How to Choose the Right Images for Your Website
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Contrary to popular internet “statistics”, there is no research to back up that humans process visuals 60,000 times faster than text (and here’s a fun blog post that exposes this), but there is a legit body of research that points to the fact that visual cues help us to better retrieve and remember information.
“The research outcomes on visual learning make complete sense when you consider that our brain is mainly an image processor (much of our sensory cortex is devoted to vision), not a word processor. In fact, the part of the brain used to process words is quite small in comparison to the part that processes visual images.” – Haig Kouyoumdjian Ph.D.
Much of this research targets learning, but can easily be applied to marketing on the web simply because one of the goals for most websites is that your website visitor learns what you want them to about your business. Besides that, there is plenty of other evidence that visuals play a very important role on the web.
Read on to learn more about how images are effective and how to choose the right ones for your small business website.
Know what fits your brand.
Brand is one of those marketing words that has kind of a nebulous meaning to most non-marketing people. Some think of it as just a company’s logo, while others have heard things like what Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos has said about it, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” All of these just add to the confusion if you’re not familiar with the marketing world.
Here’s the deal – there are many aspects to branding. There are the solid, well-defined things such as your logo, the colors you use, and the typeface you use. There’s the aspect of the voice of the brand with slogans, copy for the website and print pieces. Then there’s another aspect that goes more into the visual and emotional territory such as what your company is all about. What do you stand for (mission, values, etc.)? What’s your vibe? What’s your company’s personality? What’s your work environment? All of this makes up what marketers call your brand.
Define those things for your business and find or create images that convey them.
If you have a brick and mortar location/office and people who work for you, if you provide an experiential service, or have a product-based business, I always recommend hiring a professional photographer. There’s nothing better than personalized, professionally shot photos for your website. I have had clients such as law firms, fitness trainers, retail locations, health care providers, and bakeries all use personal photos on their websites. For most businesses, it makes sense. You can visually convey exactly who your customers or clients will be interacting with, what your location is like, details of your products, and how you work. This can instill a sense of confidence in the viewer. You’re real. Your business is legit, you do what you say you do, and someone could get a good look at your actual products. In a world where there are so many digital “walls” to hide behind, it’s nice to see personalization on a site.
Besides, studies continue to show that real images are what website viewers look at the most (source). If the user is in the consideration phase of the buying process, push them over the edge with personal, high quality images.
This should be a given, but I see too many really awful images on small business websites to not mention it. Notice how I mentioned above that hiring a professional photographer and having high quality images is a good move. You’ll definitely get a return on that investment because your site visitors will see exactly what you want them to.
Behold the difference between a professionally done photo vs. a client provided photo. Which do you think makes a better impression on a potential customer considering hiring a custom tile installer?
Avoid lame images.
I’m continually amazed how many small businesses still opt for throwing up a stock image of a couple business people shaking hands, or any other number of overdone, contrived, and hollow images with no soul whatsoever. This is the equivalent of buying a nice picture frame and not putting your own photo in it, but leaving the generic image that came with it in there and hanging it on your wall.
This is why so many designers rally against using too much stock photography. Oftentimes (usually because of budget constraints), it’s unavoidable, but it’s also not that difficult to at least find images that are more natural and not so staged. Once you’ve sussed out what types of images fit your brand, you’ll have a better idea on what images to avoid. It helps to think about what you see overdone in your industry as well.
If this is your first rodeo, and you’re definitely using stock photos, here are some general types of images to avoid (with stock examples) …
- The handshake (EXAMPLE) – Just don’t go here. No one needs a handshake on their website. We’re all over looking at, “making the deal” schlock.
- Very obviously staged (EXAMPLE – this one even has a handshake! UGH) – No matter what your industry, there are plenty of obviously staged images and most people can detect pretty quickly that they are indeed staged. Unless there is something really compelling about a staged image or it’s done in a purposeful way (EXAMPLE), you might want to avoid it.
- Forced images (EXAMPLE) – I think we’ve all seen enough of the, “multi-tasking person with tablet, phone and cup of coffee” images. There are other super overdone images for various industries. For example, gavels for lawyers and stethoscopes for doctors.
- A stock image that features a really old piece of tech (EXAMPLE) – To be fair, I want to separate old from vintage. Sometimes, especially if it fits your brand or a visual theme you’ve got going, vintage works (EXAMPLE).
