Design is still king when it comes to your website
Fergus Stoddart
This is a post by Fergus Stoddart

We all know the saying, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’, but when it comes to online, it’s the opposite: we first judge sites by how they look, then by content. You might have the world’s greatest content on your site, but if the design looks like crap, then you’ve lost my attention.

Many studies on this topic have been undertaken, investigating the time it takes for a site to make a positive impression on the visitor. In 2012, Google conducted a study looking at the time it takes for users to establish a first impression of websites. The study addressed two factors:

  1. Visual complexity
  2. Prototypicality (how representative a design is of a certain category of websites)

After the study, Google said: “The results show that both visual complexity and prototypicality play crucial roles in the process of forming an aesthetic judgment. It happens within incredibly short time frames – between 17 and 50 milliseconds. By comparison, the average blink of an eye takes 100 to 400 milliseconds.”

So, new users to your site build an initial ‘gut feeling’ in under 50 milliseconds. It’s therefore absolutely critical that your site is visually appealing.

A study conducted by Missouri University of Science and Technology found that, while it takes less than 50 milliseconds to form an impression, it actually takes 2.6 seconds for a user’s eye to land on the area of a site that most influences their impression. This means that a user will scan your site until they find an area that engages them – taking, on average, 2.6 seconds. They then spend an average of 180 milliseconds focusing on that area before moving onto another space.

What causes users to mistrust a website? A study conducted in the UK examined health websites to see what inspires trust amongst visitors. The study showed that 94 per cent of participants rejected a website based on design factors, while only 6 per cent based their judgement on irrelevant or inappropriate content. This decision is made extremely quickly; once the user has made their initial appraisal of a site, they change their judging criteria to focus on content. For websites that the user explores in greater depth, 17 per cent of study participants cited poor design as the cause of their mistrust and 83 per cent based their judgement on content. This shows that our first impression is based on design but, once one we want to look further into a site, we shift our focus onto content.

So, is it worth redesigning your website? If you have a dated site with poor design and usability issues, then a site redesign is a must. Forrester Research put together a study looking at the ROI for a website redesign for businesses. Their study showed that 97 per cent of business websites fail to earn a passing grade for usability. Among the biggest sins, 79 per cent fail at basic legibility (adequate font size and contrast with background).

The biggest result in the study showed that the ROI value of a site redesign is between 70 per cent and 500 per cent. That’s a significant return.

Website design is critical and crucial, but many organisations fear taking the leap to make their site the best it can be. Companies tend to look at the cost outlay and not consider the ROI once the site is up and running. Online user standards are higher than ever before, and if you don’t provide a positive and engaging user experience, then you open the door for your competitors to do so – and what financial impact could that incur?

Get onto it now: step into the online space and participate heavily.

Cover image courtesy of Site Inspire