Why first impressions matter

Posted on April 15, 2015
4 min read


It’s no secret: first impressions are a big deal. The first few moments of any interaction go a long way in influencing our opinions and decisions.

Now, imagine you only had  50 milliseconds to convey your brand message and make users feel like they can trust you. Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? How could anyone get that much information across in less time than it takes to blink your eyes?

Well, it’s not impossible at all. The reality is, users are scanning your app or website as we speak, and they’re forming opinions about your brand that could make or break your bottom line.

First impressions play a huge role in a user’s experience with an organization. So naturally, we’re pretty obsessed with helping companies make great first impressions here at UserTesting. Here’s what happens in those first few seconds, and why we think you should be obsessed with making a great first impression, too.

Gut check

First impressions happen really fast—especially when the average time users spend on a website is eight seconds. With such a short timeframe, users tend to rely on their “gut reaction” to help guide their opinions of a site or app. So what does this mean for you? It means you have only a few seconds to get to your user’s guts—metaphorically speaking.

How to do it

The copy and imagery on your site need to be clear and focused. If you’re selling shoes, for example, make sure your graphics and copy work in tandem to let users know they’re in the right place. Your logo, contact information, and any CTAs should also be clearly displayed, and reinforce what your company is doing to address the needs of your users.

Within five seconds or less, your users should easily be able to answer the below questions. If they can’t, your design, layout, and copy probably need some work.

  • Who you are

  • What you’re selling

  • Why you’re relevant to the user

In this example of a 5-second test for the popular app, Snapchat, we see how a user can be confused about the purpose of the site or app without enough context. This user understandably assumes Snapchat is a cable television company.

 How does that make you feel?

While your users are deciding if they’ll stay or if they’ll go, they’re also gauging how they feel about the experience overall. Is the interaction pleasant? What about the layout and design? Are you making your users work too hard for the information they want? The design of your site or app plays a massive role in forming impressions.

In a study by Missouri University of Science and Technology, researchers used eye-tracking software to see where users spent the most time on a page. Their findings revealed that of all the factors that influenced the subject’s impressions, over 94% were related to design elements, including the overall look and feel, the logo, main image, and the navigation bar.

How to do it

First and foremost, remember that the first impression is all about your users. It’s tempting to resort to design tactics that we’re trained to believe will convert (think green buttons) but consider how those elements will make your users feel. For example, consider the colors and copy on your homepage. Does it come across as pushy or aggressive? Are you asking your users to commit to something without giving them a chance to get to know you first?

Instead of focusing on conversions, align your design process with the user in the spotlight.

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Make your users feel like the center of attention and focus on design elements like these to make them feel right at home:

  • Color
  • Typography
  • Images
  • Brand

Content that converts

While design clearly plays an important role in first impressions, a snazzy site or app will fall flat if there’s no content to support it. Content plays an important role in guiding your users’ mood—and hopefully encouraging them to take action. For example, if you offer luxury travel services, use the copy on the homepage to help users feel like they’re worth the splurge, and that you’ll treat them like a VIP. Set the right mood with content, and your users will feel like they’re in the right place.

Every word and image on your page should serve a distinct purpose, prove your relevancy, and provide value to your users. That copy needs to be easy to read, and quickly jump out at the user without much effort.

How to do it

Remember, users don’t read your site or app, they scan it. Make your copy easy to scan, and use visuals as much as possible to help break up blocks of text, and attract the user’s eye. Use headers and pull-out quotes to highlight important concepts, and keep copy succinct and buzzword-free. Once you’ve grabbed their attention, use compelling copy to set the tone and mood that represents your brand.

A matter of trust

We normally think of trust as something that’s earned over time and could take years to establish. But when it comes to your site or app, it takes just a few seconds or less. Believe it or not, conveying trustworthiness is something that happens within the first few seconds when a first impression is formed. If you don’t establish that, you’ll have a hard time proving your legitimacy to your users going forward—if they ever come back to your site.

How to do it

All the components of design and content will go a long way toward establishing trust, but there are few more things you can include to help give your users confidence they’re dealing with a reputable company:

  • Clear, prominent, well-designed logo
  • Clean, easy-to-use navigation
  • Easy-to-find contact information
  • Customer and partner logos
  • Media coverage logos
  • Customer quotes and reviews

First impressions happen quickly and can last long after a user has interacted with your site or app. Test early and often (even in the prototyping or wireframing stages) to gauge how users perceive your brand. Focus on design and content that gives your users a positive experience. This will build the trust and confidence in your brand they need to spend more than just a few seconds on your site or app.

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