Bad news. Your website visitors are often very fickle creatures. They judge your whole website often within just a few seconds of arriving on your homepage – just like they do for a book by its cover.
And worst still, many of them aren’t happy with what they see – average webpage bounce rates hover between 40-50% (according to Google Analytics benchmarks), meaning nearly half of your visitors may leave immediately.
And according to a recent study by Bounce Exchange, 70-96% of those unsatisfied visitors will never come back.
This all means the first 20 seconds are ESSENTIAL when it comes to visitors sticking around and converting. A/B testing and improving their initial impressions and experience on top entry pages is the best way to do this.
To summarize what you need to do optimize your visitors initial 20 seconds, here are the 3 key steps:
- Improve their first impressions of key visual elements
- Engage and spike their curiosity enough to make them stay
- Give them good info/choices to make steps towards eventually ‘converting’
Before you jump in and start creating tests and making improvements to your key entry pages, it’s vital you discover exactly how your top 10 or 20 entry pages are performing, particularly for bounce rate. This helps you know what needs improving first, and creates a benchmark for you to improve against. So go ahead and pull that report right now – it’s often very enlightening.
1. Improve visitor’s first impressions of key visual elements
Your website visuals are often the first things visitors notice, before they read anything or scroll further, particularly if you have any large images or anything animated (like the often controversial image sliders).
There are some key visual elements that have very high potential to influence whether your visitors abandon your website prematurely or are quickly engaged by it. Here are some important ones to test and optimize:
- Test different types of major images on your entry pages – don’t make them too distracting (as this can detract from key CTA’s or other key content), and they should always support and give context to what you are offering.
For best results, test using different people (even where they are looking), different action shots or screenshots for example, and avoid using stock photos or canned imagery. HighRise.com saw a 102% increase in conversions by changing imagery to show a person.
- Don’t use very large images and sliders that take up the whole page fold area (the area of your pages that visitors see without scrolling). If those large images aren’t that engaging or liked by visitors they may bounce prematurely – they also often push key content down the page too much.
- Avoid using images that move or change very quickly – these are very distracting/annoying and often reduce conversion rates. Test getting rid of your slider and replace it with a single static image that emphasizes your value proposition/benefits.
- Get some qualitative feedback too on your visuals. I recommend using either 5secondtest.com or UsabilityHub.com to get visual feedback and opinions from testers within the first few seconds.
- And ALWAYS test removing large images completely. It could be the large image that is the distraction.
2. Engage and spike their curiosity to make them stay
Many websites have engaging visuals but still fail to get many people to stay and eventually convert. This is because they don’t quickly convey key points and information that visitors need to make to stick around.
Therefore, don’t just create a good looking website, make sure your content engages and quickly spikes their curiosity too. To increase the chances of this, here are some key things to A/B test and optimize on your key entry pages:
Optimize your headlines to increase engagement
Your entry page headlines can make or break your visitor’s initial perception of what you are offering, and whether visitors stick around. Here are some ways to optimize and test your headlines to engage visitors faster:
- Mentioning your website benefits in headlines can often convert better than bland or uninspiring headlines. Always try to convert feature driven versions into ones that imply value proposition and benefits.
- Another good type of headline to try testing is one that asks an intriguing question relating to visitor’s common pain points – ‘Tired of not having enough X and X’? Using a good subheading with this works well to introduce why your offering is the best solution to their problem, as you can see in the great example at AngiesList.com:
- Try testing a social proof based headline – either mention part of a really strong testimonial (with impact on revenue/benefit) or use strong usage numbers like ‘Join X number of happy Xers’.
- Keep headlines short and snappy (under 10 words) and not too cute or clever – don’t make your visitors have to think too much! Make them large enough to get quickly noticed too and contrast your background well.
- A/B testing is essential for finding headline versions that engage and convert more of your visitors, as this great article summarizes. So go ahead and create 3-5 different versions using those best practices just mentioned and see which converts best.
- If you want to get advanced with your testing, you can also do targeted testing to show different headlines for first time visitors versus repeat visitors (benefits versus upgrades/loyalty messaging), or by other aspects like visitor’s region or traffic source.
Quickly emphasize your value proposition
There is no point in having a visually engaging website if you also don’t clearly show your unique value proposition (UVP), in particular – reasons to use your website instead of another competing website. Otherwise your visitors may leave prematurely back to Google! Here are some ways to ensure your UVP is quickly seen on your entry pages:
- Include a module high up on your homepage that has short bullet points of key elements of your UVP, with an engaging title. You could use targeting in your A/B tests to make this more prominent for first time visitors, as this type of messaging is more helpful to new audiences.
