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Internet Users Judge Sites in Fraction of a Second

Internet Users Judge Sites in Fraction of a Second

New research released indicates that users take much less time than expected to critique a website. In light of this research it is important for website owners to realize how big an impact that initial response is. Therefore in this article we dig a little deeper into the research and provide some thoughts on what the findings could mean for you.

The research, which was performed by Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario tells us that our first impressions of a website influence how we react to that site from that point forward. In other words, our initial responses to a site, our “gut feelings” will impact how we feel about that site now and in the future. In the research, three studies were conducted to determine how quickly people form an opinion about web page visual appeal.

In the first study, participants twice rated the visual appeal of web pages presented for 500 milliseconds each. The second study replicated the first, but participants also rated each web page on seven specific design dimension while in the third study participants rated the visual appeal of pages at both the 50 millisecond and 500 millisecond exposure.

They were first introduced to the site for 50 milliseconds and then asked to revisit it later. What researchers found was that the site visitors had much the same impressions at 500 milliseconds as 50 milliseconds. In other words, web designers have about 50 ms to make a good first impression.

The lasting effect of first impressions is known to psychologists as the ‘halo effect’ That means that if you can impress them initially with a compelling design, users may actually forgive the site for other faults.

So what does this mean?

Well, flashy sites are out. The study suggests that people are turned off of sites with too many images or moving parts. However, too much text also can cause problems. Therefore one needs a balance of flair and content to impress most people. I recently talked about customer segmentation in a previous article and I think that commentary is directly related to this.

You see, we already know that men and women search differently, as do people of different ages and income levels. So in reality, your website isn’t going to be all things to all people.

Therefore if your product reaches a wide customer base then your site should as well. However if your customer base is narrow (for example you sell knitting supplies) then you must target your site to the user.

Again, the need for detailed research into your target customer is needed. Because if they can make a snap assessment of your site in the time it takes to flash a single frame of of your favorite TV show, then you know they will hit that “back” button almost as quickly.

So before you go rushing out to hire a designer, take some time to check with your customers. What do they like? What don’t they like? Perhaps consider hiring a research company to hold a focus group or eye tracking study to determine what are the things you should keep and what you should throw away.

I can tell you from experience that such intimate knowledge of your customers can go a long way to improving your relationship with them ultimately increasing your sales and bottom line.

Let me give you an example:

We recently held a focus group and eye tracking study for a client of mine. What we found wasn’t terribly surprising however there was a fair bit of feedback on the design of the site. So much so that it actually has influenced the look and feel of the site.

Now, the site looks more like people expect it should and early results suggest that people are happier with it. Visitor durations are going up, as are page views, and abandonments are going down. There are many firms out there that do this type of research so if your company depends on business online you should consider these as options.

But what if you can’t afford expensive eye tracking or focus groups?

Well, there’s always the feedback loop – on every page of your site place an email link or form or rating box or some other way to get your visitors engaged in the site so they can leave feedback. That way your customers can tell you what they like or don’t like.

And if you do have some budget to allow for testing there are services like Optimost which can help you do landing page testing to find the best converting landing page.

This system I find is pretty interesting. It can manipulate pages on the fly and capture conversions. Then they tie the conversion rates to the best performing page and ultimately that would become your ideal landing page.

My only concern is (and I don’t know if this has been changed) that they use Javascript to manipulate the page layout making much of the page non search engine friendly. So, now that you know that we are all hyper-channel changers, and that people search differently, do you think it is time to review your site to make sure it is the most compelling user friendly site it could be?

Rob Sullivan is a SEO Consultant and Writer for

Category SEO
SEJ STAFF Loren Baker Founder at Foundation Digital

Loren Baker is the Founder of SEJ, an Advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing ...

Internet Users Judge Sites in Fraction of a Second

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