First Impressions made of websites in less than a second

By Campbell Angus

Web users form first impressions of web pages in as little as 50 milliseconds (1/20th of a second), according to Canadian researchers. In the blink of an eye, web surfers make nearly instantaneous judgements of a web site’s “visual appeal.” Through the “halo effect” first impressions can colour subsequent judgements of perceived credibility, usability, and ultimately influence our purchasing decisions. Creating a fast-loading, visually appealing site can help websites succeed.

This study shows it doesn’t even matter how good the content or the product/service outlined on the website are, unless a web user has been attracted initially by the design they are unlikely to keep browsing.

“My colleagues believed it would be impossible to really see anything in less than 500 milliseconds,” Dr. Gitte Lindgaard told Nature, which reported the research Lindgaard published in Behaviour and Information Technology.

A good first impression will increase the chances of someone visiting your site again, but a bad first impression is very difficult to shake. Here are some factors that will contribute to the positive first impression users have of your website, and tips on how to make that impression last.

  • Loading – pages that load quickly and get to the information a user wants to see will encourage repeat visits.
  • Design – a well-designed website will draw a user’s attention to the right elements and one that is easy on the eye will lead to more future visits.
  • Colour – choosing a colour combination that is welcoming, will create the right first impression.
  • Branding – will a user recognise the website is yours within the first moments? Make sure your logo is prominent and the site matches what you want to say with your branding.
  • Font – first impressions extend to the font used on your site so check it is uniform throughout (ie same font, same point size).
  • Flashing images – websites that open up and instantly launch into flash animations, songs or videos without a choice can be annoying and are often enough reason for a user to click back and never return.
  • Ads – a home page so cluttered with advertising that the content can’t be read easily is an instant turn off. Consider this when placing ads.
  • Navigation – make it as easy as possible for a user to find what they need on your site. Great content means nothing if it can’t be found.
  • Image quality – grainy low-quality images will say more about your site than all the great design and content put together, so spend the time (and maybe money) to source high quality images and photos.
  • Content – once a user has remained on the site after the first few seconds keep them there by offering great content.
  • Accessibility – not all users will be an average visitor so ensure the website is accessible to all and consider offering larger font menus and easy-to-navigate pages.


“Unless the first impression is favourable, visitors will be out of your site before they even know that you might be offering more than your competitors.”

This research shows that reliable decisions about your site can be made in as little as 1/20th of a second. This emotional judgement can colour subsequent judgements made after further reflection. Even though your site may have superior products, services, or usability, an initial negative impression from a poor or slow design can steer customers towards your competition. You only get one chance to create a good first impression, make it count. A clean, professional, and fast-loading site can ensure that your first impression will be a good one.

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