First Impressions Matter: Why a Great Website Is Essential for Community Hospitals

A hospital's website can be source that forms a patient's first impression of a hospital. Novel Koncept is dedicated to helping hospitals improve their digital presence to ensure patient's always have a good experience and set a good first impression for patients.

Many hospitals have websites that are outdated and poorly designed, which gives patients a first impression that does not reflect well on the hospital. The Visual Design of a website can have a big impact on how visitors perceive the site. Once an initial impression is set in someone's mind, it can be hard to change it. Hospitals need to recognize the important role visual design plays on their website in setting the stage for a good vs. bad impression on their patients.

Cody Strate
First Impressions Matter: Why a Great Website Is Essential for Community Hospitals

Cody Strate


With 20+ years of experience, Cody Strate is a go-to expert for hospitals looking to improve their digital presence and patient experience.

January 31, 2023

Article Published


If you take a moment and visit a variety of hospital websites you'll start to see a few clear trends. First, generally speaking, they all look the same. Second, generally speaking, they're all not terribly aesthetically pleasing compared to other modern websites. Here at Novel Koncept we exist to help hospitals (primarily community, rural, and critical access hospitals) get their digital presence in alignment with the value that their hospital brings to the community they serve.

This article is all about the impact of visual design on a website on the visitors of that site. First impressions are a big deal, and once that impression is set within the mind of a patient it's very hard to change. Let's dive in shall we!

Unconscious Snap Judgment | We All Do It

We are all quick to judge.

In fact, psychologists at Princeton University found it takes less than one-tenth of a second for us to form an opinion about another person. Websites? They're not exempt from this rule either. Studies show that users determine whether they'll stay on a website or leave within 50 milliseconds (0.05 seconds) of landing there—and that's if they even give the site a chance; exposure time was cut down to just 50 ms in follow-up studies

This number comes from specific studies where participants rated the visual appeal of web homepages presented for 500 ms each (twice in some cases).

  • The visual appeal of a website can be assessed within 50 milliseconds, meaning you have less than one second to make a good first impression. This first impression depends on many factors, such as structure, colors, spacing, symmetry, amount of text, fonts and more.
  • This post provides details on research into websites and first impressions as well as shows you how to create a visual design to improve those all-important initial moments.

The Research | Websites and First Impressions

Users form opinions in only 17 ms

A few years ago, Google confirmed that people decide on a website in as little as 50 ms. In fact, their study found that some opinions develop within just 17 ms. The key findings from the research were that websites with low visual complexity and high prototypicality are perceived as highly appealing.

The Main Point

The main point to take away from this is to make your web design intuitive and easy to navigate. Follow what other people have done that works well, because chances are if it has worked for others, it will work for you too. People tend to stick with what they know, so straying too far from conventionality might end up deterring customers rather than drawing them in.

A web page's key areas are fixated on within 2.6 seconds

User's eyes land on the area of a website that most influences their first impression within 2.6 seconds, according to research by Missouri University of Science and Technology. By monitoring students' eye movement patterns as they scanned various web pages, researchers were able to determine how long it took for users too focus on key sections- such as menus, logos, images or social media icons- before moving one. It was discovered that usually, the better the first impressions websites made,  the longer participants stayed engaged with that page.

The six website sections that drew the most interest from viewers were:

  1. The institution’s logo. Users spent 6.48 seconds focused on this area before moving on.
  2. The main navigation menu. Almost as popular as the logo, subjects spent an average of 6.44 seconds viewing the menu.
  3. The search box. Users focused for just over 6 seconds.
  4. The site’s main image. Users’ eyes fixated for an average of 5.94 seconds.
  5. The site’s written content. Users spent about 5.59 seconds.
  6. The bottom of a website. Users spent about 5.25 seconds.

The Main Point

Creating a great first impression is key to keeping visitors on your website longer. Be sure to pay attention to these six elements.

First impressions are 94% design related.

British researchers found that the design and content of an online health site are key factors in influencing a person's trust of the site. The study showed that first impressions are mainly based on how the website looks.

Of all the feedback the test participants gave, 94% was about the design of the website:

  • Complex
  • Busy layout
  • Lack of navigation aids
  • Boring web design
  • Use of color
  • Pop-up adverts
  • Slow introductions to the site
  • Small print
  • Too much text
  • Corporate look and feel
  • Poor search capabilities

Out of all the feedback received, only 6% had to do with the content itself. The rest was about website navigation and visual appeal-- two factors that leave a big impression on people's first site visit.

Furthermore, those with websites that had bad interface design were rapidly rejected and not trusted. If participants didn't like something about the design, they often left the website immediately and never returned.

Furthermore, Consumer WebWatch's research conducted by Stanford University credibility experts yielded results that were strikingly similar. They discovered a discrepancy between what people SAY about how they evaluate the trustworthiness of a website and what they actually DO when browsing online.

According to the data, people put more emphasis on a website's visuals (i.e., layout, typography, font size, and color schemes) than its content when it comes to credibility. For example, 46.1% of respondents judged a site's trustworthiness based partially on how appealing its visual design is.

The Main Point

Good design establishes trust and keep people engaged. Poor design does the opposite.

Aesthetics are more important for first impressions than usability.

A study looked at how pleased and effective users were with a website that differed in both visual appeal and usability.

Two different types of websites were used in the study- those which had high levels of visual appeal and those which did not, as well as sites with strong vs weak usability. It was found that first impressions are greatly due to the aesthetics of a site.

Sites with high appeal received high "usability and interest ratings" from users, while sites that were not appealing to users received low ratings. Even if a user had a positive experience on a site that wasn't visually appealing, their perception of the site was not significantly changed.

