Cocktail parties are hard. Especially business-related ones. There you are, in your best outfit and hair, encouragingly laughing at some half-told joke, while delicately balancing your dry-martini glass in one hand, and waiting for the right moment to casually slip your elevator pitch into the mix without seeming sales-y. Oy vey!
But you know what’s even harder? Making an impression on the web! At a cocktail party, you get 30 seconds to make a good first impression. On the web? 2.6 seconds! Yikes! Do you know how to use them?
We may not like the idea of being judged on just a few seconds, but the truth is, first impressions matter. Showing up to a cocktail party in rags because you frown upon the superficiality of first impressions, will not help you get your message out into the world and create the change your crave. It will simply get you ignored.
Same goes for your website. The first impression people get of your website should be a total stunner, luring them in and capturing their full attention, second by precious second.
And in order to give a stunning first impression, you must first crack the code:
How do people spend those valuable first seconds on your website?
1. Overall Impression: 2.6 secs!
No kidding. And no exaggerating either. There’s scientific proof for that!
An eye-tracking study conducted by the University of Missouri S&T has shown that visitors spend the first 2.6 seconds scanning the overall look of your website for that very first impression that decides whether they’ll stay some more or click right out.
Translation? You site’s general structure plays a crucial role in keeping viewers around into that third second that will give you more exposure. Is there a magic, perfect website design you should implement RIGHT NOW? No, we’re afraid not.
And that’s because readers aren’t looking for the perfect website design. They’re looking for organization and guidance.
Imagine opening a door leading to an unknown room. Are you expecting to find a specific, perfect type of room? Of course not. You simply want to know what’s behind the door. If you open the door and see a mess of items piled on the floor, contained within obnoxiously colored and mismatched walls, and accompanied by ruined furniture stuffed to the brink with junk…? You’re quickly pulling that door shut and running away forever!
On the contrary, if you open the door and see a fine restaurant with beautiful linen tablecloths, warm, ambient lighting, a lush red carpet running between the tables, and a friendly waiter welcoming your entrance? “Table for one please! Best item on your menu!” See the difference?
Because even if you weren’t looking for a fine restaurant, you’d still stick around, intrigued by the exquisitely presented experience. Or at the very least, you’d note the place as worth revisiting when wanting to indulge in some fine dining.
A well-structured page with good organization and clear directional clues is the first step to keeping your readers’ eyes focused on you.
But what exactly is a well-structured page with good organization?
It’s page that at first glance tells your visitors what you do for them. A page that utilizes the power of conventions to show them how to navigate around (a clear menu, an uncluttered sidebar, relevant images, strong titles). And a page that teems with personality. Because following conventions doesn’t mean that you can’t incorporate your personal style in the mix and get creative with your presentation.
But “creativity” and the “unconventional” should never override clarity.
What happens after the very first impression?
We come to the particulars! After those initial 2.6 seconds of the general scan, viewers begin focusing on different parts of your site. They size up each section for a few more seconds (seconds, people, seconds!), in which they decide if your entire life’s work is worth their valuable time or not.
Going back to our fine-restaurant example, it would be time to serve the appetizers. And if they aren’t actually appetizing, no one’s staying around for the main course. (Let alone dessert!) So fill up that wine glass and let’s dive right into the tasting menu:
2. Your logo: 6.48 secs.
Holy moly! 2.6 seconds to pass judgement on the entire page and 6.48 seconds scrutinizing the logo? What are they, art critics?
Well, not really, but they are digging deeper. After the initial understanding of what you do (fancy restaurant), visitors want to see how you do it.
Fancy fish place? Fancy steak place? Fancy vegetarians-only place? Fancy Brangelina-might-be-eating here place? This is your (lightning-fast) chance to clarify your identity.
Translation: Your logo must be emblematic, not only of who you are but also of what you stand for (your values). The colors, symbols, and shapes incorporated in your logo must encompass the entire concept behind your brand. It can’t just be a cute way to write your name.
3. Main Navigation Menu: 6.44 secs.
After seeing how you do things, people begin to wonder why you’re so special.
