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The 3 Second Test for Your Website The 3 Second Test for Your Website

The 3 Second Test for Your Website

The first time you visit a website, within 3-seconds, you’ll form an opinion. Is it professional? Is it trustworthy? What about the quality of the images or is it cluttered? Occasionally, this conclusion will be changed as you revisit the website in the future. But most of the time, this first impression is set in stone and incredibly difficult to fix later on.

What is the critical thing that your website has to do in the first 3 seconds (besides loading)?  It’s to communicate your value proposition.  If it is able to do this with clarity, getting the visitor to convert may be as easy as asking for their credit card details.

There are several key things that your value proposition needs to do.

  1. Communicate what you do – do this in a short phrase using easy to understand language. This means losing the technical speak and/or jargon that is typical in your industry.  So many websites can’t get past this first step and leave the user wondering what it is that their business does.
  2. Convey what problem you solve or result you deliver – customers buy results, not products and services. They buy the result generated by those products and services. Be clear on the results that your customer will get when they buy from you.
  3.  Outline the target market you serve – be clear on who it is that you serve. This will allow them to identify with and relate to your offer. You could state this by demographic profile (i.e. career women working in middle management) or you could identify them by outlining the mindset, values or beliefs of people you serve (i.e. people who believe in sustainable and environmental solutions). Whichever it is, it needs to be clear enough to allow your target customers to identify with you and your solution.

I would say more often than not, websites fail this 3 second test. They don’t clearly state their value proposition and leave the user muddling through their website to try and get a better idea.  Below are a couple of good examples as to what makes a good value proposition and what doesn’t.


You would think an organisation like IBM with so many smart people working for them and consulting to large organisations around the world would be able to communicate their value proposition with clarity on their website. Well, think again.  Here is a screenshot of their home page.

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The headline leads off with a question “Want a flexible, fast and secure way to mobilise your workforce?”  I’m not sure about you but I don’t even know what that question means, never mind answering it! The use of industry jargon or terms such as “mobilise” is vague and leaves the visitor wondering what they’re talking about.  Their sub-heading “Configure your organisation’s mobility needs in a few simple steps” doesn’t elaborate on what they do at all. All I’m left with is that they’re trying to sell me something that is fast and easy but I have no idea what it is.

And finally, they end off with a “Request a fast quote now”. This is like asking a person that you’ve just met for their phone number when you don’t even know their name! I think it is consistent that they’ve used a fuzzy background image to go with this headline. Conclusion? IBM fails the 3 second test.


Another well-known company providing software solutions to businesses. These guys probably have a harder task than IBM as they serve almost all businesses – big and small vs. IBM who tend on the side of larger organisations. However, they’re able to communicate their value proposition well on their website. Let’s take a look.

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The headline “Sell smarter and faster with the world’s #1 CRM.” tells the visitor what they do – they provide a CRM solution. This also alludes to the market they serve because being the world’s #1 means you serve probably most businesses. Their sub-headline, “More leads. Less work.” communicates the outcome or result that the customer will get if they buy from Salesforce.

In addition to the words, Salesforce uses relevant imagery showing screenshots of the solution on a desktop and a mobile phone along with a character who looks amazingly similar to Albert Einstein. This reinforces the message of being smarter in the headline.

And finally, Salesforce’s calls-to-action are “Take a Tour” and “Free Trial”, both logical next steps for someone who might be considering a purchase but not quite ready as they’ve only landed on the site. Bravo Salesforce, you’ve passed the 3 second test and if I was in the market for a CRM, you’d definitely be one of the front runners thanks to a clear value proposition communicated in less than 3 seconds.


Oftentimes, we get so focused on what we want the visitor to know about us and our services that we lose sight of who the website is for.  It’s not for us, it’s for our customers.  What do they want?  They want to know what it is we do, the outcomes we can generate for them and who we do it for.  And they want to know that in less than 3 seconds because they have busy lives.  If you can communicate your value proposition with clarity and succinctly, you’re going to instantly improve the number of visitors that become customers.

If you’re unsure as to which value proposition resonates for your market, the best way to choose is to let your visitors choose.  Split test your value propositions and measure which ones generate the most engagement with your website and ultimately the most conversions.  Need help with this?  Get in touch with us and we’ll show you how.

Michael Lam

Co-founder of Cornerstone and web junkie, Michael knows just how to diagnose your online problems and remedy the issue. An online enthusiast who believes in technology as an enabler of growth, Michael worries about all the details so you don't have to.

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