User Experience of B2B Website Design vs. the Halo Effect
June 2014

Executive summary

How does the Halo effect affect user experience of B2B website design?

B2B customers, especially larger ones, are led by strict procurement processes that require a few bids.

Procurement officers will be running a comparison of a few companies for any bid, and they’ll be looking at 3-5 websites at least as part of their process. In other words, as a B2B provider, you’re always being pitted against your competitors.

Knowing that you have mere seconds to prove your brand is credible, and worthy of consideration for the bid process, is crucial. Understanding the unconscious and ever present impacts of the Horn and Halo effects is a key factor in your having any kind of chance.


How do first impressions work?

It should go without saying that you want to leave your website’s visitors with a good first impression of your products or services.

A good first impression will bring  customers flooding in and leave competitors eating your dust. On the other hand, a poor first impression due to misguided user experience, interface choices, or simply poor design, will lead to the opposite outcome – clients will be reluctant to work with you, and seek out a more competent looking vendor.

But how does snap judgement work? Why does a poor website have such a devastating impact on company bottom line when it doesn’t necessarily relate to the quality of solutions on offer, the company’s record for client service, or pricing strategy ? Can’t someone be an awesome lawyer, or accountant, or manufacturer, but have a crappy website?

The short answer is: They can, but we won’t see them as such.

Here’s why…


Introducing the Halo Effect

Snap judgments, of the kind we make when we first see a website are susceptible to The Halo Effect – A cognitive bias in which people make an overall judgment based on just one trait or experience.

You’ve experienced the Halo Effect thousands of times in your life, without knowing what it was called – It’s the reason you give a more favorable initial response to good looking people than you do to people who are less lucky in the looks department. It’s a snap judgment that leads to either positive or negative biases.

This works both ways, though: an aspect viewed negative at first will lead to an overall negative perception of a person. Negative halos are also known as Horns.

The Halo Effect is the basis for experiments proving that tall clean-shaven and handsome men will be viewed, at first glance as trustworthy and honest, even if they aren’t. When it comes to judgments about people those among us how are more comely gain an even greater advantage due to the fact that looking at them rewards our brain with a Dopamine boost – It literally makes us feel good looking at them (and now you know why models get such big buck… : )


First studied in an effort to understand the way one person views another, the Halo and Horn Effects also pertains to locations, organizations, products, and, more to the point, website designs.

A good first user experience is critical when it comes to websites.

As you can gather from the image above, users browsing your website will be discerning and judgmental. We all are.

Due to the Halo Effect, as we surf the Internet, we’re constantly making judgment calls on company’s credibility based exclusively on the quality of their website design.

The Halo Effect makes it so that that initial and nearly immediate reaction will determine not only the response to the website but also, and this is critical, the response and perception of the services and products offered.

To emphasize how crucial the Halo effect is, let’s use a practical example – Let’s say you happen to be a commercial law firm. Unfortunately for you, your website has a clunky and annoying navigation bar. The implications are that your poor user experience is subconsciously biasing every person using your website’s navigation to view your legal service offering more critically.

That’s a hefty price to pay for a slightly crappy menu, or less than inspiring website design.


Halo effects have lasting impacts

According to a study performed by the Nielsen Norman Group, the halo effect determines future reactions, as well. This means that a bad user experience will leave users reluctant to work with you again, even if you redesign your website!

It’s a sad but well known fact that people don’t abide by logical reasoning processes – you can’t argue you’re way back from this position. In summary – YOU REALLY NEED TO GET IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME.


More on Cognitive Biases

Cognitive biases are a prime example of how it is our individual perception of reality, and not the objective truth, that dictate our behavior and while they may lead us to perceptual distortions, inaccurate judgments, & illogical interpretations of the world surrounding us, they are SUBCONSCIOUS and are HARDWIRED into how our brain works. They affect all of us, and we’re literally unconscious of the impacts they have on our behavior. Hence although there’s really no reason a crappy website should necessarily indicate that a business is incompetent, unfortunately it does.

Latest News