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Your Web Site's First Impression Happens Only Once


When you visit a new Website, how long does it take you to decide if you'll stay or not? If the site is slow-loading, do you move on before it finishes loading? What if there's a Flash introduction splash page? Do you wait while it loads to watch it? If the site's content looks dull, do you close the window and go elsewhere? What grabs your attention?

A few years ago studies showed that typical visitors decided within 8 seconds if they'd stay or leave a site. That's not very long, is it?! Most recently, however, that time frame has been cut in half to 4 seconds. Either way, that's not much time!

Your site must grab immediate attention for visitors to decide to stay, and then there must also be solid reasons for them to return, to bookmark your site, and to tell their friends and colleagues about your site.

So let's explore what all this means for your own site.

1, 2, 3, 4 . . . Will They Stay or Head Out the Door?

Performance primer: Gone in 4 seconds, states that a recent survey found that we now have only 4 seconds to grab visitors' attention before they decide to leave or stay, compared to previous surveys finding an 8-second norm.

What does this really mean? Does it mean the entire page must load in less than 4 seconds? No.
If you get out your stopwatch with a 56K modem you'll find that many sites take longer than this. What?! You don't use a stopwatch to time all the sites you open?!

Here's the question to ask (and then respond to effectively):

What will capture a visitor's interest immediately and maintain it for a few seconds, long enough to stick around and visit your site?

Many people are used to TV channel surfing. While our technology doesn't quite allow that kind of speed with Web sites yet, consider that people tend to similarly surf the Web, quickly moving on if the site they open doesn't immediately grab their attention.

When checking your own site as a site owner or designer, here are a few questions to consider:
  • How quickly can you start seeing ANYTHING on the page?
  • What pops up first?
  • How quickly can you begin to read any text?
  • How quickly can you tell what the site is about?

Observe yourself and your friends. When you open a site, do you wait for every single image to load, or do you start looking at what loads immediately? I suspect you start looking at whatever text you see initially toward the top of the screen. (Studies show this, too, for people speaking languages that read from left to right, top to bottom.)

For your own website, you already know what to expect, so if hiring an expert (Web design Company)to do a usability study isn't feasible, at least pull in various people who haven't seen your site yet to take a look. The less they know about it the better. Surfers may find your site because they just did a search for green footballs and your site popped up (we're pretending you sell green footballs)

First Impressions Count!

What kind of impression does your main page give, especially in those critical first few seconds? Here are a few things to consider.
  • If someone quickly scans your main page, will it be clear what your Web site is about and generally what's offered?
  • Is the navigation clear and obvious so your visitors can quickly see where to find your products or services, or maybe the poetry section to read that poem you mentioned?
  • How quickly does your main page load?

As I noted above, it's critical for the most eye-catching elements to load first and near the top of the page. The page can then continue and finish loading while the visitor is checking out what's loaded first.

While designers don't have control over the order in which various browsers download everything on a page, the site CAN be organized and designed with loading principles in mind. (For example, lots of nested tables takes far longer for browsers to load, so keep those to a minimum.)

Now To Get Visitors To Stay!

Once the visitors decide to stick around and visit your site, they need to have their visit worthwhile with helpful content, information, services, and more. It's also important to keep your content fresh and alive.

So, in addition to grabbing attention, they'll need a reason to stay, to return, and to refer others to your site. While the ingredients of a good site can be as unique as each site, the above are common threads that contribute to a successful Web site.


How do you grab your visitors' attention in those first few seconds? Here are some critical points:
  • Great marketing copy.
  • Easy-to-understand navigation and overall design.
  • Pages load quickly.
Once your visitors decide to stay and look around, they'll need reasons to continue to stay, to return, and to refer others to your site. Keep your content fresh, alive, and interesting.

Copyright © 2001. Shirley E. Kaiser, M.A. All rights reserved. (www.skdesigns.com)

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