5 Second Test


5 Second Test:  An important conversion optimization tool

Five Second Test for Conversion Optimization image from UsefulUsability.comA 5 second test can help increase website conversion and improve online ROI, here’s how.

Five seconds may seem like a short time, but in fact it is more than enough time for a website visitor to determine if there is enough quality in your website to stay, or to leave potentially never to return. Using a 5 second test to optimize conversion is a powerful way to improve the ROI of a website. This is because in hundreds of website audits I have conducted over the past years I have found that a critical driver of website success is the ability of the home page, or any page for that matter, to deliver three pieces of critical information in five seconds or less:

  • Who are you?
  • What product or service do you provide?
  • Why should I care (what’s in it for ME)?

Websites that are able to quickly and efficiently communicate these three critical elements within 5 seconds typically have much better conversion, and thus ROI than websites that don’t.

Why Five Seconds

But why five seconds? The reason five seconds is so important is because of research studies which demonstrate that visitors to websites take a very short amount of time (in some cases a  fraction of a second, as little as 50 milliseconds) to judge the quality of a website.  As stated in an important study of timing of website visual quality judgments by Lindgaard et. al.…

“Our ambition was to determine how quickly people decide whether they like or dislike what they see, and whether such judgments may constitute a mere exposure effect. The above data suggest that a reliable decision can be made in 50 ms, which supports the contention that judgments of visual appeal could represent a mere exposure effect. The level of agreement between participants and between experiments was impressive and highly correlated even for the 50-ms condition.”*

In addition, hundreds of conversion optimization testing studies I have conducted over the years corroborate this, with test participants quickly scanning a page for just a few seconds before either staying, or moving on in their hunt for information.

5 Second Test Definition

I define a 5 second test for websites as…

“A five second test is a usability testing method in which the participant is exposed to an image of a webpage for five seconds. The image is then removed and the participant is asked questions about what they remember seeing on the page. The test is used for evaluating how well the page communicates the purpose and content within.”

5 Second Test Provides Quantitative and Qualitative Data

A major benefit of a 5 second test is the data that can be obtained, which is both quantitative and qualitative. Because the test is so fast and easy to distribute, it can be deployed to dozens, hundreds or even thousands of testers in a matter of hours, or at the most days. It is relatively quick and easy to obtain statistically significant results that can be organized into charts and graphs for analysis. This takes almost all of the guesswork out of validating if a page is communicating effectively or not, and makes it easy to develop useful conversion optimization recommendations.

As the example below shows, this kind of quantitative data is useful for analyzing exactly how well the webpage is working in terms of communicating with the intended audience. In this example we can see that the vast majority of participants had partial or no idea as to what service or product the company provides.

 5 Second Test results image from UsefulUsability.com

Homepage and the Five Second Test

In fact, one of the better uses of a 5 second test is to conduct tests of the home page. That is because the home page, of all the pages of a website, is most critical for communicating who the firm is, what products or services the firm offers and why the visitor should care (what’s in it for them). Conversion optimizations of the home page based on analysis of 5 second test results can greatly improve page flow, number of pages visited and bounce rate.

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To demonstrate how effectively this test can work, examine one at a time for 5 seconds the two images below. Both are for websites that are providing a particular product. Can you derive in those 5 seconds:

  • What product or service is provided?
  • Who is the company?
  • What’s the benefit to you, the visitor?
5 Second Test page example image from UsefulUsability.com
What product or service does this firm provide?


5 Second Test example test image from UsefulUsability.com
What product or service does this firm provide?

Both sites are in the retail business, and both sell women’s shoes. Both appeared in search results for “women’s shoes.” But did one clearly communicate women’s shoes better than the other?

Most likely you found it easier to identify the product, company and benefit from the second website, which happens to be the Nordstrom shoe page. Even if you were not aware of the Brands prior to seeing the image, you probably would have found it easier to understand the product, company and benefit to you of the Nordstrom page. The first image is also a shoe retailer, but was that as obvious as the Nordstrom page?

Conversion optimization is most effective when quantitative data gathered from the 5 second test exposes issues with the page content, leading to optimization recommendations.

