How to Catch a Surfer - by Kath Blackwell

It’s not enough just to attract the attention of traffic to your online store, service or program. Today’s surfer suffers similarly to those affected with ADD – Attention Deficit Syndrome. You don’t have minutes to catch their attention… You don’t even have seconds to catch their attention… today’s surfer makes a snap judgement about which sites meet their personal criteria in a matter of mere moments.

We’ve all heard the phrase “time is money,” but it has never ever been more true than it is for today’s Internet entrepreneur. It doesn’t really matter what you are selling or what you are offering – you only have one chance to make a solid impression upon today’s ‘Net-savvy consumer. If you get it wrong at the home page, you might as well pack up your cyber-shop and go home.

With more and more users going broadband and attention spans at an all-time low, new research is coming from many different sources around the globe, revealing that some users go from page-to-page in as little as one-twentieth of a second. These picky users mentally rate the value of a site based upon visual appeal, load time and – prepare yourselves – saturation of banner and text advertising within the home page. Your home page design, navigation, niche-targeting and overall layout means much more than you could have ever guessed.


You can do a home study project right now to help reveal this new aspect of human nature right there in your own living room. Turn on the television and get into a comfortable chair – put your feet up and relax. Now grab for the remote and pay attention to your own “surfing” habits as you search for something interesting to watch. How long does it take for you to change the channel? How quickly are you able to discern what appeals to you from what doesn’t?

Another interesting thing that researchers are studying at the Human-Oriented Technology Lab at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada is what they are calling a “halo effect,” where the surfers’ first initial impressions actually can carry over to the rest of the website. A positive reaction to a website will foster a “good feeling” for the rest of the content and items offered. And likewise, a negative reaction in those first important moments, will carry over to a “bad feeling” about the website as a whole, effectively costing you sales even if the surfer hangs out on your site longer than a twentieth of a second.

So what is a web developer to do? Many experts say that designers who use fancy Flash design and slick intro pages are doing nothing more than attempting to impress their own colleagues. With this new research that is now available, it is possible that they might be more correct than most would like to believe.

Strategy: Making Your Game Plan

It’s a whole new world – and a whole new battle – as web developers have to work both harder and smarter in order to capture the attention of their target markets and then sell their products and services effectively. Webmasters need to look beyond creating a great design and look at all aspects of web development if they are to achieve success in this new age. Here are some easy to remember tips that will enable you to get your surfers’ attention focus where it should be, to hold it there and to create a lasting, favorable experience:

Keep It Clean and Simple – A great big cluttered mess is the last thing that surfers want to see when they are looking for something specific to fulfill their wants and/or needs. Remember you don’t need to show them everything you have to offer all within the first 1000 pixels of your website, keep it minimal and orderly as much as possible. The big gaudy, flashy designs of the past are out – simple, clean and proper use of “white space” is in.

Clear Navigation is Key – Your visitors appreciate a simple look and thrive upon a clear and easy navigational system. Basic and easy-to-follow menus are vital to the continued success of your site. Make it easy for your users – don’t make them work hard to get it. Give them free and simple access to every area of your site so that they can navigate it easily and ease into a comfort zone.

Easy Search is a Must – When all else fails what do most online consumers do? Reach for their trusty search engine! Adding a simple and obvious search engine option to your site will help users to find things that they were unable to locate via your basic navigation system AND will help keep them on your site instead of heading back to Google to find someone else’s site.

Say It with Words – Keep your text clear, easy to read and to the point. Using simple words that tell your surfer exactly what they can expect to find on your site in a “nutshell” can help keep their impatient little fingers off the back button. Use those h1, h2, etc. header tags to make your main statement bold – just don’t forget brief. And remember to always target your core audience.

Color Your World WELL – Color is more important than most people realize. Choosing your colors well is vital to that first twentieth of a second knee-jerk reaction to your site. If your colors are harsh and offensive, chances are your user will click as fast as he or she can before even finding out the title of your page. Matching colors well to the type of content or target market can also increase your chance of conversion success.

Just Remember to K.I.S.S.

While the idea of the ADD surfer may be frightening, it is important to realize that as a web developer you will need to constantly evolve your website design and your way of thinking if you hope to continue down the road to success. Change is inevitable, and for the most part, change is good. Knowing your audience, understanding their behaviors and their wants or needs can really help you to overcome any obstacle – even one that only lasts a fraction of a second.

Just remember to Keep It Simple Sweetie (or Stupid – whatever works to inspire you most) and always design with your target audience in mind. Thinking about your surfers as individuals with wants and needs and interests may help you to keep the focus where it belongs – ON your customers. Follow your instincts and don’t be afraid to try new things and learn from your mistakes. With careful attention and monitoring, you will find the best combination of design, navigation, simplicity and marketing to increase your sales and keep your customers happy for the long run.

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