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Are You Making This Critical Mistake With Your Profile and Blog Images?

Eat Popcorn

It’s funny how, once you become aware of something, it stands out everywhere.

For those of you who are old enough to remember going to the movies, they would flash subliminal messages to get patrons to buy more popcorn.

The message flashed so fast that no one noticed on a conscious level.

Subconsciously it worked so well, the practice was outlawed.

We humans take in a lot of information without the benefit of being conscious about it.

While reading posts on Mirasee, I kept seeing subliminal visual messages of the wrong kind. I just couldn’t stand it any longer, so I wrote to Danny about a grievous error he was making.

Low and behold, an invitation to write guest post about this error – which many bloggers and marketers make – appeared in my inbox.

I see this subliminal messaging error all over the internet, all the time. One quick fix can skyrocket your engagement.

The Power of Subliminal Visual Messages

At Marketing Experiments by Meclabs, they did an ABC split test where they showed three different babies crawling along at the top of a web page for a company selling diapers.

The first baby looked straight at you, the second one looked away from the diaper box, and the third looked at the diaper box.

In ABC split testing, the third choice (baby looking at the diaper box) was the overwhelming winner in conversion. The least performing baby looked away from the diaper box.

This heat map of where a viewer’s eyes will focus their attention reflects the same results.

Baby Diaper Heat Map

This subliminal visual message is very powerful for selling a product. It’s equally as powerful if you’re trying to get someone to click a search result or read your awesome blog post.

A quick Google search shows two good examples.

In the first example below, Courtney has a warm smile. At the same time, she appears to be giving us the cold shoulder. The message comes across loud and clear: Courtney is turning her back on her own search results.

How to Claim Your Posts on Google - Courtney

In this next example, Julie also has a warm smile. By facing the text, she is inviting us to read her page on the search results.

So You Think You're a Legitimate Online Writer - Julie

What emotional reaction do you have to these images above? Which one would you naturally gravitate to?

I would argue looking at the subject, as Julie is doing, would be the more powerful message and invoke a more powerful response.

The Image That Drove Me Nuts (And Forced Me to Contact Danny)

When adding an image – whether it’s a gravatar, profile image, or an image to reinforce the message of your blog post – consider the emotional impact the image is telling. It may be the right image, but the direction of the image plays a pivotal role.

When I emailed Danny to point out the results of the baby split-testing experiment, he replied that he was familiar with the study. But, he had not made the connection to his own blog posts. Therefore, I get permission to pick on him.

Here is a screenshot of Mirasee’s December 2013 Best of the Web post:

Best of the Web December 2013 Original

Danny has a warm smile, but unfortunatly the subliminal message says something quite different: is he ashamed of his work?

The second subliminal message is that someone is winning by running away from his content. Not exactly his intentions, I would bet.

What Happens When We Flip the Images?

Best of the Web December 2013 Flipped

Now Danny has two very powerful subliminal messages working for him.

First, Danny’s charming smile is inviting us to read his awesome post. In fact, his post is so awesome that he’s reading along with us!

Second, the 3D man wins the race by getting to read the blog post first, and so can you!

Simply flipping the images not only frames the post properly, it also sends a powerful positive message without saying one single word.

Sending a Positive Subliminal Message

Wolf Lamb Facing Right

This is a powerful image for deceit. Flip it and see the difference.

Everything we do, online or offline, web or print, should abide by this simple principle: pay attention to the subliminal messages your images are sending.

That is, if you’re interested in having the reader take an action – read your content, click a button, go to your landing page from the search engines, etc. – make sure that your images are subliminally communicating a positive message.

Wolf Lamb Facing Left

The danger is much closer to the content, driving the emotional impact deeper into our subconscious.

I can’t guarantee the percentage of lift you’ll get in conversions. But I can say that it will provide an increase in the action you want your audience to take.

How to Flip Your Images Left or Right

You may get the desired effect by simply using align-left or align-right on your blog editing panel to make the change.

GIMP - Flip Horizontally

Gimp is a powerful image editor. Flipping an image is easy.

