An inhale and an exhale. That’s all you get from a website visitor. 

That’s the amount of time you have to get a person on board — at least a little bit. At least enough to earn their second breath to make your case.

Your website exists to attract, convince and convert. You may also offer services, support, content and more. If you are part of a marketing team, the only thing your leadership cares about is how many leads it generates. If you’re a government or non-profit then you likely want people to find what they need, to think you matter, and/or to donate time or money. 

There are many ways to optimize websites, from A/B testing to user-testing to design best practices. At various times I use all of those techniques. 

But when I’m looking to quickly understand a website’s performance, I use the magical three second test. Three things, three seconds.

Your Website Must

1. Land the eye

A website is a physical experience. You explore it with your eyes and your mouse. 

Make sure your website respects how your eyes work. If you have too many things on your page with no clear order, if your visitor must spend their precious inhale and exhale trying to figure out what they should be looking at, you may be wasting a big opportunity. 

A great website will give the eye an immediate and obvious place to go. It will land on a large, important statement. 

2. Declare what you do

I’m asked to look at dozens of websites each month. A strong majority of them fail this test. 

What do you do?!? If a user can’t figure it out within that first breath, you lose. 

You may say, “oh, well, they are coming from a search term or an ad click, so they already know.” Doesn’t matter. Say what you do or forget it. Your visitor just did.

3. Guide people to the next step

You need to make it so easy to take the next step that it seems as natural as breathing. If the next logical thing for a person to do is sign up, then put a sign up button there. If it is to learn a couple of additional things, then put those there. 

Don’t make your visitor hunt. Don’t assume that they’ll go to the menu. Don’t give them 45 choices. Do the work for them. That’s how you treat your honored guest. 

Be as thoughtful and considerate as possible. It’s how you prevent an impatient person, with work to do and a million distractions, from wandering away.

Excuses, Excuses

I hear a lot of excuses for why the three second test doesn’t apply. They may make you feel better, but these excuses are not improving your website. Believing these excuses prevents you from solving these issues.

1. Our audience will get it

Nope. Your audience is made up of people. No matter how focused your target market is, there is no way that they will get it if you can’t make it generally get-able.

Your jargon is killing you. Many new companies (and some mature ones) struggle to clearly articulate what they do. But struggle you must! This is your most important job if you want to grow: Be clear. 

There is no exception to this rule. I came by this lesson the long, hard way. Don’t take as long to learn from these mistakes. 

2. The right people will take the time

I often hear CEOs explain that the people who are really interested will look around to find what they need. Nope again. If you make it hard for someone to find what they need, they’ll go to the next vendor in their search results and stop with the one who makes it easiest to find what they are looking for.

3. We can’t simplify it because we have too much to say

Wrong again. It may be hard, but you can do this, and you can do it without undermining your value. You can say something simple, resonant and clear that is compelling enough for people to ask for the next level of information. You might not be able to do this today, but again, this is your most important job.

If you can’t simplify it to the point where you can bring people to the top-level and carry them through your narrative, then your problem isn’t that you have too much to say but that you still have some hard work to do.

The One and Only Useful Excuse: We’re Evolving

Your website will never ever be done or perfect. Because the world marches on, and you must too. 

Your thinking will evolve, your market will evolve, your opportunities and pressures will evolve. But the more disciplined your thinking, the more you invest in its clarity and purpose, the greater and more durable the results will be.

A few words can drop your bounce rate like a stone. A few well-considered words can multiply your conversion rate. The metrics don’t lie. 

Yes, A/B testing and other data driven techniques will help you refine your work. But if you want to get a general idea of the challenge you face, try the three second test. Let me know how it goes.

Title image by EU Webnerd