The Short Story

Make it love at first sight

Make a great first impression, and you'll get the benefit of the doubt next time. Make a poor first impression, and it takes an awful lot of positive experiences to turn it around. (Now there's a blinding flash of the obvious!) Not surprisingly, this works with websites as well. What is quite surprising is just how quickly people get these first impressions when it's a website. Psychology researchers at Carleton University (Ottawa) followed the standard approach in researching such things.

  1. Show a large number of people a handful of websites, and ask the people to rate the websites;
  2. Show a separate large group of people the same websites for a shorter period, and get ratings on each;
  3. Repeat #2 with an ever-shorter viewing period, as long as the ratings don't change.

Through this process, the researchers can determine the minimum duration of a viewing that will create such a lasting impression that the ratings don't vary significantly with much longer exposure.

1/20th of a second.
To the astonishment of almost everyone, the impression gained in a mere 50 milliseconds, 1/20th of a second, was sufficient to remain "in control" of the viewers' overall evaluation of each of the websites for an extended period. Our websites need to create a favorable impression in the first blink of an eye. Otherwise, even if our visitors hang around long enough to look further, they will be doing so with a predetermined impression of what we have to offer. (Read the BBC account.)


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