The Two Second Rule

How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online?

Whether it’s welcoming a visitor to your site or social presence, the answer seems “not very long at all”. But, exactly how long do you have to make visitors “Think, Feel, Do”?!

To understand the effectiveness of your online presences in communicating with visitors, and especially first time visitors, you have to put yourselves in the customers shoes. Judging by many sites, some design and marketing folks expect visitors to lean-back, pour themselves a cup of tea and enjoy the “immersive experience” they have built. Perhaps that’s why the simplicity and standard layout of social sites is more appealing to many visitors – they don’t have the time or the urge to learn a new site.

So how long is too long?

When doing a heuristic review of a site I always apply the 2 second rule. It’s a good rule of thumb to assess whether a companies offer and services are clear. Here’s why I use this rule of thumb, counting down from 7.

Is 7 seconds right?

This is an advertising myth I think, but this is the often quoted average time to view a billboard in the US. I hope that’s skewed by time at traffic lights and not when driving by. Still I think we’re less patient with websites.

Is 2 seconds right?

I use the two second rule since I remember this Clickdensity research from a while ago shown in the chart above  which showed a clear peak time to the first click of 2 seconds. Not very long is it?

Is a 1/10th of a second right?

If it takes only 2 seconds to click, impressions are obviously formed more quickly than that. You’ll know the saying that when you meet someone for a first time, you form an “instant” impression. Well I’m sure there’s a lot of research into this.

This is one research example, which shows that people form an accurate impression in just 1/10th of a second they don’t change their opinions if given longer?

Is it 1/20th of a second?

This research from 2006 sticks with me. It was published in Nature and showed that that visitors could form an impression in just 50 milliseconds. Clearly this is a subjective, emotional rather than rational judgement, suggesting the importance of a quality design and branding to make the right impression.

So there, you have it! Don’t be fooled by the average dwell times on a page or a site in your analytics, these are often skewed by people leaving the page open in a browser and moving on elsewhere. Instead, I recommend you scare yourself by seeing how many visitors leave the site in less than 10 seconds – it’s as well you will be sitting down.

I also wonder how well focus groups or eyetracking studies can simulate this first impression by their very nature.

Do you know the average time before someone clicks through to the next page on a site. I always remember this research from Clickdensity which shows that the “2 Second Rule” is a good rule of thumb.

So given, this how do you approach design to accomodate this behaviour? Well we’ve some recent posts on Smart Insights Digital Marketing of what I think are good examples of home page design best practice and landing page designs.

I hope there’s food for thought here and you will be even more critical of your designs now. In my next posts, I’ll talk about communicating your proposition effectively.

Join us on June 10th in Antwerp, Belgium, for the Content Marketing Conference Europe. With confirmed speakers such as Jay Baer, Lee Odden, Mike Corak, Doug Kessler, Kelly Hungerford, Dado Van Peteghem, Tristan Lavender, Guido Everaert, Tom De Baere and Xaviera Ringeling (more to be announced), we'll take you across a learning experience leading to tangible insights and actionable inspiration, moderated by media expert Jo Caudron!


Content Marketing Conference Europe
  • http://twitter.com/smarketingforum/status/12451828465664000 SocialMarketingForum

    How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? by @davechaffey http://bit.ly/hsTdg7

  • http://twitter.com/digimedia_nl/status/12452174248288256 Digimedia.be

    RT @smarketingforum: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? by @davechaffey http://bit.ly/hsTdg7

  • http://twitter.com/searchcowboys/status/12453801923444736 Searchcowboys

    How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? by @davechaffey http://bit.ly/hsTdg7

  • http://twitter.com/erwinjansen/status/12454282779430912 erwinjansen

    The Two Second Rule http://ow.ly/3lKTG

  • http://twitter.com/marketingtwitz/status/12461142840446976 Renilde De Wit

    How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? by @davechaffey http://bit.ly/hsTdg7

  • http://twitter.com/smcbrussels/status/12471265474383872 SMCBrussels

    RT @smarketingforum: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? by @davechaffey http://bit.ly/hsTdg7

  • http://twitter.com/davechaffey/status/12492118920527872 Dr. Dave Chaffey

    The Two Second Rule? http://bit.ly/gdsyzA

  • http://twitter.com/naveedakram/status/12492697826754560 Naveed Akram

    The two second rule http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 by @DaveChaffey

