As the pandemic situation stretches on, there is an increasing awareness of “alert fatigue.” People become less receptive to alerts and warning messages the more often they see them. On Canada.ca we have 4 different alert styles. These play an important role in drawing attention to information that is out of the ordinary. But, to ensure they are effective, you must carefully manage the alert life-cycle.

Alerts are temporary

Alerts are notices meant to draw attention to changes in regular content. For example: service disruptions, new policies or service changes. But what’s new and different today, is no longer new and different weeks or months down the road. Once the issue is resolved or enough time has passed to advise people, remove the alert promptly.

Example of an alert on a contact page

Limited service availability

Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, you may experience longer than normal wait times on our phone lines. The automated phone lines are available. If possible, use the online self-service options.

Check service status updates

Keep alerts short and simple

Alert messages are most effective when they are short and simple. Save the details for the main content area of a page. The alert is meant only to grab attention and create the “scent of information” for anyone who needs to know more.

Write the text of the alert at a grade 6 to 8 reading level. You want people to easily understand why they need to pay attention.

Long alerts that include too much information can be distracting and annoying. This is especially true on mobile. If you find yourself packing too much in, consider creating a dedicated page for the detailed content. Then add a short alert on any related pages to link to your new content page. When the situation is resolved, you can delete the new page…and all the alerts.

Different types of alerts for different situations

The type of alert to use depends on the reason it’s needed and the message it conveys. Using an alert style that conveys danger or urgency when it’s not needed undermines the trustworthiness of your message.

Which alert to use

Danger alert (red)
Use only if the service is cancelled or if there's a risk to health or safety to Canadians in completing an activity.
Warning alert (yellow)
Use for delays, closures at certain locations, and other types of service disruptions.
Info alert (blue)
Use for the length of time an application method takes, changes in wait times on a phone line, messages that there is no service disruption for a particular service if that is generating inquiries.
Success alert (green)
Use when a service disruption is resolved.

Too many alerts create confusion

If everything is important, nothing is important. Limit the number of alerts within pages and across your site. Multiple alerts compete with each other for attention. People may get confused about where to focus. They may have trouble distinguishing the regular page content from the alerts. Over time, people also become desensitized to alerts and may scroll past and miss them entirely.

The alert life-cycle

Consider the life-cycle of your alerts. Like any web product, they require maintenance. You need to know why you’re adding them, where they’re pointing, and how you plan to manage other web content so the alert can eventually come down.

You may need to update the messaging or the alert type if the situation changes. As more information is available, look at whether you can integrate the information into your program or service pages and remove the alert.

Final word

There are 4 things you can do to make sure your alerts have the highest impact:

  1. Keep them short and simple
  2. Choose the right type
  3. Limit the number
  4. Remove them once they’ve served their purpose

The bottom line - have a plan. The more you put into managing your alerts, the more effective they’ll be at communicating your message.

Learn more

Connect with the Digital Transformation Office at Treasury Board Secretariat