- Any image that has a high probability to make your visitor silently question, WTF (EXAMPLE) – Sure, thumbnail images for click bait posts might be able to pull this off, but on your small business website, you should never leave your visitor scratching their head. I’ve seen more of this leak onto company websites probably because of someone misinterpreting the proper use of memes or trying to cash in on some, “ninjas and unicorns are popular with the kids these days!” type of thing.
- Any image that might be offensive or in poor taste (EXAMPLE) – It doesn’t have to be overtly offensive either. We’re living in a time where so many are offended by so much, so tread carefully. Use the same logic that you would with a 3 month old egg in your fridge – if in doubt, throw it out!
One other thing that I feel I should mention because it keeps coming up, is you should never just go on Google images, some other website, or random place on the internet and grab images for your site. Not only is this just bad form, it can get you in hot legal water for copyright infringement or use of a rights managed photo without proper payment. JUST DON’T DO IT. There are some sites now where you can grab free photos if you must (pexels.com and unsplash.com are two of the more popular ones).
Hit your visitor in the feels.
Images that evoke a feeling in your visitor can be highly effective at pulling them into your site and driving them to take an action. What you want to be cautious about is what feelings your image actually stirs up. Many a company has missed the mark with something and caused the wrong emotions. Using an image just to use it, let’s say, a picture of a baby, is almost never a good choice. A baby picture might be cute, but if you can’t find a clever way to use the image so that it makes sense with your company/product/service, the audience you’re trying to reach, and the marketing message you’re trying to get across, it’s going to look forced and random.
So think long and hard about what emotions you want to convey in your visitor and find or create images that portray that in either a conceptual way or in a way that actually features a visual representation of your target audience.
For example, let’s say your company provides custom travel tours. Your main target audience is 20-30 year-olds who are into experiencing the fun and adventure one of your custom tours could offer them. If you choose images that align with these concepts, you’re likely to have more success engaging a visitor of that demographic. It’s also a serious benefit if those images are actually young people who are on one of your tours (remember, go personal whenever possible).
So put yourself in your visitor’s shoes and figure out what emotions you want to inspire and what mood you want to convey before you start making your image selections.
A theme to your images is okay, if done properly.
Themes can be a great way to make your company memorable to a site visitor. However, if you’re considering a theme, you still have to make sure it works. All great themes start with a concept. That concept should be something that your target audience would “get”. It shouldn’t be so conceptual that it causes confusion. It’s a website afterall, not high art.
A theme can also happen with color, or the lack thereof. Choosing all black and white images, is a good example.
The bottom line is a visual theme still has to fit your brand and fit the messages, mood, and emotions you want to covey.
Where you place images on your site can also have a positive or negative effect. Besides creating a tone, conveying a concept, or inspiring an emotion, images are also visual guides/cues and focal points.
Many websites these days have what designers call a “hero image” (basically just a huge image at the top of a web page, usually the home page). This is one area where the right image can attract the attention you want, but also an area where if there’s nothing of real value paired with it (for example, some call to action) or the image doesn’t really fit your brand or connect with your audience, it’s a huge waste of valuable real estate. Don’t just use a hero image because it’s popular these days.
There’s all sorts of statistics floating around the web about how images in blog posts make people read the blog post more (notice I’ve got a few in this one). This same goes for a well placed image on an informational web page. Adding an image that adds visual information to your text information just plain ol’ makes it more readable.
Combining text over an image or around an image (such as a page title or headline followed by an image) can also work to focus your viewer’s attention and guide them to read what you want them to.
Don’t mess with the aspect ratio.
Aspect ratio is the ratio of the width to the height of an image. Messing with this is a major offense to any self-respecting designer but it also can make your visitors immediately get the wrong impression. I see this most often on DIY websites or websites that use a pre-made theme or template that is not coded in such a way to avoid this.
I’ll just leave the images below speak for themselves.
The wrap up …
I hope you now have some solid tips to choosing or creating the right images for your small business website.
- Know what images fit your brand
- Use personalized images and hire a professional photographer whenever possible
- Avoid using overdone, questionable, and otherwise lame images
- Be conscientious about image placement throughout your site
- Mind the technical stuff such as aspect ratio
Need some help with custom design or choosing the right images for your website? That’s what we’re here for!
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