Do Images Matter? The New York Times

Do Images Matter? The New York Times

One of the incredible benefits of the Internet is our ability to test and refine website design and gather usage metrics. In the print world, testing different layouts and determining whether they really yielded different behavior was expensive, and it was difficult to correlate behavior against comments. But online, it’s becoming commonplace for organizations to employ A/B or multivariate testing to see how different designs affect usage, and The New York Times is no exception.

I wasn’t surprised to notice The Times testing two different layouts: with and without images “below the fold” — no doubt an effort to see whether a teaser image would encourage higher clicks from the homepage. (After all, more clicks means more advertising inventory)

Here’s the “control” design:

nyt-control.jpg

And here’s the “B” test:

nyt-b.jpg

How will we know the “winner?” Just wait a few weeks, and if you don’t see any change to the homepage, it’s likely images didn’t increase click through.

The A/B test is fantastic because it’s a pure collection of user interaction. As photographers, we are inclined to believe that pictures can help sell a story better, and we know this to be anecdotally true from the print world.

Will the same hold true online? What do you think will happen?

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There are 10 comments for this article
  1. Jon T at 6:53 am

    And this will also go to show that the choice of images will be absolutely critical to click-throughs. Especially when they are small – and form rather than detail is what matters…

  2. Donald E Giannatti at 8:15 am

    I would imagine the image page will pull more. From a pure web interface perspective, that is a lot of unbroken text and can be somewhat off-putting. The images lend a visual break as well as providing a context for the text blocks. I will be surprised if the ‘A’ one pulls more. One of the reasons I don’t like the NYT online is that it is way too much non-contextual text, and that cannot hold my attention. Even newspapers have ads and images to break up the page. And of course, people read differently online than they do with a printed piece.

  3. Derrick Young at 9:12 am

    I have to believe the page with images will pull more viewers. We are a visual society and as much as we have become information addicts there is still that approach of judging books by the cover. All the same it is an interesting test and can’t wait to see the result

  4. CTyer at 10:00 am

    Just based on my personal preference as I read the NYTimes online quite a bit..the one with image thumbnails would attract my attention first.

  5. @PictageSimon at 2:07 pm

    Very cool observation Allen. I’m surprised it’s taken this long for the NYT to use more images on this page. Images add context and evoke emotion (positive or negative), and the visual sense is tightly bound to memory. so if well executed, a web page that includes images will typically increase engagement metrics (time on page/site, repeat visits etc). Will be very interesting to see the outcome here. Thanks for sharing.

  6. @PictageSimon at 2:08 pm

    Very cool observation Allen. I’m surprised it’s taken this long for the NYT to use more images on this page. Images add context and evoke emotion (positive or negative), and the visual sense is tightly bound to memory. so if well executed, a web page that includes images will typically increase engagement metrics (time on page/site, repeat visits etc). Will be very interesting to see the outcome here. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Erik Neves at 12:18 pm

    Reading on the web is actually browsing. The images create an easier target for the eyes to scan the page. It also confers more white space, making the design lighter and not as heavy as the text-only version. Images version FTW.

  8. Piotr GRAJEK at 1:10 pm

    Well, I look at it this way: IT DEPENDS; in that publishing platform like The Times it is all about information first and for most. Pictures can only enrich the content and make it more interesting. In That perspective yes, images can make it better. BUT, portfolios or similar kinds of presentation, where the image is the information there is no way to make it more “clickable” with only words and tiny pictures. >> foto-horyzont.pl

  9. Sander Hermsen at 4:03 am

    A nice idea, too bad it’s not done very neatly. Based on the screenshots above, I would not be surprised when the entries with the pictures get more clicks. But there is no way of knowing whether that is because of the pictures, or because there is a clear hierarchical distinction between the items with the pictures (much larger / bolder font, more white space) and the other, ‘lesser’ items that attracts more attention and makes them seem more important. It would have been better to test layout B using a site with pictures and a site without those pictures, keeping all other factors the same…

  10. Brooke at 11:50 am

    Any thoughts on what NYT ultimately decided on this? From what I see, they have boosted the images quite a bit and have only a small, short line of text. For browsing, it looks like images are critical.

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