Do first impressions count? The power of a good website

Do first impressions really matter when it comes to designing a website?

One issue surrounding small businesses such as riding schools these days, is the growing need for a well designed and professional looking website, in order to compete with the flashy websites of big businesses.

Nowadays the modern consumer expects not only an online presence from business and brands but an optimised, well designed website (See Taylor, 2012: Building a Business Website: A Small Business Guide). This is  unfortunately no longer a job that can just be delegated to the technical department as Thelwell (2000) states that website design should be viewed as a business task as opposed to a technical task due to the design needing to match the needs of the company.

According to Misourri Institute of Science and Technology (2012) it takes under two tenths of a second for a visitor to form an opinion of the website and, by association, the brand itself.

So it seems that first impressions really do seem to matter when designing a website.

The research carried out by the Missouri Institute included an analysis of web user’s eye movements which allowed researchers to establish the length of time it takes for users to focus on parts of a webpage.

The longer the participants stayed on the webpage, the more positive their impressions were, meaning that first impressions are very important not only for showing the business as a professional brand but to keep people on the page.

The following list shows the breakdown of sections analysed and the number of time spent on each section, which shows the areas that businesses should ensure are interesting and well designed in order to keep the visitor’s engagement. (To take a look at the full study click here!)

Feature Time Spent on Feature
Logo 6.48
Navigation Menu 6.44
Search Box 6
Links to Social Media 5.95
Main Image 5.94
Main Written Content 5.59
The Bottom of the Webpage 5.25

This research also found that the selection of colours and images influences first impressions, most notably the main background colour should be attractive and easily contrasted to the text, so that it remains easy to read.

So, how could an riding school ensure their website is making a good first impression?

  1. Keep visitors engaged

Visitors to a site are often overwhelmed with the amount of information in front of them, especially if the site is using a lot of text and information on the homepage (See Edgecombe, 2013: 5 Ways to Ensure Your Website is Making a Good First Impression). Edgecombe suggests an introductory video as opposed to text on the first page to help grab the attention of the viewer and keep them engaged.

Obviously, in order for an introductory video to be a success it must be well made and in keeping with the tone of the website. For many riding schools a video could be costly if hiring professional help, or run the risk of being poorly made if they go for a DIY attempt. In this case then perhaps a slideshow of pictures would be more suitable, offering the same attention grabbing content but with less risk of coming off cheesy or poorly executed, filmed on an old camera phone!

A great example of  an attention grabbing introduction is Kimblewick Equestrian’s website which features a scrolling photo slide show which shows high quality images and engages with the visitor with simple and easy to read text. The visitor is likely to stay on the page for longer as they watch the slideshow and read the short sections of text, therefore increasing the likelihood of them forming a positive impression of the site. What could be improved however, is the amount of text visible on the page. There’s a great deal of information for the viewer to absorb at once, especially as they read through the slide show. Either reducing the amount of navigation links or removing the contact information at the top would give a little more space to the page and therefore be less overwhelming to the visitor.


  1. Use visual content and direct the visitors attention

User experience should be the main priority for the site, and using lots of visual content will give visitors reasons to scroll through and explore the rest of the site.

Edgecombe (2013) recommend less text and more visuals on key sections of the website that you want visitors to look at, for example testimonials, events and price plans, not to mention lots of pictures of clients enjoying their rides!

Take Aldborough Hall’s webpage for example, each square photo links to a section of the website, encouraging the visitor to explore the site.


They also have a great use of whitespace, keeping the layout simple and capturing the visitor’s attention ensuring that the visitor stays on the site for a maximum amount of time. This is a very effective webpage with clear links to social media, engaging pictures and a simplicity that will give a good  user experience.

Overall, keeping it simple appears to be the way forward for small businesses like riding schools. Ultimately, engaging the visitor with use of visual content and less text encourages exploration of the site. First impressions are so important to keeping visitors on a page and riding schools will need to make sure they have a clear logo and main image along with a simple and easy to use navigation bar.  Having a well designed website is necessary to not only draw visitors to the page but to keep them there for a long as possible, hopefully resulting in them booking a lesson or arranging a visit!



Edgecombe, C. (2013). 5 Ways to Ensure Your Website is Making a Good First Impression. [Online] Available at:  

Missouri Institute of Science and Technology. (2012). Eye-tracking studies: first impressions form quickly on the web. [Online] Available at:

Taylor, N. (2012). Building a Business Website: A Small Business Guide. [Online] Available at:

Thelwall, M. (2000). Effective websites for small and medium-sized enterprises. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development7(2), 149-159.



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