How to measure website first impression


As much as I love to think of myself as a rational decision-maker, my feelings and instincts get the best of me all the time. Whether it's joy, fear, disgust, or pure rage, emotions have a long-lasting impact on how a website or a brand makes me feel.

First impressions affect our judgments and decision-making, and there's a lot of material to back up this idea.

With Volument, we are introducing a new way to quantify and measure website first impressions. I'm super excited about this. Let me tell you why.

The science of first impressions

Your brain might be the most resilient tracker there is:

…our brains collect and ‘add up’ information across a very brief window of time, often only tens to hundreds of milliseconds, to form a clearer picture before committing to an action.

When you need to make a decision or change your mind rapidly, initial conclusions and first impressions play a significant role in the outcome.

Therese Fessenden from Nielsen Norman Group writes, “the first visceral reaction to a site's design influence how users perceive relevance, credibility, and even usability.“

Studies suggest you have about 2-3 seconds to build a great first impression with your website. I've added links to related studies at the end of this article.

Core Web Vitals, introduced by Google in 2020, also support this idea. One of the metrics is the Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), which tells you how long it takes for a browser to render the largest element on your website.

According to Google, LCP should happen in 2,5 seconds or less if you want to give your users a good experience.

With all the information available, it's weird how little attention we pay to measure website first impressions.

There are two reasons for this.

Poor metrics

First, web analytics tools have lacked an appropriate metric to measure first impressions. We've had to make do with metrics like Time on page and Bounce rate. But they are deeply flawed when it comes to understanding UX.

A visitor can look at a single page for 10 minutes, and the session will still increase your bounce rate if that visitor doesn't browse any other pages.

Core Web Vitals attempt to quantify the user experience. The problem is that they focus on understanding UX from a site performance point of view instead of user behavior.

Broken funnel

Second, website optimization has been subjected to growth ideology emphasizing activities and behavior at the bottom of the conversion funnel.

The classic AIDA funnel and marketing model describes the journey of potential customers.

To put it another way, marketers optimize websites by looking at conversions. At least, this is my experience working in the industry for over a decade.

You're playing a long and risky game when you try to understand how your site design resonates with users by only looking at conversions.

For reliable insights, you need a good amount of conversion data, which might take a lot of time if you have a small or medium-traffic website.

But, if you measure how design changes impact the top of the funnel, aka first impression, you can get relevant insights in a few days or even faster.

So if your new design is crappy, you don't have to wait weeks to fix it.

A first impression is a leading indicator that gives you a glimpse into the future. A good first impression helps users move closer to the bottom of your funnel.

Conversion is a lagging indicator that only tells you what already happened after people took action.

When you optimize the causes - design a great first impression, fix bottlenecks, and create content that people love - the outcome will follow.

How Volument measures first impression

Volument excels in understanding how people engage with your content before they take action, from first impressions to converted users.

Our product gives you a unique view of how your website visitors behave.

The conversion funnel

We use a unique metric to measure first impressions: 3 second stay rate. It is the ratio of visitors who spend time on the site for more than three seconds. We track this metric for both new and return visitors. But, when we want understand how people feel about your website when they see it for the first time, we only look at new visitors. Because you only get on chance to make a great first impression.

The 3 second stay rate metric is effective when you make any design changes on your website: it will tell you very quickly what impact the design update had on user experience.

Insight: Site update

Measuring first impressions is an effective way to do design experiments and A/B testing. Even if you have a small or medium-traffic website, you can experiment with design and see results in a matter of days, whether the update was good or bad.

To start measuring first impressions, get early access to Volument.

  1. Users’ eyes find the website elements that influence their first impression the most in 2,6 seconds: First impressions form quickly on the web, eye-tracking study shows
  2. You have about 50 ms to make a good first impression with visual design on your website: Attention web designers: You have 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression!
  3. A good resource for understanding how first impressions guide our decision-making:: First Impressions Matter: How Designers Can Support Humans’ Automatic Cognitive Processing
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