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WEBSITE FIRST IMPRESSIONS

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My mum always told me that first impressions are lasting impressions - and in general she is right. Online, however, the first impression a visitor has of your website might last less than a second. Why so? Because according to researchers in Canada [Lindgaard et al, 2006*] users decide on whether of not to stay on a website in 50 milliseconds as it downloads. Now to be fair, it is younger users who are likely to make these snap decisions - but the concept is still valid for all ages. In that research its authors suggest that 'aesthetics, or visual appeal, factors may be detected first and that these could influence how users judge subsequent experience' - a psychological model based on pre-cognition. In lay-persons' speak this means we have a preconception of what we expect on the page.

In chapter three of my book I stress the importance of having a 'simple' home page that not only downloads quickly [an advantage of being 'basic'] but tells the visitor whether or not they are on the right page ie one that will meet the need they are looking to satisfy during that online-session. Can that be part of our 'preconception'? I think so.

It depends on the site's objectives, of course, and the nature of its market and its customers - but I think I can match my needs with my expectations of the site. If I am looking for a new pair of shoes then surely my subconscious is looking for a nice 'clean' page with shoes on it. Or a government site a nice clear list of links to departments that will supply the information I am looking for.

Which moves me nicely into something that the 'academic' research of Lindgaard [as well as others] does not address - but is covered by practitioners. And that is the textual content - more specifically, the title and headers of the page. If - as the page downloads - the 'strapline' of the page says 'men's shoes for all occasions' then I know what that page is about. And if I have arrived from a search engine listing after searching on the term 'mens' brogues wide fitting brown' then surely my expectation is for something like a picture of a man's brogue in brown, with the words 'all shoes available in wide fittings'? And if I get some kind of 'flash' presentation, 'artsy' images or poorly presented text with no title then perhaps that's when I move into decision-in-less-thana-second mode?

Note that all of the above is even more important for landing pages.

* Lindgaard, G., Fernandes, G., Dudek, C. & Brown, J. (March-April 2006). Attention web designers: You have 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression! Journal of Behaviour & Information Technology Vol. 25, No. 2, pp. 115 - 126.

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