5 Seconds, 3 Questions, & the Fish Memory Myth: A Website Guide

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Ever heard the myth that fish have three-second memories? Well, scientists found that fish memories can last up to five months. Earth-shattering. Ever heard the idea that fish have short attention spans? This may be true (we’re not ichthyologists).

What we can say for sure is that the attention span of a user visiting a website is short. Not because there is some cataclysmic decrease in general human attention span (we actually don’t have proper data to make that claim), but because, by using website analytics, we can conclude that users will make the decision to stay or leave a website within about 5 seconds.

Within those 5 seconds, website visitors will ask themselves three questions: Am in in the right place? How do I feel about this? What do I do next? These three questions, based on website design, will determine if the visitor stays and potentially becomes a lead or leaves, never to be seen again (sorry, that’s dramatic – you can retarget them with ads probably). All this should play into how your web design company builds the website.

Let’s walk through the Q’s.

Pretend you’re a user looking to buy shoes, handwoven pillows, or rare cacti – whatever trips your trigger. You do your research and you click a link from Google. Now you’ve landed on a website. Enter the Q’s.

Q for U #1: Am I in the right place?

An existential, slightly psychedelic question when asked out of context. But a very basic question when talking about websites. The web page should immediately tell the user what the site is about. This can be achieved with clear headline text and attention-grabbing imagery. One misplaced web design element and the user can feel that they landed in the wrong spot. If too much scrolling or searching is required to get the website identity across, users will bounce. A high bounce rate tells Google and other search engines that the user-experience is bad, leading to lower search engine result rankings.

Q for U #2: How do I feel about this?

Feelings matter. Ideally you feel that you can trust the place you’ve landed in. The website design looks up-to-date and modern, reassuring you that the business still exists and can offer reliable information. Aesthetic, colors, pictures, and content all play a major role here. Today’s websites feature white space, large text, pixel perfect photos and videos, and a modern CMS (like WordPress).

This is where businesses create trust. If the website looks new, shiny, and lovely, you’re more likely to trust the brand. Be sure to feature reviews and testimonials that are easy to see (visitors may dive into them at a later point).

Q for U #3: What do I do next

Another existential question. But on a website, where do I click next? Everything on a webpage should guide users to a specific goal. Maybe you want users to learn more about your business and scroll through the page. Make it visually appealing with big headers so they can skim and get the gist. Maybe the goal is to guide people to a button that asks for contact info or an email subscription. Maybe you want users to shop and complete a purchase. Whatever it is, the page needs to guide the user in that direction.

Make buttons easy-to-see and give them action-oriented colors (bright and bold, not grey and dull). Put forms in easy-to-find places, maybe even above-the-fold. Include contact info or important links in your headers and footers so they’re always accessible.

How’s your navigation? People often click the navigation without even scrolling. Make sure it’s well-defined and easy to follow.

How do I know what users are experiencing?

Heatmap it. See where users are clicking and find out how far they’re scrolling down. Run a free website audit. Try viewing the website in different browsers and devices. How does the website design look? Show the website to your nephew, your grandma, your mailman. Have them scroll through the website and see if they stay on it for more than 5 seconds and where they click next.

A fish walks into a bar. The bartender asks the fish three questions. What does the fish reply? Nothing. The fish left because the bar hadn’t been updated since 2001 (and the bar is a construct of the fish’s mind).

Bad joke? Definitely. Moral of the story? People might be like fish. Websites need to answer three questions. And with a great web design company your website can start converting.

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