Computer key red - unhappy smileyI have thoroughly enjoyed listening to Derek Halpern’s Social Triggers podcast of late.  Derek has shaped (and explains how he shapes) his own personal brand as “that marketing psychology guy”.  I found him through Pat Flynn, who produces another great podcast.

Derek’s most recent podcast is an interview with Adam Alter, author of Drunk Tank Pink.  The book and podcast cover how logos, colors, and sounds affect our behavior and how that plays into marketing.

Web Design Tips: Use Red For Slow Load Times

One part of the podcast touches on web design and conversions in particular.  Derek does not provide a transcription of his podcasts (with good reason, he wants you to listen), but I thought this was very valuable information for those of us in the web industry, so I have taken the liberty of transcribing that section below.

[sam id=”5″ codes=”true”]

ADAM: Red makes us vigilant. It makes us pay more attention.  As it seems to function as a warning on stop signs and various warning labels, it seems to do the same thing when we’re engaged in mental tasks.  So if I ask you to engage in a mental task like ‘Read through this essay and find as many errors as you can’, people who are shown that task with a front cover that’s red rather than another color like blue or green are able to find more of those errors.

But of course vigilance isn’t always what you want.  You don’t always want people to think deeply and sharply about something.

Sometimes you want them to think a bit more broadly.  There’s some evidence that the color blue, for example, expands our horizons.  If you’re looking for creativity or breadth of thinking, then blue seems to be more likely to lead to that sort of outcome.

One thing that red seems to do is to make it seem as though time is passing a little more slowly.  So when you are waiting for a website to load . . . the color red agitates you and makes you feel as though time is passing more slowly.  When the content finally does appear, you’ll be in a less positive mood.  You’ll be less disposed to enjoying that content than you would be if the background were yellow or blue.  There’s some research to suggest that that’s true.

It is partly because they’re more frustrated, the color is more jarring.  If they are asked to estimate how long it took the page to load (in this experiment all the pages took about 17 seconds to load) they said that the website took much longer to load when it was presented with a red background.

DEREK: This is interesting because page load time can literally be a silver bullet between converting a visitor into a sale.  And if people think that your site is loading slower than it actually is, it could actually prevent people from buying whatever it is that you’re selling.

ADAM: Absolutely and red is a very popular color in logos in a lot of different industries, which means that people would probably intuitively use red somewhere on that landing page and this research suggests that you should think beyond that and look for a color that doesn’t have that effect.

If the research is correct, you have a couple of good reasons not to use red as a background on your website.   There’s obviously nothing about the color red that actually slows your site load times down.  Google does take load times into consideration in their ranking algorithm and they don’t care what color you use.

But perception DOES matter, as Derek says in the podcast.  If people perceive your site is slow, that’s not a good thing.

There are, of course, other considerations. We designed a restaurant website that uses strong red.  Red is often used as a paint color in dining rooms as it has been said to awaken appetites and spur conversation.

But if you aren’t in the dining industry, there’s probably strong enough data to steer you away from the use of red.

Now, I’m off to die my hair blue (I’m a red-head) so people will be less critical of me. 🙂

[sam id=”5″ codes=”true”]