Okay, I’ve had fish before. Why should I pay 13 gazillion dollars to eat yours? Oh, you’ve got a special make-you-rich sauce? What’s that all about then?
But before you rush to put everything but the kitchen sink on your navigation menu, let’s remind ourselves once more: We’re talking about seconds—not minutes. 6.44 SECONDS to figure out what’s special about what your offer. That’s NOT a lot of reading time.
Put another way: Did you ever notice how as a restaurant’s quality rises, the length of its menu decreases? You walk into your neighborhood diner and you get handed a 30-page we-do-everything-but-nothing-really-well menu. You walk into a first-rate restaurant and you are given a one-page blow-your-socks-off-specialties menu. Which do you prefer?
Translation: You need to be both selective and strategic about the items on your navigation menu. What are five items that would most interest your reader? Some of these items belong to good-convention practices and should always be included: a clear about page, and a helpful contact page. But then it’s up to you to decide how to entice your visitors further. Would they want to read your super-helpful blog? View your killer portfolio? Visit your fun e-shop with pee-your-pants-hilarious product descriptions? Consider your one-of-a-kind services? The possibilities are as unique as your brand. And the final decision depends on the relationship you desire to build with your visitors.
4. Site’s Main Image: 5.94 secs.
After the practical identification elements, our minds begin assessing esthetics to confirm or negate that first impression.
Are the tablecloths really clean or are there yellowing stains on them? Are the flowers fresh and real, or cheap plastic ones?
It’s not that people are snobs. But if you’ve set your (web)room up as a fine restaurant to lure passersby in, you have to make sure that even the smallest details fulfill the expectations you’ve created. Otherwise you’ll lose your customers. Simple as that.
If, for another example, you set up our imaginary room as a lick-your-fingers-good burger joint, you won’t be hanging million-dollar fine-art paintings over your grill or have waiters floating by in tuxedos. It just doesn’t give.
Translation: The main image of your site must esthetically support the general first impression. You can’t have a punk-rock style theme and logo, but display a super-refined super-photoshopped image of a princess riding a unicorn in flourishing springtime valley. When selecting photos for your site, or booking a professional photo-shoot, you must keep in mind the general feeling you want to communicate to your visitors. How should your main image make your visitors feel? What type of image will reinforce that first impression and put them even more at ease?
5. Site’s Main Copy: 5.59 seconds.
Imagine that, after walking into our fine restaurant, and being seated by the window (best view in town), and presented with a mouthwatering menu, carefully placed on the impeccably clean white tablecloth… imagine then, that the waiter comes over, stands in front of your, and with all the might in his lungs screams: “WHAT DO YOU WANT?” Are you staying a minute longer? Not even if they were paying you to eat there!
On the contrary, a soft-spoken waiter that leans in ever so slightly asking: “What can I get for you today, sir?” is likely to also sell you the best wine in the house to accompany your “excellent meal choice!” isn’t he? And you’ll love every minute of it, too. You’ll enjoy every single sip and bite.
The soft-spoken, caring waiter in effect communicates the same message as the offensively loud “WHAT DO YOU WANT?” brute. But the difference in delivery styles? That’s where they money sits.
Translation: Words matter. And how you use them matters tremendously. You can’t take all the care in the world to create a visually appealing website and then let your copy be whatever—just filler text.
That’s like the guy that looks like a million bucks at the cocktail party, but the minute he opens his mouth people start to yawn and think about how to politely tip-toe away towards the refills bar. Looking good is only half the battle. What you say should support and enhance the experience your website creates and the feeling you have so far communicated to your visitors.
Let’s wrap it all up.
Brief as they may be, first impressions are of the highest importance for the overall performance of your brand. Understanding how people spend those valuable first seconds on your site can make the difference between constant repeat traffic and casual drive-by readers. But once you know how to crack the code of those first website impressions, you can capture your visitors attention from the very first instant and lure them into your wonderful web-world, second by precious second.
How does your site measure up to the “first-impressions” code? Do you have what it takes to keep people glued to the screen, or are there some improvements you could make today?