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The Blink TestEarlier today, I was talking to a new client about the Home page of her website, which she knew needed changing because of its high bounce rate and lack of engagement. She admitted to being baffled – why aren’t people staying on the site? Why isn’t she inundated with enquiries? She understood she is probably too close to see the problem. I had a look to give her my take on the situation. Despite a beautiful design in vibrant, appealing colours, I could see instantly why people were leaving in droves. Her site fails the dreaded ‘blink test’ because it is impossible to work out at a glance what she is selling or to whom.

So, what is ‘the blink test’ and what can you do to survive it and keep visitors on your website for longer?

‘The blink test’ is a term used by marketers to describe the three to five seconds your website has to grab visitors’ attention. During that time, someone new to your site will view it, judge it and make a snap decision about whether to stay or go.

Blink test-friendly tips

Like all the best relationships, hopefully new customers will get to know and love your business over time but, the harsh reality is that they have to like what they see from the outset to even give you a chance. So here are my top tips for surviving the blink test:

1. Make sure your website loads quickly

In a world of manic schedules and instant gratification, website visitors expect pages to load quickly (in two seconds or less to be precise!). If your website takes longer because of large images, pop-up calls to action or animations, it’s likely it won’t even get as far as surviving the blink test. Visitors will simply click back to the search engine results to look for another, faster option.

2. Have a well thought-out attractive design

The design of your website is important. Ideally, the copy and design should work together to provide a congruent message and experience for visitors. People should be able to see what you’re offering at a glance. This can be achieved by using the design to lead the eye through the site and supporting the copy with relevant, appealing images that immediately provide visual clues about your products, services, ethos or ideal customers.

3. Craft a strong headline

While eight out of ten people will read your headline, only two out of ten will read the rest of your copy. Knowing this, your headline has a lot of work to do, so it’s worth taking your time over it. A great headline will grab attention, convey your message, spark an emotional response and ignite the reader’s curiosity. Practice writing a one-sentence value proposition that lets customers know what you do and why you’re better than your competitors. And whatever you do, don’t make your Home page headline, “Welcome to <insert company name>”. It’s a wasted opportunity that’s bad for SEO and even worse for customers.

4. Create easy navigation and a clear path through your site

Going back to the blink test, customers need to be able to see what the website offers at a glance. Your main navigation menu usually sits across the top of the page because this one of the first places we look. It isn’t the place to be clever or obscure. Make your navigation easy to understand, so that visitors recognise what they’re going to get when they click on a specific option. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend having any page more than two clicks away from your Home page. Simplicity is the key.

5. Write skimmable content

People tend to read differently online than in print, skimming the content and using markers such as sub-headings, bold lettering and bullet points to draw out the salient points. Visitors to your website don’t want to wade through lots of technical detail or jargon; they want copy that is clear, concise and focused. Speak to ‘you’ and ‘your’ rather than ‘we’ and ‘our’ because customers want to know how they’ll benefit from staying on your site and what they can expect from their experience. Important information should go at the top of the page rather than below the fold (the bit you have to scroll down to see) because this is where we usually look first and you can’t guarantee people will scroll through the whole page.

6. Show your credibility

For new customers, buying from a hitherto unknown business – one they have yet to experience in person – is a scary prospect. It helps if you are able to show at a glance that others have gone before them and feel positive about that decision. Testimonials are a great way of alleviating fear. If you’re a member of a governing body, have won awards or been featured in the press, you should also think about publicising this information on your website to demonstrate your credibility.

7. Think about your call to action

I have a pet hate and that is sign-up boxes that appear the second I log on to a website. Honestly, I have to be pretty desperate to read the content on the site to stay if I’m presented with one of those. My annoyance grows exponentially if, having closed a pop-up sign up box, I’m immediately presented with newsletter sign-ups, ebook sign-ups, product promotions and other unrelated calls to action on just one page.

I think a far more sensible approach is to stick to just one or two calls to action per web page. Although it’s essential to have list-building mechanisms in place to capture details for those vital warm leads, I subscribe to the view that less is more and that too much, too soon can just come across as desperate, sending potential customers running for safety.

8. Never lose sight of your customer

I think this is probably the most important point of all. When you understand your customer, you will understand why they have come to your site and what they’re looking for, including the vocabulary they might use to find it. If you create a website that appeals to their values, that shows them how their lives will look better with your business in it and speaks straight to their pain points, you have a much greater chance of passing the blink test and keeping their attention as they go deeper into your website.

Look at every element on the page and ask yourself, “So what?” If there is a valid, customer-focused reason for it being there, then it stays but if a customer would ask, “So what?” and the answer isn’t immediately clear, you need to consider re-writing, re-designing or even removing that element of the page.

Does your site pass the blink test? If you’re not sure, why not create a quick survey (Survey Monkey is great for this) asking some of your existing customers what they like and dislike about your website, what they notice first and what doesn’t need to be there? Remember, you can always use split testing (AKA A/B Testing) to try out different headlines, content and design elements to see what works.

Photo credit: helgabj via photopin cc

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Emma Heasman

Emma Heasman has been an in-house and freelance copywriter for the past 13 years and launched The Freelance Copywriter in 2003. Ever passionate about copywriting, she now works with small businesses to help them write copy that speaks to their ideal customers. Connect with Emma on Google+

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