By now almost every executive has heard about how important it is to capture your website visitors’ attention in the first few seconds of their visit. If not, they are gone and the result is a very high “bounce rate.” While there is certainly a lot of truth in that observation, how does it apply to your professional services website? After all, you don't run a consumer site that sells advertising or pushes discounted electronics.

Do the same rules apply to professional services websites? Yes, but with a twist. When a potential client visits your site, they form a quick impression. Think of it as your 3 Second Test.

Within the first 3 seconds of reaching your site a visitor in your target audience will be looking for positive responses to three critical questions. Miss any one of these and the chances of a positive relationship drop dramatically.

Question 1. Am I in the right place?

Is this the right firm? This should be the easiest question to get right, yet many firms find ways to sow confusion, even at this basic level. Lack of clarity, an inconsistent brand identity or poor implementation can give visitors the impression that this isn’t the company they were looking for. Not a good way to start a relationship.

Question 2. Are they in my league?

Like it or not, people are prone to making snap judgments. Is your firm the type that they would do business with? That can depend on what their gut tells them. If you pursue sophisticated clients with an amateurish website, you're likely to blow it. A poor website makes you look like you don’t know what you are doing. It may not be fair, but that’s how it works.

Mike Schultz and John Doerr in their book, Professional Services Marketing, liken situation to showing up to a meeting with a potential client with ill fitting, rumpled and dirty clothes. If you don't inspire confidence, you create barriers to success. I personally have seen more than a few firms being ruled out based on the initial impression created by their website.

It works the other way as well. A strong initial impression can give you a head start on the competition as well. I like that much better.

Question 3. Is there something here for me?

This may be the most challenging question on the test. You have to provide something of interest or value right from the beginning. A headline or graphic that screams relevance or captures interest is how many of the most effective sites do it. They compell us to want to learn more.

It’s easy to blow this one. Just serve up a dense page of jargon that offers nothing of value and your prospects' eyes will glaze over. This situation is soooooo common. Try this instead: describe — in plain English — how your service helps your customers and why people choose you over a similar service. What a difference it will make!

So that’s my 3 Second Test. How does your professional services website score? Not sure? Have someone from your target audience (preferably one who is not familiar with your firm) look at your homepage for 3 seconds and see how they answer.