When it comes to first-time visitors of your website, they will be forming an opinion very quickly and that opinion can have a serious impact on the success of your website. Regardless of what you are attempting to accomplish with your site, you need to have an idea of what you want to accomplish with first-time visitors in order to be able to develop a site that will make it happen.
In the past I’ve about 21 factors that influence first impressions, but knowing what you want to accomplish with those first impressions is a slightly different topic. By knowing what factors influence first impressions and by knowing what you want to happen with that first visit, you’ll be able to put that knowledge into practice to create a site that leads visitors to react in a certain way.
Some Examples of Potential Goals for First-Time Visitors
Selling a product on a first visit is difficult to do, but it can be accomplished. Many websites that are set up to achieve this goal are obvious sales pages. In this case, there is really no option to do anything but purchase the product or leave the page. There are usually no links to any other pages and no information that isn’t directed towards making a sale. This is the ultimate example of attempting to create a specific reaction from first-time visitors.
Most sales page sites are set up to sell one specific product. An e-commerce site on the other hand will have hundreds or thousands of different products, so the approach will obviously be a bit different. For an e-commerce site most sales will come from visitors who have been on the site several times.
Most blogs have a goal of maximizing RSS subscriptions from first time visitors. For this reason you’ll see the commonly-recognized RSS icons usually high on pages where they will be seen right away. You’ll also see many blogs that use an introductory message before or after a post to encourage more subscriptions.
Blogs aren’t the only example here. Email opt-in lists are pretty similar. If your site is set up primarily to build a large opt-in list, your form that allows visitors to sign up will be one of the first things visitors see when they enter the page.
Converting a first-time visitor into a repeat visitor is a goal for most websites. One effective way of doing this is by encouraging visitors to bookmark your page. If they do, chances are they will be back at least once at some point in the future. I put this approach into practice at my own blog. At the end of each post there’s a link to bookmark with Delicious. While this link isn’t given a spot high on the page that is seen right away, it is located at the end of the post so anyone who reads through to the end will see it. If they’ve read or scanned the post they’re a good candidate for a bookmark.
Another potential goal for first time visitors is to get a lead or an inquiry. If this is the case, a contact form will be a focal point of the site and it will be easy to access. You may even see a contact form right on the homepage or in the sidebar of every page.
Some websites and blogs are set up primarily to make money though AdSense clicks, or some other type of cost-per-click program. Developing one of these sites requires that ad placement be carefully selected and tested. Ads will typically get prime screen real estate and there will usually be less external links that could distract visitors from the goal at hand.
For these sites there really is no other goal than getting an ad click from your first-time visitors. The success of the site will be determined by the number of visitors and the rate at which they click on ads, so that’s what gets priority in the design and development.
Maybe your goal for first-time visitors is to leave them with an impression that will lead them to remember your site and return at a later time. You may go about this be provided a lot of quality information, or by having a game or something entertaining on the site. In order for the first-time visitor to be able to return easily in the future, they’ll need to remember your URL. Branding plays a big role in achieving this goal.
Social Media Votes
A common goal for blogs is to get votes at various social media sites from first-time visitors (and from repeat visitors as well). Several months ago I would occasionally use a Digg button for specific blog posts on my blog for this reason. The hope was that visitors would like what they saw on the page and the button would remind them to vote and make it easy. In some cases it worked well and landed posts on the front page, and it other cases it didn’t.
Tell a Friend
If your first-time visitors aren’t going to buy anything for themselves, maybe they’ll have a friend that they think will be interested. This is not going to be your number 1 priority for your visitors, but can be something that you’ll want to consider.
How This Impacts Your Design
Obviously, if you want visitors to react in a certain way, you’ll also want to make it as easy as possible for them to do so. If you have several different things that you want to accomplish from first-time visits (such as subscribers, bookmarks, and memorable visits), you’ll need to develop a site that will allow all to be accomplished and to work together for greater success.
If you have on goal that trumps all others (such as is the case with sales letter pages), you’ll want to design a page that makes that one goal very obvious to visitors and gives them few distractions of doing anything else.
If you have multiple goals for first-time visitors, they should complement each other, not hinder one another. For example, if your primary goal is to sell products, you’re not going to want to also have a goal of getting ad clicks from first time visitors. In this scenario the ad clicks would prevent you from making sales because the visitor has left your page.
What’s Your Experience?
How do you incorporate your goals for first-time visitors into your designs?