The Five Second Test

I’m at various stages with various new websites that I’m writing. One is about to launch, one is at the mockup stage, one has the first meeting with the designer scheduled, after discussion with the client, several have had their content turned in, and one is in the “newly assigned” category.

As a result, I’ve been looking at a lot of websites — old one, new ones, and planned ones — with a critical eye.

This is a very good thing to do with your own website from time to time. And there’s a great online tool that can help you with it: the Five Second Test.

This tool works very simply. You push the “start test” button at the site linked above, and you get five seconds to look at a website. You are then given time to place tags on all the areas you noticed and remembered.

This replicates the experience of visitors surfing quickly through search results or referring links before deciding where to stop and look around a bit more.

It doesn’t replicate the experience exactly, because surfing visitors often have some information or goal when they arrive. That is, we’ve clicked based on the description or the anchor text of the link, and we’re looking for something. We take those five seconds to confirm our hope that the site has what we’re looking for.

Still, the Five Second Test gives a good indication of the kind of visual input that we find memorable and immediately comprehensible. It also tells the designer what is catching the attention and the memory of visitors.

When you’re trying this tool, start by doing a couple of random tests. You may be surprised by what you notice and remember. The logo, perhaps? The phone number in the top right hand corner? The main image in the design may be what you notice. I got the main headings, but often didn’t see the contact info.

The process of taking the test may give you some insights you can take back to your own website. For example, I caught the names of the companies only about half the time — when there was a clear logo in the kind of place where I expect to see a logo. If visitors notice the name of our company as they surf through, they’re more likely to remember and find us later. So this point seems pretty essential.

Check when you were able to remember the name of the company, and then see whether your own website fulfills those conditions. Determine whether a visitor would get enough information about what you do to cause him or her to want to stay. See how thoroughly you’ve hidden your contact information.

You can then, if you choose, upload a screenshot from your own website, or an image of the mockup for your new website (with the permission of the designer, of course, if you haven’t yet paid for it or approved it), and get results from others’ tests of your image.

Try it out. Share your insights, too.

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