Have you ever been told you can’t judge a book by its cover?
Well, that traditional wisdom isn’t true.
Not only can you make accurate judgements about something from one glance, you almost certainly do it hundreds of times every day without even being aware of it.
It’s not just books we judge based on first impressions. Blogs and other websites are in the firing line as well.
While we all like to think we’re open-minded, every one of us constantly makes instant judgments and decisions. We judge everything from books and businesses to people based on our first impressions.
And it’s only getting worse. The more fragmented our attention gets, the faster we make those snap decisions.
So how’s your site stacking up? Do those critical first few seconds draw new visitors in … or send them running for the door?
Why are first impressions important?
If you’ve ever picked a new magazine off the shelf, it’s because there was something you liked about the cover.
If you’ve ever visited a blog and left five seconds later without reading a word, you used your powers of instant judgment there, too.
Maybe we shouldn’t judge books by their covers, or people by their clothes, or businesses by their websites, or blogs by their design. But we do.
We’re hard-wired to make quick decisions.
Cave men survived on their ability to make fast judgments. Can I eat it? Can it eat me?
You can’t spend long weighing up your options when you’ve got three hungry kids waiting back in the cave, a flimsy spear in your hand, and a woolly mammoth bearing down on you.
Why readers rely on first impressions
Fortunately we’ve moved on past the whole mammoth thing, but we still rely on first impressions to work out what’s important, what’s useful, what’s trustworthy … and what’s not.
We’re constantly bombarded with advertisements, beeping cell phones, animated buttons, and pop-up windows. First impressions help us sort the cool from the crud.
And once that first impression has been made and you’ve decided if someone is an expert or amateur, or if their blog is worth reading or not, it’s hard to change your mind.
First impressions not only count. They last.
What does it take to make a good first impression?
Because you don’t know where people will first meet you online, you need to be consistent. Make sure you look your best everywhere you have an online presence.
Your pictures and profiles don’t all need to be identical, but they should at least convey the same values and image.
Similarly, the content on your blog should make one coherent great impression, whether the reader lands on your latest post or a classic from your archives.
Here’s a five-point checklist to help you create a winning first impression and convert more visitors into loyal readers.
1. Check all your online profiles
That means Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and anywhere else you have an online presence (including your About page).
You never know which page of your site people will see first, and you never know how they’ll first connect with you online.
Successful blogs tend to constantly evolve and change, so your online profiles need to reflect that.
Be clear about the kind of content you offer. They’re web readers, not mind readers. Clear, concise language and benefit-rich headlines help readers know instantly if they’re in the right place.
2. Look at your site with fresh eyes
Imagine you’ve never visited your site before and don’t know what it’s about. What first impression do those new visitors get? Is that the impression you want to leave?
If not it might be time to update your blog design and copy.
Make sure the design is polished and professional. Think about your branding, including the images, colors, and language that will most appeal to your target audience.
If your site looks boring, amateurish, or cheap, that’s how you’ll be perceived.
3. Use your email signature
Your email signature is prime real estate. Consider using a tool like Wisestamp to add a photo of yourself, a special offer, and a link to your latest blog post to all your email.
A text email signature can be powerful too, if you use it to tell people what makes you unique. Keep it fresh and meaningful, don’t just share that quote you liked back in 2007.
4. Have another look at your profile picture
In most cases, you should use a photo of yourself, particularly in social media. People want to interact with other people, not logos.
A professional photo is worth paying for, but if you don’t have the time or budget, make sure your profile picture is clear, visible, and cheerful.
Do you prefer to hang out with and work with happy people? Then make sure your photo makes you look friendly and open. If in doubt, ask a friend for their honest opinion.
Resist the temptation to use photos where you look cool or sexy … you may come across as bored or grumpy instead.
Play it safe and put on a winning smile like Copyblogger, Problogger, Sonia Simone and me. So even if you’re feeling grumpy, stressed, or worried, you look like the kind of confident, friendly person your customers want to work with.
5. Make sure your site can be scanned
New web visitors don’t have time to read much in the five seconds it takes them to decide if they want to know more or not. They want to scan your site, so make it easy for them.
New blog visitors have three main questions:
- What’s this blog about?
- Who writes it?
- What do I get out of reading it?
A tagline is a quick way to let people find out what your blog is about in less than a second.
A photo of you or will let them know who writes it.
Useful topics, compelling images, and irresistible headlines will let people know why they should read it.
Most sites become cluttered over time. You start off with simple, clean design, then add a few links, a couple of widgets, some banner ads … and suddenly your sleek design has become a confusing mess.
Remember most people will only spend five seconds looking at your site before deciding whether to keep reading or look elsewhere.
They say you only get once chance to create a first impression.
What are you going to do to make it count?
About the Author: Annabel Candy writes about successful blogging for small business owners and writers. If you’d like to learn more about what it really takes to be a successful blogger, subscribe now to get three chapters of her book Successful Blogging in 12 Simple Steps free. Or if you need time out from work, check out her personal writing.