When you first meet somebody, you start forming an opinion of them before they say hello. Clothes, hair, eyes, age, movement, body language - each of these things and dozens more quickly add up to an initial impression that happens over the span of a few breaths.

While that can and will evolve as you learn and experience more about that person, your first impression often lingers, and, like the gut instinct you feel when faced with a complex decision, it's not something you'll easily shake. That's because human interaction is complex, and there is far more happening on a subconscious level that you don't register. As it turns out, visiting a Web site for the first time is very similar.

Though inorganic, a Web site, too, has many layers of complexities lurking beneath its surface, and it is these things by which users base their decision. There are the aesthetics, such as color, branding, and overall visual design. But the reigning champion is content: does what you offer tickle their interest?

Let's break it down, without melting down

The average time visitors spent on this site in the past 30 days is 00:00:27. That's 27 seconds. Twenty. Seven. Seconds.

What about my role-playing game focused site, Belay My Last? Six. Six seconds.

Don't get discouraged by how long your users aren't staying on your site.

Okay, that might seem pretty soul crushing, but what does it mean?

If you watched someone visit your site for the first time, what do you think they would be going through? How would that experience change based on how they arrived at your site? Someone going there from your Twitter profile may just be vetting you to see if you're serious about what you say you are, and for that it may only take but a few seconds. Contrast that with a reader arriving from an article on another site with a clear interest in what you have to say on a matter, and you can see how the personas can quickly drift apart. Still, though, they can be grouped under a few similar intents:

  • Validation, or making sure you are who you say you are;
  • Continued Interest, by finding you through a direct relation somewhere else; and
  • Aimless Wandering, because sometimes we mindlessly surf and end up clicking on things with only the most passing curiosity.

Stay true to your message

In a time when seconds mean everything, you have to capture their attention at the onset. But is that actually enough? No, you need capture their interest, and one of the best ways to do that is to focus on what interests you.

So don't get hung up on the numbers. Go tell your story. Remember that your content is serving different audiences all the time. Trust that the people who will benefit from what you have to say will will take the time they need.

Stay the course. Your audience is listening.