In business, as in life, you rarely have a second chance to make a first impression. More often than not, it is a company website, rather than a staff member that stands as the gatekeeper to the organization’s reputation.
Studies suggest website visitors formulate an initial impression, good or bad, in a fraction of a second. That isn’t much time to take in much, so this level likely doesn’t involve much more than a glimpse of the user interface and layout, and certainly not much if any text.
An effective website goes beyond looks and appearance, however. While this “halo effect” may prevent a website visitor from bouncing immediately, it will likely not survive much frustration if people can’t find what they are looking for.
Success is dependent on planning, particularly identifying your audience, figuring out what they are looking for, and providing that content in a well organized manner.
Pay particularly close attention to planning if this is a marketing/information site intended to inform, and convert potential customers. Remember that you are not the user—what makes great sense to you and your co-workers will likely go right over the head of the average user (i.e. potential customers).
Jakob Nielsen, named "the guru of Web page usability" by the New York Times, identified the top three priorities for a website, a number of years ago, noting they haven’t changed since the beginning of business on the Web.
- Communicating clearly so that users understand you. Users allocate minimal time to initial website visits, so you must quickly convince them that the site's worthwhile.
- Providing information users want. Users must be able to easily determine whether your services meet their needs and why they should do business with you.
- Offering simple, consistent page design, clear navigation, and an information architecture that puts things where users expect to find them.
Unfortunately, too many website owners and managers loose site of their website’s goal of conducting transactions. The transaction is not necessarily an ecommerce sale, but can be collecting a sales lead, or even providing support documents to an existing customer. If website visitors can’t find what they are looking for, either because they give up, or it is missing altogether, the website will fall short of its ultimate potential as a valuable business tool.
Don't miss an opportunity to make an effective first, and lasting impression.