- Add a good tagline to your logo that helps summarize your benefits and value proposition – this will often be noticed very quickly because many people look at your logo first (as mentioned earlier).
- If you have an ecommerce website, show key elements of your UVP in the header, like lowest prices, free returns or any other risk reducers (see example below). Including icons with key points helps quickly draw the eye too. This ensures they are seen no matter which page visitors arrive on – the same goes if you are selling services or have a blog, include a UVP module towards to the top of your sidebar.
Show quick signs of social proof to prove popularity
Just like people don’t go into empty restaurants, visitors don’t often stick around websites that show few signs of popularity. Therefore it’s essential that you show social proof in the first 20 seconds on key pages too.
- Prominently show strong business usage numbers that imply your business is very popular, like number of clients, downloads, total saved etc. GetResponse.com does a great job with this in their subheading:
- Quickly show user ratings of your offerings on your homepage and your key entry pages, and make sure they stand out clearly. Clearly mention the number of reviews you have to emphasize social proof further.
- Show third party ratings on your homepage from well-known sources, as this helps build social proof AND credibility – like from TrustPilot, Amazon, Google or other related accreditation/ratings providers.
- If you are selling services, show some short snippets of testimonials with photos, with a link to see more – this is essential to show high up on your homepage in particular. Test using testimonials from experts and video-based testimonials too, as Unbounce.com does a fantastic job of showing both of:
- Prominently show logos of your clients or prominent media mentions – in addition to building social proof this also helps build trust and credibility. This is one of the factors that helped Voices.com increase conversion rate by over 400%.
Optimize your text and make it more scanable
Another big turn off for visitors in the first 20 seconds are long blocks of dense text. People want to scan first, not read (unless you are a blog or content site). Long blocks of keyword stuffed text aren’t needed for SEO purposes anymore either. Here are some great way to test and optimize your text to engage visitors quicker:
- Shorten your text by cutting out less important and wordy parts. Be ruthless with your cutting, like removing much of your marketing fluff and superlatives. If text doesn’t help explain, or add anything, then get rid of it.
- Show short bullet points of text prominently on key pages to convey key information and summarize benefits and features. Using icons with bullet points can help increase conversions too.
- Emphasize key words and benefits using bold, yellow highlight backgrounds, related icons or even hand-drawn visuals – don’t just have bland text that all looks like the same.
- Use easy simple to understand words – avoid marketing hype and being too clever, acronyms or jargon.
- Running a simple A/B test to improve all the text on your key entry pages using these best practices is certainly worth running in order to increase conversions. AngiesList.com does a great job optimizing this, shortening and using bullet points on their homepage text:
3. Give them good choices to make steps towards converting
Towards the end of the first 20 seconds, the last essential thing you need to prominently show visitors are great choices that get them clicking further towards converting. But don’t show them too many choices though – otherwise you risk confusing them (the paradox of choice).
Here are great ways to convert many more visitors at this point and help them make the best next step:
- Focus on showing a few major calls-to-action (CTA) for visitors to decide on – these should relate to major use cases that will help visitors progress with their decision making. WriteWork.com increased sales by 50% by adding several prominent CTA buttons relating to key visitor’s needs.
- Streamline your header navigation menu so it has less and more useful link options. Move less important links like ‘contact us’ and ‘blog’ into a separate mini navigation into the top right, and into footer. Adding in key navigation items like ‘why choose us’ and testimonials will help show value proposition and social proof too.
- Avoid using overly long pages, unless you have only one goal or product for your page that is expensive or needs a lot of explaining. If visitors start to scroll and see you have too much content, they may give because they don’t have time to scan/read it all. Test to find the optimal page length!
- Reduce the amount of sections and promotions shown on your homepage and key entry pages – these clutter and compete with your more important content/CTAs. Gyminee.com increased homepage conversions by 20% by decluttering their homepage:
Before decluttering homepage:
After decluttering homepage:
To help you find less important content to remove, run a conversion influence test (test removing less important elements one at a time to see what influence they have on your conversion rate). If the test doesn’t lower conversion rates, you can consider taking that element off your page permanently.
While it’s important you also test and optimize pages further down your visitor’s journey (like your checkout or signup flows), if you don’t optimize the first 20 seconds of your visitors experience, your efforts on those pages won’t be as fruitful. You will be wasting vital marketing budget driving visitors into a poorly engaging first experience.
Are you engaging and converting your visitors quickly enough? Which of these ideas will you try first?
About the Author: Rich Page is an expert website conversion optimizer, and author of “Website Optimization: An Hour a Day. He offers a free website conversion toolbox, and has helped 100’s of websites increase sales and conversions with his conversion services, from Disney.com to startups.