If you need to flip the image, Photoshop works well. Or, use free software like Gimp. Just drag your image in to Gimp, click on “image” on the top toolbar, select “transform” from the drop-down menu, and then select “flip horizontally.”

As long as you don’t have any text on the image, you’ll be good to go.

Have You Made This Mistake?

Look again at your gravatar, your Facebook profile image, your web content or blog post. Have you made this simple mistake? If you have, fix it.

Your Turn

When you saw Danny look away from his content in the first example, what emotional response did you feel? How about when the 3D man was winning by running away from Danny’s content?

I’d love to hear about your response. Post your comment or question below. Be sociable and share.

About Paul Burns

Paul Burns visits sites like Mirasee to better understand physiological triggers and learn to write better copy for his service company's website and blog at

70 thoughts on “Are You Making This Critical Mistake With Your Profile and Blog Images?

  1. Hi there Paul:

    After reading your post I took a quick look at my own image. What I found was, at best, a dilemma.

    For google search results my photo would be turned slightly away but I also have my Gravatar linked to my blog where it’s facing in toward or facing the text.

    Perhaps I just need a new photo that is facing straight forward because I’d rather not place my side bar on the left of my blog. It’d just feel wrong and not place the text to the left where I want it.

    Alas, the simple things in life are just never as simple as they should be.

    • Hey Barry, can you make your Google+ profile look to the right towards your content on search results and your gravatar image in the proper position? But yeah looking straight would be better than looking away.

      • Thank Paul.

        That’s something I’ll have to look into. But perhaps straight would be best in the end. Having the same image that I’m modestly branded too facing two ways would most likely just look — odd.

        Now to find or get another image where I don’t look like a troll or something. Now that’s the real task.

    • Barry,

      Can you just create a mirror image of our photo, and change it only in your gravatar? Or will that image still be pulled in search/google results?

      I don’t remember exactly how the gravatar image works when connected to other platforms.

      • The Google plus the image from Google+ and gravatar pull from your gravatar account. I don’t believe having two pics facing the correct way would harm a brand at all.

          • Barry I would use your Google+ image for searches with the rel= author and your gravatar image for post. If you still have a conflict use an image instead. The image placement of yourself can also be played with. Do you have a link to look at?

            I went to your site and saw your image at the bottom of your page. The subliminal effect I’m discussing has no effect when the image is not associated with any action.

          • Sorry about that. Today is web day and I was reorganizing my mobile site.

            Some how it got messed up where the mobile site shows in both firefox and IE. Strange.

            Anyway I’m working on fixing that issue right now but the image doesn’t display on the mobile site.

            Todays site issues are a whole different problem but I’m getting there. 🙂

  2. I love this article! I especially felt what you were saying with the first example. Yes, Courtney DOES look like she’s giving her content the cold shoulder. I also thought the flip you did was awesome. It feels so much more inviting when the pictures are turned toward the content. It brings your eyes right in!

  3. As a designer, I am faced with this on many levels, day in and day out. It has become second nature for me, but I do stress its importance to my clients. There are so many subliminal things that occur when it comes to design and branding, right down to the color combinations you use and the font choices we make. Good post!

      • Hi Paul, Yes that’s what happens with me now for the past 20 years! I am constantly looking at menus, signs ads, you name it and always critique them in my mind. Its also like when you buy a new car and all of a sudden you start to see that exact same car way more often that you used to.

    • Thanks Michael, I kept seeing Danny gravatar looking away and just had to bring it up with him, and your welcome about Gimp, it’s a great software for those who don’t have Photoshop.

  4. Hi Paul!
    So glad you brought this up! I used to work as a book production artist and that was a cardinal rule in our layout dept. If we had an image placed within the layout, we had to make sure the content (person, animal, leading lines etc) was leading/facing INWARD toward the spine to help keep the reader’s eyes from leaving the page. Sometimes this meant changing the image’s location if we were unable to flip it because of licensing restrictions, so it was important to plan for. Great great article and it’s an easy, subtle change we can all make. Thank you and Danny for posting!

