Five Second Tests: Measure Content Usability and Get a First Impression in Five Seconds

A usability test, that only takes five seconds? Admittedly, it is almost too good to be true. The reservation against Five Second Tests, a specific form of remote usability testing, is great by and large. Experts traditionally place a lot of value on a clean methodology and clean results. Skepticism toward a new and simpler method is understandable.

The fundamental concept: This is how Five Second Tests work

The attractiveness of Five Second Tests lies undisputedly in its simplicity. Through a link, participants are referred to a page on which they are shown a screenshot of a web site for exactly five seconds. Following, they have to answer questions to this page. Finished.

What at first seems simple, maybe too simple, is actually a meaningful and scientifically approved method. One must not make the mistake of confusing Five Second Tests with the classic usability test. The main concern of the Five Second Test is not usability (an analysis of effectiveness and efficiency of an application, as well as user satisfaction), but to get a first impression of a page, which underlies further use and overall judgment.

The first impression is important – it arises in 0.5 seconds

The Five Second Test examines this first and often unconscious impression of a page. Anyone who has ever participated in such a test knows how short five seconds are. The screenshot is barely invoked, then it is shielded, that one hardly notices what was shown on the page. And thus the test is useful. Two keywords are of great importance in the correlation.

1) Mere-Exposure-Effect: The so called visual appeal is measured with Five Second Tests, so to say the esthetic attractiveness. Neurophysiological studies show that users make judgment of a web site in 500 milliseconds (0.5 seconds) and decide if a page is visually attractive or not.

2) Halo-Effect (or cognitive confirmation bias): The Halo-Effect describes a sensation distortion, with which a certain feature pushes all others to the background, it practically “outshines” the other, normal distinct elements - an effect which is of great importance for advertising and marketing. The Halo-Effect also plays an important function on web sites: users appreciate a web site in subjection to their first impression. If it is positive, they value the usability and contents of a web site even better. If it is negative, the adjudication tends to be worse. In this respect it is absolutely important, that a web site leaves a good first impression.

Even if a user is confronted with a web site for only a short time, without cognitive process, it suffices to make an emotional judgment. This is exactly where to place Five Second Tests: they are useful to determine the first impression towards a web site, which on the other hand is essential for the overall judgment.

To come to a decision happens within five seconds

Next to the first impression, in which the emotional impact is in the focus of attention, the Five Second Test also gives first information over content usability: What does the page tell the user? Justin Palmer made very interesting speculations about what rushes through the users mind in the first five seconds. He divides this short period of time in five phases:

  1. Impressions: The user obtains the first accosted impression in the first second. If it is poor and unprofessional, he could possibly jump off. Halo and Mere-Exposure-Effect are functioning.
  2. Definition: In the second second the visitor perceives, who operates the page and which information and products or benefits are being offered. Is branding successful?
  3. Relevance: In the third second the user recognizes if the invoked page is content-related to the previously entered search term, its relevancy.
  4. The Hook: In the fourth second the user apprehends first purchasing arguments and jumps on the construed ”bait”.
  5. Action: Users that have not jumped of at this point in time, are now beginning to operate and are asking themselves: ,What do I do now‘?

A Five Second Test is obviously not a usability analysis of a web site. With the help of appropriate questions to the screenshot, research can be made, if it succeeds to mediate the user in five seconds, what the issue and purpose of the page is.

Tools and functionality

How is a Five Second Test implemented? The Australian software company Angry Monkey offers a useful tool to implement, which is provided under the name and offers an array of web-based usability tools.

The functionality is easily conceivable: a screenshot of the web site to be tested (a wireframe or layout) is uploaded, adjacent up to five questions are defined, that are posed after five seconds consideration. Furthermore, an instruction can be formulated, which provides contextual information, for example: “Imagine you searched for the term ski journey on Google and clicked on a link on the results page. You will be redirected to the following page”.

Every test is obtained through an individual permalink, which lets the test participants and optionally the community of communicate. The Five Second Test works completely web-based for the test participants. At the end of the series of tests, the results are automatically put together and are provided online including a graphic display.

An example report from


Five Second Tests is the smallest project with a not insignificant benefit – as long as tasks and questions are selected sensibly. Less meaningful are results in which knowledge is queried and users have to judge complex coherencies. Nobody would be in a position to, after five seconds. A Five Second Test much more gives information about whether a page basically works and leaves an inviting, professional, and structured impression.

Once more: the described test method cannot replace a professional usability test. But during the first analysis of home pages, product pages or newsletters and banners, they can be recommended as interesting and less elaborate supportive measure. On all accounts, a Five Second Test offers a simple and fast possibility to integrate the user in the development process.

The outcome can usefully influence further development and can give the person responsible at the clients’ end good arguments for or against a certain layout.

Are Five Second Tests interesting for you? Do you have any questions to usability? We are experts for usability and would be happy to assist you. Please contact us.

Further Information

Lindgaard, Gitte, Gary Fernandes, Cathy Dudek (2006): Attention web designers: You have 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression. In: Behavior & Information Technology, 25:2 p. 115-126

Justin Palmer: You’ve got 5 Seconds, don’t waste them

Jared Spool about Five Second Tests (Podcast)

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1 thoughts on “Five Second Tests: Measure Content Usability and Get a First Impression in Five Seconds”

  1. Great post! The five-second test actually goes well with the idea that good user experience should make it easier for the user, as easy as possible.
    I’d like to recommend a book that’s my personal favorite on usability. It’s called “Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability”, and I think the readers here would benefit from reading it.
    Here’s the link to it on Amazon:

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