How to Reduce Your Bounce Rate With a Positive First Impression

Paul Boag

We all want to reduce the bounce rate on our website and to do so we need to consider carefully the first impressions we give users.

Nothing is more demoralising than a high bounce rate. All my advice on conversion rate optimisation is worth nothing if users don’t spend more than a few seconds on your site.

In fact, according to research carried out by Microsoft, most users only have an attention span of eight seconds. That is eight seconds to make a positive first impression and stop them leaving.

Depressingly, it is worse than that. According to a study published in the Journal of Behaviour and Information Technology, users form a first impression in 50 milliseconds.

What is more, this first impression sticks even when they have longer to review a site thanks to the halo effect. Their first impression of a site shapes how they perceive a more detailed viewing.

How then do we reduce our bounce rate and create a positive first impression? Well, it starts before the page even loads.

Reduce Your Bounce Rate With Better Performance

Performance has a significant impact on how long users are willing to hang around on our website. A 1-second delay in load times can lead to 11% fewer page views and a 16% decrease in customer satisfaction.

A one second delay equals 7% drop in sales and 11% fewer page views.
Poor performance has a significant effect on conversion and page views.

Even a 500-millisecond delay can cause up to a 26% increase in frustration and an 8% decline in engagement.

In short, improving the performance of your site will reduce your bounce rate and leave users feeling more positive about your website.

Even once a page loads, we still have to make a positive first impression. At least we do if we want to reduce our bounce rate, and we have to do so at a glance.

The “at a Glance” First Impression

It is easy for the user to misjudge our websites when they are only giving it a few seconds to assess. In that slither of time, we have to demonstrate that this site can meet their needs and is relevant to them.

The two significant factors in determining the conclusions users reach are headings and images because that is all they will see before deciding whether to bounce.

Images Set Our Expectations

Take, for example, a 5-second test I ran with a group of prospective international students. A 5-second test, as the name implies, is where you show users a website for only 5-seconds and then ask for feedback on what they have just seen.

In this case, I asked a single question — “do you feel this university is the right kind of place for you?” I had a good idea of the answer going in. However, it was still shocking when 100% of participants said no.

The reason for the negative response was because the hero image that dominated the page showed a group of white, middle-aged professors. There was nobody on the site that looked like the participants, so they concluded it wouldn’t be for them.

An image like this could prime a person to colour to think that this University was not for them.

The image had primed participants to make the wrong associations about the University, and they didn’t stop to consider that those associations might be incorrect.

We rarely take the time to question the opinions we draw based on very little information, and so first impressions stick. What we see is all there is.

For example, what job would a man who is studious, quiet and loves to read likely have? Would he be more likely to be a librarian or a farmer?

The chances are you would presume he is a librarian because my description matches the mental image you have of librarians. What you did not stop to consider is that there 20x the number of farmers than there are librarians. You made a judgement based on what was in front of you, ignoring all the other details.

You can see how this fact can prove dangerous when it comes to the imagery on our site. However, it can be just as dangerous when thinking about headings.

Are Your Headings Giving the Wrong Impression?

When a user only has a few seconds to assess your website, they are not going to read your copy. At most, they are going to scan a few of your prominent headlines. Unfortunately, all too often, these headlines fail to explain what the site is about when reading out of context.

By way of an example, here are the headings one of my clients proposed for their homepage:

  • Revolutionise your marketing.
  • Increase conversion, boost ROI and reduce costs.
  • Make your entire team more effective.
  • Single source for print, promo, and for fulfilment.
  • Know exactly what works and what doesn’t.

Can you tell me what they do? Probably not, because the headings could apply to a massive range of products and services. The only hint is possibly the references to print, promo and fulfilment.

If people cannot tell within a few seconds what your company does, they will almost recently leave, and your bounce rate will increase.

Identifying What Is Impacting First Impressions

Although headings and images are the main things users look at in those initial few seconds, they are not the only elements. Users could equally be looking at pullout quotes, calls to action or links. However, the principle still stands — people read your content out of context and make judgements exceptionally quickly.

To ascertain which elements they are using to make these judgements you might want to run a session recorder like Fullstory or Hotjar. That will allow you to see how users are interacting with the content and where they are pausing to give it their intention.

RealEye Homepage
An application like RealEye helps you understand what elements are shaping the user’s perceptions.

Unfortunately, the usefulness of session recorders is limited due to the speed at which people are making decisions. A better tool might be eye-tracking. Eye-tracking software like RealEye will allow you to see what elements users focus on in those first few seconds.

That said, I understand that eye-tracking is probably impractical for many, so using eye-tracking simulation software is the next best thing. Run your homepage through an application like Feng GUI. It will give you an idea of what content users look at first and by extension, which content is shaping their first impressions.

FengGUI Glaze Plot showing what order people look at different screen elements.
A Gaze Plot from a tool like Feng GUI can help you to see what elements a user might focus on.

Once you know which elements are helping form people’s opinions of your site, then you can carry out a 5-second test. That will ascertain what kind of impression those elements are leaving users with.

Reducing Bounce Rates Have a Big Impact

All of this may sound like a lot of work. However, reducing your bounce rate will have a major impact on everything from your conversion rate to how far your marketing budget will stretch.

If you make the right first impression, then the halo effect works in your favour. You will find users much more open to listening to what you have to say.

Stock Photos from jorik/Shutterstock