How to Captivate New Readers in
5 Seconds or Less

image of the Taj Mahal

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.


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Comments

  1. You are correct. When I read a blog post, I have my mouse pointer over the back button with my finger ready to click. Writers should visualize this image when they write.

    P.S. Copyblogger adding the “online marketing that works” tagline to their header is a perfect example of captivation in action.

  2. Great points that even some of us who have been around a while need to look at on a regular basis. I am doing this now, rebranding and working on three sites to bring them all together with cleaner messaging. It takes time, but if you do it a bit at a time then all of a sudden you are done ;). Bite size pieces.

  3. Until right now, I didn’t see Copyblogger’s tagline. In fact, I had to scroll back up because I didn’t believe it. When did that go up there? Talk about those fresh eyes…

    • It’s new. :)

    • Yeah, I noticed it earlier this week… I dig it :-)

      • Ah, but there was a great tagline there before that did the same trick of instantly letting new new readers know what Copyblogger is about. I think it was “Copywriting Tips for Online Marketing Success” so love that you’ve managed to shorten it now, making it faster to read but still with the same winning message and appeal to copywriters.

    • I didn’t notice that either. I should probably add a tag line to my site as well. I think another good way to look at your site with fresh eyes is to visit it from another browser on a completely different computer and browse through it as if you were visiting it for the first time. I realized that my “copyblogger style” landing pages could probably use a little more content and maybe my home page font is too small. I’ll be working on that this weekend.

  4. Good post, Annabel!

    This reminds me of Seth Godin’s ‘All Marketers Are Liars’ where he wrote that almost all our important buying decisions are made instantaneously. In fact, these instant decisions affect everything we do, and as Godin writes, “…we’ll bend over backward to defend them later.”

    This post serves as a nice reminder of that very important fact!

    With respect,
    Vishal

  5. Do you know what stood out about this post for me?

    I could read it so quickly. no paragraph was longer than sentence. Giving this air of space, with large headlines directly related to that sections content.

    This is a very good looking post, with great flow. Just looking at it, you can see it’s structure matches it’s subject matter.

    A great post in more ways than one.

  6. Always top notch stuff here.

    This is something I always tell anyone that asks me about building a website or redoing one. You only have a few seconds before they like it or back away. I especially like #5 in your post – it annoys me to no end seeing sites with LARGE paragraphs of text and no way to scan their content.

    Btw, love the new tagline at the top too – simple and effective. :)

  7. Daniel Maldonado :

    This reminds me…go pick up the book “Pitch Anything.”

    It’s by Oren Klaff and he speaks about this first impression factor and the science behind it. The basic premise is that our instinctual brain (the less evolved one) which is closer to the stem is how people receive messages, ideas, images, etc.

    Our problem is that we use our neocortex (the most evolved part of our brain) to deliver our ideas, messages, etc., and expect that the person receiving the message is using their neocortex to process the information. But, this isn’t the case. Studies have shown that people are receiving messages first through their instinctual brain and there is a “knee-jerk” reaction to whatever it is you’re pitching. If it is information overload with facts, figures, and numbers, then your instinctual brain will determine (in no time flat) that it requires to much “brain power” to allocate to that idea or message, thereby eliminating it before it reaches the neocortex.

    This blog post describes exactly that process. When someone goes onto your website, their brain will determine in an instant whether or not it requires too much work to send the information to the neocortex. Ultimately you want it to, but you always want to appeal to the instinctual brain first. If the website is clean, easy on the eyes, and has a clear message up front, you’ve successfully appeals to the lower brain and have engaged the reader to use his/her neocortex to logically process the rest of your information.

    Cheers!

    Daniel Maldonado

    • Hi there Daniel, sounds like a good read, love the way you explained it here and can relate to that totally. Somtimes it’s much easier to just throw something in the too hard basket (or shut the browser window) than actually try to work out what on earth the point it.

  8. I like posts that are not too long. Some people make their posts way too long. I dont want to waste that much time reading all that. It should be somewhat short and to the point.

  9. Hey Annabel,

    Love and agree with every single one of your points! Personally, I try and do a profile audit every month or so (tho sometimes I forget). It’s important though to stay fresh and up-to-date because you never know how/where someone is going to come across you.

    For me, I use my name as my domain, so it’s been a bit of challenge for me to come up with a headline, so I think it’s safe to say I’m still working on that one a little bit… And I also want to redo my About page. But each of those things is *very* important in capturing people’s attention and keeping it. I’ve noticed that in my case, my About page is the highest visited page after someone visits my site via a post or the homepage. So yeah… It all matters.

  10. Terrific post Annabel. Definitely given me some things to consider for my own online presence and Copyblogger’s new tagline has given me some motivation to create one of my own!

