A common mistake founders, designers and marketers make on their marketing site is to be vague with their offering. If you suffer from this, this simple test can help you uncover the fix and significantly improve your key metrics (sign ups, leads, quotes, etc.).

Most visitors won’t read your website, they’ll skim 1. So it’s no surprise that, if you don’t give them a reason to stay within the first few seconds, they’ll hit the back button. Let’s look at how we can make those seconds count.

Your marketing site’s job: be clear.

Most founders, designers and marketers know that their marketing site’s objective is to convince their visitors to take action (e.g. sign up, subscribe, contact you, etc.). But, how they go about doing this is often where they get it wrong.

If you’re selling a product or service online, your job is to clearly answer 3 questions for your new visitors:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What product or service do you provide?
  3. Why should I care?

Nailing all three points is a blog post of its own, but you should NEVER confuse visitors around what product or service you provide. It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many companies still manage to screw this up. People won’t take action unless they know what’s in it for them. And they won’t know what’s in it for them when what you’re offering is unclear.

Here’s a few examples of what I mean.

Look at the following screenshots and ask yourself: What product or service do they provide? (answers are provided below).

Example 1

Example 2

Example 3

Example 4 Answers: (1) Site speed optimization and network attack protection services (technically, CDN and DDOS protection services) (2) Error logging, reporting and analytics software (3) Wireframing tool for non-designers (4) Template documents with e-signing for HR and sales teams

If it’s not immediately clear, that’s a problem because not everyone will be patient enough to learn about you further down the page (where the answers may be).

So my question to you is: are you guilty of the same mistake? Here’s a trick that I learned from my days as a usability researcher.

The 5-Second Test

The 5-second test is a simple technique for capturing a visitor’s first impressions by simulating their snap judgement of your site.

The goal is to show someone a page or design (either live or work-in-progress), and see if they understand what the site is about in just 5 seconds. So run the test, and you’ll have a sample on how your site is doing in the real world.

Sounds easy, right?

The beauty of this test is that it’s:

  • incredibly easy to run
  • you’ll get qualitative results back within an hour (or less)
  • you can conduct this in person or online
  • you don’t need special training
  • you don’t need targeted users (although, sometimes they can help) and
  • you can run this for free (if you recruit your own testers) or under 25 bucks per test (if you use an online service to recruit testers—I cover this below).

Here’s how you can run your own tests

  1. Set up your test. If you’re doing this offline, open up your site in your browser, or load your mock up with the screen showing your page above the fold (tip: the part of a webpage that are visible without scrolling.). If you’re doing this online (I personally use UsabilityHub.com), just upload your screenshot and set up the follow-up questions you’d like to ask.

  2. Find a few people who have not seen or heard of your site (e.g. friends, a stranger on the street / at the coffee shop, Reddit, Facebook Groups you belong to, etc.). Ask them to help you review a design you’re working on. I like talking to at least 15 to 25 people, because that’s when you start seeing trends. If you’re using UsabilityHub or something similar, just send your testers the link (or buy credits to get your full results back in about ~5 minutes).

  3. Show testers your site for 5 seconds. If you’re running this offline, tell them you’re going to show them a web page for 5 seconds, take it away, then ask your follow up questions. People sometimes get nervous when a stranger walks up to them and asks for their opinions, so make sure they know you’re testing the site, not them.

  4. Review your results. You’ll want to take some notes to notice any trends and patterns. I’ve included some of my own results in a case study below.

And that’s it! Now you’ll have qualitative data to build your improvements upon.

Case Study: Squidoo (Before vs After)

A few years ago, as I was looking for new clients, I ran a 5 second test on prospective websites to find areas that needed improvement. Squidoo has since been acquired, so I’m happy to share the results of my findings :)


Squidoo - Before

Here’s the results from this test. Armed with this data, I then ran another test, after I’ve made a few improvements to their headlines:


Squidoo - After

Here’s the results from the new test. Notice the difference in responses? That’s the kind of difference qualitative data and clarity can make.

I hope this post inspires you to start testing your landing pages. Ran a test and still have questions? Saw a website that was completely confusing? Tell me about it in the comments!


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  1. If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend Steve Krug’s, Don’t Make Me Think, by Steve Krug. Here’s a sample chapter