What Can You Say In 3-5 Seconds?

It is widely claimed that the first 3-5 seconds that a person views your website for the first time are the most important. Within this time the individual will decide whether the information on your page is interesting, useful and eye catching. The design and layout of your website are key to the new visitor determining whether they should invest their time in staying on your page.

Behavioural psychology is an important aspect that all web designers should take into account when creating their design. If you understand the emotional response of the visitor then you can make more informed and ultimately effective choices when selecting your colour scheme, layout, fonts and images.

Fulfilling Visitors Needs

Each visitors needs will be different and will vary from project to project. Fulfilling each of your visitors needs is difficult but that are some constants that all visitors expect from a website. Alexander Dawson identified these as:

  • Accessibility: The website can be found and used by all people.
  • Stability: The website is consistent and trustworthy.
  • Usability: The website is user-friendly.
  • Reliability: The website is consistently available, without downtime.
  • Functionality: The website offers content, tools and services users value.
  • Flexibility: The website adapts to needs and wants of users.

Creating a comprehensive wireframe design will help you incorporate many of these elements from the very beginning of your design and allows you to get these fundamentals nailed down before embarking on making fancy graphics and hover-over effects.

Make It Beautiful

There is no getting away from the age old saying that “content is king”. However, within the first 3-5 seconds that you get to make a positive impression on your new visitor, it is also key that your design is attractive to them and presents the content in a way that is pleasing to them.

This aspect of web design is very similar to when you meet someone for the first time. The first impression you have of someone is based on their aesthetic looks. Our brains are hard wired to make assumptions purely based on our first impression of someone. Within a few seconds your brain will have assessed their dress-sense, body language and facial expressions and made connections to decide if they are well educated, has money and other such judgements. This first impression is the same when someone visits your website and this is why your site needs to be aesthetically pleasing to them.

It is not until we get to know the person that we being to understand their personality and get a true understanding of who they are and what they are like. This is where great website content becomes vital in ensuring your site isn’t just a bit of eye-candy and has real value to offer.

Focus on creating a website that your target audience will find beautiful whilst ensuring is does not negatively affect the 6 needs listed above. Great content is the key to visitors returning but your design is will grab their attention in the first place, so remember to spend time researching what your audience find visually appealing.

Placing Information

As you are no doubt aware, where you place information on a page will directly affect the probability that your visitors will remember that content. When you have a large amount of data or text that you need to display it is a good idea to break it down into lists, tables and charts. Presenting the information in this way makes it easier for the reader to digest.

When deciding on where to place important information it is best to place it at the end of a short list or the beginning of a large list. Hermann Ebbinghaus coined the term “Serial position effect” which refers to the finding that the accuracy of your memory varies dependant on an items positions within a list.

The finding shows that people tend to remember things at the end of a list first (the recency effect) and the items at the start of the list are recalled easier than those in the middle of the list (the primacy effect). Hermann also found that the initial items on the list where more effectively stored in the long-term memory due to the greater amount of processing devoted to them. More information on the serial position effect can be found here.

Help Them Remember

When designing your website take a moment to think if there are any ways you can help your visitor remember key pieces of information. For example if you wanted people to remember your next events date and location why not have an interactive element that reveals the event  details to reinforce the key info. It is important that you don’t appear to be hassling the visitor but helpful hints, quizzes, images and questions within the content and design will help them remember important information.

Keep Tasks Simple

Whenever you want the user to take action on a task it is important to ensure that it is as straight forward and simple as possible. It is also important to ensure that the number of tasks that your request the user to complete at any one time are as few as possible. A visitors performance is reduced when they have too much to think about at once, this harps back to the “Usability: The website is user-friendly.”

For example if you are asking have an e-commerce website it is important to make it as simple and easy as possible for the user to complete the purchase. Keep the number of tasks and variable options to a minimum.

Promote New Content

Over time you will hopefully build up a number of regular visitors who have a specific interest in something your website provides. These visitors will often be blinkered to the rest of your websites great content as they are on a mission to get to the area that is of regular interest to them. Whilst it is great to get return visitors they can often miss the fantastic new content or offers you’re providing.

Promote new content in areas of your site that will stand out to people. For example if you have a login page many of your visitors will bookmark this page and go directly to that area and skip any offers or content that you’ve spent hours creating for your home page. On the login page you may want to think about how to present your important content.


Every part of your website that a visitor views is affected by the psychological profile of that individual. We cannot yet design a website that is tailor-made to suit each person’s specific needs but we can take actions to ensure the majority of our target audience and engaged and want to return. As with all design never be afraid to ask your audience for their participation in improving site design and gain their feedback wherever possible.

Written by James Hay, Social Media Coordinator at Fasthosts Internet Ltd.

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