  11. This post has solidified for me that I’m going to need to shell out some bucks and pay for blog design. I don’t think mine’s the worst out there, but it certainly isn’t at the level I’d like it to be. When I go in and look at it with fresh eyes, as you suggested, it doesn’t scream “Successful Blog! You should listen to me!”
    Thanks for the push in the right direction! :)

    • Hi Amy, so glad to read this – it’s exactly the response I wanted from this post.

      It makes me sad to see good business people with great value to offer clients who present themselves badly online because I know they’ll be actively scaring off potential clients and losing money.

      You do have to invest in good blog or web design but the investment is well worth it because you should get your money back as soon as you convert the first (or first few) visitors into new clients. And of course a good design will stand the test of time and create a winning first impression for you or your business for years to come.

      If you need a hand with blog design I’d love to help. There are many good designers out there and you and your business deserve to benefit from their expertise:)

  12. I needed to hear the part about looking at your website with fresh eyes. I have tolerated a boring website because I kept telling myself it was a work in progress. If I would have seen my site from the outside I would have thought that this guy really doesn’t know how to build a blog. I do know how… just accepted the mess. Time to clean house. Thanks for the post.

  13. I loved your post ! It made me think of a few things I should modify on my blog. I agreed on everything you wrote, but I don’t apply all of those tips to my own blog. I guess I should! Thanks!

  14. Good tips Annabel,

    Some of my posts are long and I can’t use bullet points due the way it’s written. Scanning won’t work. I guess my readers will have to let me know if it sucks for them or not.

    I’ll add some of these tips to the repertoire and come back stronger and faster.

    Thanks.

  15. Annabel,
    it is well accepted that you never get a second chance at a first impression 99.1% of us understand this (the other .9% are business owners) when in your opinion does a total re-brand come in order whether it be a business, blog, TV show, website..etc?
    Thanks,
    Mike

    • Hi Mike, if you’re not happy with the way your blog or business presents itself then it’s time to fix it. Even great designs can start to look dated after five to seven years.

      Sometimes it’s not the branding itself that’s the problem, just the way a blog or site has been designed. Only you can know if you really need a whole new branding package or if simple fixes like cleaning up your site and adding a better photo of you will do the trick.

      Another thing I haven’t mentioned here is how much more confidence you get when you present well online. We’d all make an effort to look our best if we were giving a speech or attending a networking event so we need to do that on our blogs and in all our online profiles too.

  16. Archan Mehta :

    Annabel,

    Thank you for sharing your ideas here. You have contributed a remarkable guest post.

    In fact, I was one of the earlier readers and, if memory serves, contributors to Get In The Hot Spot. So, I was pleasantly surprised to find that now you have a new blog, up and running. Look forward to reading your articles.

    It seems you are on the right track: we tend to have a short attention span. We tend to judge a book by its cover.
    However, it is only when you take the time to scratch beneath the surface–and read between the lines–that you beging to fathom different interpretations of the same story. This “big picture” perspective is what is missing from your post.

    There are a lot of readers out there who just do not skim the surface, but engage in serious scholarship, even academic research. A top-notch copywriter, for example, needs the craft and art of writing plus the ability to learn about the company and its target audience. You also need to learn about the product/service you want to sell.

    So, while I understand when you’re coming from, there are also exceptions to the rule. Not everybody is going to look at your site once and sit in judgment if it is not upto speed. They may decide to give you a second chance in the hope that you may have improved on it. In fact, Chris Brogan mentioned this fact in a recent piece, how he tries to update his profile, etc. with the changing times. It is really a process of personal growth and professional development, so we must not judge people harshly, that is, those who fall short of expectations. There is always scope for improvement even for the masters. There can be second and third chances. Some people will have faith in you despite your limitations and mistakes. If you are sincere, they will give you the benefit of doubt too. Have a nice day. Cheerio.

  17. I found the link to your blog over at Duct Tape…wanted him to have the credit for my lunar landing here. This post is excellent and from my standpoint it is one that I need to print out and tack up on my office wall.

    When reading I began to reminisce about the reason I began blogging in the first place; to share my knowledge with those who could benefit from it. And you are so right about the clutter, it adds up over time.
    What I don’t understand is this phenomenon, several blogs I read on my personal time, have huge followings, one in particular is extremely irritating to read because it loads so slow, probably due to all of the clutter, but…I wait and I do this everyday…why because her content interesting and I enjoy it. So why is it that some can break all the rules and come out smelling like a rose and others get left in the dust?

    Regardless I guess we should just take care of our own backyard and stop looking over the fence.

    • Hi Cindi, thanks for swinging by:)

      That’s a good point. I can think of two major names in the blogging world whose blogs look dull and amateur and break all these rules.

