The 5 Second User Experience Conversion Experiment

by Sarah Hayes on September 14, 2016


Did you know that there's a hidden conversion moment when a new person first views your website? It happens when the viewer decides who you are, what you are selling, and why they should care – all based on just a few seconds of viewing. Failing that user experience conversion leads to another bounce, but succeeding leads people on to more engagement. This moment has exemplified in the "Five Second Test," and it's still one of the fastest, most useful tools for analyzing your online content.

The Five Second Test and Why It's Cool

The five second test was popularized around 7-8 years ago, and unlike many marketing tools it has grown increasingly useful as time has gone on...but increasingly less referenced! The test is based on the idea that people judge your webpage and make up their minds about your brand in just several seconds. That means you have only those seconds to impart the most valuable information about your brand, which is the job of a competent webpage.

Specific this test shows a group of viewers a picture of a web page they had no knowledge of for – you guessed it – five seconds. The test then asks the viewers a collection of specific user experience questions about the business represented by the website. Common questions are highly practical and straightforward, such as "What does this company sell or provide?" and "Where is the company located?" Other questions are more abstract but still useful, such as, "What do you feel is the benefit of this company?" and "What, if anything, would you do next on this website?"

Test Options

If you want to create your own version of the test, you have several different options. One of the most effective is using a service, like the one offered by Usability Hub. It's very fast to apply: You simple upload the webpage design you want to test, wait for Usability to show it to a randomized group of people for five seconds, and review the responses. This gives you a large pool of results that you can scan for commonalities – a key sign of an issue that probably needs more work or thought.

Another option is to simply use the five second test in-house. It's easy to set up, you get immediate results, and even a small sample size (like calling over your coworker) can prove useful. However, in-house tests have their own issues: Biases exist, and you probably need to go outside the team or department to find fresh eyes. Over time, you can teach yourself to look at website pages like you've never seen them before, but if you've been working on design projects for the past week it's nearly impossible.

Winning the Hidden Conversion

This user experience test is, of course, about design: You don't want any viewers to work for brand information – you want to communicate it immediately. But what parts of design matter when it comes to this goal? Obviously five seconds isn't long enough to read all the text on the page and study the navigation options. So what matters? These factors usually have the biggest impact:

  • Images: People absorb visual information very, very quickly. A glance at a primary web page image will give new viewers an idea of what your business is all about. The wrong picture could make them think you sell something entirely different, on the other side of the world! Think about subject matter, passive vs. active imagery, image locale, and more.
  • Palette: The color palette can affect emotion, yes, but it also has an important (and understated) effect on visibility. The color combinations you choose for your logo and website will change how easily people can read titles and absorb information. Lighter, more pastel colors tend to be better for quickly showing data.
  • Headline Font: The size of the headlines and the style of the font are both important for communicating ideas to the viewer. So is the number of headlines – if you home page has several different titles scattered throughout, all at the same font size, people won't know which to read. Brafton has an excellent article comparing some of the most successful websites and examining which font sizes and styles (and colors) work best for them.

Not Just for the Homepage

It is typically reserved for the home page, because this is the first page new visitors are likely to see. That's a good perspective, but it's just the beginning. Remember, local and specific SEO may lead to visitors first seeing landing pages, product pages, or blog articles before they see the home page. It's a good idea, then, to apply it across your website. If you're short on time, testing only one page is fine, but make sure you use what you learned throughout the website! If you have more time, a five second test on other web pages can reveal valuable user experience information.

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Sarah Hayes

Project Manager at 21 Handshake, a strategic marketing company, driven to grow relationship-driven businesses. A self described life long learner that thrives on detail, I love bringing these skills to the table to help others succeed.

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