The Main Point

Though it may seem counterintuitive, research has shown that investing in design will actually lead to higher usability ratings. So, if you're looking to create a website or product that users will love, focus on the visuals first and foremost.

A strong first impression usually results in greater satisfaction.

A study was done to discover if people's preconceived notions about a product would affect how easy they found it to use. To do this, half the participants read a positive review and the other half read a negative one. The control group didn't reading anything beforehand.

The study found that positive expectations had a stronger effect on post-experiment ratings than negative or no expectations. The participants who read the positive review rated the device significantly better after using it than did the negative-prime and no-prime groups, even when they failed most tasks.

The Main Point

If users instantly approve of your site, they will be more forgiving of mistakes later on. This type of priming may also have the opposite effect: A negative first impression will lowers a user's satisfaction with your site as a whole. Therefore, if you want to make sure you're putting your best foot forward, it is important to focus on making a great first impression.

How to Use Visual Design to Make a Great First Impression

1. Use design to make your website and company stand out

Your website's design can say a lot about you and your business. Are you different from the competition? Do you communicate that quickly through typography, images, and design on your site?

It's essential to find a balance between avoiding innovative designs—which could turn away consumers—and seeking out a unique visual style. Too often, companies end up with adopting  “me-too” approach in their aesthetics.

It's easy to mistake one website for another when so many have similar features. If you took away the logo, would you be able to tell which site is which?

Generally, this occurs because of two main reasons:

  1. Too often, the discussion about design becomes a list of features instead of working towards a unique visual identity.
  2. The features and aesthetics that are successful for the competition become adopted.

Launching a new website is always exciting, but it's important to take a step back and make sure that the design is original and meets the needs of your customers. Too often, companies launch new sites without considering these factors, resulting in a design that is unoriginal or doesn't meet customer expectations.

Not sure how to add more distinction to your visual communication? Try using the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique in your qualitative surveys. This can help you design a first impression that speaks to your brand’s core values without turning away visitors.

"Brand Identity" is more than simply a notion to be pushed aside. In fact, Cheskin Research & Studio Archetype found in 1999 that six of the most important elements in establishing trust with an ecommerce company are:

  • Brand
  • Navigation
  • Fulfillment
  • Presentation
  • Up-to-date technology
  • Security logos

If your first impression is that your site looks like every other site, why would anyone want to explore your product pages or purchase from you over the competition?

The Main Point

While it's great to have a unique brand, you don't want to be so innovative that users become confused or annoyed.

2. Focus on inspiring site visitors

A study on first impressions in tourism websites discovered that inspiration-based elements had the largest impact  on people's initial reactions.

This means that gripping visuals are a key technique for getting someone to stay longer on your website, and as a result, turn more viewers into customers.

Out of all the things that go into making a first impression, usability is near the top of importance. And right after that comes credibility. So what does this mean for travel websites? Travelers want to see beautiful pictures that inspire them (imagery). They don’t want to have to put any effort into figuring out how it works or if it’s safe (usability), and they should be able to trust the provider (credibility).

Use of Videography and Photography | Whatever you're showing is telling a story

The images your hospital's site uses tells a story. The question is, is it a good story that lends itself to the impression you want to give your patients?

There's little question that your hospital's website is using photography in one way or another. Perhaps you have photos of your facility, your departments, your doctors, and so on. However, are these photos actually good? If you stack your physician photos next to one another do they have a consistent look or do they look like a collection of random passport pictures?

Your patients are looking for more than just individual physician photos. They're also interested in seeing what your hospital looks like as a whole. After all, this is where they'll be spending their time (or the time of their loved ones). In addition to general hospital shots, consider having department-specific photography. This type of content can help patients get a feel for what it would be like to visit that specific department.

Videography is an extremely powerful tool to use on your website. It brings your hospital to life in a way that photos and text simply can't. Leverage videography to inspire your patients with your story. Also, in the world of acute care hospital websites, good quality video is rarely used, and if your hospital embraces quality videography, you're likely to stand out in a big way.

The Main Point

If you’re selling high quality healthcare services just in your backyard then use inspiring photography and videography to tell a compelling story.

3. Make sure your "hero" section is awesome

Above-the-fold content has been a debated topic for years now. However, recent research shows that people generally don't have an issue with scrolling and may actually prefer it to clicking through to different pages. So what does this all have to do with first impressions?

Above-the-fold needs to be the best part of your website. The majority of first impressions are formed within 0.05 seconds, and users likely won't scroll down in that short amount of time.

Consequently, if users don't like what they see upon first arriving to a website, they likely won't scroll down. Therefore...

Pay extra attention to your navigation.

Several heatmap studies have found that people's eyes are most frequently drawn towards the navigation menu of a website. However, what should be included in this menu beyond the basics?

In another study done by eConsultancy, people asked about their likelihood to buy from an unfamiliar ecommerce site noted that “professional design,” “the site contains well-known brands,” and “having contact info visible” all influenced their decision.

A site's navigation, if done correctly, can prevent potential customers from leaving the page out of frustration.

First impressions can last for years

Another study found that first impressions are much more difficult to forget or change. It discovered that new experiences which go against a person's initial thoughts become “bound” to the context in which they were made. However, even if there are numerous exceptions, our brain still treat the rule (i.e. first impression) as valid except for when it was clearly violated.

The Main Point

A first impression is everything. If it's bad, the user may hold it against you for years to come.

The Wrap Up

Visual appeal matters because first impressions matter because perception is reality.

Good design costs good money, but a good design is worth its weight in gold. I've seen again and again how a small change to the design can result in big increases in conversion rates. First impressions are important, so make sure that your website makes a great one.

Cody Strate


With 20+ years of experience, Cody Strate is a go-to expert for hospitals looking to improve their digital presence and patient experience.

Cody Strate

Design blog for creative stakeholders