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The back button is your number one enemy

Visitors will spend a finite amount of time on your website. What you do with that time determines whether you convert them to customers or lose them to the Back button.

Luckily there’s research to arm yourself with in this never ending struggle with the back button. This research tells us:

  • It’s crucial to grab your audience’s attention quickly.
  • The longer you can hold their attention, the easier it is to keep it.
  • The length of time it takes to make the decision to buy is crucial.

The science of time on site

Keeping a visitor’s eyes on your website is hard, even if they’re in your target market, and need your product. In fact, the average visitor only spends 10 to 20 seconds on a website. You probably don’t have an average website.  Still,  just how much time do you have? And how do you get more of it?

The Weibel distribution

A Weibel distribution is an old industrial concept that estimates the time to failure for a manufacturing component. It answers the question, “When is that cog I just installed likely to fail?”. Put in terms relevant to our task, “When is my visitor likely to leave forever?”

It just so happens 99% of websites follow a negative Weibel distribution; the longer a person stays on a site, the less likely they are to leave.

The steep portion of this graph is that first 10 to 20 seconds a visitor uses to decide if a website is worth their time. If you can get them past that initial quick, harsh judgment, your chances of keeping them for much longer increase dramatically. That’s the flat part of the Weibel curve.

If you can keep them for 30 seconds, you’re almost as likely to keep them for 2 minutes or more.

Time to Decide vs. Time on Site

It’s good to know the longer you can get a visitor to stay, the more likely it is they’ll continue to stay. What this distribution doesn’t answer is the question you’re probably thinking now: “How long do I have with my customers.”

For starters, Google Analytics can help you determine how long the average visitor spends on your product page. This is called your Visit Duration Average.

But there’s another question even Google can’t answer: “How much time do I need with my visitors?” Understanding the answer is critical to designing an effective product page. It will help you determine whether your site should try to trigger a speedy or deliberate decision.

Let’s go back to the Weibel graph and add a line called Time to Decide. This line represents the total time an average customer needs to spend on a product site before they are able to make a decision.

The point where Time to Decide intersects with the Weibel line is critical. We’ll call it the Trigger Point.  It represents the max time on site an average visitor is willing to spend. If your product page is able to trigger a conversion on the Time to Decide line to the left of that Trigger Point, you’ve won that customer. To the right of the Trigger Point, you’ve lost them.

Increasing Time on Site

What if your product is complex and requires more time to understand than the current Trigger Point provides? Then one of two things must happen:

  1. Redesign your site to trigger faster decisions
  2. Increase your visitors’ Time on Site.

Increasing time on site is crucial; it moves the Trigger Point (where the lines cross) further to the right.

With more Time on Site, you can win a conversion you previously lost without needing to reduce the Time to Decide. More Time on Site allows more conversions.

Luckily there are lots of strategies out there with data to prove their effectiveness. Here’s a brief list:

Design a page to convey value to your target audience, not to every visitor to your website. Then get them to your page. A much more manageable task!

12 case studies

Next let’s look at what some well known product pages are doing with their Time on Site. By looking at the rate they deliver information, and whether emotions or logic are used to influence visitors, we can place these sites into one of four categories: Rational, Competitive, Spontaneous or Humanistic.

None of the sites in this case study are designed to sell to some mythical “average user” and none of them focus on every type of decision. Many employ tactics from several of the quadrants. But each focus the majority of their capital (Time on Site) trying to trigger one specific type of decision.

Use all the weapons you have in the battle against the back arrow.

Rational (Logical and deliberate)

Apple – Mac Pro

The Mac Pro marketing site plays strongly on emotion. The pictures are sexy as hell, and they are counting on their target market’s desire to be on the cutting edge of innovation.

Interestingly there is no large Call To Action (CTA), just one noticeable but subtle “Buy now” button. The one liner is emotive, but it is not designed to trigger a purchase, it is intended to get you to read on.

Apple knows this machine is expensive and not an impulse buy. To move their customers from lust to purchase they go into detail on every feature, every innovation, point by point over multiple pages.


Nest is also counting on rational decisions, but seasoning it with emotion. The tagline, “Know more, save more” sells the idea of using Nest to get better information and save more money.  To tug at the humanistic thinker, it’s juxtaposed with images of family and home. The message that Nest helps you take better care of the things that matter to you is an underlying theme throughout.

Recommendations and customer testimonials, are a humanistic tactic targeting deliberate decision makers, and Nest prominently displays them. But in the end, Nest rely on logic for their final trigger: it only takes a year for Nest to pay for itself.


It would be hard to argue Basecamp is relying on emotion when the tagline is a statistic. Their call to action uses competitive logic: you get 60 days to try it free. Even when selling their product as one you can trust -an emotional appeal- it draws on the logic of using a tool with a proven 15 year track record.

Their text heavy style deliberately makes the case. But they make their page scannable with bold headings, extensive product screenshots.

Competitive (Logical and speedy)


The speediness of the Spotify product site is clear. What you might find surprising is a music service relying so heavily on logic to trigger conversions. But take a moment to reflect on all the music apps trying to win your ears, and the competitive sell makes sense. The discount, “free on mobile”. The logic of having your music everywhere. The emotive touches are more subtle (literally in the background). The implicit cool of listening to the “right” music. It seems Spotify have decided the surest way to our musical heart is through our head.


The type of decision Dropbox is going for is very apparent. Their competitors are complex. Dropbox is easy. The short logical one liner with a clear CTA. A minimalistic design. Supremely scannable, with clear, logical value propositions.


Karma’s competitive pitch here is clear: “FREE.” Even the humanistic social proof is pitching how much free data Karma users have earned. To deliver the necessary information quickly, the site is designed to convey a tremendous amount of product information visually. You get the basic idea of what Karma does from a single tagline and a few glances around the product shots. Even if you’ve never heard of a mobile wi-fi hotspot before, you get the value proposition very quickly.

Spontaneous (Emotional and speedy)


The Squarespace tagline is at once aspirational and inspirational: “A better web starts with your website.” The beautiful imagery implies your site could be as beautiful. It’s an emotional sell. It’s also fast, a few bulleted features and a CTA to get started. They’re essentially saying, “There’s not time to waste. Start building your dream.”


You can’t get much faster with an emotional pitch than Twitter’s product page. Connect with others. Explore your interests. Be in the know. 14 words total.


The short list of features. The use of icons. An animation that “flies” you through the Flight feature set. In a competitive travel app market, Flight works quickly to trigger it’s audience’s emotional wanderlust.

Humanistic (Emotional and deliberate)


With their Pencil product, 53 plays up the desire to create. The freedom and ease of expression. When describing the technology it’s pitch is deliberate, but not logical. It’s saying, “We help you get out of your head and just create.”

Pencil is deliberate about going into the details of the technology inside the tool. Not a fast sell, they’re confident the target audience will give them time to communicate the value if they tell a compelling story.

Square Reader

To sell it’s reader, Square highlights user testimonials relating the emotional impact it has on their customers as well as their business.

Square plays up the cachet of its brand. Business owners, especially the kind Square targets, value cool and identify with that aspect of the brand.


The video linked above the fold positions InVision as the solution to the frustration of trying to collaborate, demonstrate, and get feedback on design iterations via email. This is the cornerstone of it’s Humanistic pitch. It’s also very aspirational, with cool startup office imagery from their customer, AirBnB.


Wondering what approach to take with your product?

Talk to your customers and find out why they love your product. They will give you invaluable insight into who your target market is and how to sell to them.