  • http://twitter.com/jvanrijn/status/12492832585555968 Jordie van Rijn

    RT @DaveChaffey: The Two Second Rule? http://bit.ly/gdsyzA

  • http://twitter.com/pauleycreative/status/12494235576045569 Nick Pauley

    The Two Second Rule? – http://bit.ly/gdsyzA by @davechaffey

  • http://twitter.com/gregghoulden/status/12495769760169984 Houlden Gregg

    RT @smarketingforum: The Two Second Rule http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 good article

  • http://twitter.com/conversionation/status/12504121705762816 J-P De Clerck

    How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 – great read by @davechaffey

  • http://twitter.com/gregghoulden/status/12505717344837632 Houlden Gregg

    RT @smarketingforum: The Two Second Rule http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 Good points

  • http://twitter.com/socialemail/status/12505889319686145 Social Email

    How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? by @davechaffey http://su.pr/8TVde9

  • http://twitter.com/brigittedeleeuw/status/12507228158296064 Brigitte de Leeuw

    The Two Second Rule http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online?

  • http://twitter.com/socialvation/status/12508067790852096 Jon Holloway

    Interesting RT @socialemail: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? by @DaveChaffey http://su.pr/8TVde9

  • http://twitter.com/strivemedialtd/status/12510111780052995 Strive Media Ltd

    The Two Second Rule? http://bit.ly/gdsyzA

  • http://twitter.com/smallness/status/12519474322219008 Victoria Lennon

    RT @DaveChaffey: The Two Second Rule? http://bit.ly/gdsyzA

  • http://twitter.com/theemailguide/status/12528924781182976 The Email Guide

    RT @socialemail: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? by @davechaffey http://su.pr/8TVde9

  • http://twitter.com/wimrampen/status/12537202558902273 Wim Rampen

    RT @BrigittedeLeeuw: The Two Second Rule http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online?

  • http://twitter.com/moremarketing4u/status/12537698384347137 MORE Marketing™

    The Two Second Rule http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 How long do you REALLY have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? #li

  • http://twitter.com/futurelab/status/12550209208852480 Futurelab

    RT @conversionation: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 – great read by @d …

  • http://twitter.com/mcmlife/status/12554313108824064 Walter Bakker

    Online you have just 2 seconds… http://ow.ly/3lYE3 Or less…? http://ow.ly/3lYFQ

  • http://twitter.com/iainforrest/status/12561869625626624 Iain Forrest

    RT @smarketingforum: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? by http://bit.ly/hsTdg7

  • http://twitter.com/yokoconsulting/status/12564182318710785 Yoko Consulting

    How long does your website have to make an impression? http://digs.by/gmd38g from @smarketingforum

  • http://twitter.com/hemantmmehta/status/12565500911423488 Hemant Mehta

    RT @BrigittedeLeeuw: The Two Second Rule http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online?

  • http://twitter.com/smithdavidm/status/12572470817067008 David Smith

    RT @conversionation: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 – great read by @d …

  • http://twitter.com/rienvdb/status/12573420743041024 Rien van den Bosch

    RT @smarketingforum: The Two Second Rule http://bit.ly/hsTdg7

  • http://twitter.com/shahsagar/status/12573966644289536 Sagar Shah

    RT @BrigittedeLeeuw: The Two Second Rule http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online?

  • http://twitter.com/garrylee316/status/12576061174841344 Garry Lee

    RT @DaveChaffey: The Two Second Rule? http://bit.ly/gdsyzA

  • http://twitter.com/jseav19/status/12578668094160896 Jesse Seavers

    RT @conversionation: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 – great read by @d …

  • http://twitter.com/stevemarshgb/status/12580365667409921 Steve Marsh
  • http://twitter.com/bradyjosephson/status/12583770326564864 Brady Josephson

    RT @conversionation: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 – great read by @d …

  • http://twitter.com/maotoday/status/12594210939080704 mao

    New mao posting, The Two Second Rule – http://tinyurl.com/375b7se

  • http://twitter.com/ukita_bc/status/12608030944264192 UKITA Black Country

    RT @conversionation: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7

  • http://twitter.com/thefreeradicals/status/12615927078068225 Gareth & Nick

    How long do you have to make an impression when people visit your site? RT @smarketingforum: The Two Second Rule http://bit.ly/hsTdg7

