Two things remain irretrievable: Time and a first impression

We all know that familiar phrase ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ – and for the most part, it’s widely recognised as something we should try to follow. However, the online shopping jungle operates differently and in this environment, it’s not only ignored but is rudely cast aside. 

In the online world, first impressions matter – they really matter. Your users are very likely to judge you by your cover, your title, your colour palette, texture, design, and more. Only recently, one of our user experience/user interface (UX/UI) designers reaffirmed that humans are programmed to see beauty which also often acts as a major point of differentiation in the sea of sameness which can be found in online marketplaces/websites. How else do you decide who or what to choose? 

This just makes the initial experience of landing on a site even more vital to get right – and fast – which is not something available fresh out of the box. According to well cited research, ‘you (only) have 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression!’, if not less – a Google study in 2012 showed that it can take 17ms for some opinions to develop. 

Cynthia Ozick, an American novelist, has a quote which I’ve used for the title of this post – “Two things remain irretrievable: Time and a first impression”… and yet so many websites are not taking this into account on behalf of their users.

Nailing your first impressions

To start making the best first impressions, consider these four points:

1. Match user expectations – is your content relevant and easy to navigate?

When a user clicks on a search engine results page link, finds your site through referrals or just comes to you directly, they will have a set of basic expectations on the upcoming experience. Those could be summarised as:

  • The site loads fast (or appears to load fast – see point two below)
  • We are talking about the same thing, i.e., what they clicked on is what they’re now seeing, meaning your site is relevant
  • We recognise that one size does not fit all, i.e., we match a local requirement rather than simply duplicate other markets

That last point is really important. Our own research shows that 57% of respondents experience or notice language or cultural issues with using a brand’s local site. Furthermore, across the markets in our Localisation Report 2022, 23% said inaccurate cultural references would prompt them to seek alternatives.

We all know one size certainly doesn’t fit all. So, localising to make sure you’re speaking the same language, or portraying the right image is vital to a user’s first impression of your brand. 
Making sure you’re speaking the same language and talking about what the user clicked on makes you relevant and is the instant foot in the door for a positive user experience. Now you have to deliver it…

2. Make sure your first impression isn’t a loading screen

Speed matters. Research – including extensive reviews by Google – tells us this over and over with stats like ‘half of mobile users will abandon a mobile site if it takes longer than three seconds to load’. 

However, speed, when talking about first impressions for users, isn’t necessarily just about technical speed – although with Core Web Vitals as a ranking metric for organic search results it’s easy to argue that this ought to be enough! The perception of speed is also important, and by that I mean you need to make your page usable by making it fast… or making it appear to be fast.  

If you have technical limitations in the short/medium term that need to be overcome before you can deliver Verstappen-like page speed then you need to give users the impression that things are moving quickly. A great talk at a recent Google event explores hacking the perception of waiting by either improving the speed or removing the friction it causes by reframing the problem. If we can’t make something faster, make the wait feel shorter. In the link above they use Houston Airport moving the planes further away from where users needed to get to in order to reduce complaints of waiting around. Houston couldn’t make the wait any shorter so they ‘simply’ kept the users busier for longer. Problem reframed, problem solved. Houston, we have no problem. 

3. Design for the user and not just your brand

You need to give your users what they want, and if you can’t do that then give them what they need. Odds are they care more about your site matching their requirements than it does their expectations of your brand’s image and design. If the site isn’t clear or usable, it doesn’t matter what brand recognition is doing, you will not be converting anywhere near where you could be.

The best in the market make these two match – time after time I hear ‘Apple’ as the answer to the ‘what is your favourite website’ icebreaker. It’s simple, clean, easy to follow just like their products are clean, simple and easy to use. To identify what user’s want you need to open up, which means you should prepare to hear things that you didn’t know, don’t like or maybe just flat out disagree with. Just remember one thing: the website does not exist for you but for your customers and readers. 

Their needs matter more if you are to grow. There are many sites and tools that allow you to talk to users both in general (e.g UsabilityHub and Usabilla) and in a more targeted way. 

You should look into undertaking (un)moderated user studies as they can provide more detail on why issues exist. Asking 10+ people to ‘walk the site’ and provide feedback will tell you if there are issues and what to look for in analytics data or further research to understand the scale of that issue. If you have the budget, then go for moderated user studies, you wont regret it and will only find more to play with. 

4. Make navigation clear, simple and intuitive – feed back on user actions

This is linked to the above but important to separate out and to apply focus on. 

Make sure important navigation is clear and recognisable to your users. You need to invite users to engage with the site early. Text buttons, for example, are poor for engagement whereas buttons that are clearly identifiable and interactive, are much easier for users to interact with. Buttons are also great at providing visual feedback to users that their action is doing something, or highlighting a possible interaction is available with a hover state – something unavailable to mobile. 

How many times have you clicked a button on mobile and thought ‘Did that work? Did that register?’ and then had to click again? And again… and again. This can only lead to one thing – a negative user experience. All you need to do is apply a small visual effect to the button (e.g. ripple) to stop that user getting frustrated. This very important user experience is also what is in beta for becoming the new Core Web Vitals metric: Interaction to Next Paint (INP).

The content is only as good as how well you can keep your customers’ or readers’ attention. Taking these four points into consideration will help you make the marketing endeavours on your website much more effective; even if it is just considering it.

If you would like to know more on this, or indeed to discuss how any of the above can be applied to your website, please get in touch.

by Chris Ford
2 August 2022



Related posts