How Do Famous Founder Photos Affect Website Credibility? [Original Research]

How Do Famous Founder Photos Affect Website Credibility? [Original Research]

In this ConversionXL 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.

Results summary

  • 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.

Background

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.

Study Report

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:

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:

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 2.11.03 PM
Original – with human pic
Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 2.11.23 PM
Variation – without human pic

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:

  1. How professional does this page look to you?
    • Answers were on a Likert Scale ranging from 1 (very amateur) to 7 (very professional)
  2. How modern does this page look to you?
    • Answers were on a Likert Scale ranging from 1 (very outdated to 7 (very modern)
  3. What type of clients do you think this company works with? (Select all that apply, Max 3)
    1. Start-up
    2. SO/HO/VO (Small Office/Home Office/Virtual Office)
    3. Micro Business
    4. Small Business
    5. Small-Medium Business
    6. Medium Business
    7. Medium-Large Business
    8. Large Business

Participants

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):

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 12.26.36 PM

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 2.11.03 PM

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 2.11.23 PM

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 12.24.22 PM

Findings

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.

prof_table
Mean scores for the professional question. Gray highlighted box indicates higher of the two variations and the black box outline indicates a significant difference in means.
prof_histo
Histogram of professional question mean response. Asterisk (*) indicates significance (at 95% confidence) difference between original and variation.

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.

modern_table2
Mean scores for the modern question. Gray highlighted box indicates higher of the two variations and the black box outline indicates a significant difference in means.
modern_histo3
Histogram of modern question mean response. Asterisk (*) indicates significance (at 95% confidence) difference between original and variation.

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.

Mean scores for the client size question. Gray highlighted box indicates higher of the two variations and the black box outline indicates a significant difference in means.
Mean scores for the client size question. Gray highlighted box indicates higher of the two variations and the black box outline indicates a significant difference in means.
histogram of client size question mean response
Histogram of client size question mean response. Asterisk (*) indicates significance (at 95% confidence) difference between original and variation.

Limitations

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.

Conclusion

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.

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Join the Conversation Add Your Comment

    1. Ben Labay

      Hi Anthony, yeah, there were a lot that we could have added. Though looking at that site it seems to not be a good candidate as there wasn’t a person’s pic to remove. Thanks for the comment! Cheers, Ben

  1. Very interesting. I wonder if the perception that a website/company is more professional or works with bigger clients may come from the countless sites average consumers visit. Typically major corporations and brands where we rarely see an image of the founder or CEO on the homepage. (except for The Colonel KFC ;) So it would seem to me that on a subconscious level people are associating no founder image with bigger and better. Because that’s what they typically see.
    Thoughts?

    Reply
    1. Ben Labay

      Yep, good theory. That was in the back of our heads as we set this up. Thanks for the comment Shirley! Cheers, Ben

  2. It is interesting that all your examples (pics above) feature young men (dressed rather casually, smiling, and standing in a rather relaxed way). I imagine those could also have been factors (gender, age, posture, facial expression and/or outfit). And don’t forget about the colour scheme.

    Reply
    1. Ben Labay

      Yep, didn’t find any examples with women. Should have. Good point. And yes on your other points as well. Ideally this is replicated across hundreds of different sites not just 8, so we’d have numbers to see how the factors you mention are affecting these things. So now, like most science, the conclusions here are suggestive and by no means definitive. They’re perhaps most useful for the sites themselves. Although this series of UX studies are mostly meant to inspire more testing by illustrating ways to test hypotheses. Thanks for the comment Stacey! Cheers, Ben

  3. Interesting and topical as I’ve been advised to include our picture in the about us page after I had decided not to due to the thoughts on professionalism you have outlined above. Big difference is our site is targeted at Moms and my wife is active on Instagram as Mom of 3 boys. Sales are slow so it won’t be hard to see a difference. Would appreciate any thoughts around founder photos on business to business sites vs direct to consumers. Cheers Nick

    Reply
    1. Ben Labay

      Hey Nick, thanks for the comment, good to think on these things! Surely not applicable across the board, but hopefully there are things to take away from this. I’m thinking that a founder pic is useful for marketing sometimes, especially as a company is growing and familiarity and a personal feel are important. Though at a certain size, especially with B2B I’d expect, the personal feel and ‘one-man-show’ could be a turn off. More testing needed! Cheers, Ben

    2. I think using a picture on the About page is still a good idea. That’s where people go to see who the company is and what they’re about – especially for smaller companies.