  • http://twitter.com/king_of_crm/status/12620814750846976 Lars Andersson

    #in RT @conversionation: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7

  • http://twitter.com/kantelius/status/12628437864816640 Emil Kantelius

    RT @conversionation: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 – great read by @d …

  • http://twitter.com/marcohiraki/status/12629938284793856 Marco Hiraki

    RT @conversionation: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 – great read by @d …

  • http://twitter.com/DaveChaffey Dr. Dave Chaffey

    Thanks for the tweetlove for this post. Since I wrote it, here’s another dwell time:”users spent an average of 51 seconds on each of the newsletters they read from their own inbox. Users spent an additional 33 seconds on information found by pursuing newsletter links to websites”. Longer than you might think.

    http://www.smartinsights.com/blog/email-marketing/enewsletter-usability-5-subscriber-behaviours-to-consider/

  • http://twitter.com/omnichannels/status/12637439633915905 OmnichannelMarketing

    RT @socialvation: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? by @DaveChaffey http://su.pr/8TVde9

  • http://twitter.com/smcbrussels/status/12637771529191424 SMCBrussels

    RT @rienvdb: RT @smarketingforum: The Two Second Rule http://bit.ly/hsTdg7

  • http://twitter.com/customertwits/status/12638480844722176 Chris Payne

    RT @king_of_crm: #in RT @conversionation: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7

  • http://twitter.com/smarketingforum/status/12645981845721088 SocialMarketingForum

    The Two Second Rule http://ow.ly/3mbGj

  • http://twitter.com/w2pstorefront/status/12656809156284417 Chuck Meyer

    We've all heard the 2 sec. rule in terms of Aunt Martha's fruit cake on the floor, But what about Marketing http://bit.ly/h7SnHw

  • http://twitter.com/newleafpr/status/12801132258660352 Newleaf Digital PR

    The Two Second Rule http://bit.ly/h9AAzd How long do you have to make an impression?

  • James Breeze

    Hi Dave,

    Your comment “I also wonder how well focus groups or eyetracking studies can simulate this first impression by their very nature.” is misleading and confuses two completely different UX methods.

    I agree about focus groups, they can ‘never’ simulate this experience, as they require people to ‘recall’ their experiences in the first seconds of browsing. Rapid recall is impossible because our immediate processing is unconscious. In focus groups people simply make things up!

    Eye tracking on the other hand does not simulate this experience. Eye tracking measures the experience at speeds of 60, 120 or even 300Hz. This means we can see someone’s immediate response to the website at a very very fine level of detail. This data is easy to collect and does not require someone to be connected to any machines. With a 20 second calibration procedure we can quickly get an insight to their unconscious. These insights can be gathered in 2 main ways:

    1) We can see exactly where they looked on the screen and what captured their attention. This can be aggregated across people too. Many poor eye tracking practitioners will present that average gaze time across a task, however, we are interested in how the gaze changes over time. In the first second, half second, the second second, the third second and so on. A fine grained analysis of this data, with a carefully set up experiment, will show exactly what is capturing peoples’ attention, when.

    2) We can leave someone alone and test them on a website silently. Once this is done we can replay key gaze data segments of their experience and interview them about what happened. This retrospective think aloud protocol {http://www.tobii.com/archive/files/20343/RTA_guidelines_eyetracking_tobii_shortpaper.pdf.aspx) helps us to access a persons unconscious reaction to a website and understand how to draw their attention to the start of a particular process.

    I used this method as recently as last night, and the participant commented, “Did I look there?” They were unaware of their immediate response to the site we were testing. When I reminded them, using a video of where they were looking, I had a great opportunity to help them access their subconscious.

    Your 2 second test is great, but nothing beats eye tracking.

    • http://twitter.com/DaveChaffey Dr. Dave Chaffey

      Thanks James, for your comments. Of course focus groups and eyetracking are different techniques, but what they share is an assumption that a visitor will be sufficiently engaged to stay on the site. They involve a “captive audience’ of typically fewer than 10 people.

      Through applying web analytics and AB or multivariate testing we can test and refine designs based on actual behaviour of site visitors on genuine customer journeys.

      What I sought to do with my note was to make the point that appeal and relevance has to be near instant. If you review the analytics for a site, the % of visitors that leave with 10 seconds is always frightening.

