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The Five Second Rule for Web Designers

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We all know about the five second rule for food, but what about the five second rule for Web Designers?

I’m told I have a really short attention spa... Look! There’s a mime! I hate mimes, don’t you?

Ok, the connection from that one to web design isn't immediately obvious.

But the above statement is actually closely relevant to web designers, and Internet users in general, insofar as it quite accurately reflects the attention span of the average surfer.

If you can't grab them in five seconds or less, they're gone.

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Breaking the five second rule is the most common cause of visitor-loss...

But while boring, uninspired web design and bland content are no doubt responsible for increased bounce-rates, the problem of visitor-loss is further compounded by two major factors:

  1. Slow loading times
    If your web page contains an excessive amount, or poorly formatted (the size of your thumbnail but half a megabyte big), graphics, its loading times will suffer as a result. The fact that the onscreen image is the size of a postage stamp means nothing, because the original image is still loaded into that space, and if the original image is the size of a bedspread, then that’s the amount of loading space/time necessary to put it on the visitor’s screen.

    Web Designers sometimes forget that not everyone’s Internet connection is as fast as theirs, and what loads in a flash on their test-browsers, may take long enough to make a sandwich on someone else’s machine. Speaking of Flash, intros which take 30 seconds to load and cannot be skipped or, worse still, Flash-based navigation systems which take 10 to 15 seconds to respond are definitely out for the same reason.

    Hint: Even those users with enough time on their hands to go and make a sandwich while your page loads will eventually get bored and go away.

    Ultimately, the five second rule represents the maximum, rather than the minimum safe margin for web designers. Even the folks at Google have realized this, and there are now some very persistent rumors that page loading speed will soon become a factor in Google’s ranking assessment.

  2. Generally obscure content or marketing message
    Your site’s visitors are not looking to solve a riddle; make sure you tell them who you are and what you do as quickly as possible.

    Big Bird Bakers, we bake great bread” is a clear, if somewhat bland marketing message, whereas “ThirstySystems, Synergising Enterprise-Wide Technology”, while being packed with the juicy goodness of buzzwords, has absolutely nothing to say about what the business in question actually does.

    Don’t make your visitors guess about you or your services, not if you want to turn them into paying customers anyway.

    But it’s not just the little guy who’s guilty of leaving the visitor guessing; even such giants as Casio, and Harvard University have in the past been guilty of producing websites with Mystery Meat Navigation. And while it could be argued that anyone searching for Casio would already know what the company does, there really is no excuse for anyone to produce websites which deliberately frustrate users.

    Hint: If you want to keep your visitors interested, make sure you tell them who and what you are, and give them a clear navigation structure to work with as they explore your website.

Additionally, quite a few web designers are simply itching to produce something new and ‘different’, the results of which often combine the above causes to great effect. Still, at least that way, if surfers actually do have the patience to make a sandwich while a page loads, they won’t starve while puzzling over its meaning.

Visitors to commercial web sites are looking for one of three things:

  1. Relevant information
  2. A product/service to purchase
  3. Entertainment

Unless one or more of these requirements are satisfied quickly once they reach a site, they become disinterested and go elsewhere.

Unfortunately this small detail is often overlooked by web designers more interested in producing something ‘cool’ than whether the finished article will efficiently fultill its task, regardless of whether it's selling bread or ‘Synergised Enterprise-Wide Technology’, whatever this may be.

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Remember... 5 Seconds isn't a long time...

If you want to sell; sell.
If you want to be cool, build a beatnik or acid jazz website.

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