5 Second Test Methodology

To conduct a 5 second test, and use the results for conversion optimization, apply the following methodology…

  1. Evaluate which page you would like to test. Typically I like to start with the home page, as most often it receives the highest amount of traffic, has the highest bounce rate, and also is the most important page to communicate the three critical elements to the visitor. However, there are other opportunities to optimize page conversion with a 5 second test including; landing pages, category pages, product pages, information pages, customer service pages, contact us pages and more.
  2. Capture an image of the page. It’s typically best to control the test by providing an image of the page, versus sending the test participant to the page. This is primarily because if you are using the actual website, within the 5 seconds some testers may click away to other pages to help them identify the purpose of the site. Likewise, displaying an image instead of the actual webpage reduces the chances that the test will be flawed by slow load times or other technology glitches that cause the full website to be displayed less than the full 5 seconds. By only displaying an image, you the tester can control how long the participant views the page and curtail any desire to escape the page to find the missing information.
  3. Identify test participants. If the website has a specific target audience, say for example educators in Universities, then it can be helpful to find testers who match that Persona. Likewise, if the website is oriented more to the general public then you can find testers that match the general public at large. One word of caution here, ALL website home pages, whether targeting specific audiences or not, should be able to effectively and efficiently communicate the three core elements no matter WHO is viewing the page. This is why it is less essential to be overly focused on the exact Persona for those pages.
  4. Conduct the test. There are multiple ways to conduct the test. A low-tech way is to find someone in the hallway that matches your test participant profile, show them a print out of the page for 5 seconds, then remove the image and ask them your questions. There are online tools you can use as well, including the 5 Second Test website that I mentioned in the 24 Usability Testing Tools review. To record the results, a simple Excel spreadsheet can be used to document each participant’s comments, or if using the 5 Second Test tool a download of the results is available.
  5. Analyze the results. Depending on the question, I typically divide the results into three categories; incorrect answers, correct answers, and partially correct answers. For questions about what captured the most attention I typically list the elements that are important for communicating the purpose of the page including: Company logo, heading or explanation copy, any strong image. Interestingly, often the strong image is what captures the most attention, but is often guilty of not communicating what the product or service is. In all cases I total the results for each group of answers and provide that data, including a chart, in my report.
  6. Make recommendations for conversion optimization. The analysis of the results will quickly reveal where there are opportunities for conversion optimization. Typically these fall into several areas including; Brand name or logo too difficult to see, a strong non-product image or images capturing all the attention of the participant, the value proposition is unclear or totally missing. The recommendations for optimizations will become clear, based on what elements of the page are not working.

5 Second Test of Carousel Sliders

Many websites today use a carousel with a set of sliders that briefly display a set of horizontally sliding images at the top of the home page. Testing this type of page is important as the number of sliders, and their duration on the screen are impacting the communicative ability of that page. But how do you test animated sliders? Conversion optimization of multiple sliders may seem difficult, but in fact it is not if the following approach is used.

If the initial slider stays on the home page for 5 seconds or longer, then the problem is solved and that image can be used. If however the time is shorter between slider changes, then try categorizing all of the sliders into common groups, and use an example image from each category. For an eCommerce website as an example, there may be several sliders of a product that include the product image, and there may be several that are information only with no product image, or an image of something other than a product. I typically try to test each category of images. Ultimately you could test all the slider images, but that will necessitate having a much larger pool of testers to draw from.

Conclusion: 5 Second Test and Conversion Optimization

The 5 second test is a powerful tool to test the communicative ability of a webpage and provide data for conversion optimization. Remember that the test purpose is to evaluate how well the page communicates the following three critical elements;

  • Who is the company?
  • What product or service is provided?
  • What’s the benefit to your visitor?

A 5 second test can provide quantitative data as well as qualitative data, and because of the speed and efficiency can produce very quick results. Using a five second test on critical pages of a website is one of the best ways to identify opportunities to optimize the UX and thus improve conversion and ROI.

*Lindgaard, G., Fernandes, G., Dudek, C., and Brown, J. “Attention Web Designers: You Have 50 Milliseconds to Make a Good First Impression!” Behaviour & Information Technology 25, 2 (2006), 115–126.