      But those bloggers have a massive following built up over many years so they get away with it.

      Newcomers can’t and these days we have to work harder to stand out from the crowd.

      But I’d still love to see those big names reward their readers by improving their blog designs, because it’s not just about what you read on a blog.

      Fast download times are essential and if a site also looks interesting people do appreciate that and want to hang out there more. Lol – maybe those two big players I’m think of will read this and decide to take the plunge:)

  18. Karen L Roach :

    Annabel, you’re so right about how to capture readers in those crucial first seconds. First time I go to a blog, I look at all the things you mentioned and if I can’t find them, then 8 times out of 10 I’m gone (other 2 times — I’ll stick around because blog was recommended by someone I trust). Though, I’m not as concerned about seeing a picture as opposed to a logo or drawing. Thanks, Annabel, for such a concise and useful post.

  19. Thanks for a good post, Annabel. A lot of us writers resist admitting the truth of what you say about skimming (btw, I think “skimming” is what you mean here–”scanning” is something different.) I know I need to constantly remind myself that intricate arguments don’t belong in my blog, and that white space is my best friend. :-)

  20. Thanks Annabel
    Excellent article and it was interesting and informative enough to get me to read the entire article.
    Being a newbie to writing blogs I enjoy learning new stuff:)
    Cheers

  21. Hi Annabel

    Great summary and reminders about what we need to do to keep our readers with us.

    The thing I most frequently tell writers is to look at their work from the readers’ perspective. How easy is this to read? How readily will readers understand my message?

    Like you, I prefer to use white space to increase readability.

    Looking forward to your next words of wisdom.

  22. Hi Annabel,
    Great post! I loved it, and I must admit that I probably don’t give anything like as much care to my own site as I probably should.

    As for first impressions, I totally agree. I’ve heard that within the first 3 seconds of meeting someone you have already decided what you think about them, and it takes EIGHT more encounters to change that first impression! It’s certainly a good idea to make those 3 seconds count for everything!

  23. I’m in the business of helping people through career change, and I once recommended one of the most respected testing centers in the US to a client. They came back and told me they didn’t feel comfortable using them, not because the prices were too high (I was anticipating that), but because the website design was so poor, they assumed the business was fradulant!!

    Your message really can’t be told loudly enough. Design matters. A lot.

  24. I loved your post and have noticed you changing the tagline to a shorter version.
    Tagline is good for grabbing an attention as well as a ‘POP’ (pointing original purpose) why you’re in business.

    I am a Brand strategist, in a business and personal branding and agree with your statements. First impression is very important, be it in a personal and/or business arena. The image people have of you is the image you project.
    A Brand is defined by its experience and impression – how it is received and perceived – the Image and reputation that forms in people’s mind. The whole package counts, be it a personal face-to-face encounter or on-line.

    Thank you for your great tips and thank you for sharing. Will pass your post to my followers.

  25. Annabel,

    Terrific post and spot on! While there are exceptions, if a website is difficult to read or visually unappealing it will not hold readers. There are so many great resources to help bloggers institute best practices, and most of them free. It baffles me that people won’t take the time to read great posts like this on a site dedicated to best practices.

    As a mom, I teach this principle to my 8yo – you never have a second chance to make a good first impression. It’s true from a very early point in our lives. Barring exigent circumstances, that first impression will set the stage for all future interactions.

    I’d like to add to your post by saying that a good photo isn’t all that is needed. We need to ensure that there aren’t embarrassing or inappropriate photos of us floating around the internet. Our online footprint is vast and can speak for us before we ever have an opportunity to say a word.

    Thank you for sharing such a concise post about putting our best foot forward.

    Kindly,
    Sara

  26. “What am I going to do to make it count?”
    I’ve immediately gone back into my last post (about Twitter) and made it more scannable by adding headlines for starters!
    I’m horrified seeing it through fresh eyes just days after posting it how poor the layout was :(
    Keeping it simple and clear we know is the objective, but like blogging in general, you have to keep at it.

    Thanks so much Annabel for the clear, scannable copy to show me how its done and remind me what I’m aiming for :)

  27. Great tips for everyone here, Annabel. I’m a visual person so that first impression is even more important for me when I’m landing on a blog or website. I’m also conscious of how my posts look in a feed or on a mobile app. People are not reading your website the usual way any more. In my feeder, I’m less likely to click through to a post if I haven’t been able to read the whole feed. An excerpt would have to be amazing to make me want to read more!

    • Hi Nikki, great point, yet another place where we have to be aware of how we come accross. In fact we just had to buy an android phone specially so we can check how our sites look on mobile phones:) So thanks for the reminder:)

  28. Impressive Annabel!

    You have focused on the need of the moment – every blogger is finding a way to captivate his new visitors.Secondly, everything you said is reflected in your writeup. That shows you practice what you teach.

