30 Apr 2015 Web Users Judge Sites in Just 50 Milliseconds
Yes, it’s true – visitors to your business website may be making up their mind about whether they’d like to be your customer in just 50 milliseconds. That’s 0.05 seconds, or the duration of a single frame of standard television footage. Scary stuff for business owners, particularly those with limited time and funds to invest in their online presence.
A famous research paper published in the journal Behaviour and Information Technology in 2006 confirmed what many web professionals had long suspected: that if you don’t immediately convince the visitor that they should linger, they will leave your website without giving your carefully crafted content or amazing promotion a second glance.
First impressions really do count
Lead researcher Gitte Lindgaard and her team from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, were themselves taken aback by the results of their study, showing that the brain makes snap judgements almost as quickly as the eye takes in the information. People do jump to conclusions as a way of navigating the vast amounts of information they need to process when making decisions.
Their subjects were shown images of websites for just 50 milliseconds, and were asked to rate them on visual appeal. Despite the brevity of this first glimpse, their judgements tallied well with ratings made after a longer period of scrutiny. Lindgaard said:
Unless the first impression is favourable, visitors will be out of your site before they even know that you might be offering more than your competitors.
First impressions linger
Think you can counter a poor first impression with your well-written content, or your high quality products, customer service, or great deals? Think again. Once an impression is formed, it can be hard to reverse. In psychology, this is known as a ‘cognitive bias’ – a bias in the brain’s processing that is employed to help decision-making.
On the flip side, you can make cognitive bias work in your favour. The well-documented ‘halo effect’ describes the reverse situation. Win people over with an attractive design, and they are more likely to rate its content more favourably and overlook other minor faults, as Lindgaard explains:
People enjoy being right, so continuing to use a website that gave a good first impression helps to 'prove' to themselves that they made a good initial decision... It's awfully scary stuff, but the tendency to jump to conclusions is far more widespread than we realise.
So whilst it’s clear that your website must have beauty as well as brains, it’s also important to remember that trends in what is deemed attractive in terms of design do evolve. Just as fashions change over time, so does web design. What was a fantastic design ten years ago will look extremely outdated now.
A good website design should have a lifetime of about 3-5 years before it needs updating, so it’s worth investing in getting the job done properly, rather than getting cheap job done that will already look outmoded when it’s launched.
Lindgaard G., Fernandes G. J., Dudek C. & Brown J. (2006), Behaviour and Information Technology, 25, 115 – 126.