A One-Second Review

I was recently reading a study published earlier this year by Carleton University in Ottawa. They suggest that web visitors make an instant assessment of the overall “quality” of a website in less than a second. This contradicts conventional wisdom that suggests you have 6-8 seconds to capture a prospect’s attention. Given the ease with which Google and other search engines provide alternative websites, this concept of “instant affinity” is critical to conversion.

Think of your last trip to the bookstore or library. Did you find yourself scanning the shelves for something that “jumped out?” We rely on our brains to filter visual images in such a way that we only see items that are of interest. I presume that something similar is happening with websites. From just the look of a site, the brain is making a judgment without actually reading the text. This means more to me than just graphic design in the sense of attractive colors, fonts and layout.

Tips for home pages and landing pages

This means that, at first glance, a website must present the idea of good content. In other words, a site must look as if it has valuable information without any of the information actually being read. A tall order you say? Well, maybe, but not impossible. Here are a few ideas to keep in mind when developing home pages and landing pages:

  1. Keep key content (or even all the content) above the fold.

    Providing key content without the need to scroll down (referred to as being “above the fold”) allows a visitor to instantly assess your site. In addition, adhering to this rule also ensures the amount of content is kept to a minimum.

    Of course, later in the site flow, pages will need to be longer to effectively communicate all the necessary information, but this should be deep enough in the site that the visitor is already interested.

  2. Use a prominent positioning statement.

    A brief and succinct statement about the problems addressed and solutions provided shown in a distinct graphic style will help the visitor see that your information can be distilled in a few words. This provides confidence that time spent on your site will not be wasted.

    Shoot for no more than 12 words in a larger font than the rest of the page that is positioned in such a way that it will be instantly viewable. Be cautious of placing this text over the top of an image which can make it hard to read.

  3. Reduce the number of images.

    Too many images on a page create a feeling of clutter and disorganization. When the goal is to present the image of specific, well-structured information, the overuse of images can be a hindrance.

    In general, I’d suggest one main image be used to set the tone of the site and other smaller images be used to call attention to key areas such as links, offers and calls-to-action.

  4. Provide a few, specific links.

    Providing a few (perhaps no more than four) specific links to key areas within the site will send the message that you understand for what visitors are looking. I’d suggest a graphic or icon to emphasize these links as being the bestnext click.

    Large numbers of links, or sub-nav items can signal information overload to a visitor. Since everyone’s time is scarce, providing well-structured, succinct information will always be preferred. Remember that although we’ve been discussing the first impression as less than a second, these elements must also give the user what they are looking for — once they decide that a more detailed look is worthwhile. This means the positioning statement, graphics and links should all be highly targeted to what your visitors are seeking.

Mat Greenfield

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