      Of course the techniques have their place in creating new designs/experiences, but I have always been amazed how few UX companies/consultants combine their UX studies with use of analytics against behaviour on the existing site. Of course, some are more enlightened and will offer this. But the reality is that within a basic “usability test” the client buys there is insufficient budget to combine the UX project with the analytics – probably based on the client sentiment that they are separate – silo thinking!

  • James Breeze

    Hi Dave,

    Your comment “I also wonder how well focus groups or eyetracking studies can simulate this first impression by their very nature.” is misleading and confuses two completely different UX methods.

    I agree about focus groups, they can ‘never’ simulate this experience, as they require people to ‘recall’ their experiences in the first seconds of browsing. Rapid recall is impossible because our immediate processing is unconscious. In focus groups people simply make things up!

    Eye tracking on the other hand does not simulate this experience. Eye tracking measures the experience at speeds of 60, 120 or even 300Hz. This means we can see someone’s immediate response to the website at a very very fine level of detail. This data is easy to collect and does not require someone to be connected to any machines. With a 20 second calibration procedure we can quickly get an insight to their unconscious. These insights can be gathered in 2 main ways:

    1) We can see exactly where they looked on the screen and what captured their attention. This can be aggregated across people too. Many poor eye tracking practitioners will present that average gaze time across a task, however, we are interested in how the gaze changes over time. In the first second, half second, the second second, the third second and so on. A fine grained analysis of this data, with a carefully set up experiment, will show exactly what is capturing peoples’ attention, when.

    2) We can leave someone alone and test them on a website silently. Once this is done we can replay key gaze data segments of their experience and interview them about what happened. This retrospective think aloud protocol {http://www.tobii.com/archive/files/20343/RTA_guidelines_eyetracking_tobii_shortpaper.pdf.aspx) helps us to access a persons unconscious reaction to a website and understand how to draw their attention to the start of a particular process.

    I used this method as recently as last night, and the participant commented, “Did I look there?” They were unaware of their immediate response to the site we were testing. When I reminded them, using a video of where they were looking, I had a great opportunity to help them access their subconscious.

    Your 2 second test is great, but nothing beats eye tracking.

  • http://twitter.com/tobiieyetracker/status/12810015635152896 Tobii Technology AB

    RT @smarketingforum: The Two Second Rule http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 Great, but eye tracking offers so much more @jamesbreeze

  • http://twitter.com/smarketingforum/status/12852892964749312 SocialMarketingForum

    Users spent average of 51 seconds on each of newsletters they read from own inbox http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 – see comments!

  • http://twitter.com/dougti/status/12853246368415745 Doug Standley

    Great reference #UX RT @conversionation: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7

  • http://twitter.com/ikbenfrederik/status/12863235522822145 Frederik Jan

    RT @conversionation: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 – great read by @d …

  • http://twitter.com/xfl2/status/12872502170619904 Most Shared
  • http://twitter.com/smaedli/status/12889815540310016 Chad

    RT @conversionation: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 – great read by @d …

  • http://twitter.com/kenlague/status/13235119087165441 Ken Lague

    How much time does your landing page have to make a good impression? http://www.socialmarketingforum.net/2010/12/the-two-second-rule/

  • http://twitter.com/jmodio/status/13288048888381440 Joe Amodio

    The Two Second Rule http://t.co/OKS1oMm

  • http://twitter.com/btobsocialmedia/status/13289560406499329 Mark Williams

    The Two Second Rule http://t.co/Lr32xn4

  • http://twitter.com/petermaleh/status/13296115692601344 peter.maleh

    RT @conversionation: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 – great read by @d …

  • http://twitter.com/lorensan/status/13437915489107968 Loren Sanders

    RT @conversionation: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7

  • http://twitter.com/tunelette/status/13490042232119296 taruni tan

    What can you do in 2 secs??…RT @smarketingforum: The Two Second Rule http://bit.ly/hsTdg7

  • http://twitter.com/wodecki/status/13559105893437440 Andrzej Wodecki

    RT @conversionation: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 – great read by @d …

  • http://twitter.com/learningexplosn/status/13707912861982720 Learning Explosion

    RT @conversionation: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7

  • http://twitter.com/djyn99/status/13949067155480576 Jean-Yves Naouri

    RT @conversionation: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 – great read by @d …

  • http://twitter.com/pjgonzaga/status/13976898551947265 PJ Gonzaga

    Hmmm… RT @conversionation: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 – great read by @davechaffey

  • http://twitter.com/richardcoen/status/14109102904967169 richard coen

    How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7

  • http://twitter.com/tombarbaro/status/14144931299852288 Tom Barbaro

    RT @conversionation: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 – great read by @d …

  • http://twitter.com/theddgrp/status/14197210753273856 DistrictDesignGroup

    RT @conversionation: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 – great read by @d …

  • http://twitter.com/onion_papa/status/14464608894984193 onion_papa

    http://tinyurl.com/2fz32sn
    How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online?

