their websites and adverts/promo panels communicated value to website visitors. The book explained how web browsers work (can you imagine reading an article on how Chrome or Firefox work today?) for an audience that was new to the Internet.

What are the 5 states of information processing?


Ensuring the web visitor is exposed to the website for long enough to absorb the content or the ad. Within online advertising today, this is measured and media traded based on the concept now known as “Viewability”


Physical factors such as movement and intensity that attract attention when visitors are on a website

Comprehension and perception

How well visitors understand on-page content including ads.

Yielding and acceptance

Ensuring the web visitors accept (believe, trust) your information to get the visitor to stay on your site or proceed to the next step


Getting visitors to remember key messages and encouraging return to your website

How can I use this model?

Use Hofacker’s 5 stages as a checklist when planning, creating and testing online ads, as well as reviewing websites.


Ensure that critical elements on the website are located ‘high and early’ on the website. Consider using CPM (cost per thousand impressions) adverts or call to action adverts, instead of pay per click. These advertising formats provide greater potential brand awareness and as a result, potentially greater exposure to your target audience.


It is easier to gain attention from the web visitor with the collection of data across many social media websites. Personalised banner adverts on social media websites such as LinkedIn and Facebook gain greater attention due to their relevance and context. Carefully consider the headline used to gain maximum attention. For example, this one line ad at the top of the LinkedIn page. Well, it knows my gender, but framing a question like this creates curiosity.

linkedin ad

Research into online interactivity demonstrates that there is greater engagement if adverts have more interactivity.

Comprehension and perception

Web visitors need to easily find their way around a website. Hofacker describes the use of a site map which is now commonplace, as well as visitors navigating around a website which could be achieved by a breadcrumb trail. Ensuring the website is intuitive and the ‘don’t make me think’ principle is applied so that web visitors can easily understand and take in the relevant information is key. This enables visitors to browse a website and become absorbed into the pages, getting closer to the next step.

Yielding and acceptance

Websites and adverts need to provide clarity. A complicated advert is unlikely to get click-throughs as the viewer has to process too much information. With seconds to make an impact and to gain acceptance from the visitor. In 2014 a UK retailer changed its website. Moving from a tried and trusted platform to a new design focused site.

design focused site

The challenge with this website is that it was so design and content focused, that there was no navigation bar. The aim was for customers to visit and think of it as a magazine and browse through the ‘collections’ and the ‘edits’. This didn’t work and as the web team (or those directing the web team) made product findability so difficult, customers didn’t know where to shop. Added to this, the login details changed which meant customers needed new passwords but weren’t aware of this. The impact of this website lacking comprehension resulted in a decrease of over 8% in online purchases across a quarter. At a lively shareholders meeting, the chief exec commented that the website had had “an impact on sales”. A navigation bar has since been added.


Hofacker discussed retention at a time when retargeting previous site visitors or ad viewers was only starting to develop. Today, recalling websites can now be automated via a range of options including:

  • ‘Follow me’ marketing or ad retargeting
  •  Abandoned basket emails
  •  Retaining goods in a basket up to 5 days later.

These tools keep specific websites front of mind when a visitor has explored products and services without making a purchase or finalising the call to action which could include downloading information or subscribing for a newsletter.

Additionally, a key element of recall is being easily able to find a website which can be achieved with a good retargeting or remarketing strategy. Many companies bid on their own brand names in pay per click campaigns, partly to capture relevant traffic and also as part of a wider brand strategy.

If you are interested in learning more about Hofacker's 5 Stages of information processing, or want to discover other digital marketing models, download our digital marketing models guide, free to all members.

Author's avatar

By Annmarie Hanlon

Annmarie Hanlon PhD is an academic and practitioner in strategic digital marketing and the application of social media for business. Dr Hanlon has expertise in the strategic application of social media for business and the move from digitization, to digitalization and digital transformation for business. Her expertise spans consumer touch points, online customer service, the use of reviews, the role of influencers, online engagement and digital content. You can follow her update on Twitter https://twitter.com/annmariehanlon

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