Insights // Talking Shop

The 5-second Rule

Last updated July 29, 2016

It’s really this simple: when a user first arrives on your home page, she should be able to figure out what your website is all about in roughly 5 seconds, give or take.

And that clock starts ticking as soon as your page begins loading.

Five seconds isn’t a whole lot of time to convey much information but consider this: someone doesn’t want to spend minutes figuring out that your organization is not the right fit for their needs—for example: you’re a cleaning service that caters to businesses but not residential homes.

Accomplishing the 5-second rule

The home page is really just a “jump off” page, like a birds-eye view of your forest. It needs to:

  • Convey who you are, what you’re about, and who you serve.
  • Entice the user to take further action.
  • Answer the question: why should I be here?

It’s a bit like the old “elevator pitch”.

The design of the page is crucial and yet it’s the most abused page on the web because everyone from the CEO to the janitor wants real estate on it.

If your website was in the game Monopoly, the home page would be both Boardwalk and Park Place. (And if the organization is dysfunctional enough, all 4 railroads.)

The visual connection

It’s not just copy that tells people what you’re about. Users infer tons of information from photography.

In the example of the cleaning service above, you would want to focus on using images of commercial looking buildings, your staff genuinely looking professional, etc.

Another example: if someone is looking for a medical doctor, the main photo they see should be someone dressed in the classic doctor’s white coat.

A headshot of a doctor in a golf polo doesn’t tell you much except that he might be a doctor and that he probably plays golf. This photo could easily be a secondary shot, for example.

Or how about in the case of a restaurant? The head chef should be wearing chef’s jacket, not a suit coat and tie. You’re getting the idea, right?

There is a time and place to be casual but don’t fall into the trap of trying to be too “down to earth.” If someone knocks on your door claiming to be UPS, who would you rather see: a guy in a UPS uniform or someone in a suit and tie? Now reverse the roles.

Watching paint peel

So know that we’ve nailed being authentic, your website has to convey its contents quickly.

The website uptime monitoring tool Pingdom aggregates statistics from its users and found 5 seconds is roughly the average time it takes for the average website to load.

So if your site loads faster than that, you’re actually ahead of the game. Having a fast loading website when everyone else’s is like watching paint peel can give you a key advantage.

When we host our client’s websites, we try to eliminate bottlenecks to make them load as fast as possible.

Mobile users are not desktop users

Over 50% of users are now browsing your website on a mobile device. Just let that sink in for a moment.

While some mobile users can browse over high-speed Wi-Fi, many more are using their smart phone’s built-in data connection as their only access to the Internet.

If you’re used to browsing using high-speed Wi-Fi, viewing your own website on a 3G or even 2G connection can be a sobering experience.

What is your website costing your visitors?

And if speed wasn’t the only issue, every request on your website takes a toll on your visitor’s monthly bill. Unlike most cable or DSL connections, mobile data is often capped so if you go over your quota, you are charged more.

That makes every page, every image, every script, every stylesheet, every byte on your website…. matter.

Putting all the pieces together

So, to recap, your website needs to:

  • Convey who you are
  • Be authentic to your brand
  • Load quickly (under 5 seconds)
  • Accommodate multiple devices seamlessly and Internet connections
  • Get users to take some action

And that’s before someone even knows who you are.

Let us know how we can help with your website and marketing efforts.


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