The 5-Second Test for Successful Homepages

Let’s start today’s blog post with two very simple assumptions that most people will accept to be true:

  1. Branding is incredibly important on the Internet if you want your business to succeed.
  2. Internet users to tend to have very short attention spans.

Put these two assumptions together and you’re faced with quite the perplexing conundrum as an online business owner. You want to make sure that your potential customers and business owners identify with your brand and are aware of the kinds of products and services that you offer. Meanwhile, you also recognize that you have very little time in order to make this kind of impression.

The Distracted Goldfish

Some time back, I came across a very simple test to see whether or not the branding on your website’s homepage is being effective. It’s called the 5-Second Test and it’s exactly what it sounds like it is. If a random user on the Internet were to stumble across your homepage and only stayed there for five seconds, would they be able to identify what it is that you do and what it is that you offer?


I’ll go ahead and volunteer myself as a guinea pig here. What you see above is a screenshot for my freelance writing services business. It’s probably due for a bit of a redesign, but if we were to ignore that for a moment, does it pass the 5-second test?

The background with the pens and pads of paper clearly point toward the act of writing. I put “freelance writing services” right there in the headline. I come out and say that I am a “professional freelance writer” in the first sentence. And there’s a photo of me on the computer (while it may not be immediately clear that I’m writing). Some improvements can be made, to be sure, but I’d say that the average Internet user can identify what I do in less than five seconds.

Here I Am and Here’s What I Do

Here’s another example.


That’s the homepage to Jeremy Lim Music and there is absolutely no mistaking exactly what it is that Jeremy Lim has to offer here. Even though the background image has very little to do with music composition whatsoever, he puts in big bold letters in the middle of the screen that he “makes music for video games, films, and dance floors.”

If you’re in the market for original music for your upcoming independent mobile game or you need a soundtrack for your movie, Jeremy Lim could be the guy you want to contact. He’s made it abundantly clear the service that he offers, even if he has alternate navigation paths on this site, like selling his music through iTunes and Amazon. The branding is strong and the messaging is clear.

More Than Five Seconds Is a Zero

When looking at your own website’s homepage, you have to make sure that a brand new visitor who knows absolutely nothing about you will be able to discern what you’re basically about in less than five seconds. They’re probably not going to read through long sales copy. They’re probably not going to navigate around to your “about” or “store” page to see what you do or have. They’re probably not going to watch a long embedded video.

It would be nice if your visitors did all these things, but it’s simply not realistic. Bounce rates on the Internet are astronomically high and the “time on page” metric is getting shorter by the day. You can offer more information in the form of longer text or videos, but if someone can’t see what you do by only looking above the fold and only staying on your site for a few seconds, your homepage has lost itself a potential customer, client, reader or business partner.

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