The first minute of a visit to your website is the most important. It will decide whether the visitor will stay around or move on to another site. Your site must meet certain criteria in the visitor’s mind in order to prove that your site is worthwhile. Otherwise, CLICK and the visitor (potential customer, if you run an e-commerce site) is gone.
The first 30 or so seconds (hopefully less than that) after typing in your URL or clicking on a link, the visitor waits for your site to download. In most cases if nothing shows up within the first 20-30 seconds the visitor will hit stop and move on to another site. Having a fast loading front page is one way to ensure that visitors stay to see your content.
Tip: If your site is graphics intensive, have an opening splash page on your site warning visitors that your site could take a little longer than usual to download and offer them an alternative, a low bandwidth version of
After the page has finished loading, the visitor will give it a once over to see if the site looks professional, at least to an extent. If the front page is 50 screens long, has a purple background with green text, and a logo that looks like it was made in Windows Paint then the visitor will leave. However, your site doesn’t have to look like CNN.com or News.com, as long as it provides good content. A very large percentage of Internet visitors will continue to surf your site even if the design isn’t that great, as long as the information you have is good.
A visitor will then look around the front page to determine if your site is useful. If they came looking for a specific piece of information, they’ll scan your site to see if there is a section/link where the answer to their question may lie. If they were just surfing the Internet not looking for anything specific, they’ll be looking to see if your site is interesting, and whether it has content that is worth perusing. Either way, make sure that your front page makes it rather obvious what’s on your site.
If the visitor determines that the site is useful or entertaining to them, they’ll try to get the hang of your navigation system and site organization. If they get frustrated, more likely than not they’ll soon leave, unless your site provides some of the most compelling content on the Internet. This is where having a good navigation scheme comes into play. Make sure you read Usability 101 for some useful tips and plenty of good advice.
Your site’s next goal should be to turn visitors who have stayed up to this point into ‘regulars.’ This can be done by putting up a notice on your front page saying "Updated ___ (weekly, daily, monthly etc.)", having a newsletter, or simply asking people to bookmark your site. Read The Other Side of Marketing for more information on how to make the best of the traffic that you currently have.
This last step applies only to e-commerce sites. You’ll have to convert these newsletter subscribers or visitors who have stayed up to this point into paying customers. Read: Converting Click-Thrus to Customers and Why People Buy Online? for more information about turning your traffic into sales.