    Great post, thanks.

  29. This is why it is so important for website owners to design their sites with the user in mind. In less than a second someone is going to decide if they want to hang around your site or not. Your landing pages need to invite visitors in, not scare them off!

  30. I love this post Annabel! Great tips for drawing the reader in a getting them to hang around! I know I strive to make my posts visually pleasing as well as well written. I guess I am a visual person and I like it to be pleasing to the eye before someone ever reads a word!
    I agree with the photo tip as well. I met a follower in real life at a conference yesterday, and because she doesn’t use a photograph for her avatar or on the front of her webpage (you have to dig for it) I had no idea who she was. Of course, I feigned excitement until it dawned on me who she was, lol!
    Thanks for sharing!
    Bernice
    Why I love Twitter

  31. Great tips, Annabel!

    Professional-looking photos are particularly important. I once came across a photo on LinkedIn that looked like it belonged on a dating site – bikini top, hair blowing in the wind, porn-pic pout – and it was an HR person! What on earth was she thinking? Maybe she was trying to kill 2 birds with one stone….

  32. Very useful tips! We all judge things without conciously doing so – it’s part of life.

    One thing I will say, with blogs at least, is if the site looks messy or out of date or generally unattractive, I will click the back button faster than you can say “bye bye”! Think about your design folks.

  33. Thanks for sharing this post Annabel, I really enjoy reading it and I hope that I could write a post just like this one. I am trying to build a blog on how to make money online and I need more people to look at it and read something what I wrote. I hope to get a mentor on how to be a better writer one day :) Anyway, thanks again.

  34. Annabel, You’re so right. We live in an era of instant first impressions – unfortunately – and I say unfortunately as many good and valuable things may be lost or passed over because people can’t be bothered to go beyond that first all-important impression. What impacts me most personally about this post relates to a blog’s visual appeal as in that area, I’m in dire need of a redesign. I mean, if my own blog design doesn’t appeal to me, however good or compelling my posts may be, I’m not going to attract or keep readers. Also, the same advice that you give here for bloggers can easily be said of books. If the cover design and title don’t appeal at first sight, the reader may not give them a second look.

  35. Super true.

    First impressions count offline, thats why we groom our hair and wear suits and ties right? I don’t think I’ve seen Brian in a suit and tie.

    But many times peoples first impression is coming from the ONLINE now. So does your site reflect your service and fee you are charging? <- that is one of the first questions I ask someone.

  36. Right on, Annabel! Thank you for this reminder. I loved the humor too. The line that stood out for me and that will help me to remember this was “Cave men survived on their ability to make fast judgments. Can I eat it? Can it eat me?” :-)

  37. HHHMMMmmm… I’ve just changed my blog template and updated my profile after some reader feedback! But now I see I’ll be going back to the drawing board!! It’s amazing how this has immediately changed my perspective on what’s important!! Thanx for the great tips!

  38. As always, gold!
    I’m approx. a year into business, which includes a blog as part of the strategy, and I really appreciate the access I have to you who keeps me thinking about continuous improvement… for improvement not just the sake of change! Thank you.

    Sally | Fast Track Manager Productivity

  39. Very interesting read. Definitely, linking your social media profiles like Twitter and Facebook will build readers’ trust.

  40. Awesome post. The sad thing is that we only get 5 seconds to try to capture people’s attention these days. If attention spans get any shorter we are going to need some hypnosis to keep visitors on the page. Thanks for the reminder about about the profile pic too. I definitely need to get a new one of those. Hope I’m not scaring people away.

  41. Excellent points. Your brand/presence has to be consistent across all of your mediums (blog, Facebook, etc). Once you start to attract a crowd you will see people bounce from one to another. The message should be consistent.

  42. OUTSTANDING RECOMMENDATIONS

    Well done, Annabel. So glad to have you as my mentor and ‘go-to’ girl for blogging advice. My blog is much more successful because of your valuable tips and recommendations.

    Best to you,

    Robin Dickinson
    Your business mentor! :)

  43. Great tips

    Agree with most things, including the importance of design BUT people should be careful with design changes. Done too frequently and they can appear to be a sign of desperation and boredom to regular readers.

  44. I have been missing the boat on email signature.

    What do you suggest for an email signature when replying to blog post?

    Thanks!

  45. In our present world, it seems that everyone is in the hurry that first impression is really applied to everything. In this case we should really target our client in a sure or take one basis because if we miss the change all our efforts are wasted.

  46. Once again I am reminded I am a novice. Never considered how important using a signature and profile pic could be in generating future interest. Thanks for the post, much appreciated.