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First Impressions Matter if You Want to Make a Website Credible

Updated: August 18th, 2023

Humans make incredibly fast decisions. Research has shown that it takes roughly 50 milliseconds (about 0.05 seconds) for people to form their opinion of your website. And, of course, technology is making it increasingly easier for humans to act on these opinions. Just click, tap, swipe, or blurt out “Alexa, off!” and it can quickly be game over for a brand. (Very much like the 366 million people online dating who rely mainly on pictures and snippets of “about me” copy before swiftly swiping left or right en route to nothing … or a relationship.)

And yet, in the midst of all that we know and understand, we find that marketers often focus less on their websites than perhaps they should.

ETR co-founder and creative director Todd Doyle puts it this way: “Given the importance of the first impression, and the incredible speed with which it happens, it’s surprising to me that more focus is not placed on the site. Clients of course understand it’s important, but there is often an understandable notion of ‘it’s good enough’ that can get in the way of deeper explorations that could pay greater dividends. We always make the case for visual design testing using moderated or unmoderated usability tests. This can move the discussion past opinion and build toward effectiveness.”

Indeed, while there has always been competition for marketers’ attention and budget, it’s arguably more so now than ever amid an ever-expanding digital landscape. For example, a CMO or CTO today will likely be comparing investment in their website against an expanded social media landscape, e-commerce, CRM, and burgeoning innovation opportunities in AI, for example.

But, according to Shannon Ruetsch, ETR’s head of strategy, these leaders should tread carefully when it comes to planning website budgets. She shares: “It is common for the C-suite to struggle with where to invest marketing resources, but the research shows that websites are a major factor in the user journey.”

Many point to the landmark web credibility research from Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab found that 75% of users admit to “making judgments about a company’s credibility based on their website’s design.”

While it’s an older study, the reality is that these same behaviors exist today. As leading UX research organization Nielsen Norman Group puts it: “[A]lthough design patterns and trends change over time, human behavior does not. Users’ priorities and methods of evaluation are the same today as they were 17 years ago, even though the web itself has vastly evolved. What we now consider a ‘quality’ website design looks very different from a reputable website of the past, but what influences the perception of quality has not changed and will not change in the future.”

And, TikTok and Amazon aside, it’s not as if the website has ceased to be a significant part of the user journey. A January 2023 study by eMarketer found that 55% of U.S. and U.K. retail shoppers researched and bought on a retailer’s website, versus just 23% via social media. That’s not to say critical business isn’t done on social media, but it does speak to the importance of the website.

Now is not the time to lose focus. Rather, in an era of competing channels and high customer expectations, we’d argue it’s a great time to elevate the web experience. And if you’ve invested in your brand and its digital presence (which you surely have), then there is logic to doing the extra work to ensure it’s conveyed in just the right way on your website.

As Neal J. Roese writes in the 3rd Edition of Kellogg on Marketing, “[E]ach and every tactical execution contributes to the brand image … customers derive an inherent value from seeing a family resemblance in assortments.” In other words, your site, product, and communications need to be coherent, clear, and coordinated.

The topic of customer perception also brings to mind the research by Kotler and Keller that found that customer satisfaction comes from “comparing a product’s perceived performance or outcome against his/her expectations.” While these findings may sound obvious on the surface, the implications are potentially profound. If your customer’s expectations for your website are ahead of your execution, you could be damaging your brand – and your bottom line.

Whether it’s a first date or deciding who you want to do business with, the fact is that in all of those cases, we have less than a second to make a first impression – and then make sure you’re doing the work to make the relationship last.

Doyle adds: “It’s human to shift or lose focus when there are so many competing priorities out there. That’s why we feel that one of the ways we can help clients most is by being there to help them keep their focus.”

If you’re interested in evaluating how your website stacks up (or are ready to start a website redesign process), reach out to ExpandTheRoom, and we’d be happy to help.

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