Three neat things we learned about first-time website visitors

We’ve done a lot of user interviews for the various sites we’ve made. Yes, every user is different and every site is different, but we’re seeing common themes in user behavior, especially when someone first visits a site. Usually they are looking for something specific, or they are making comparisons with other sites so you’ve got to act fast and communicate your message fast!

Here are a few big ideas to keep in mind when planning your own site to win the hearts and attention spans of your first-time visitors.

1. People come to a new site a LOT

If users are comparing sites to make a decision about something: to apply, to buy, to sign up, to hire, they will visit a site in frequent short bursts over a short period of time. Some people visited more than 10 times per week!

We found this when talking to users who were applying for a program online: they were comparing the similar programs on different sites and trying to figure out which one to apply to. Visitors were  first coming to the site to gather impressions. They are asking themselves: Does this site feel like me? Do I fit in here? Is it trustworthy/fun/prestigious?

Obviously the questions varied from site to site, but in every site, users were only coming to gather an initial impression of the site. They weren’t coming to DO anything at all, so those big bright Apply Now buttons just weren’t for them… yet. They were looking for photos and copy that spoke to them, things that helped them see themselves in the program. This would be the same for an ecommerce, service or nonprofit site, too. People would ask, can I see myself using this product? Does this site help me understand how it would feel to use this service? Can I relate to the mission and people this organization helps?

The idea is: Give your users a lot of images, copy and cues that help them feel the value of your brand, company or work, so they decide early that your program, service or product is the best.

It’s so important, so don’t use stock photography. Just don’t.

users scan when they come to websites

2. People don’t read, they scan

… so please, no more wordy slideshow copy.

Writing for the web is really tough, which is why we recommend hiring professionals (us) to do that. Here’s the problem: You spend a bunch of time writing a huge block of copy about your organization’s mission and no one reads it.

They will, but they need a little enticing first. So make sure your headlines, subheads, bullet points and captions are compelling. That means: short and powerful. Like Yoda.

Here’s a test: Open up a page on your site and shut your eyes. Now, quickly open them for 3 seconds. What did you see first? What else did you see? Are these the most important things on the page? If not, you’ve got some updating to do.

3. People click on people … well, really they click on everything

People click on images and they like images of other people most of all. Make sure your images link somewhere.

Since not all links are underlined and blue anymore, people click on just about anything that’s not a big block of copy. So make sure things that could be clickable go somewhere. The best thing to do is user test your site. It’s simple: Get a few people who fit your user profile in a room, one at a time, and ask them to do a task that you think is important for the success of your site. Watch what they do and watch where they click.

Make sure you record the session. Your boss might not believe what you uncover.

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