In this CXL Institute study, we explore how general perceptions of a website are affected by the use of a “human authority image” (a picture of a company’s founder, or maybe just a photo of a person presumably representing the company) on an agency website homepage.
- How professional the site looks - The version WITHOUT the human 'authority' picture was perceived as more professional. The mean score for professionalism is higher for all the No Picture sites, and significantly so for 3 of the eight sites.
- How modern the site looks - Inconclusive overall. Picture vs. no picture had less of an impact on the perception of modernity than the actual sites themselves. 3 out of 8 sites were significantly more modern with NO picture, but the pattern didn't hold across sites as a whole.
- Client size? - The version WITHOUT the human 'authority' picture was perceived to have larger clients. Version (Pic VS No Pic) and the website itself are significant factors in how respondents evaluated a website's client size. Respondents perceived a website's client size as significantly larger with the no picture version for four of the eight websites.
How do I apply this research?The direct lesson here is that a human image on the home page can impact general perceptions of the site (note that respondents are very likely not potential clients of the services presented - see limitations). More specifically, it can reduce the perceived professionalism and the size of the client that the service deals with. These findings likely are applicable as an agency moves towards larger clients, where 'personal touch' isn't a selling point but rather a sense that the agency is at a necessary level of size and professionalism to be trusted.
Past research shows that the implementation of a human image enhances: appeal, enjoyment, positive attitudes, social presence, and the overall emotional connection that consumers feel to an organization (Wanga, 2016; Cyr et. al., 2006). However, context is everything. We wanted to know how it translates to an angency website’s perceived professionalism, modernness, and client size.
We explore these questions in this study.
Data Collection Methods and Operations:
Using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform (mturk) combined with SurveyGizmo, we created a survey displaying eight digital marketing and conversion rate optimization agency home pages:
- Hop Online
- Rich Page
- Raphael Paulin-Daigle
- Kopywriting Kourse
- House of Kaizen
- Conversion Sciences
At the time of testing, all sites had a human ‘authority’ image on the page tested. This is what we tested:
Original page – showed the homepages with a human image(s) representing an authority figure.
Variation page – showed the homepages without a human image. In some cases we modified the page elements to adjust for change in appearance.
Here’s an example:
Survey participants included men and women from the US, ages 18-60. First, participants were prompted with these instructions:
We want to know how a company’s website homepage “look” can affect perceptions of how large of a company it is (how professional, how modern, & what type of clients).
This survey will show website home pages of 8 businesses. For each one, view the homepage, and provide us with your feedback via the 3 questions provided.
Next, participants viewed the eight agency pages.
After viewing each page, they answered these survey questions:
- How professional does this page look to you?
- Answers were on a Likert Scale ranging from 1 (very amateur) to 7 (very professional)
- How modern does this page look to you?
- Answers were on a Likert Scale ranging from 1 (very outdated to 7 (very modern)
- What type of clients do you think this company works with? (Select all that apply, Max 3)
- SO/HO/VO (Small Office/Home Office/Virtual Office)
- Micro Business
- Small Business
- Small-Medium Business
- Medium Business
- Medium-Large Business
- Large Business
445 Mturk workers participated in this study:
205 participants viewed the treatment without the founder pictures
240 participants viewed the treatment including the founder pictures
Variations (Note – below we’re only showing the above fold that included the picture, the full web page was shown to study participants):
The scoring for all questions allowed us, for each question, to compare mean responses using a two-factor ANOVA without replication. We compared the version (with vs. without photo) among the sites, and within the websites themselves.
How professional does this page look to you?
Result takeaway – In each of the eight websites, the mean score for professionalism is higher for the No Picture sites. For 3 of the 8 sites the difference in professional mean scores between the two site versions is statistically significant. The two-factor ANOVA test indicated there is significant difference in professional mean scores based on picture type and among the 8 sites.
How modern does this page look to you?
Result takeaway – Comparing means of the two versions of the eight sites, the no picture version scored higher six out of eight times. Picture vs. no picture had less of an impact on the perception of modernity than the actual sites themselves.
What type of clients do you think this company works with?
Result takeaway – Version and the website itself are significant factors in how respondents evaluated a website’s client size. Respondents perceived a website’s client size as significantly larger with the no picture version for four of the eight websites.
The image itself might not have been the cause of the effect seen, rather, there might have been an increased sense of professionalism with less features on the page.
Not every homepage labeled the founder picture as the company’s founder. Some participants probably didn’t make this connection, and instead perceived the picture as any person, maybe a customer/client, but not the organization’s founder.
We surveyed a general population, not marketing professionals or business owners that would be more familiar with these type of sites. Thus conclusions here are restricted to general perceptions.
The versions without the human ‘authority’ picture were perceived as more professional, and they were also perceived to work with larger clients. However, this didn’t take into account audience members who may be familiar with the founder from conferences, podcasts, webinars, etc., and therefore introduces the familiarity effect.