  • http://twitter.com/gmerchak/status/14760774815719424 Georges Merchak

    The 2 second rule web impression http://bit.ly/i1S1AP

  • Anonymous

    I think it really depends on the demographic you are targeting. Teenagers, adults, and retirees are going to have different attention span. Some times the obscure and abstract gets attention because they’re different and force the users to figure out what the ad is trying to sell. If the ad is trying to “get to the point” as fast as possible, then time to engage the user matters. Another question is “do you want customers with low attention span”. If they’re constantly distracted, what is the ROI for your ads to those potential customers?

  • http://twitter.com/brassagency/status/14806718219288576 Brass

    You only have 2 seconds to impress your audience… http://bit.ly/gdsyzA (via @DaveChaffey) [AM]

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  • http://twitter.com/joyrenee/status/14997968247590912 Joy Fulton

    reading the Two Seconds rule. Fascinating. Users are quick to visit/leave http://www.socialmarketingforum.net/2010/12/the-two-second-rule/

  • http://twitter.com/afpadude/status/15006601727442944 Alan

    RT @joyrenee: reading the Two Seconds rule. Fascinating. Users are quick to visit/leave http://www.socialmarketingforum.net/2010/12/the-

  • http://twitter.com/katherinespivey/status/15031471848824832 katherinespivey

    RT @joyrenee: reading the Two Seconds rule. Fascinating. Users are quick to visit/leave http://www.socialmarketingforum.net/2010/12/the-

  • http://twitter.com/tanmaymohanty/status/15684623291916288 TanmayMohanty

    RT conversionation: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 – great read by @davechaffey

  • http://twitter.com/lookblue/status/16298661096988672 David Kim

    RT @conversionation: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 – great read by @d …

  • http://twitter.com/adkeeperinc/status/16447704427143168 AdKeeper

    The Two Second Rule http://ow.ly/3mbGj

  • http://twitter.com/davidbrear/status/16581526200258560 David Brear

    RT @conversionation: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 – great read by @d …

  • http://twitter.com/kapilgupta/status/18179042821799936 kapil gupta

    RT @conversionation: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7

  • http://twitter.com/supachaimd/status/22203475035164672 Kid Parchariyanon

    RT @conversionation: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 – great read by @d …

  • http://twitter.com/sendblaster/status/22217726604873729 SendBlaster

    RT @smarketingforum: The Two Second Rule http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 #emailmarketing #socialmarketing

  • http://twitter.com/jmslay/status/26176862300413952 jmslay

    How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7

  • http://twitter.com/haniqassim/status/26936439275003904 haniqassim

    RT @conversionation: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/hsTdg7 – great read by @d …

  • http://twitter.com/lindyhoward/status/28413612011814912 Lindy Howard

    The Two Second Rule: How long do you have to make an impression when you engage visitors online? http://bit.ly/h9AAzd

  • http://twitter.com/amityweb/status/35827896119463936 Laurie Cope

    RT @StriveMediaLtd: The Two Second Rule? http://bit.ly/gdsyzA

  • http://www.gohost.in Web Hosting India

    I think it depends on their way of work.. I will try those rules.. Now i am waiting for that your next blog.. Thanks for this information..

  • http://twitter.com/hussdajani/status/64940858960650240 Hussein M. Dajani ©

    The Two Second Rule http://goo.gl/nWbaE #socialmedia

  • http://twitter.com/netizency/status/64997630618517504 Netizency

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  • http://twitter.com/jadhindy/status/87855945157328896 Jad Hindy

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  • http://twitter.com/netizency/status/88100920352718848 Netizency

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  • http://twitter.com/netizency/status/89917508680818688 Netizency

    The Two Second Rule http://t.co/ZHacNmX #socialmedia

  • http://twitter.com/cheyainsworth/status/148587253927657473 Cheyanne Ainsworth

    Have you heard of the Two Second Rule? http://t.co/Ma2uOYWh