Ten seconds. That's how long you have to get their attention.
They've got plenty of other options, you know. Millions of them.
Seriously, ten seconds at most. After all, ten seconds can be a long time.
Just so we're all clear on how long this really is, here's ten seconds:
and here's ten seconds:
Does the second clip feel longer to you? The first clip has an order to it. In fact, you probably recognized the song after just a couple of seconds. And even if you didn't, its rhythmic structure was clear right away, which gave you a sense for where it was going. But in the second clip, there was no structure—no sense for what was happening or what might happen. You're just left hanging, which, even for just ten seconds, can feel like a long time.
Or maybe you prefer ambient drone sounds over 80's new wave, in which case you're probably thinking, "this dude's so wrong."
The point is that even though ten seconds sounds like a insignificant amount of time, it's more than enough to grab a visitor's attention, or—if they're impatient, already bored, especially skeptical or just plain confused—lose it completely.
Overcoming User Skepticism
Usability expert Jakob Nielsen recently wrote an article in response to the question, "How Long Do Users Stay on Web Pages?" He had this to say:
"…the first 10 seconds of the page visit are critical for users’ decision to stay or leave. The probability of leaving is very high during these first few seconds because users are extremely skeptical, having suffered countless poorly designed Web pages in the past. People know that most Web pages are useless, and they behave accordingly to avoid wasting more time than absolutely necessary on bad pages."
So let's explore skepticism for a moment by doing a little mad-libbing:
Imagine you search for ________. On the search results page, you click on a link that reads ________. That takes you to a webpage titled ________. Within only a few seconds, you think, "Oh, this isn't what I wanted. I thought this page was going to be about ________ but it looks like it's about ________."
Naturally, you'd leave a page that seemed like it wasn't going to give you the information you were looking for pretty quickly, and head back to Google to search again. When you're looking for answers, it's good to be skeptical. But what if your first impression isn't accurate? What if the page you just left did have what you needed, but just didn't make that clear to you quickly enough?
A webpage can't be everything to everyone, but that's hardly ever really the problem. In most cases, users are looking for clarity more than comprehensiveness. If a webpage's purpose—what it's offering and what it's asking for—is not immediately clear, a user won't give it the time of day, no matter how well-written its content. So, it often comes down to issues of design that determine a webpage's effectiveness, and whether it's able to disarm a user's skepticism.
In this article, I'd like to take a closer look at how design can support or obstruct content. I'm going to visually examine several examples as well as put them through a user-testing session fashioned after Nielsen's 10-second quote—what I'm going to call ten second tests.