  5. Paul, I looked and I found—exactly what you were talking about! I especially got the running figure image running the wrong way. I can’t talk long as I’m off to Gimp my photos. Thanks so much!

  6. Thank you and oh, my gosh did this come at the right time. You are right and Danny looks better reading his post. His smile even seems brighter than the downward face. Good Call!! I’ll share this post, gratefully.

  7. Shucks! I have that problem, too! I’ll try using Gimp to fix it.

    My question is: does that apply to images of books in the sidebar? Most graphic designers create images with the books facing to the right, showing the spine on the left. It doesn’t feel right to me to have my book facing AWAY from the main content of my website (my sidebar is on the right side).

    I’ve tried having my book’s image created facing the left, but the image my designer created just didn’t look as good and professional that way. Any thoughts?

    • Hi Debra, I don’t think this would apply to a book image as we all expect the spine to be on the right. Do you have a link for the page to look at? Maybe having an image of you looking at the book would counter the effect. Or just an image of a pair of eyes looking at it.

      At our office, we had an honor system for putting a quarter in the box for coffee and it was being taken advantage of. Simply by putting a pair of drawn eyes on a piece of paper right above the coffee pot looking at the person improved the money count by 100%. Subconsciously they where being watched. Interesting hey.

  8. That is very interesting. I would think that it would make more sense to connect with readers to look straight into the camera. so its interesting to me that it is the direction that people are looking at that is what helps conversions

    • Morning Faigie, The experiment by MacLabs and the baby looking at the diapers and the heat map really demonstrate the power and the effect it has.

  9. Paul, does it go same for avatars? And what about caricatures?

    Thanks for pointing this out and I’m amazed (and pretty impressed) that how kindheartedly Danny let himself be an example for his readers so that we won’t repeat this mistake. 🙂

    Thanks, Paul.

  10. Great post. There’s a saying in spanish that goes like this: Even to the best hunter, the hare will ran away.
    This small detail is big and very important. Thanks a lot!

  11. Such a great point! People underestimate the power of subliminal messages in their marketing. In my work I see it over and over again – small changes that you easily make to your website can lead to much higher conversions.

    It’s a natural human urge to follow someone
    else’s gaze and follow objects in their line of sight – thus the baby with the diaper box results. One of my clients simply added a picture of herself pointing to a link to her newsletter and saw a dramatic increase in click-through rates. Here is more of her story on my blog: When someone points to or looks at something, we automatically shift our concentration to that object and think about it.

  12. Wow! This article makes so much sense. I never truly thought about the direction of the image, I just wanted an image that captured me at my best. Comparing the two pictures of Danny proves quite a point. I am on my way over to look at my profile images, as I know that they are going to need to be flipped. Thank you for this fantastic article.

  13. You have blown my mind!!! I’ve always thought things sort of look better with the images looking toward the content, but you’ve taken this farther than I imagined!

    How cool!

    I am going to wring this for all it’s worth when I redesign my site – this is going to be a ton of fun. Maybe I’ll add a little cartoon doing a Vanna White pose by the subscribe button 😉

  14. Brilliant Paul! I had this exact discussion with a client yesterday! I’m a copywriter but I’ve been lucky enough to work with (and hopefully pick up some good habits from) some wonderfully talented designers.

    I received the latest edit of a video I’m working on to find that the client had changed a few images (causing the Art Director to blow a minor blood vessel). The worst offence was the removal of an engaging image of a young woman graduate, smiling straight at the viewer and its replacement with a young woman graduate staring down at her desk! NO! An e-mail in support of said Art Directors pleas for reinstatement was duly fired off. We’re still waiting on the reply…

  15. Genius. I’m not sure if it would matter know that I have it in mind, but I’m guessing subliminally it would. I’m definitely going to keep this in mind.

    • Hi, Jevon it definitely matters even your gravatar on this post would benefit by being flipped. Even thou you didn’t asked you could benefit by having a better color background for more contrast.

  16. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for these insights. My profile shot faces forward so is probably not so bad, but I looked back at some of the images I have used in my posts and can see room for improvement. I will be more conscious of the subliminal impact in future posts!

