First Impressions & Pitfalls

First impressions count. They really do. Most surfers make up their minds about a website within the first four seconds of viewing. If the page does not load within those few seconds they may never look at it at all. Similarly, if the homepage does not capture the viewer’s interest quickly they may never go on to view the rest of the site. So, what are the pitfalls that lead them to press the back button and how can they be avoided?

Pitfall 1: The Never-Ending Load Page.

Have you ever visited a URL and sat there staring at a blank screen? Perhaps it even says ‘Loading!’ but gives you absolutely no idea how long you will have to wait. If you’re in a patient mood you might wait some more, but you don’t know what progress (if any) it’s making. As far as you know it may never load.

We live in an instant gratification culture and most web users expect their content to be immediate. A smaller, simpler website that visitors will actually see is better than a large, complicated one they won’t. A website can look impressive without any multimedia, and if you want to use it it’s best to be fairly minimal. (See ‘Pitfall 3: Sensory Assault’). This will decrease the overall file size and be quicker to load, persuading more visitors to stay on your site.

If certain content is causing your website to be slow you should assess whether you really need it. If you do think about how you could scale down or optimize it. Make sure there is a loading bar which tracks progress so that your visitors know something is happening and how long it will take.

Pitfall 2: Entrances

Some people think that since a website has an address it requires a door – it doesn’t. On the whole entrances are just a barrier to your site and requiring one click more than is necessary.

Video entrances are even worse. They play you a promotion to the website you are trying to get to whilst getting in your way – especially if there is no option to skip. A visitor may tolerate that experience once, however, they will probably be forced to experience it every time they return as well. Visitors are easy to please, just give them the content they came for.

If that’s not enough to persuade you an ‘entrance’ is a bad idea Search Engines don’t like them either.

Pitfall 3: Sensory Assault

Sensory assault is where everything happens at once and ‘jumps out’ at the viewer. It’s usually unsolicited and alarming, somewhat like a horror movie. It happens when there is a lot of movement and ‘special effects’ on a page, for example lots of continually looping animations. Done to make a page more exciting, this is distracting and jarring. Movement makes it difficult to concentrate on static elements such as text.

Worse still there might be sound. People who have their speakers on will all have them set to different volumes and may even be listening to their own music whilst they surf. Sounds which play automatically could come out VERY LOUD causing the visitor to jump and run far away from the site!

Auto-playing, on the whole is not a good idea. The visitor should get the choice of whether to play any sounds or videos. If you use animations do not have them loop continuously. Unless they are very subtle they will draw attention away from other parts of the site. Instead you might have them play once when the page loads and/or when the user activates them.

Use multi-media sparingly and it will have greater impact. Too much is confusing as the viewer will not know where to look. A good layout should provide a little ‘space to breath.’

Pitfall 4: No Content

This one’s simple. Having little or no content on your site will not persuade people to stay because there will be nothing to stay for. Content is what they’re after – the more, the better. And yes � you should have something on your front page, because quite a lot of people do judge a book by its cover, actually. Write some blurb and hook your viewers!

A lot of people use the internet for research and if you are running a business they will be comparing yours to others. Anticipate the questions they would ask and answer them. You don’t have to be long-winded, just relevant. Which would you prefer? A company you know nothing about or a company you know everything about?

Pitfall 5: Mystery Navigation
Navigation is how you travel around a website. Good navigation is used without really being noticed. They are a series of links that get you from one page to another and there should be a group of main links either at the top or side of a web page.

Mystery navigation is non-standard and may not be where or what you expect. It’s most frequently used on artistic websites to show how ‘creative’ they are. However it’s difficult for visitors to use and can make surfing a frustrating experience.

Using images or symbols instead of words is a classic example of mystery navigation, but doing this means the visitor does not know where they are navigating to. Some use mouse-over effects so you can see the name of the page when the cursor is placed over the link. But this is extra work and the visitor should be able to tell at a glance where they are going.

Therefore it is advisable to use the standard, text navigation used on most websites. You can make it look more interesting, but it should always be clear. If a viewer cannot easily find what they want they will go elsewhere. There is no advantage to making navigation harder.

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