You\u2019ve heard the stats.All the way back in 1997 Nielsen showed that people don\u2019t read online – they scan. And that\u2019s only gotten worse. Today, you have about 8 seconds to capture a user\u2019s attention on your website.The human attention span is now shorter than that of a goldfish.Despite this, many websites today fail to give users a single place to focus their attention when they first arrive. People land there and then they have no idea what to do next.There are lots of buttons and lots of areas on the page\u2026 but they don\u2019t have flow, and with social media, chat, and a cell phone never far away, that makes it highly likely that those shiny new visitors are going to wind up distracted and leave, never to return.I firmly believe most sites start out in a good place. When someone decides initially to create a new website, they usually have a single idea.Maybe they want people to sign up for their newsletter, or for a webinar.And that\u2019s great! It\u2019s really simple. It\u2019s clear. But then the main stakeholder has other ideas. Maybe they also want people to be able to find out more about the company\u2019s products; or they want to give visitors a list of their best articles; or share their latest tweets\u2026 you get the idea.Gradually, what was once a great idea for a site becomes the design from hell.The idea behind the site isn\u2019t bad. It\u2019s that somewhere along the way, the stakeholder started to worry that not everyone would want to join their webinar.So instead they try to put everything on the site. And put it all above the fold. Because it\u2019s all important, right?So, if we\u2019ve known this doesn\u2019t work since the 90\u2019s why are we still doing it? And what should we do instead?Why So Many Web Designs Go to HellThe reason so many websites wind up in this downward spiral is because ranking priorities is hard. If you create a list of priorities and then try to label them a \u201c1\u201d (must have), a \u201c2\u201d (should have), or a \u201c3\u201d (nice to have), then it\u2019s only a matter of time before someone decides something is even more important that the items labeled a \u201c1\u201d \u2014 and then before long, everything has become that important.Raymond Chen, a long-time software developer at Microsoft (we\u2019re talking since 1992) and blogger, calls this problem priority inflation.Priority 1: must have. If you don’t accomplish a priority 1 item, you may as well just cancel the project because it ain’t shipping.Priority 2: should have. If you don’t accomplish a priority 2 item, the product is significantly weaker, but you can still ship it.Priority 3: nice to have. If you don’t accomplish a priority 3 item, it’s not quite as awesome as it could have been, but it’s still a good product.Over the past few years, I’ve seen a shift in the labeling of priorities in planning documents. A new priority has been introduced: Priority Zero. Nobody has explained to me what Priority 0 means, but I assume somebody invented it to emphasize that the feature is even more critical than priority 1. Mind you, I’m not sure what could be more important to a project than “If we don’t do this, we’re all fired.” Maybe “If we don’t do this, the earth will explode.”As you might expect, priority inflation has a trickle-down effect. People whose features had been assigned priority 1 said, “Hey, how come my feature isn’t priority 0? It’s just as critical as that other guy’s feature.” Soon, everything that was priority 1 got reclassified as priority 0. Nature abhors a vacuum, so all the priority 2 items got reclassified as priority 1, and the priority 3 items got reclassified as priority 2.The problem is that people are naturally bad at understanding what is actually urgent and what\u2019s not. And when everything is important, none of them are.At its core, everyone understands this problem. And yet almost everyone falls victim to it anyway.How to Avoid the \u201cEverything\u2019s a Priority\u201d TrapThis problem is so persistent that my team and I developed a system to help people create the information hierarchy of a landing page. We call it the \u201cstair step model.\u201dHere\u2019s how it works.Start by identifying up to 5 things you want people to do on your page. The actual number of things you choose depends on how long you want the page to be. I generally recommend most people chose 3-4 tasks that people should do on that page.Then you rank them from most important to least important.When thinking about how to rank them, you shouldn\u2019t just think about what\u2019s most important to you; you should think about what\u2019s most important to your visitor.You may think the \u201cmost important thing\u201d is that they buy a product, for example. But that probably doesn\u2019t have a high chance of conversion \u2014\u00a0and is probably not the most important thing to the person reading the page. Instead, what they\u2019re interested in is the solution they get from purchasing your product.The second thing you want to consider is the difficulty in completing that action. If the most important action you want them to take (Priority Zero) takes 30 minutes to do, but your second most important task only takes 5 seconds, you might want to prioritize the second, as it has a higher chance of conversion.Remember the formula: Desire \/ Time = Conversion Now that you have your prioritization, let\u2019s look at how to structure them into the page.Step 1: The Hero ShotThis most important thing becomes your hero shot. Generally, this is the top section of a website, where there\u2019s a big picture of you and a big headline that talks directly to the pain point you\u2019re going to solve.