  17. I first learned this as a journalist, but it’s always great to get a reminder. You did such a wonderful job of illustrating it with Danny’s images, pointing out the vast differences in emotional tone.

  18. Brilliant, Paul! I know about this too, in photography, but I’d never have correlated it to my posts. Thanks for putting this in my mind!


  19. Great article, and good to see the difference it makes. There are times when I’ve thought my images look off, and I’ve changed the alignment so they’re facing the blog content. Now I know why they looked odd, and now I know to pay particular attention to it.

    I don’t think I have a G+ pic, but will definitely find a replacement for Gravatar and also Facebook. And all blog posts will have more images aligned and facing the right way 🙂

  20. I’d heard of this but never knew the reason: Keep the photo facing business-ward to keep the reader on task. Well. Okay. If they are that easily led, who am I to mess up a good thing?
    I have no idea which way all my photos face, but will check now, and change if needed.

  21. As an artist and doing estate staging, I know to make the items on the “canvas” flow, so your eye goes from one focal point to another. I don’t know why I didn’t apply that same technique to my writing style.

    Now that I look at the images in your examples, I can see the change in the way I view the content and the way my eyes travel across the page. Just like in house staging. I have to go through all my posts and make corrections. Thank you for the lesson!

  22. Hello Paul, Interesting article and I agree with what you have said, Images tend to tell a lot indirectly and thanks for making us aware of it. I need to try using gimp

  23. Wow – who woulda thunk it? That’s crazy what a difference flipping a picture makes. Wasn’t aware of it, but now that you brought it to my attention, I see it everywhere. Thanks for the insight!

  24. Don’t just flip human faces in Photoshop. Our faces are not symmetrical. If you switch left and right sides by flipping the picture, there is ANOTHER subliminal effect of looking slightly inhuman. Take a new picture where you face the way you want.

    • There is nothing wrong with taking another photo. But I don’t think anyone could look at Danny’s image I flipped and tell there is anything wrong with the image. I flip my images all the time depending on how it lay’s out on the page. Your image above would be perfect flipped and looking at your post, instead of away. You might see a slight difference in the flipped image side by side to a photo taken looking in that direction. But if you don’t have one flip it. And it’s not just our Avatar but even the 3D running man running towards the content vs. running away and those images are not available in both directions.

      • The studies I’ve seen show that most people can’t see anything wrong with the flipped image, but it produces a statistically measurable drop in liking the picture. I don’t know the comparative strength of that effect vs. the direction of the gaze. It would be interesting to research!

    • YES!!! I SO agree! I just commented about this below… called it the evil twin. It’s the creepiest thing ever and I completely noticed when Danny’s photo flipped. It is such a repulsive phenomenon.

        • Appreciate you putting up the link, but that is discussing how we are used to seeing ourselves in the mirror. Not how we view a flipped image. I stand by my opinion on the value of having your image facing the content, would be much more influential than not flipping it and looking away. If you have the correct facing image awesome but if not flip it. On my about us page I made sure my team is all looking inwards to the center of the web page, when possible and I defy anyone to tell which one’s I flipped. scroll to the bottom. by the way the site is still under construction so it is not complete yet.

  25. It’s too bad that flipping an image of a person’s face makes them appear to be their own evil twin. Seriously… my mom photoshopped my husband into a family picture while he was deployed (don’t even get me started on the creepiness of that) and she had to flip his face to make it fit into the photo better.

    It CREEPED ME THE HELL OUT because it was seriously like looking at his evil twin.

    And the same thing happened the first time I saw Danny’s flipped image. I was like AHH! What IS that?
    Honestly, for your own headshot/profile picture, I think it’s a better idea to go ahead and take a couple of different ones, if possible, versus mirroring it.

    Because, you know. Evil twin.

    Now for the wolf in sheep’s clothing and other non-human (excluding possibly stock photos you’ve paid for) images? Go for the flip!

    Great article. Great points. But just missing that one important aspect. hahaha.

    • I bet I could send you two images one the original and one flipped and you would not be able to tell which one was which… Especially if your not intimate with the person. Sure having several images would be great, but if you don’t no foul.

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