The two second rule: the time to make an impression

two second ruleHow long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online?

Whether it’s welcoming a visitor to your site or social presence, the answer seems “not very long at all”. But, exactly how long do you have to make visitors “Think, Feel, Do”?!

To understand the effectiveness of your online presences in communicating with visitors, and especially first time visitors, you have to put yourselves in the customers shoes. Judging by many sites, some design and marketing folks expect visitors to lean-back, pour themselves a cup of tea and enjoy the “immersive experience” they have built. Perhaps that’s why the simplicity and standard layout of social sites is more appealing to many visitors – they don’t have the time or the urge to learn a new site.

So how long is too long?

When doing a heuristic review of a site I always apply the 2 second rule. It’s a good rule of thumb to assess whether a companies offer and services are clear. Here’s why I use this rule of thumb, counting down from 7.

Is 7 seconds right?

This is an advertising myth I think, but this is the often quoted average time to view a billboard in the US. I hope that’s skewed by time at traffic lights and not when driving by. Still I think we’re less patient with websites.

Is 2 seconds right?

I use the two second rule since I remember Clickdensity research from a while ago shown in the chart above which showed a clear peak time to the first click of 2 seconds. Not very long is it?

Is a 1/10th of a second right?

If it takes only 2 seconds to click, impressions are obviously formed more quickly than that. You’ll know the saying that when you meet someone for a first time, you form an “instant” impression. Well I’m sure there’s a lot of research into this.

A research example from from the Association for Pyschological Science shows that people form an accurate impression in just 1/10th of a second they don’t change their opinions if given longer?

Is it 1/20th of a second?

This research from 2006 sticks with me. It was published in Nature and showed that that visitors could form an impression in just 50 milliseconds. Clearly this is a subjective, emotional rather than rational judgement, suggesting the importance of a quality design and branding to make the right impression.

So there, you have it! Don’t be fooled by the average dwell times on a page or a site in your analytics, these are often skewed by people leaving the page open in a browser and moving on elsewhere. Instead, I recommend you scare yourself by seeing how many visitors leave the site in less than 10 seconds – it’s as well you will be sitting down.

I also wonder how well focus groups or eyetracking studies can simulate this first impression by their very nature.

Do you know the average time before someone clicks through to the next page on a site. I always remember this research from Clickdensity which shows that the “2 Second Rule” is a good rule of thumb.

So given, this how do you approach design to accomodate this behaviour? Well we’ve some recent posts on Smart Insights Digital Marketing of what I think are good examples of home page design best practice and landing page designs.

I hope there’s food for thought here and you will be even more critical of your designs now.