Your website: first impressions will make or break you

People judge a website by how it looks. Good first impressions are critical to the success of your website. If your visitors don’t like the look of your site, they’ll quickly leave.

Scientific studies have shown us that:-

  • If your visitors like your website, they will believe it works better because it’s attractive.
  • People will decide whether your website is trustworthy based on its appearance.
  • Users will be more forgiving of a website’s faults if it made a good first impression.

People like to be right,  so they will continue to use a website that made a good first impression, as this helps to ‘prove’ to themselves that they made a good initial decision.

We make emotional, instinctive and intuitive judgements

Salespeople have long known that the vast majority of people make emotional rather than rational decisions when buying something.  The same is often true of our judgements about websites – we are not as rational as we’d like to think.

Your visitors form an opinion of your website within milliseconds.  If they don’t like your site, they will quickly exit, probably never to return. If they like your website, they will believe it works better than comparable sites simply because it’s attractive.  Perhaps that sounds unlikely, but it’s true. There have been research studies to prove it.

These split-second assessments of the quality of websites are perhaps not a bad thing.  Today’s Internet users are quick to perceive the subtle cues that can communicate the underlying intention of your website. They are put off by being manipulated into buying.  They are looking for genuineness, integrity, consideration of their needs (and not just the needs of the enterprise), clear information, and options that are clearly delineated in a manner that does not cause confusion.

Studies have shown that Internet users make up their minds about the quality of a website in just a 20th of a second of viewing a webpage!   According to a study by Canadian researcher Gitte Lindgaard of Carleton University [1.], it takes users less than 50 milliseconds to decide if they like a website. This was a surprising result for the researcher and her colleagues who believed it would take at least 10 times longer for users to form an opinion.

Do I trust your website?

Today’s Internet users are savvy and astute.  They very quickly form a judgement of your website for trustworthiness.

B.J.Fogg [2.] who conducted extensive studies into web credibility at Standford University said:-

people do judge a Web site by how it looks. That’s the first test of the Web site. And if it doesn’t look credible or it doesn’t look like what they expect it to be, they go elsewhere. It doesn’t get a second test. And it’s not so different from other things in life. It’s the way we judge automobiles and politicians.”

This was an extensive study involving 2,684 “average people” who rated the credibility of websites in ten content areas.

How to build trust

  • Make your website look professional and have a style and appearance which is appropriate for your niche.  This is the primary factor in inspiring trust.
  • There are a number of other factors which help inspire credibility. These factors relate to content. For example, you should:
    • Demonstrate expertise in your subject matter
    • Be factual and accurate in what you say
    • Give your users a means of verifying what you say through references and reputable links
    • Let it be known that there is a real person or persons behind your website who can be contacted (by phone, email or post)
    • Make an effort to build your online reputation.  For example, the quality of your content may encourage other websites to link to yours, and may result in good reviews on other websites and recommendations in social media.

If you fail to make a good website first impression

fail website first impression“Unless the first impression is favorable, visitors will be out of your site before they even know that you might be offering more than your competitors,” Dr Lindgaard said.

If you fail to make a good first impression:-

  • Your visitors will exit immediately without a second click
  • You have just wasted all your efforts in search engine optimization, marketing and advertising campaigns – because you have just lost your visitor
  • All the great content, all the clever design, all the good functionality and all the best usability in the world is of NO USE, because your visitors are not hanging around to see it.

If it looks good it must BE good

It’s called the Halo Effect, and in short it means if a website is attractive, your users will believe it works better than less attractive websites.

halo effect on websitesResearchers Gitte Lindgaard and her team at Carleton University found their study results demonstrated what is known to psychologists as the “halo effect”: the first impression of a website creates a cognitive bias in the user that affects their long-term opinion of the website.

If the user thinks the website looks good, the positive first impression translates to other areas of the site, like its content. People like to be right,  so they will continue to use a website that made a good first impression, as this helps to ‘prove’ to themselves that they made a good initial decision.

Test results showed that users will be more forgiving of a website’s faults if it made a good first impression.

Making better first impressions

Making a good first impression on visitors is critical to the success of your website.

Keep in mind that many of your visitors will not be landing on your homepage – their search query may lead them to any of the subpages within your site.  So ALL your pages need to make a good first impression! When making improvements to your webpages to make a better first impression, you should take into account:-

  • Your audience groups, their age-groups, tastes, preferences and expectations
  • The required tone, look and feel of your website
  • The impact of color and images, and the aesthetics of your website
  • How to build trust
  • User-centric design
  • User-centric content
  • Writing good ‘copy’ (promotional wording)

See also: Do your visitors like your website?  [How do you measure the impact of first impressions.]



  1. The study by Canadian researcher Gitte Lindgaard of Carleton University was  published in the March-April 2006 issue of the journal Behaviour and Information Technology.
  2. A study by the Stanford Web Credibility Project, How Do People Evaluate a Web Site’s Credibility? Results from a Large Study, was published in 2002. The study invited 2,684 “average people” to rate the credibility of websites in ten content areas. The online project details have now been archived but still contain valuable details – see

About Jana Brech

Hi, my name is Jana Brech. I live in Brisbane, Australia. After 20+ years in the IT industry as an Analyst/Programmer, I have a passion for Usability. I love good design. Drop me a note to say hi, or leave a comment. Web Consulting, Expert Reviews

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  1. soundos  December 19, 2019

    thanks for this article


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