Visual Interest test

What does it do?

Measures the amount of visual interest for the pages in the website.

Example results

Example visual interest test results

Why is it important?

It is not essential for every webpage to be highly visually interesting. However, generally the more Important pages in a website should have a modicum of visual interest; extremely uninteresting pages can deter users. This is more important for some websites (e.g. entertainment and news) than for others (financial or legal services).

In particular this test can be useful for identifying relatively weak pages, and for comparing two websites against each other.

How is it measured?

Sitebeam determines the proportion of each webpage that is filled with a graphical element, versus text. Some types of graphical elements are considered more interesting, depending on their complexity, repetition and whether they are animated.

The relative uniqueness of each page is also rated, based on the size of visual elements on the page which are uniquely found on that page. For example, each news article in a website may contain a unique accompanying image. This uniqueness is expressed as a percentage – 100% means the page is completely unique.

The resulting scores for each page are saved into a table. The ultimate score is calculated from the average for each page, weighted by their respective Importance.

Technical explanation

  • The page is analyzed at a simulated resolution of 1,024 x 768 (reduced to account for standard toolbars etc)
  • Visual elements below this height have a reduced effect on visual interest.
  • Video is very slightly more interesting than static imagery. Most emphasis is on the overall design.
  • Some very rare visual elements cannot be measured reliably outside of a browser (e.g. some special cases of Flash animations which resize themselves). These estimate their size to 600×400.
  • All visual elements include conventional images (img tags) and background images applied through CSS are analyzed, in addition to multimedia elements like Flash animations.

Potential problems

This test has greater value for some websites than for others. Where it isn’t appropriate, you should exclude this test.

Don’t assume that your websites must always score a perfect 10 for this test. See Perfectionist fallacy.

The visual interest is determined by a computer and is of course subjective, as it would be if evaluated by humans. This doesn’t mean it can’t be useful however; particularly when analyzing large sites for weaknesses or comparing many sites in a consistent manner.

Being a computer, the perception of visual interest is entirely based on graphic fundamentals, not subject matter. This test is unable to understand that – for example – a photo of an attractive person may be typically more interesting than an equivalent image of a truck. This absence of bias is generally useful.

How to improve this score

Generally the more Important pages in your site should aim to be visually interesting. This doesn’t have to mean that every page should be filled with massive imagery, but you should aim for a professional design with some variety between pages other than text changes.

In particular, adding a single unique, reasonably sized image near the top of key pages adds a visual hook for users to identify, and indicates that the page has changed when links are clicked.

How to use this test effectively

Consider whether this test is of use to you. For sites which are especially unconcerned with visual appearance, you may wish to exclude this test.

Generally this test is of most value when used to:

  • Identify Important pages which are relatively uninteresting, and could benefit from improvement
  • Compare websites and determine which are more or less visually interesting, e.g. as a competitor or peer review

Of course software is no substitute for thorough testing by real people, but it can be an excellent complement.

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