      Something to definitely test as it can vary company to company but I wouldn’t say no to adding a picture on the about us page because of a study about pictures of founders on a homepage.

      Besides, the experiment does have a few flaws…when the pictures of the founders are removed they’re not replaced with anything and are left as white space. Leaving these websites to look unfinished. I’d be curious to see how this experiment would have played out if they filled that whitespace with another placeholder picture or text.

    3. Ben Labay

      Hey Kelsey, good suggestion and good point about the effect of removing the pick. Though if you notice we do take this into account on the few sites we thought it mattered. But generally this is an effect not really taken into account so good to point out. Thanks for the comment! Cheers, Ben

  4. I’m completely shocked. From my experiments, founder/profile images increased conversions. I’m not sure if everyone else in the CRO space agrees, but images bring a personality people can relate to.

    No photo pages may increase the professionalism and “big shot” appearance of web/landing pages, but I’m very skeptical about them increasing conversion rates – which, at the end of the day, matters mostXL.

    Another question I would like to know is “are you be more likely to trust/buy from this company” – picture/no picture.

    I’m sure this is an obvious question for you guys.

    Maybe you’re holding out on the goods for a follow up case study?

    Reply
    1. Ben Labay

      Hey Sina, you’ve brought up an excellent point and one that we’ve discussed in house quite a bit regarding this study. What people say is not what people do, this idea might be at play here for sure. This experiment surely raises more questions than it answers. Again, type, size, market of the business all will affect how things are perceived. Also, in this case short term conversions might counter strategic branding over the longer term? Something to think about more. Not sure we’re even close to testing something like that. Thanks for the comment! Cheers, Ben

  5. Interesting info. How does this correlate to consumer retail websites? (Fine jewelry in particular) Still hold true?

    On one hand showing the owner’s picture could build trust and transparency. But apparently it can also impact professionalism too. So which would convert better?

    Reply
    1. Ben Labay

      Hey Ron, not sure really. Though I’d think it would be more of an impact on professional services. You should run the survey to some of your visitors?! Thanks for the comment, Cheers, Ben

  6. Mmm, for me the aspect of suggesting smaller clients is ideal, because I actually do much prefer working with smaller companies :)

    Reply
    1. Ben Labay

      Yep, just because someone thinks a site is more professional doesn’t mean it gets people like you, who want to work with smaller companies. I don’t think this study can be carried over to conversions at all. Just more data at hand. Thanks for the comment, cheers, Ben

  7. In response to Alan’s comment… Sometimes I like working with smaller companies too, but I think that if you see someone famous (from a bigger company endorsing them) it actually makes you want to do business with them more.

    What do you think Ben?

    Reply
    1. Ben Labay

      Hey Toby, yep. We’ve discussed this a bunch. Sometimes you don’t want to work with a ‘company’ but a person. This is especially true of smaller agencies run by well known people. But your suggestion of endorsement is a different subject. That is social proof, where we were looking at people not ‘endorsing’ a company/website, but someone being the ‘representative’ of it. Thanks for the comment, cheers!

  8. Interesting article and discussion on a webpage of an institute (conversionXL) which has the photo of Peep Laja in the side bar at the top of this page. (Even stating: Peep Laja, founder of conversionXL)

    So what are you thoughts, considarations and internal discussions about Keeping the photo on the site or removing it?

    Reply
    1. Ben Labay

      Hi Alphons, it’s tricky. We’ve talked about it but haven’t had any real decisions made due to it. Branding decisions and orientation are all very strategic stuff, not to be taken lightly. Sorry for no real answer on this! Thanks for the comment though, cheers, Ben

  9. So I officially win the “Least Professional” Award right??

    I’ll take it! :-)

    Fortunately that homepage still converts 13% and 14% every month despite being unprofessional (although being semi-unprofessional is part of my whole schtick, so it’s an asset in this case).

    Thanks for the interesting experiment Ben!!
    -Neville

    Reply
    1. Ben Labay

      Hi Neville! Thanks for chiming in here, and yes, the results are certainly dependent on many things, and very likely don’t mean much for certain brand positions and business sizes. Thanks for the comment, cheers, Ben

  10. Great post! Love your in depth studies.
    I think a follow up to his study should be the impact of the “Team Page”
    how a users perception is impacted by showcasing the companies employees.
    Also, the difference between types of team pages. Ones that are more professional and those that show more personality.
    Thanks again for a great post!

    Reply
    1. Ben Labay

      Hi Shlomo, thanks for the follow up idea, good one. We’ve got a backlog of study ideas, will add this! Cheers, Ben

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