Usability, Web Design

The Halo Effect and Your Website

Saint NicholasThink of a classic medieval painting with some saint basking in the light of his shiny, gold halo. That halo tells us everything we need to know about him. All the angelic characteristics associated with the halo get transferred to the man underneath it. He must be a great guy!

In social psychology, the Halo Effect is classified as a cognitive bias where an individual transfers his feelings about one aspect of something (a person, product, brand, website, etc.) and extrapolates it into an overall opinion about it. For example, he smiled at me when I walked in so I think he's a nice person. If we like or are impressed with one part, we will transfer those positive feelings to the whole. We love it! This phenomenon can also work negatively. If we dislike something or are disappointed with it, we'll think the whole thing stinks. He gave me a dirty look so he's obviously a horrible person.

So what does the Halo Effect have to do with your website? Actually, everything. If visitors have an enjoyable experience, even if it's a short one, they'll consider it a good website. If they visit it for a quick check of your application deadline and they find what they need easily, they'll transfer that good feeling to your entire site. If the same quick visit causes them anxiety because they can't find the information they're looking for, they'll think your whole website is a great big mess. The Halo Effect is not fair, but it is a definite reality.

First Impressions Count

The Halo Effect also reinforces the saying that "first impressions count" since opinions are created based on the initial contact. If you go to a new restaurant for the first time and have an amazing meal, you believe it's a great restaurant and it will be extremely difficult to persuade you to believe otherwise. Of course the reverse is also true. If you find a bug in your food at a new restaurant, no matter how much they apologize and bring you a new plate, you'll still think it's a terrible place and convincing you otherwise would not be easy. When it comes to your website, you don't want to have to fight your way back from a bad first impression.

Design vs. Usability

Without a doubt, you want your website to look beautiful as well as operate beautifully. However, when it comes to a website's first impression, it just might be "better to look good than to feel good." The initial impact of a well-designed site can draw attention away from any glitches in usability. But a perfectly functioning, highly usable site will not compensate for a negative first impression caused by poor design and content. Once again the Halo Effect comes into play and visitors are transferring judgment based on one characteristic to the whole system.

  • Design Features - Knowing the substantial influence design can have on a visitor's first impression, focus on keeping it simple and professional. The consistency provided by utilizing OU Campus templates plays an important part in that visual impression. A well-designed website is easy on the eyes, so avoid text that is difficult to read or too small. Break your text up using headings, subheads, and bullet points to make it more scannable.
  • Content Relevance - Content should focus on the needs of your visitors, be easy to read, and always be current. Inaccurate or out-of-date content is a major factor that can dim your halo, so using a CMS like OU Campus that makes it easy for content contributors to keep it fresh is vital.

A Bigger Impact

Websites can be a lot of work. Their creation can be expensive and the content has to be constantly updated. But the bottom line is that it is imperative that your institution has a website you are proud of. The Halo Effect goes beyond simply affecting your website to having a significant impact on your institution. The 2015 E-Expectations Report found that nearly 80% of college-bound students said that a campus website affects their perception of an institution. The report also found that more than 70% of them use your website to answer their questions about your college or university, so it is critical that it makes a solid first impression when they first visit. Your website needs to be your crowning jewel so you can rest assured that the Halo Effect it is creating is a positive one that shines a bright light on your institution.

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Sara Arnold

Web Communications Manager

Starting her career in academic publishing, Sara is a stickler for grammar and makes sure that every "i" is dotted and every "t" crossed in all OmniUpdate marketing communications that go out the door. A Camarillo native, Sara enjoys spending time with family, camping, doing anything crafty, and rooting for her ASU Sun Devils.