Man choosing portraits from a gallery.

By Paul Parcellin, Staff Writer
November 30, 2015

You know that you ought to use good images on your websites. But did you know that the pictures you choose can either attract visitors or cause them to flee?

You spend a good deal of time crafting the words on your pages, and you also hope your pictures will make everything look better. Studies show that headlines draw visitors in and get them reading text. But part of the storytelling process takes place when the reader sees your pictures. The image and the text must merge and present a logical, unified whole. If the photo and your text are not in harmony your message may be misunderstood or ignored.

You probably hope that your photos and graphics will help:

    • Attract visitors
    • Make them read your texts
    • Break up the monotony of an all-text page
    • Illustrate any products you're selling
    • Increase your conversion rate

More than Colorful

If you’re using images as mere decorations to add zest to your pages you’re probably taking the wrong path. A picture that merely splashes color onto a page and gives it some visual variety is probably not doing what it could – helping you get your point across. 

Many will likely ignore an image that seems unrelated to the topic they’re reading about. And if the reader doesn’t ignore the unrelated image it’s liable to confuse him or her. It’s probably a good idea to produce clear and easy-to-read messages. Your readers will avoid wasting their precious time struggling with your unfocused message. 

Give it Some Thought

So, how do you know when an image is the right one – or the wrong one?

If you’ve selected images from one of the online stock photo websites, you should look closely at your choices. Decide whether or not they are directly related to your topic. It might be a big, splashy photo that you think will grab the reader’s attention. But if the connection between the photo and the text is hard to work out, the reader’s eyes will likely glaze over, and he or she will move along to something else.

Phone Company Misfire

A leading cellular provider displayed photos of a well-known celebrity holding one of their phones to her ear. But, shoppers complained that the photo didn’t display the information they needed. They wanted to know if the buttons were large and easy to read – something many elderly customers insist on. The photo was attractive enough, but frustrating to prospects who want specific information.

The bottom line: the photo did not persuade visitors to buy more phones.

A lesson we can take from this experience is that any image you use must do something that helps get your message across. In the case of the cell phones, the picture did not reveal critical information that would persuade prospects to become customers. It was an attractive image, but images won’t get by on attractiveness alone.

Many with multiple self-portraits

What an Image can Do

When you’re choosing images you should consider several ways that photos and graphics can work for you:

This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you’ve ever perused a real estate site you may have seen more photos of salespeople than houses. In fact, you may be unable to find a picture of the property that you’re interested in, but usually the Realtor’s portrait is prominently displayed.

Unless the Realtor comes with the property and doubles as a personal valet, there’s no need for you to see him or her.

Show what you’re trying to sell. Pictures of the MacBook Air show how slim and compact the machine is. That is its main selling point – it can’t compete with other laptops in speed. But by emphasizing its size and weight advantage over the others, Apple sold a lot of them. 

You’ll probably want to use pictures that show the product’s best feature, particularly if, like the cell phone buttons, they are important to your customers. 

When Text Trumps Pictures

But photos may not always tell customers what they want to know. Ikea’s site, for instance, has many pictures of furniture and home furnishings. You can assume that customers want to look at these items before they buy them. However, customers browsing Best Buy’s online catalog of electronics are probably more interested in the descriptive text on the site than the pictures – most TV sets look alike.

Improving Readability

Place a photo at the top of a column of text and let the type wrap around the photo. This approach has two benefits. First, it shortens the lines of text near the start or your article, product description or whatever kind of material you’re presenting. If the photo works well with your text, it also can help tell the story you want to convey to others. It can also help attract the reader’s attention and draw him or her into the text you’ve put on the page.

So, why shorter lines of text? Usually, shorter lines of text are easier to read than long ones. When you make the reader’s job easier there’s a better chance that he or she will stick around to read your entire piece and will absorb your message.

Pictures of You, Your Team

It’s not a good idea to put up pictures of yourself and forget to show your audience pictures of what you’re selling. But that doesn’t mean you should hide your face. In fact, it’s a good idea to put up a photo of you and other staff members in your firm.

People like to know that they’re doing business with people, not with robots or some impersonal conglomerate. In the words of Web usability guru Jakob Nielsen, “People want to do business with people they know, like and trust. If you don’t show your photo, people often think the reason why is a bad one, and they assume you’re untrustworthy. Look at it like this: Would you ever buy something from someone wearing a mask?  I wouldn’t.” 

Finding the Right Photo

So what do you do if you have great text and need pictures? You may find something offered by the online photo distributors that is like the image you had in mind, and you might find that’s about the best that you can do. The next step might be to take your own picture, especially if you’re handy with a camera. If not, think about hiring someone to take the exact photo you want, or produce the perfect graphic for your pages. You can ask around and probably find someone locally who produces good work and charges a rate that fits your budget. You might also try some of the freelancer sites that can connect you with a talented photographer or graphic artist. On some sites, people doing creative work for hire bid on projects. If you can connect with the right image makers that could save you a few dollars and still get what you need.


Post Script

It takes hours to craft dazzling sales pitches and useful, targeted blog posts. So why water down your powerful Web pages with mediocre images. Your photos and graphics should send a message that’s as sharply focused as your text.

It’s worth it to take extra time and select the photo or graphic that fits just right with your content. You can write a snappy headline and create crisp, informative text. But the images you choose are like billboards on a dark stretch of highway. They can encourage him or her to keep reading, and enhance the message that you’re trying to communicate. But an image that doesn’t fit the text may confuse the reader and cause him or her to look elsewhere for something more interesting. It’s not a bad idea to choose something that will make your readers stop, and drink in the message you are providing.


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