SEO and the Halo Effect


Mark Fullilove

Technical SEO

The landscape of online marketing is constantly changing and it takes time to get up to speed with what search engines determine is correct etiquette.

Googles Webmaster Guidelines provides a great overview of both the on-page elements and also what to avoid in terms of content you produce and the off-page practises you should adhere to. The design and visual elements of websites are vitally important and we are almost superficial in our consumption of both products and information. This is perhaps best highlighted by a psychological cognitive bias called the halo effect.

Google's webmaster guidelines


What is the halo effect?

The halo effect is a term used to describe the effect that what we see as a positive trait of something or someone that can lead to a generalised positive conclusion of the very same person or thing. It was first coined by Edward Thorndike in the 1920s to describe officers in the army describing and generalising soldiers as good soldiers or bad soldiers based solely upon one trait of their personality.

Another study by Dion, Berscheid and Walster (1972) found that the visual appearance or attractiveness of a person had an effect on the perception of other traits relating to that person and also the success they would go on to have on in life. Further studies have also highlighted that the appearance or attractiveness of a person can have influence on decisions.

Applying this to websites and SEO

The way that we look at a website can often impact our decision making. For example, a company with an ecommerce element is likely to come under scrutiny if there is no visible sign of the small padlock for security purposes, nor any reference to any security on the website. Similarly, if the website is poorly designed and does not look attractive to the consumer then the likelihood of a conversion is going to be drastically reduced compared to a website that is designed well.

For someone who writes a blog it is important to think about the people that are being targeted. A well-maintained website with lots of quality content and a good design is likely to be much more attractive to someone than something that has infrequent content and is poorly maintained. An example of the latter can be a blog where the Latin example text has been left on a page and several pages are blank or with the words “coming soon”.

Poorly maintained website example


On-page SEO – important steps

Search engines want you to think less about SEO and more about the person you want to see or read the content. Getting the on-page elements right can be a good hook in attracting people to the website, which is good for traffic and the potential for people to either convert or contribute through commenting, sharing or natural linking of your content. Make sure your website is:

  • Visually appealing
  • Easy and simple to navigate
  • Accessible to all pages via relevant hyperlinks
  • Completed, and has relevant and quality content on each page
  • Quick to load and not slow
  • Adhering to Webmaster Guidelines

Content creation and marketing

An important part of SEO is sharing excellent content with people that may be interested in reading it. Part of this is by using social media to speak to people in the industry, get people to read and share your content and hopefully link naturally to it. However, part of this is the content creation process about giving people what they want. Something that contains a different angle, a different hook or is something that people want to read or hear is likely to get shared much more. Tips to take on board to make your content stand out are:

  • Avoid the overuse of large blocks of text
  • Dont make content too promotional
  • Don’t overuse website links on keywords
  • Use pictures with the appropriate tags to break up text
  • Make it attractive to the reader and find out what they want to read

Is the halo effect always right?

Whilst perceptions are a wonderful thing, it does not necessarily mean that what you see is what you get. The halo effect determines because of one positive factor that all other factors must be positive, which is naturally not true. A person that is attractive may not be the nicest person in the world and vice versa.

The principle is the same for websites: a well thought-out ecommerce website does not necessarily mean that other elements of the service may be good. Similarly, a stand-out visually appealing blog does not necessarily mean that the content is going to be accurate or even of a good standard.

That is why there is often a need for people to do their research before and also look at a number of other factors about a website. In addition, it further exemplifies that SEO is not just a principle but that there is a significant over-arching scientific and mathematical element at the centre of every successful campaign.

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