Starting with a new series on this blog called Revisiting the Classics, I will re-look at our A/B testing case studies and throw some new light on it (with additional commentary). The case study that I picked for this post relates to human photos on landing pages and whether they increase conversion rate. Before reading rest of the post, make a guess: do human photos (male/female) online really have any subconscious effect on visitors?
What research says about human photos on websites?
There has been significant scientific research on this topic particularly for eCommerce websites. When you are considering a purchase decision, the main issue online is of trust. How do you know if a particular website is trust worthy? Taking lessons from TV advertising and general marketing principles, people running eCommerce websites think that associating photos of people with products engenders trust. Of course, human photos = increased trust is just a hypothesis. But is it really true?
To answer this, I analyzed several research papers (which are published in peer-reviewed scientific journals). Following are some of the main ones (along with excerpts):
- The Human Face of E-Business: Engendering Consumer Initial Trust Through the Use of Images of Sales Personnel on E-Commerce Web Sites: initial trust was found to be enhanced for Web sites employing photographs and video clips compared to control Web sites lacking such images
- Shiny happy people building trust?: photos on e-commerce websites and consumer trust: trustworthiness of low-trust sites can be boosted by adding a photo
- Exploring Human Images in Website Design Across Cultures: A Multi-Method: results indicate that websites with images that include facial characteristics are more positively received by users than images with no facial features or no human images at all
- Trust at first sight? A test of users’ ability to identify trustworthy e-commerce sites: a photo only had an effect on participants’ first impression of a vendor
Not just scientific research, real world A/B tests that I have seen also corroborate the hypothesis of human photos may increase conversion rate. Two of our customers used our A/B testing tool (Visual Website Optimizer) to test presence of human photos and its impact on conversions. Following sections detail what they did and what they found out.
Photos v/s Paintings (A/B test #1)
Medalia Art sells Brazilian and Caribbean art online. Since they are an online art shop, they showcase paintings from famous artists on their homepage. They decided to test what happens if paintings are replaced by the artists’ photos.
The goal for this A/B test was to increase visitor engagement (defined as a click on any link on the homepage; it is the inverse of the bounce rate). They didn’t use sales as a conversion rate as many of their sales happen after interaction on the telephone with the customer.
Here are the screenshots of the control (paintings) and the winning version (photos).
Results?: Medalia found out that with paintings the conversion rate was 8.8% but if paintings are replaced with artist photos, the conversion rate increases to whopping 17.2%. That’s an increase in conversion rate of more than 95%! (results were statistically significant) How cool is that for doing a slight change?
Photo v/s Generic icon (A/B test #2)
Another user, Jason Thompson, conducted an A/B test on his blog to see if replacing contact icon with his own photo would lead to more people contacting him. Following is screenshot of original and variation:
Original (with icon)
Variation (with photo)
3.7% conversion rate
5.5% conversion rate
Results clearly show that the version with Jason’s photo had 48% more conversions as compared to generic icon. (Again, results are statistically significant).
Jason commented on the test results:
People want to connect with other people emotionally, the photo makes that emotional connection so much easier and as the test is proving, drives people to the contact form more than a nondescript icon.
So, should you use human photo on your website?
There are hundreds of more research studies and probably more A/B test results that you can read but from what I have read and observed, here are some salient points about human photos on websites:
- Human photos on a website definitely have positive impact on visitor’s first impression of trustworthiness
- Human photos with focus on face have much better impact (as emotional connect is stronger)
- Photos should be “real”. Visitors can tell when you are using stock photos
- Most important conclusion: human photos are not panacea for all websites. Best is to A/B test photos v/s no photos on your website. Many research papers proved that in some cases, human photos may actually have a negative impact!
Hope you found this article useful. If you have any comments or suggestions, please let me know.