(In my Japanese marketer days, we called this \u201cCatch Copy,\u201d because it catches the attention of the reader.)For example, if we were building a page for a health and anxiety website, we might use the headline, \u201cStop being controlled by your anxiety and take back your life.\u201dThen, beneath that, there are a few smaller lines of copy that tell them what they can do (ex: We\u2019ve built this assessment to help you determine whether you have anxiety). And finally, below the description is a big button that reads \u201cClick here to take the assessment.\u201dThis is our primary call to action. That means it should be something that someone who has never heard of us, has never visited our site, should be compelled to do based on just that headline copy and some small button copy.This first section forms the first step of our staircase.Step 2: Tell Me About YourselfBelow our first step is our second step (let me know if I\u2019m going too fast there).Anyone who hasn\u2019t clicked on that first button obviously doesn\u2019t trust us. Everything in marketing comes back to trust \u2014 an email is not just an email and a click is not just a click. It\u2019s a transaction of trust and value.So if someone scrolled past that first button then they\u2019re not convinced yet that they should trust us. That means our next section needs to focus on building trust.Maybe that means they need more tailored content. Maybe they need to understand the results of other people, and we can provide testimonials. Maybe they need social proof, and we can share social proof icons.Let\u2019s say we go with that third option, so after the first section we have a section with the logos of publications where we\u2019ve been featured. We say we were in the New York Times; we were featured on ABC; we\u2019ve been interviewed by NPR.We add a bit of copy that shares that we do, what we\u2019re really good at, and asks the visitor to tell us what they\u2019re looking for.There was something there that was almost blink and you\u2019ll miss it: \u201cTell us what they\u2019re looking for.\u201d This is a chance to let your visitors self-select into the content that will most likely turn them into leads, and customers.This self-selection has two powerful points.The visitor is getting content that applies directly to their issue, which is much more valuable than generic content.By looking at our site analytics, we can tell which of the pain points most of our visitors are experiencing. Once they opt in, we can also determine which pain points are the most effective at converting from leads to customers.This becomes our second call to action.If they click on it great! If not, then on to stair step three.Step 3: Share a StoryAt this point they\u2019ve missed two calls to action. That means we need to find a way to empower them a bit more. We need to take a softer approach.This is where we might add in a personal story, sharing the problem we had that we overcame that led us to create our product or business. Or maybe we share a client\u2019s story or testimonial.This time we don\u2019t ask them to do something right now \u2014 instead, we use a button that says something like, \u201cLearn more\u201d or \u201cFind out how\u2026\u201dWe\u2019re inviting them to have a larger conversation; this is good for people who are looking around and trying to figure out what it is they want. They\u2019ve passed the direct \u201cDo this now\u201d and the \u201cTell me about yourself\u201d steps. That likely means this person is someone looking for a solution, but who isn\u2019t really sure what that solution should be yet.Step 4: The Final StepIf they pass step three and are still scrolling then I generally think this person isn\u2019t actually looking for a solution \u2014 they\u2019re just gathering information. So that\u2019s where I like to include information about you or the business, or a block with a few of your most popular blog posts.The call to action for that section becomes, \u201cCheck out these articles\u201d or \u201cDon\u2019t know where to start? Start here.\u201d And that becomes your fourth and final step.With the Stair Step Model You Build a Better WebsiteUsing the Stair Step method allows you to avoid the usual problem of \u201ceverything is important\u201d by creating a prioritized and logical order for your users to follow down the page.It allows you to capitalize on different user types without cannibalizing your design. That is, it allows you to build a better website \u2014 one that lets you return to the good place you started from.What\u2019s your top priority \u2014 the one action you want users to take \u2014\u00a0on your website? Share it in the comments.