The definitive guide to creating effective Five Second Test


When you’re creating a website, each page has a certain message that you want to convey to your visitors. Whether it’s information about your brand and its focus, the advantages of subscribing to your service or details about a particular product, there’s some content that you hope will lead your visitors towards action (i.e. browsing your website further, subscribing to a service or buying a product).

Most visitors come to your website with a goal in mind as well. In fact, it takes them very little time to decide whether your website can help them achieve that goal or not. So, when you're designing a website, it’s important that the message you want to convey - and your customers-to-be want to receive - is communicated nearly instantly and not lost in the page design.

To test if this is in fact the case, you can use a five second test. As the name suggests, in a five second test, you show your respondents a design, page layout or other content for five seconds. Then, you ask them questions to verify whether they’ve been able to retrieve important information from the design and what kind of impressions they got from seeing it. It’s a fast and comprehensive way to assess your design whether it’s old or new.

UXtweak offers Five Second Test - an online tool that you can use to conduct five second testing with your designs remotely, simply by sharing a link with your respondents, or by collecting insights from our panel. Here you can learn more about how and when to use the five second test and how best to take advantage of the various features that this UXtweak tool has to offer.

Why five seconds? 

Five seconds may sound like a very short time to assess a webpage, but there are reasons why this particular time frame was chosen. Firstly, the goal of a five second test is to measure first impressions. The famous saying “you only get one chance to make a first impression” is very true in website design, e-commerce and other areas where you may use a five second test. The evidence is beyond anecdotal. Research and experience show that people tend to evaluate web pages really quickly and usually spend only between 10-20 seconds on a page before leaving. During this time, they need to receive the message that you want to convey.

There are also indications that when respondents have an opportunity to look at a design for longer than five seconds during a test, they take more of an analytical approach and notice details they’d normally miss. Although UXtweak allows you to display your designs for more than five seconds, it’s not recommended to change the amount unless you’re sure about what you’re doing. Last but not least, by communicating your message quickly and effectively, you may lower your bounce rates, increase your rates of conversion (people will learn why they want to stay before they leave) and thus see a better return of investment from your site.

Limitations of the five second test 

The five second test, while a quick and comprehensive way to assess your designs, has its limitations. It’s a great tool for its job, but it’s important to know when using a different tool would be better. Because respondents only see the design for five seconds, this method isn’t suitable for pages with complex messages that require a lot of reading and where communicating information quickly is less important. It’s also not intended for testing of design flows or designs with multiple interactions. It won’t help you predict user behaviors (check out First Click Test for that) or get answers to complex questions (try using Survey instead).

Prepare materials for testing 

When we take into consideration the limitations above, we can see that a five second test works best on pages that primarily communicate a small number of important messages and aren’t too complex. Examples of good pages to test would include the home page, various landing pages (such as a page that prompts users to subscribe to a newsletter or a free trial or register for a service), the checkout page, a single product page etc. You also don’t have to test an entire page. You can use a mock-up, a partial design, a wireframe, a logo or a simple piece of copywriting.

The best moment in the design process to use a five second test would be when you have a high fidelity mock-up (high fidelity here means that the mock-up quite closely visually resembles the final product) You may also use a screenshot of a prototype if you have one. This way you can give respondents a good feeling of what the actual product will look like, while giving yourself the time and space to make some adjustments if necessary. You can also use a five second test to compare several designs to see which one best communicates your messages and creates the least confusion in your users. It also bears remembering that the design tested in a five second test is a static image, not a prototype, it doesn’t have any dynamic functionality. Your respondents will not have an option to interact with a prototype, only to look at it.

Create questions 

Now that you know what page you’re testing, you can start thinking about the questions you want your users to answer. Firstly, you don’t want to let your respondents know in advance what type of questions you’re going to ask them - this may change their focus while viewing the design from the first impressions and the information that really stands out, to looking for answers to your questions. So while in certain situations it may be useful to set up the context, be careful with how you formulate the instructions. The questions themselves will depend on the type of the page you’re testing and what messages this page is supposed to communicate. For example, for a home page, it should usually be the answers to the following three questions:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • Why should your visitor care?

In other words you want to communicate your company identity, the products or services you are offering and the motivation for the visitor to engage with your company. If you’re testing a landing page that urges your users to subscribe to a newsletter, then this may be the information you want to communicate: We have a newsletter. It will benefit you in such and such way. You can subscribe here.

If you’re testing yet another page, you can base your task on these more general questions:

  • What can you remember about the page?
  • What is the goal of the page?
  • What is the most outstanding feature you remember?
  • What impressions did you get from the page?

Furthemore, with UXtweak, you can use a screening question displayed at the very beginning of the study that enables you to exclude some respondents before they start the study; and the pre-study questionnaire where you can collect information such as demographics of your respondents. You can also utilise the post-study questionnaire for other purposes, such as feedback on your study setup.

Gather participants and collect data 

Usually in usability or user experience testing, you want your respondents to be reflecting the future users of the product or service. The same is true with a five second test - you can create a persona or personas (basically a description of your target user) and recruit participants based on those. You can recruit from your existing customers - but bear in mind that they may already have enough information about your company and product to skew the results. It may be more useful to recruit respondents from outside of your customers pool - and UXtweak can help with that. In our User Panel tool, you can specify what the characteristics of your desired participants are and we will recruit the right audience for you.

However, it is good to not get too restrictive about your respondents - anyone who lands on your page should be able to quickly and clearly get the messages that you’re trying to communicate, not just your target audience. So you don’t need to get too focused on the personas. You can include a wider range of participants.

Interpret the results 

Good news is that using a five second test, you can quickly get a lot of valuable data that’s quite straightforward to analyse. You can start by sorting each of the answers into one of three categories based on how well were your respondents able to receive the information/message that you were trying to convey. First category will contain the answers that show that respondents picked up the message perfectly (“got it”), the second category will involve responses that received the message partially and the last category will have responses that did not get it at all. UXtweak provides not only a handy overview of the results but also enables you to group similar answers based on the degree of similarity. This feature will make it easier to categorise the answers into groups.

Obviously, you want the majority of the answers to be in the first category. If too many answers fall into the second and third category (i.e. more than 20%) you may want to make some changes in your design. To know more about what kind of adjustments to make, it’s necessary to take a look at the free text answers in each of the categories. This may help you identify red herrings or accessibility issues in your design.

Five second test is a quick and effective way to evaluate how your designs are communicating information. While it’s not a universal solution for every case, it’s still a powerful tool for evaluating your designs and increasing intelligibility and even conversions. With UXtweak’s Five Second Test tool, you can comfortably set up a remote five second study, recruit participants and get the results in a handy shareable format.