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How to Test a Website in Ten Seconds

A few weeks ago I wrote up a quick explanation of how to test a website in ten minutes. Quick and easy. But did you know that you can test a web page in ten seconds? Believe it. I started doing this after I read a page abandonment study by Jakob Nielsen in which he concluded:

“…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…”

Ok. So count to ten. I’ll wait.

It feels long when you do that, right? Now grab the closest printed thing you have — a book, a magazine cover, whatever — and give yourself ten seconds to look it over. All of the sudden, it feels shorter, doesn’t it? Now imagine some stranger looking at something you have designed for just ten seconds. Now that seems impossibly short — unfair, even! But that’s reality. That’s your window of opportunity to create the right first impression of your content and engage your reader. And really, it’s probably even shorter than that.

So, how can we use this ten second business as a framework for testing our designs?

Simple. We’re going to give our testing volunteers just 10 seconds to view a page and test what their initial impressions are. No need to complicate this. It’s going to be about as simple a procedure as can be. You open the page, give them ten seconds, ask them to close it, then ask a few questions. That’s it.

Here are some questions to ask:

  1. What was this page about?
  2. Did anything in particular — words, images, colors, shapes — stand out to you?
  3. Was your general impression positive or negative? Why?
  4. Would you continue reading this page?
  5. If you had to find this page again using a search tool, what would you search for?

These questions will draw out your volunteer’s true first impression without leading them. You’ll be able to clearly see what in your design helps them, and what doesn’t.

How about an example?

OK, so what’s interesting here is that in the first test, my volunteer said he had absolutely no idea what the page was about. He recalled structural elements, but that’s it. That made sense to me, given the page’s design — pretty traditional, boxy. In the second test, he remembered much more. By the time I asked him about searching for this page, he even recalled the page’s title, almost exactly. So, the point: the second page was much more carefully designed for creating an accurate first impression. The text is larger and given more space. The overall informational hierarchy is much clearer, which makes for more accurate scanning. No wonder it performed better in ten seconds than the first page.

So, the lesson: Design can mean the difference between a conversion or a bounce. This form of quick testing will show you which design decisions help visitors, and which don’t. Why not try it out today?

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