4 Seconds To Grab Visitor’s Attention?

Is that true? Do we only have a short few seconds to grab visitors' attention before they decide to leave or stay? According to a recent article at ZDNet, that’s indeed true.

Performance primer: Gone in 4 seconds, states that a recent survey found that we now have only 4 seconds to grab visitors' attention before they decide to leave or stay, compared to previous surveys finding an 8-second norm.

That’s not much time. Even 8 seconds isn’t very long. What does this really mean? Does it mean the entire page must load in less than 4 seconds? No.

If you get out your stopwatch with a 56K modem you’ll find that many sites take longer than this. What?! You don’t use a stopwatch to time all the sites you open?!

Here’s the question to ask (and then respond to effectively): What will capture a visitor’s interest immediately and maintain it for a few seconds, long enough to stick around and visit your site?

Many people are used to TV channel surfing. While our technology doesn’t quite allow that kind of speed with Web sites yet, consider that people tend to similarly surf the Web, quickly moving on if the site they open doesn’t immediately grab their attention.

When checking your own site as a site owner or designer, here are a few questions to consider:

  • How quickly can you start seeing ANYTHING on the page?
  • What pops up first?
  • How quickly can you begin to read any text?
  • How quickly can you tell what the site is about?

Observe yourself and your friends. When you open a site, do you wait for every single image to load, or do you start looking at what loads immediately? I suspect you start looking at whatever text you see initially toward the top of the screen. (Studies show this, too, for people speaking languages that read from left to right, top to bottom.)

For your own site, you already know what to expect, so if hiring an expert to do a usability study isn’t feasible, at least pull in various people who haven’t seen your site yet to take a look. The less they know about it the better. Surfers may find your site because they just did a search for green footballs and your site popped up (we’re pretending you sell green footballs *)

First Impressions Count!

What kind of impression does your main page give, especially in those critical first few seconds? Here are a few things to consider.

  • If someone quickly scans your main page, will it be clear what your Web site is about and generally what’s offered?
  • Is the navigation clear and obvious so your visitors can quickly see where to find your products or services, or maybe the poetry section to read that poem you mentioned?
  • How quickly does your main page load? As I noted above, it’s critical for the most eye-catching elements to load first and near the top of the page. The page can then continue and finish loading while the visitor is checking out what’s loaded first. While designers don’t have control over the order in which various browsers download everything on a page, the site CAN be organized and designed with loading principles in mind. (For example, lots of nested tables takes far longer for browsers to load, so keep those to a minimum.)

Don’t Make Me Think!

Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability is a great new book by Steve Krug that I heartily recommend for site owners, designers, and developers. Readable in just a few hours, it emphasizes a practical, clear approach to your Web site, including setting it up for easy navigation and usability.

Don’t Make Me Think! Companion Web site
Buy Don’t Make Me Think! via

Now To Get Visitors To Stay!

Once the visitors decide to stick around and visit your site, they need to have their visit worthwhile with helpful content, information, services, and more. It’s also important to keep your content fresh and alive.

So, in addition to grabbing attention, they’ll need a reason to stay, to return, and to refer others to your site. While the ingredients of a good site can be as unique as each site, the above are common threads that contribute to a successful Web site.

One resource for how to do this is my WebsiteTips newsletter. Currently archived issues talk about how to keep your content fresh and alive, planning ahead, how to bring in visitors, and more.


How do you grab your visitors' attention in those first few seconds? Here are some critical points:

  • Great marketing copy.
  • Easy-to-understand navigation and overall design.
  • Pages load quickly.

Once your visitors decide to stay and look around, they’ll need reasons to continue to stay, to return, and to refer others to your site. Keep your content fresh, alive, and interesting.


There are lots of great articles, tips, tutorials, and information freely available on the Web. Here are a couple to get you started.

High Rankings
Great articles and weekly discussion newsletter that covers online copy writing and search engine optimization.
Tutorials, articles, and annotated tips to great articles, tutorials, and tips around the Web for designers and site owners.

That’s an inspiration from Charles Johnson’s Little Green (Footballs) Weblog site.

10:41 am, pst10 March, 2001 Comments, Trackbacks ·';}?>

Categories: Books, Content, Design, Internet, Reviews, Usability

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