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Websites: You've Only Got 3 Seconds

Websites: You've Only Got 3 Seconds Joseph Carrabis
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I was having dinner with IMedia's Editor in Chief Brad Berens last week. The pleasure of Brad's company would have been reward enough, but Brad asked me what research NextStage had been up to. We talked over several things, and one topic that caught his attention involved what happens non-consciously when someone visits a webpage.


Specifically, what happens that makes the person decide to navigate the page or not, when does someone decide that they'll like the page or not, or that they'll believe the page or not?


His interest took me by surprise. Answering those questions is what NextStage's



These time periods, and especially the first three to five seconds, deal with subjective experience. Most people are more familiar with objective experience, so we'll start there.


Objective experience is experience everyone can agree to. We all saw something happen, we all agree on what we saw. Objective experience is what trial law is concerned with; We all saw the car go through the red light, we all saw this person take something from that person.


In science, objective experience is what rules and something isn't considered true until the statement "We duplicated it therefore it must be true" is made. Objective experience is good in groups but rotten for individuals because people live in subjective experience.


Subjective experience is our own, private, internal understandings of things. We eat in subjective experience, we sleep in subjective experience, we think and love, laugh, cry, and grow old in subjective experience. It doesn't rely on the beliefs and ideas of others. Whether we like it or not, the majority of our daily decisions are based on subjective experience (the cars we drive, the people we associate with, our tastes in food and clothing, mates and partners, et cetera).


This difference is important because humans respond to information subjectively and non-consciously before the conscious mind responds to that same information. Such non-conscious behaviors can be mathematized via "a computational theory of near optimal performance" and that gets us back to NextStage's TargetTrack tool.


The first three seconds
Most of these responses come and go within the first three seconds of an individual encountering information. It is highly unlikely these responses will be captured using traditional methods and using synthetic methods (strapping focus group participants to EEGs, MEGs, fMIRs, PETs, et cetera) invalidates the testers' ability to gather genuine information unless and until the intrusiveness of the experimental paradigm can be ameliorated.


What all this means to people making a living from websites is that you have at most three seconds to get and keep your visitor's interest and attention, and you have to figure out how to do this without the visitor knowing you're doing it.


As soon as they know you're watching, their experience goes from totally subjective to mostly objective, and they're no longer engaged in what you want them to do (probably make a purchase or otherwise convert while they're on your website).


These 1-3 second, 4-7 second and 7-10 second intervals, action, engagement and actionability, are the science behind building super-sticky webpages and marketing material, something I've covered in previous iMedia columns.


If you'd like a bibliography of the research that informed this article, please contact me.

Note: I'll be speaking at the San Francisco April ’07 Emetrics Summit on Quantifying and Optimizing the Human Side of Online Marketing on May 7, 2007. Come on by and say hello.


Joseph Carrabis is CRO and founder of NextStage Evolution and NextStage Global, and founder of KnowledgeNH and NH Business Development Network. He is also author of the Biz Media Science blog. .

Joseph Carrabis is Founder and CRO of The NextStage Companies, NextStage Global and NextStage Analytics, companies that specialize in helping clients improve their marketing efforts and understand customer behavior. He's also applied neuroscience,...

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