How to Send Visitors Away from Your Website in Two Seconds or Less

When you go window shopping, how long do you glance at the displays before deciding whether to go in the store?

Ten seconds or less.

Your website is your online storefront. Window shoppers will give your site two seconds of their time before deciding whether to take a closer look. You read that correctly: TWO seconds.

Look at your own website’s Home page for two seconds. What’s the first thing that catches your attention?

If multiple elements compete for your attention and no single dominant element draws you in, it’s time to redesign your site.

Here are five more design blunders certain to send visitors to your site running the other direction:

1.  Light Type on a Dark Background.

Reverse type — except when viewed on a billboard that contains five or fewer words — is challenging to read. Unless your site is geared to a teenage audience (where light type on a back background spells “cool”), large blocks of reverse type spell “disaster.”

It’s okay to create contrast by including small graphic elements that contain reverse type, but do not display your primary content in white or light type.

2.  Drop-Down or Pop-Out Menus.

Have you ever hovered over a navigation button and watched an additional set of buttons pop out the side? You carefully move your mouse to the side, and another set of buttons pops out. You attempt to click a button from the third row of pop-outs, but because you didn’t have your mouse positioned just so, the entire set of buttons disappears. Aaarrrrrgh!

Visitors to your site must be able to access any page in one or two clicks. Use drop-down menus sparingly, and clearly label them so visitors know what they’re going to get. uses a few drop-down menus. We offer a range of services, so we created sub-pages under “Services” that detail each major service.

However, to make every page on our site accessible in one or two clicks, our main “Services”  page is an index. It lists each type of service, includes a brief teaser, and links to the sub-page that explains that service.

3.  Burying Key Content Below the Fold.

You have a limited amount of space in which to put your website’s header, navigation buttons, Search form, e-newsletter form and RSS feed prompt.

And then there’s that important blog post you want to feature, a video you must embed, and perhaps some ads from your sponsors.

Where do you put it all so visitors can see all the “good stuff” without having to scroll… and scroll… and scroll…

I recommending choosing 3-5 key elements to put above the fold (visitors won’t have to scroll to see them). Put the most important elements (such as your e-newsletter form) at the top and work your way down, placing the less critical elements below the fold.

4.  Clutter.

If you have a cluttered home, you know exactly what I’m referring to. Stuff is randomly strewn into every nook and cranny.

It’s time to get rid of the junk, people!

Right now, look at each element on your website (especially the sidebar, which tends to sprout widgets like dandelions).

Ask yourself:

  • Does this element serve an important purpose?
  • Does the design and placement of this element enhance the other elements on the page?

If you answer “no” to either of those questions, remove the element from your site. Immediately.

Color and type fonts can create clutter, as well. If your site features too many competing colors (as opposed to a pleasing-to-the-eye color scheme) and frilly fonts that were never intended to spend time together, it will be worth your investment to consult with a graphic designer who can help you pick out a color scheme and fonts that work together.

A tiny image is worse than no image!

5.  Tiny, Fuzzy Images.

In my former life, I was a high school yearbook advisor. I can still hear myself telling my students, “Every 2-page spread has to include a dominant element – something that’s at least twice the size of every other element on the spread.”

And that dominant element is usually an image.

Why is it, then, that most websites and blogs brim with postage stamp-sized images?

“If I make the picture larger, it’ll be blurry,” you might respond.

If that’s the case, axe the picture altogether. The only thing worse than publishing a tiny, poor-quality image is publishing a large, poor-quality image.

And these days, there’s no excuse for publishing a poor-quality image. There are lots of great sites where you can buy (or download for free) royalty-free stock images. Some of my favorites:

  • Stock.xchng (most of the images I download from this site are free)
  • (usually around $3/web-resolution photo)
  • Fotolia (usually around $1.50 for a web-resolution photo)
  • (usually around $1.50 for a web-resolution photo)

Carefully-selected images will enhance – rather than detract from – your story. Not only that, images will help visitors remember you longer and connect with you more deeply.

Your Assignment

Surf the web and find three websites (or blogs) that you think look terrific.

  • When you first glance at the site, what jumps out at you?
  • What colors do they use? (Often, we are drawn to particular colors.)
  • How do they organize their content?
  • How do they incorporate graphics and images?
  • How easy is it to navigate the site?
  • Are there any elements you don’t like?

Now show those same three sites to several people who you would identify as your “ideal target audience.” Ask them what they like and dislike about the sites.

Often, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But as you collect input from several people, you’ll notice that several elements will resonate with everyone. Add those elements to the “must-have” list for your own site.

Let the site remodeling begin!

If you are design-challenged, ask Blogging Bistro for a free needs assessment and estimate. We specialize in creating self-hosted WordPress websites (with a built-in blog if you wish). We offer everything from budget-priced starter sites to high-end, custom-designed sites. Contact Blogging Bistro today.

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  • Judybobalik

    Have music play when your page is opened. Don’t provide a quick way to turn off music. Have music start every time you go to another page.

  • Judybobalik

    Have music play when your page is opened. Don’t provide a quick way to turn off music. Have music start every time you go to another page.

  • Anonymous

     Great tips! Thanks for posting this =D 

    I especially hate the first one, light type on a dark background. It really hurts my eyes! There are plugins for different browsers that remove all style info and colors, and I tend to use those on sites like that if I really want to read them.

  • Laura Christianson

    Wow, KeriLynn, you are more persistent than I’d be when confronted with light type on a dark background. What kind of plugins have you discovered? Not that I’d use them, mind you, but I am interested!

  • Laura Christianson

    Oh, so true, Judy. I always leave the speakers on my computer off for that very reason. Background music on a web page is so 90s!

  • KeriLynn Engel

    When I used to use Firefox, I used this plugin: What prompted me to use it was one website on an obscure hobby of mine (conlanging). I couldn’t find the info anywhere else, but the background was a hideous turquoise.

    Now I’ve switched to Chrome, and I’m not sure if there’s something similar. You could check out this one: which is supposed to allow you to override the CSS styles according to your preferences.

  • Deborah

    Great tips! Thanks! Light type on a dark background immediately sends me away. It’s just too hard to read. Also, having lists of links on both sides of the main text on a page is very distracting.

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