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Why First Impressions Matter

Written by Tyler Wetzel on Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Cliff by the ocean

Photo by Danka Peter

I was reading an article by Scott Belsky, co-founder of Behance, about first impressions called the First 15 Seconds. Belsky states that, “in the first 15 seconds of every new experience, people are lazy, vain, and selfish”. No, he’s not bashing humanity. He’s being honest and for the most part it’s totally true. As far as business goes, a first impression makes a lasting impact that will either force users away or bring them flocking to you. It’s essential that you engage your users within that small time frame or else face them leaving in droves towards the next big thing. The key is distractions!

Be Memorable

You have to be the annoying kid on the block. Constantly fighting for the center of attention. Just as a book cover convinces a reader to pick it up, regardless of content, you need to do the same. An attractive illustration can convince a potential customer to pick up a book or buy a product with just a glance. Following this logic, the first fifteen seconds of your website should be engaging, colorful and of course memorable. You want to push the viewer towards immediate action or involvement.


Belsky gives us a great example of this theory in action in regards to sign-ups for Behance. When you originally registered on the website you were asked to select three categories that interested you. This process left users scrolling through the various categories and pages in search of topics that would best represent their interests. It proved to be time consuming and even frustrating for some users, some whom would just leave. “New users took an average of 120 seconds to browse the list and select their top fields. We lost around 10% of new members at this particular step in the sign-up process”, stated Belsky. The solution? Remove the step entirely. Sign ups increased and Behance learned a valuable lesson.

The Blink Test

A study conducted by Carleton University (Canada) in 2006 gave the infamous statistic that Web designers have 500 milliseconds (i.e. half a second) to impress and engage a user landing on their page for the first time.

Blink test

A Tough Audience

Another article titled, Don’t lose users for eternity in the first 5 seconds: How to survive the blink test by Denis Duvauchelle describes a new generation of tech fluent individuals who thrive on content. They usually have notoriously small attention spans. He argues that we as a species are stubborn. We try something out and we either like it or hate it. There is no middle ground.

Duvauchelle claims there are two crucial factors that give a negative first impression:

  • High visual complexity = Too much stuff on the page
  • Low prototypical (“normal” or “expected”) design = Where is all the stuff I expect?!

Therefore, designers and marketers have a unique challenge in front of them. They must find innovative ways to engage users, and remain within the bounds that people are familiar with. Understanding your audience is critical, but finding the balance between simplicity and originality is difficult. If you’re too simplistic then you may just blend into the crowd. On the other hand, if you’re trying to be overly creative you may drive people away if they find it hard to navigate or grasp.

Solutions: Templates

If you’re new to web design then you could use templates. Templates have generally good code, responsive layouts and are usually cheaper. Moreover, some templates are based around eye movement and can be useful for bringing in those first new sign ups based on legit data. Heatmapping tools that track mouse movement are traditionally used to help establish where buttons and call-to-action fields go. If it follows a general design then you could have higher engagement due to familiarity.

Goodwerp Home

One problem we made when we first rolled out our homepage for Goodwerp was information overload. We were excited about releasing the website, and we wanted to show off everything on the first page. Screen shots, features, and detailed paragraphs littered the homepage. It proved to be too much for people to read. Our sign ups were suffering, so we decided to gut the entire page.

Goodwerp website homepage

We ripped out the navigation and 90% of the text. We positioned the sign up button on the main page with a full spread photo and several key features that made us unique. Sometimes less is better. The new landing generated more sign ups and proved to be more effective than its overly complicated predecessor.

Goodwerp homepage A/B Test

Follow your Eye

Making a good first impression should be among your first orders of business. To that end, the Missouri S&T study results might help you determine which elements of your website are most important to those viewing the pages. The researchers at Missouri employed eye-tracking software and an infrared camera to monitor study participant’s eye movements as they perused the test website pages.

Heat Mapping Technique

The analysis of eye movement data helped researchers determine how long people focus on specific portions of a web page before moving on to another part of the page. These sections included the navigation menu, logo, photos, images and social-media icons. Also important, according to the research team, is the selection of color and images to a web page’s design.

Some of the crucial elements that the study highlighted as important are:

  • Logos: Visitors spend about 6.48 seconds focused on this most identifiable portion of a site.
  • Navigation menus: Users spend almost as long (6.44 seconds) studying the menu on a webpage.
  • Search box: This area kept visitors’ attention for more than 6 seconds.
  • Links to social utilities: The fact that participants in the study focused on social-media icons for 5.95 seconds reveals just how important it is for your business to offer opportunities for customers to engage with your brand and other customers.
  • Primary image: Visitors perused the main photo or graphic on the page for 5.94 seconds.
  • Written content: This element took up 5.59 seconds of their time.
  • Bottom of the page: That’s where users ended up, engaged for about 5.25 seconds in that location.

A Never-ending Challenge

Focus on these areas and strip out unnecessary elements that may be distracting. Remember that your design is only as good as the message and action it promotes. It’s all about functionality. Pushing a viewer to engage in the website in those first 5 seconds is a definite challenge for designers and finding that balance between originality and practicality will always be a major hurdle but if you can master it then kudos, you might be the next big thing.

Read next: The Project Management Process Explained


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Goodwerp stands for "The Good Web Enterprise Resource Planner" and it encompasses a family of online products that help companies big and small around the world, succeed in their business goals.

Goodwerp, Inc. is a registered business in the State of Delaware.

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