Search engine optimization for small and very small businesses.

First Impressions Happen Fast on a Web Site

Less than 3 Seconds!

According to research conducted at Missouri University of Science and Technology, it takes under three seconds to form a first impression when someone lands on your website.

“We know first impressions are very important,” says Dr. Hong Sheng, assistant professor of business and information technology at Missouri S&T. “As more people use the Internet to search for information, a user’s first impressions of a website can determine whether that user forms a favorable or unfavorable view of that organization.”

A major factor

Eye tracking heat map and gaze plot of a visitor looking at a web page.

(Credit: Image courtesy of Missouri University of Science and Technology)

First impressions are a major factor in whether a person remains on a website long enough to find what they’re looking for or long enough to take an action like buying something or calling a phone  number. A poor first impression drives away potential customers.

Using eye-tracking software and an infrared camera, the researchers monitored college students’ eye movements as they scanned the web pages. They then analyzed the eye-tracking data to determine how long it took for the students to focus on specific sections of a page — such as the menu, logo, images and social media icons — before they moved on to another section.

It took 2.6 seconds for the students to scan and then focus on an item on the web page, where they formed initial impressions. The item they first focused on was fixated on for less than 2 tenths of a second before their eyes moved on to other items on the page.

After rating the sites, analysis showed that students stayed longer on the pages that they scored more highly for their first impression. That’s not surprising, but indicates that first impressions have a strong impact on how long a person is willing to view or read a web page.

The elements on the page that drew students’ focus and displayed the greatest interest were these, in order of attention time:

  • The website’s logo.
  • Equally important was the main navigation menu, whether horizontally along the top of vertically down the left side of the page.
  • The search box, if there was one.
  • Social networking links to sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
  • The site’s main image, if there was one
  • The site’s written content.
  • The bottom border or footer of the page.

One thing that wasn’t focused on during this study was banner ads, but that’s a topic for another blog post.

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