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First impressions count. Cliché? Maybe. But the truth is, they really do.

Imagine this: you’re sitting in your immaculate, modern conference room waiting for the principal of what you think is reputable a marketing agency to arrive and to pitch you on a new strategy for your company in the coming quarter. You’ve never met but you have heard some good things about the agency and the services it delivers. The door opens and there she is, in her bathrobe, slippers and appearing to have just rolled out of bed. Turns out, she doesn’t think she needs to impress you by how she looks or to make a good first impression; her presentation is SURE to “wow” you.

Now consider this: it can be difficult (though not impossible) to overcome a bad first impression no matter what you do in in the future or how well you do it. In fact, according to Fast Company, when someone forms a negative opinion, despite subsequent positive actions, he  will purposefully avoid changing opinion. This is  because of an inability to resolve the dissonance the contradiction creates.

Let’s apply this scenario to your website

Buyers aren’t waiting for your phone call and your sales pitch. They are researching online, trying to find the best product or service provider to solve a problem. That means your website has to act as your first impression – like the receptionist at the front desk, it sets the tone for what people think about interacting with your company. You want that first impression to be positive if you have any hope of turning website visitors into leads and then being able to nurture leads through to sales.

Unfortunately, it only takes a few seconds for a visitor to decide to stay or to bounce. In fact, it takes no more than 50 milliseconds (or .05 seconds) for users to form any type of opinion about your website.

In that split second, your site’s design will have the most impact on whether your visitor has a good first impression. According to British researchers, who studied how design and content influence the trust of online health websites, 94% of website first impressions are design related, while only 6% was related to actual content. Further, research from Stanford shows that 75% of users admit to making judgments about a company’s credibility based on its web design.

Can you believe that? People will decide if they can trust you based on how nice your website looks.

How do you do that? Ruthlessly. First, simplify. Second, deliver on expectations.

Websites with less visual clutter that follow best practices or standard conventions for their particular industry are usually viewed more positively. In contrast, designs that contradict experiences or expectations can cause a first impression to be negative and result in a quick click on the back or X button.

Beyond the initial first impression

Once a user decides to stay, good design becomes about much more than how the website looks. Good design is also about how the site functions, how it satisfies the needs of the user and how it persuades the user to take action.

People have become more wary of websites and more measured in their clicks especially with so many scams and hidden malware. Your website needs to convey trust and credibility to overcome any skepticism or suspicion and to assure users that your business is void of any impropriety.

Use authentic images and language. Try not to overuse stock photography, which can feel artificial and contrived. Everyone knows those aren’t your people in those photos. Consider showing your face. People like to do business with people and are more willing to trust a business that shows it’s face. However, make sure your photos are done professionally; no selfies (unless that represents your corporate culture; there’s an exception for every rule).

Include social proof. People are naturally drawn to making decisions based on others and the choices they make. Social proof can be included in the form of testimonials, star ratings, client or media logos, number of followers, number of subscribers, number of purchases, product reviews. Hubspot, for example, includes information about their number of agency partners, monthly blog visitors, certified professionals, social followers and customers.

Display badges. Security badges, SSL seals and trust seals can increase conversions by improving visitors’ confidence in the safety of your site, their information and their privacy as well as your ethical business practices. While studies show any type of seal, even your money-back-guarantee icon, will increase a user’s perception of security and credibility, trust seals (versus SSL seals) produce the highest levels of confidence.

Source: Baymard Institute, https://baymard.com/blog/site-seal-trust

Consider your colors. Colors can deeply impact the opinions people form and the feelings they have. Blue and green typically are more likely to convey trustworthiness and are reassuring. Reds and oranges can be seen as “warning” colors, thus why they are often used for these types of alerts and messages.

Include payment gateway icons or logos. Using reputable payment gateways such as Sage, Authorize.net and Paypal can encourage online purchases.

Display a clear method of contact. Don’t hide from your users. Make it easy for them to contact you by email, snail mail, phone and/or a form on your site.

Bonus Tip: DO NOT USE COMIC SANS…ever.

Second Bonus Tip: If you’re savvy enough not to use Comic Sans, ever, add Papyrus to your list of never-use fonts!

Conclusion

Think about how you choose to enter any brick-and-mortar business. Will you enter the establishment with the dirty facade, cracked sign and overflowing trash? Or do you prefer establishment that is clean, cared for and appears well kept?

Like these businesses, your website’s appearance is crucially important to your success online.

Is it saying to visitors, “I really don’t care enough to put my best foot forward,” or is it proudly announcing, “I’m a professional who wants to earn your trust and your business?”

Don’t skimp on your website. A poorly designed site can be more costly in the long run. And, remember not everyone is necessarily ready to buy — make a good first impression but also make a memorable impression.

 

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