I was quite rambunctious as a child, and as a result each time I left the house without being accompanied by a parent my mother would intone, “Aoife, please behave. You only get one chance to make a first impression“. Having matured (somewhat) since those days I no longer need my mother to remind me to watch my p’s and q’s, however the truth of just how quickly humans formulate first impressions has been a source of continuing fascination to me.

When it comes to meeting new people we have just three brief seconds to make that all important first impression. Three seconds seems like an inordinately small amount of time from which to judge a person’s character, but it is more than enough time for the brain to recognise and process visual, auditory (and sometimes olfactory!) clues and link them to presumed character traits, thereby forming a notion of a particular person larger than the few clues the initial first impression gives.

Of course, meeting new people is not the only time we form impressions in this manner. We go through the same process when we are exposed to any new situation, from judging the professionalism of a business person by the presentation of their offices to determining the effectiveness of a new cleaning product by the colour of its brand. This is nothing new, we make millions of determinations every day and our ensuing behaviour is tailored to how we respond to these initial impressions.

I raise this point not because it is anything ground breaking or new, but because it astounds me how well known this fact is yet how many businesses neglect to tend to the most important, judgement defining moments they will ever have with their consumers; the point of first contact.

The very real effects of this neglect on the consumer was really ‘driven home’ to me a few weeks ago when I was scouring the internet for boutique accommodation providers in the south west for the lead up to my sister’s wedding. Now, being a resident of the area I know the south west is teeming with gorgeous little exclusive retreats which would fit the bill nicely for my sister and friends to stay for a few days while she prepared for her wedding. I knew a lot of these places by name so finding their websites was not an issue, the issue came when upon loading these sites my eyes were assaulted (yes, assaulted!) by a mish mash of poor quality static photography, alternating fonts, fonts in different colours, fonts in different sizes (!!), general bad layout, poor usability… do I need to go on?

I really couldn’t believe that most of the more upmarket accommodation providers in the region felt it was acceptable to promote themselves with websites which not only do not reflect the quality and luxuriousness of their accommodation, but actively erode the exclusive and high end position they have spent years (and a lot of money) carefully building. Recent studies in consumer research measuring c onsumers first impressions of websites found that the visual appeal of websites highly influence the consumers impressions of perceived credibility and usability while increasingly affecting the consumers purchase decision. And, according to this study, how long do you think it takes the consumer to form these judgements? Just 1/20th of a second.

So what am I saying in this long and convoluted blog post? Don’t allow poor web design undermine the position you have built for your business. Do it properly and get it right the first time. After all, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.