Daniel D'Agostino's Information Technology website

First Impressions of your Website

First Impressions Count

When a visitor first stumbles upon your site, he will decide whether to leave at once or tour the whole site (and possibly become a regular visitor) depending upon the first impression he has of you and your website. Many webmasters tend to do things that they think will make their site better, but which in fact help deter visitors.

Mistake #1: Splash pages

A splash pages is a typical 'front page' which you have to pass through to get to the main site. Splash pages are bad because they keep the visitor one click away from the information they want, and they may be different from the actual site, making the visitor get a different impression when he sees the actual site than when he sees the splash page.

Most of the time, a splash page is just a waste of time. While it might look appealing the first time, whenever the visitor comes back to the site he will just skip it. In fact, if the visitor ever bookmarks your site, he will bookmark the main page, not the splash page, making the latter useless. Throwing flash movies and other material on the splash page wastes time even more because it takes long to load (especially when the flash intro says "LOADING...", which some people think is cool but in fact is horrible). Worse still, if the visitor lacks the proper plugin, all he will see is "Click here to get the plugin" (see Mistake #4: Telling the visitor what to do below), giving him a very bad impression of your site.

It also remains a fact that you never know which is the first page a visitor will enter your site with. Most hits you receive will come from search engines like Google, and search engines do not necessarily put a link to your main page in search results.

As a main page, don't put a splash page. Put the first thing your visitors want to see when they visit your site. The latest news or updates to your site is a good option, because if visitors come back to your site after a while, they want to see what's new.

Mistake #2: Lack of Clarity of Purpose

A site should make it immediately clear what it is about. If you do not put a small explanation on your main page saying what your site is about, it may be difficult for visitors to immediately understand what it is about. Even if your site, for example, is about selling hard disks and you put a picture of your various hard disks on your main page, it will not be evident to the average layman that your site is about selling hard disks. If your visitor doesn't know what your site is about, he will just leave.

Mistake #3: Under Construction/Closed for Refurbishment

One of the most annoying things when stumbling upon a website is seeing "Under Construction" in big letters before your eyes, possibly accompanied by the picture of a sign and a worker. This is something extremely stupid to say, because the whole web is permanently under construction. Active websites will always undergo changes, and inactive ones will vanish from the net eventually as their domain or webspace account expires.

"Closed for Refurbishment" is even worse. It does happen sometimes that you come to a nice big site one day, and find a little notice saying that the site is down for maintenance next time you visit. Visitors will be unwilling to come back, especially if they keep checking back and they find the same thing. Visitors don't care what advantages might come out after a site refurbishment - they want content NOW!

If you can't help but put a notice that your site is under construction, at least put it in different words - "the site is currently being built; please check back later" or something. "Under construction" is so lame, especially because so many people use it. Don't just do what other webmasters do (same goes for using "click here" for link text and so many other things) because you're more likely to take bad habits from inexperienced webmasters.

Mistake #4: Telling the visitor what to do

It isn't rare to find one of the following commands on a website:

Keep in mind that no visitor is going to change any settings or download additional software just to see your site. He will just leave. Remember that the visitor is like a client, and if you don't make your site easily accessible to him, he will leave. You need to reach out for your visitor; your visitor will not reach out to you.

Don't 'optimise' your site for any particular browser, screen resolution, operating system or plugin. Design your site so that it works with any software and hardware. Accessibility is a virtue in web design that will bring various visitors to your site. Telling visitors what to do, on the other hand, deters them. As I said before, the visitor is like a client, and the client is always right. Imagine you are trying to sell to a customer online and you tell him to download a browser to be able to buy something from you. He'll just send you to hell.

Mistake #5: Mistakes with writing for the web

There are many things in the way you write that will affect the visitor's opinion of yourself, especially if your site is an informative one or a new site.

The most important thing is to make no use of 'kewl dewd speak'. Especially when chatting, people tend to use a shorthand made of corrupted versions of English words, like 'd00d' or '1337' (the latter meaning 'elite'). This is plain disgusting and will give the visitor the impression that you are just an immature kid. It's true that there are people in their 50s who do this, but if you're one of those and write on the web like that, your visitors will think you just need to grow up.

Bad language is out, unless you want your visitor to think you are a very rude person (to the point that he will even hesitate to contact you).

Spelling counts. A webmaster whose site is full of spelling errors demonstrates a smaller intelligence than one whose site is clean of any. It does happen even to people with perfect spelling to hit a wrong key by accident (the so-called 'typos'), but you should at least check your work if you are writing for the web (which might also make the visitor think that if the webmaster doesn't bother to check his site for spelling, he has little consideration for the site).

If your website is a news site, make sure that your news is not biased. People want information in its pure form, not twisted by the webmaster's opinion. For example:

Mistake #6: Hit Counters

Don't keep a hit counter showing on your site. Hit counters on the main page of your site give the impression that you are more interested in accumulating visitors than improving your site. Everyone likes to see how many hits he is getting, but it doesn't give a good impression to show them off. It's perfectly OK to keep track of site statistics, but keep them to yourself. Set up a hidden area in your site where you can keep track of statistics as you like.

So you might be asking yourself, if I am so against hit counters, why do I have a hit counter script freely available on my site? Well, I try to open people's eyes, but at the end of the day it's their problem what they do with their site. If they read this article and still want to use a hit counter, they'll go and look elsewhere for one if it's not provided here. I still want to help my visitors so if they want a hit counter, they can have it, but I'm warning them against it.

Mistake #7: Lack of Updates

The more you update your site, the more visitors will come back frequently to see what's new. The same visitor is likely even to come every day to check on something he enjoys if you update that often. If your updates are slow, so will your hits be.

Even though this matter is more related to the general impression of a site from the point of view of a regular visitor than a first impression, a first visitor will realise that a site is updated frequently when he sees the time-gap between each update.