Your 0.2 Second Chance to Make a First Impression

This post is from my new series “Method & Message” on the Volusion ecommerce blog. You can see the original post here.


There’s a lot of talk about how short the average user’s attention span is online (and believe me, it’s short). An online user can take as little as 0.2 seconds to form an opinion about your brand.

But a funny thing happens after that. If they stick around for a few seconds, they’re likely to stick around for a few minutes. And that’s when users become buyers.

So the question is, how do you keep them around?

First Impressions: Getting Them Through the Door

We’re brutally efficient at sorting through content on the web. With so many choices online, we don’t take the time to make rational, studied assessments of brand, character and quality. We’re visual creatures, so these snap judgments are based almost exclusively on how a site and its various features look.

Fortunately, Volusion’s ecommerce templates, custom web designs and innovative features can help your store stand out from the crowd.

But successfully selling online takes more than good looks. Imagine walking into the most beautiful store you’ve ever seen–incredible architecture, impeccable interior design, luxurious displays. But there’s no product. Or maybe there is product, but there’s no one at the checkout counter. How long would you stay? How much would you buy?

The Staying Power of Quality Content

When we talk about “content” on most sites, we tend to focus on the words. But “content” literally refers to the contents of your site: all the things it contains. That includes the words, but also the images, videos, audio, banners, buttons… the list goes on. Oh yeah, and in an ecommerce site, that also includes your products.

If good design gets your online customers through the door, good content is what gets them to stay and, more importantly, gets them to buy.

Here are some ways your content can help get your customers from impression to purchase:

Inform the Design

Give your design meaning. Make sure design elements like colors, icons, fonts and imagery all convey the personality of your store. As an example, your main homepage image should be more than just a pretty picture. Use that space to provide a key differentiator, a special offer, or interesting message, in addition to the big beautiful imagery. Make it beautiful, but make it count.

Show Them the Way

Many large retailers have renovated their stores with wider aisles, lower shelving and bigger signage. Why? Because shoppers felt boxed in and many couldn’t find their way around. The same holds true for online shoppers. Your categories and navigation titles help your customers find their way in your store. But they do more than tell customers where to go–they also tell them, at a glance, what you sell. Make sure your navigation labels are clear, descriptive and relevant to your products and your brand.

Show Them the Goods

If your navigation is the signage within your store, then the homepage is the main entrance. Featuring your newest, most popular or specially priced products on your homepage can get potential customers to “come inside” and look around. To appeal to the most visitors, make sure your featured products show a good mix of your store’s inventory and your price range.

Mind the Details

Customers can’t touch, feel, try on or try out your products online. So you have give them all the information you can. Try to anticipate buyer’s questions, especially on details like sizing, materials, product specs or special features. And if you get the same question from several buyers, update your description with those details for future customers! As an added bonus, detailed descriptions can help boost your SEO rankings for that product and others like it.

Be Trustworthy

Customers want to know they’re buying a quality product from a quality source. A detailed “About Us” page, clear contact information and personal messages can build trust and help your customers feel comfortable buying from you. If you’re active in social networks, professional organizations or communities, provide links so they can see how you interact with your customers, friends and colleagues.

When in doubt, put yourself in the customer’s place. Think about what would help you find, choose and ultimately purchase your products.

Remember, Usable is Beautiful

If you’re still more concerned about how your site looks than how it works, take this to heart. Studies have shown that when it’s easy for customers to find and purchase the product they want, they actually find those sites more attractive. When sites have poor content and poor usability, visitors get frustrated and they become more critical. That makes them less likely to buy on the first visit, and less likely to come back for another.

So by all means, spend time on your design, play with the options and tweak your template, but don’t neglect your content. That first 0.2 second impression is predominantly visual–but that’s only the beginning.