Newfangled works with independent agencies to create lead development web platforms for their clients.

Newfangled works with independent agencies to create lead development web platforms for their clients.

Webpage Speed-Dating

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 ________."

Sound familiar?

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.


Christopher Butler | October 16, 2011 7:24 PM
Finn Thanks!

Scott: Glad to hear this will be helpful to you. Fire away!

Max: That's not a bad idea. I'll try that out!

Debra: Thank u

Karen: That's a great question. I should say that this post was geared more toward those websites that don't rely upon advertising for support. Specifically, I really had in mind websites that are doing content marketing. One problem I have noticed is that even for those doing content marketing--where advertising wouldn't really make sense--the aesthetics or visual impression that advertisements make has an undue influence upon their thinking about how a "professional" website should look. In other words, some people think, often on a subconscious level, that advertising enhances the seriousness of a website. It's too bad that's often not the case, if not the opposite!

So, in cases like your's, I'd recommend finding a way to include advertisements that has the least distraction potential. There are a couple of ways to do this. One would be to limit and standardize the real estate--so that ads are always on the right, beneath any other site-specific content widgets, for example, but never in the content column or on the left. Another might be to limit the color scheme and/or type sizes of the ads you display, so that the text of ads never dominates the text of headlines on the page. That's probably much harder to do, especially to the degree that you are depending upon the advertising. The balance of power/influence when it comes to advertising subsidized publishing is key. The New York Times website can definitely call the shots and levy strict guidelines on their advertising. A smalltime website, probably not.

I hope that's helpful. I might have other ideas if I was able to take a look at your site. What's the URL?
Karen | October 9, 2011 1:27 PM
I totally agree and am a huge fan of minimalist design, but for sites (like mine) that survive by being ad supported, how on earth do you strike a balance? The examples of good design are just stripped of all ads, an unrealistic option for some of us... any suggestions?
debraboudreau | October 8, 2011 9:28 AM
hi, ur post is great and im agree with u
maximilon.baddeley | October 4, 2011 1:21 AM
Great job with the videos!

Perhaps next time you could start with the websites minimized, that way we get to see the site the same time as the testers do!
Scott | September 29, 2011 10:26 AM
Right on. This is great ammo to back up my reasoning with my clients. Thanks for the clearly and logically written article.
finn | September 27, 2011 10:34 PM
Clever title! Nice read, too.
Christopher Butler | September 27, 2011 5:04 PM
Alex, Hendrik, and Joel: Thanks so much! I wanted to try to introduce a new kind of sensory experience into these articles. I'm glad you like it!

Jessica: I completely agree!

AJ: In general, I agree with you. I wish there was a one-size-fits-all, scientifically-reliable approach to evaluating whether a website is doing the right things. But if you think about it, that kind of evaluation is very, very broad. The "right" things are very specific to each website, and evaluating them comes down to asking a number of questions unique to each one as well.

Instead of one surefire approach to testing out a website, there are lots of different ones. All of them are valuable, none are good enough to stand alone. A few that come to mind are A/B testing, heatmapping (as you mentioned), focused user studies, and the more casual user tests that I've written about lately. The thing is, they're all tainted in some way by subjectivity. With A/B testing, you decide what is A and what is B. That's subjective. Even though the test may reveal something objective about the two options, the choice of options to compare is not objective. Focused user testing will always have some flaw: too-educated users, too-uneducated users, faulty equipment, not enough data, etc. Heatmapping is very "scientific," but it only tells you where users are looking. But we want to know more than that, don't we?

What I like about the simple usability studies I wrote about back in April is that they are focused around the unique goals of each website. The method of the procedure is standardized by its general structure and the equipment you use, but the test itself is customized every time. It's centered around questions that only make sense to the specific site being tested. With these tests, the time limit helps to focus them on one question: What are users able to perceive about your page in 10 seconds, and what ways does its design affect that?

This reminds me of a quote I love from David Kelly, founder of IDEO. He did a talk for Stanford's Entrepreneurial Thought Leader Speaker Series in which he said:
"You don't find anything out until you start showing it to people."
I think this serves as the perfect mantra for how website testing should work in the broader sense. I love casual usability studies because you learn things from the volunteers doing the tests, but you also learn how to ask the right questions by doing the testing, which turns into new kinds of tests.
AJ | September 27, 2011 4:26 PM
I agree with everyone, I really love the ten-second audio example.

But I do have a question. You said that the test process you're using isn't scientific, but I kind of feel like there should be a more scientific approach that we use before these others. What about heat-mapping or that kind of thing?
Jessica | September 27, 2011 10:45 AM
Thanks for this article! I have always felt that cramming advertising into every bit of available whitespace makes understanding and navigation confusing. I have many customers who think it's essential to fill all "empty" space. I'm glad to have the 10-second statistic that I can share with them. Thank you!
Joel Hughes | September 27, 2011 10:12 AM
Great post & I agree with Alex - the audio example is superb.

Hendrik-Jan Francke | September 27, 2011 8:58 AM
Your audio example is superb!
Alex | September 27, 2011 7:22 AM
LOVED the audio examples at the beginning. They were a great way to show what can or can't happen in that time. This really hit home when I watched the test videos, where ten seconds felt even shorter! Great tips and examples, thanks!

↑ top