A new study shows that visitors form a long-lasting impression of a website within a fraction of a second of their first visit.
In just a brief one-twentieth of a second — less than half the time it takes to blink — people make aesthetic judgments that influence the rest of their experience with an Internet site…In the study, researchers discovered that people could rate the visual appeal of sites after seeing them for just one-twentieth of a second. These judgments were not random, the researchers found — sites that were flashed up twice were given similar ratings both times.
To the extent that this is true, there are major implications for web designers and webmasters.
1) Design is important. If you are relying on your content to shape visitors’ perceptions, you may be disappointed. A high-content, low-design site like useit.com may start off on the wrong foot with its visitors if their first thought is “ugly” or even, “Is this site broken?”
2) Fast page loads are important. If the critical first second is expended in watching a page build itself, load a flash graphic, or images gradually replacing markers, you may have squandered your opportunity for a good first impression. Think of the difference between your prom date appearing perfectly made up and coiffed and wearing a gorgeous dress, vs. the same date who stumbles down the steps ripping curlers out of her hair, arranging her dress, and wiping lipstick off her front tooth. The end result may be identical, but the first impression is certainly different.
3) Support your content with your design. We’ve all been approached by a salesman who seemed a bit “off” – something about his personality, clothing, etc. seemed not quite in synch with his polished sales pitch. It’s well established that humans can subliminally process body language of other individuals and form an impression as to the character and truthfulness of the person. The research suggests that some similar kind of processing may be going on as we view a web site, so be sure that all parts of your message are congruent and geared to forming the impression you want.
Unfortunately, the research didn’t provide any data as to what websites should do to form that all-important first impression. Still, it’s good data to have.