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Is your web site helping or hurting your business

By: Kathy Hendershot at Virtual Impax

Submitted on Fri, Nov 17th, 2006 12:00 am

There are two powerful psychological principles at work when a potential customer or client visits your web site.
The first is the law of first impressions and the second is the placebo effect.

First impressions have an indelible effect on our perception of a person or a service. While you may think that once someone "gets to know you" that their perceptions will change, Harvard psychologist Nalini Ambady asserts that your first impression will be your only impression, regardless of the "accuracy" of your first assessment.

To measure the effect of first impressions, Ambady asked college students to view a 2 second video clip of a professor teaching She then asked the students to watch a other longer clips. After viewing each clip, each student was asked to evaluate the professor.

Ambady divided the students into two separate groups. One group saw clips depicting the professor as a warm, caring and knowledgeable educator. The other group saw clips which depicted the professor as cold, uncaring and incompetent. After evaluating the professor via video, the students then took a class with the professor. At the end of the course, the students were asked again to fill out a formal evaluation.

What we all want to believe is the students, once they actually experienced the professor's teaching style, would change their evaluations. In other words, it would be nice to learn that despite being fed a "wrong" first impression, that the students would use their own personal experience to overcome that incorrect negative first impression.

Unfortunately, that's not what happened.

The study proved that more information didn't change the student's perceptions of the professor. Despite the passage of time and the opportunity of the students to gather and experience better and more accurate information, the study clearly illustrated that first impressions are actually embraced more fiercely than anyone ever suspected.

First impressions actually become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Which brings us to your business, your marketing both online and off.... and your web site. Of all your marketing materials, your web site is the one that is most likely to be there making a first impression on potential clients and customers.

Your web site's presentation, graphics and message leave indelible first impressions upon your future potential customers and clients..

While first impressions play a powerful role in the success of your online marketing strategy, when you combine the law of first impressions with our second factor, the placebo effect, and you'll see why a carefully constructed web presence can literally make or break your business.

The placebo effect is a well documented phenomenon where expectation shapes our experience. Give people a pill and tell them it will make them feel better and even though there's no medicine involved, in the majority of cases people do feel better.

The placebo effect extends well beyond the realm of medicine. In the case of your web presence, your web presence will literally create the expectation of the level of service your potential clients come to expect.

Poor graphics, confusing navigation, broken links all combine to create an expectation of the services you provide.

One Virtual Impax client saw an increase in sales of over 480% in just one quarter by just changing the quality of the graphics on the web site. Traffic didn't increase, but sales did.

The placebo effect extends well beyond the web into every facet of your marketing. You never have a second chance to create a great first impression. You must pay close attention to every contact point your business has with the general public. From business cards to stationary to your web site, there's no getting over a poor first impression.

Is your web site helping or hurting your business? Is it making a great first impression?

About the Author

Kathy Hendershot
Virtual Impax
Kathy Hendershot-Hurd is a Small Business Internet Consultant. She launched her web development firm Virtual Impax ( in 1998. She is the author of "Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results." Find out more about Niche Marketing at

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