The internal dialogue of a website visitor and strategy for better first impression

3 questions guiding you to providing the desired customer experience


If you committed yourself to providing a trustful customer experience then this article could guide you whether you are a content strategist, interaction designer or anyone caring about proper web presentation.

A: Viktor what do you think about new design of our landing page? We switched to new one 2 weeks ago. Result is that our customer conversion rate started to decrease and we cannot figure out why. General feedback of first time visitors is confusion. Heatmap report confirmed disorientation and searching for CTAs on wrong places. What we should adjust?

B: Hmm f#!k … let me think.

How should I start? What structure of website exploration should I follow in order to figure out what is wrong? Helicopter point of view and minor details are both equally important for me. Best thing to do is adopt thinking of first-time visitor and start with impression.

The first-time user’s impression of a website is 94% design-related.

So what are the questions people subconsciously ask themselves when they see a website for the first time?

I would like to share with you a special report from a company named Marketing Experiments. Yeah, you could mock me for sharing stuff from 2009 but still I consider this an interesting approach. Even the way readers search for the relevant information and explore websites changed since then.

Nevertheless, I still I find it insightful and it makes me feel I ask myself the right questions in my internal dialogue throughout the design process. The interesting thing is that these website visitors ask themselves the same questions subconsciously.

So let’s jump in … the questions are:

  1. WHERE am I?
  2. WHAT can I do here?
  3. WHY should I do it?

Studies claim you have 7 seconds to answer the first two of them in order to optimize the user experience. First Q from 3W framework is:

1. WHERE am I?

You must overcompensate for your visitor’s inability to use of all of his senses.

Close your eyes for a while and try to vividly imagine emotional experience at italian restaurant. Distinctive smell of smoked cheese attacks your nose. Donna bella greets you and your knees starts shaking.

Immediately all your senses wake up. Wood-walled interior decorated with pumpkin-related artworks helps you to realize you are in contact with italian culture.

What types of information persuades you to become their customer? Various through various sense channels.

But those channels aren’t available by your computer equipment, what makes your orientation harder in field of digital experience. You are limited in simulation of orientation in virtual environment.

Let’s take a design-world example (hero image) and focus on one particular sense — sight to help visitor find himself on the right place.

Whenever I’m starting with designing first-glance experience, I think through how hero image could tell the product story in the right way. Thanks to one principle-summarizing book, now I’m now more aware of the fact that peripheral vision is used more than the central one.

Long story short: 2 psychologists Larson and Loschky found that if the central part of the photo was missing, people could still identify what they were looking at. But when the peripheral part of the image was missing, then they couldn’t say whether the scene was a living room or a kitchen.

So are you using images overlapped with text labels in the right way? Do you crop images in a way that you preserve environment detection? Do you utilise power of images to help visitors identify your business ambitions and guide their emotions just in a few seconds?

A central (left) and peripheral (right) vision photo used in Larson and Loschky research. From a book: 100 Things Every Designer Should Know About People

What emerges from that fact is a realization that not only the particular object on header image is important but scene behind it provides other beneficial information for our subconscious mind to introduce your business or communicate the desired message.

Maybe that’s why we are free to use headlines in places overlapping objects in the middle of banners, hero images etc.

2. WHAT can I do here?

The chief enemy of forward momentum is confusion.

Now, after answering first question, you have a picture and expectations, what actions you can take to reach your goal. But you still want to explore sand pit like a little dirty kid. You also want to break these expectations and turn them into dopamine-striking surprises, but with all elements and information respecting necessity of clarity.

Consider — how many pages have you lately visited where you were confused what to do after you had grasped an idea what was going on? Have a look at this example:

If you have time, take a look. Grab stopwatch and track how much time do you need to understand what is going on here: http://www.griplimited.com/

Your value proposition has no relevance until the visitor knows what they can do about it. Content clarity is always dependent on particular domain knowledge.

For structural clarity, we have some guidelines and rules to avoid perceptual congestion and help the already prepared content to stand out. I consider Heatmap one of the useful sources helping to reveal the main confusion waypoints of user’s interaction flow. Another useful technique in this case is implementation of reading patterns (F pattern, Gutenberg diagram etc.).

Principles of how people scan websites provide you guidelines for structuring the essential information and positioning call to action and navigation. Experience designers are responsible for providing information in the proper order to help a visitor make a decision after, not vice versa.

Otherwise, it would be like asking a girl for a kiss before you have even asked her out on a date.

3. WHY should I do it?

Rephrased: Why should I choose you?

Final decision-making is happening at the end of this chapter. This should be the section where you spend most of the time thinking about how to present your strengths in a clever and persuasive way.

This last question can be easily rephrased into: “Why should I buy this product from you rather than any of your competitors?” This is your value proposition time!

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Avoid vague headlines relying on statements of quality. Rather than that, apply specific statements of quantity. People are banner-blinded to spot these lines, so you are missing an opportunity to show product value.
The whole presentation with other useful tricks: http://www.slideshare.net/jrick/writing-for-the-web-19059032
  • Avoid company-focused language of forms. Instead, apply customer-focused one. Descriptive labels of sign-up forms should seem to care more about what a visitor gets from a company rather than what the company gets from the visitor.
  • Third-party testimonials reduce anxiety. If you can reach social consensus with testimonials from trusted entities (people or companies) a visitor is familiar with, you are substituting recommendation.

This 3W framework provides one profound insight.

Clarity trumps persuasion.

With every proper answer for a particular question you spark visitor’s curiosity and convince him to take a next step. It’s important to think like a visitor. Do not optimize web pages — optimize thought sequences. Because people do not buy from web pages — people buy from people.

If you are interested in how implementation of this thinking framework and other specific techniques was transformed into real-world results like 201% conversion gain, check this document.

Be clear and honest with your customers and you will achieve not only their happiness.


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