Attractiveness has a big impact on our buying decissions. Susan M. Weinschenk mentioned in her book “Neuro Web Design” that we are more likely to listen to the sales person and make the purchase if the sales person is similar to us in characteristics such as age and dress and if we find the sales person to be attractive.
We’re tend to say, that we’re not affected by attractiveness, but these decissions are made in our unconscious part of the brain, the “old brain”, which ensures our survival and decides if we should flee, eat, or have sex (in a very simplified view).

The halo effect

B.J. Fogg mentioned in his book “Persuasive Technology” that psychologists do not agree on why attractiveness is so important in persuasion, but a plausible explenation is that attractiveness produces a “halo effect”.
The halo effect is a cognitive bias whereby certain characteristics create a positive or negative impression, which influence further perception and decissions.
So just an unconscious impression influence our further decission.

What does it all has to do with my website?

Furthermore B.J. Fogg writes: “Similarly, physically attractive computing products are potentially more persuasive than unattractive products. If an interface, device, or onscreen character is physically attractive […], it may benefit from the halo effect; users may assume the product is also intelligent, capable, and credible.”
Or how Paul Watzlawick would say: “You cannot not cummunicate.” The design of your website leave a mark and influence your users’ further decissions.

First impressions are formed in 50 milliseconds

Researchers led by Dr. Gitte Lindgaard at Carleton University in Ontario took a closer look to the halo effect and found out that it only needs 50 milliseconds for people to decide how much they like a web page. In this time people aren’t able to see any details to make a statement about the informational content. So it’s very unlikely that there is any cognition involved.

Conclusion

So what does this mean for your website? Even if your website provides a high usability and relevant content, the first impression of your website can fail to impress a user, if it is negative.
So a professional, good looking design is important for a positive impression and the basis for optimizing your conversion rates.

Further Reading

Why attractive websites perform better

Notes
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Manuel Ressel is Conversion Designer at Web Arts AG, Germany. Raising customer's emotion on e-commerce sites is his passion.

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