  1. Thanks for the great post Craig.

    Just a heads up, you can use our 5 Second Tool completely for free to administer such a test with the same questions you’ve suggested above: fivesecondtest.com


  2. Thanks Ryan,

    And yes, fivesecondtest is one of my favorite tools! Thank you for creating such a great way to help optimize UX! Yall rock!

  3. Craig — I’m sure you’re aware that your premise that ‘one of the better uses” of this technique (testing home pages) runs counter to the opinions of those who ‘invented’ it back in the early 2000s. I explore this topic in my book The UX Five-Second Rules. (I too challenged the premise, and am of the opinion that it can be used to test home pages within certain guidelines. Would be very interested in your comments should you check it out.

  4. Paul, thanks for your thoughts.

    I of course appreciate your feedback, but of course respectfully disagree.

    Not only do I disagree with the original designers and their perception that you can’t test a home page (the ‘logic’ that it is different from all the other pages has always been suspect in my mind, especially given how Google can deep link to sites these days), but also with the premise that you need guidelines for conducting a 5 second test on a home page (and thus don’t in theory need them for other pages deeper in the site).

    Simply put, the home page is the most important page of all to test with the 5 second test. Why? Well, because of all the reasons I listed in my article. To summarize; the home page MUST successfully communicate:

    1. Who you are
    2. What you do
    3. Why the visitor should care (what’s in it for them)

    Failure to communicate this effectively logically means most users will stop hunting for what they are looking for, and will leave the site. Proof of this is the Google Analytics data showing the vast majority of users visit the home page, and also the vast majority spend less than 10 seconds on a site.

    You COULD argue (somewhat successfully) that in this new world of Google search results displaying long tail keyword SERPs that provide deep links to a site that the home page is less critical than it used to be.

    Basically, ANY page on your website in this new Google deep linking world IS your home page.

    Think about that for a second!

    If we followed the logic that your home page is somehow different, and thus is not able to be properly 5 second tested, then according to this logic ALL of a website’s pages are potentially home pages and thus cannot be tested.

    Doesn’t make much sense, does it?

    That’s much more true today than it was back in 2000, but still, we intuitively know that the home page is the main access point for most visits and as such needs the most attention.

    Finally, using something like my version of the methodology of the 5 second test, including using carefully worded questions to reduce bias, is key. I have had very good results testing the home pages of hundreds of websites over the past 10 years using the 5 second test. Maybe things were different back in 2000 (yep, I was there, and I remember very well the Y2K crisis – showing my age), but then again I was there and can tell you I had the same opinion then, so maybe not.

    If the majority of your traffic is to the home page, then by default it needs to include a non-biased 5 second test to evaluate how well it’s communicating those three all critical points.

    So no disrespect, I understand the concerns around the multiple needs of the home page and why a 5 second test can be difficult in that context. However for the reasons given above I fully believe a 5 second test of the home page is one of the best ways to help optimize website conversion.

  5. I think you misunderstand the point of my comment — and in doing so, highlight a central premise of my book.

    Summarizing very briefly, the originators of the method created the technique within a very narrow use case. They came up with it while trying to determine exclusively whether the purpose of a page was obvious and immediately understood from a page content perspective. For example: within a single financial planning site, is it obvious that the purpose of Page A is to describe a specific investment option? Is it obvious that the purpose Page B is to offer retirement planning advice? Etc.

    Under this strict definition of page purpose from a content perspective, they would argue that the test is not effective for home pages because, from a content perspective, they are largely devoid of actual content. Within their framework, the purpose of the page is obvious: providing instead links deeper into the site where the more granular content exists.

    You are working under a different (and not unreasonable) premise that the home page’s purpose is not to provide content, but rather to drive conversion optimization. Your questions are different: Is it obvious who we are? Is it obvious what we sell? Is it obvious what benefit you will get by exploring the site further? Within that framework, the five-second test may well be viable.

    I also think it can be used on home pages to test for aspects of emotional response and perceived trustworthiness/credibility (emphasis on perceived, as trustworthiness is a complicated issue that requires far more and varied research).

    So I think we’re generally on the same page.

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