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How to create a great first impression with your website

How to create a great first impression with your website
An old research piece found its way to our inbox and it caught our attention. It's from a psychology journal, and it discusses first impressions, at length.

Published: 19 Nov, 2013

How to create a great first impression with your website

A paper that recently caught our interest (which came to us via The University of Basel, Switzerland) can be found here, and here's a summary of it, from its abstract:

This paper experimentally investigates the role of visual complexity (VC) and prototypicality (PT) as design factors of websites shaping users' first impressions...

Okay, so that got our attention, especially that new term, "prototypicality." Reading the paper got us to start thinking about a website's "first impression." As the paper explains, it's a pretty important aspect that feeds right into buyer psychology and all that macro-level philosophical stuff that exceeds our threshold of understanding such matters.

Having rolled the ideas in the paper around in our heads for a while now, we've put together our list of the best ways your digital presence can make a great first impression.

Here's what we've come up with:

1. Be who/what you are

People visit websites in search of something, be it an answer to a question, an article, or a video.

This means they have some reasonable expectations of what your site should look like, before they ever see it.

If the page in question is a blog (for example), make sure that's clearly its purpose, even at first glance. We see so many sites that try to "dress up" their blogs in such a way that it kills the feel of it; the quintessential "blog" aesthetic needs to be there. (You're on our blog, and we're designers, but we keep it simple for a reason)

Likewise, a landing page should be just that, a springboard from which to nurture the lead further along in building a relationship, or getting straight to making a sale, depending up your intent in creating the page.

2. Prototypical does not mean "typical"

As the paper points out, making a first impression is an exercise in meeting with people's preconceived expectations, or "proto-typicality."

But that doesn't mean playing it totally safe. In fact, veering too far into the realm of the "typical" can be a detrimentally bad thing.

It's easy enough to slap together a WordPress page. But if you simply use the default WordPress theme, or one of the popular free ones, you lose visitors, because your site looks too "made-from-template." Same deal on using a variety of common templates and layouts.

Those companies, we understand, are trying to subtly discourage desktop usage and encourage mobile site access, but maybe give the desktop landing pages a little something more?

3. Appreciate and consider Visual Complexity (VC)

If you're a business operator, the abbreviation "VC" probably reminds you of Venture Capital. But when it comes to your company's website, you will want to get acquainted with another "VC:" visual complexity.

Too many images and colours going on in your web pages and you run the risk of scaring away visitors with visual overload. Too little visual complexity, and you run headlong into seemingly like you're running your website with templates. So it's a balancing act.

How do you decide how complex the visual elements of the page should be? You have to know what it is you want to say with the webpage. Is it meant to convert? Is it meant to capture a lead? Whatever combination of visual elements you choose they should support the actionable outcome you seek in creating the webpage.

You'll never get the "action" if you lose visitors on first impression, with the wrong balance of visual complexity/simplicity.

Are you making a great first impression with your website?

First impressions, as they say, are everything. If you aren't getting the right response from first-time visitors, you might want to start troubleshooting using our tips to make sure you're putting your best face forward.