In my previous post I discussed the most useless types of stock photos that can actually be harmful to your site and blog. Now let's take a look at the ways to use images more effectively and with better results.
Why do you need to pay so much attention to the visual content of websites?
Maybe to get 102.5% increase in conversions, like Highrise, who added an image of a happy customer:
Or demonstrate your product’s feature using just 1 picture, as once Apple did:
If you are still unsure about the importance of visual content, here are some more general stats to back my point:
- 40% of people will respond better to visual information than plain text.
- On Facebook, photos perform best for likes, comments, and shares when compared to text, video, and links.
- Pinterest generated more referral traffic for businesses than Google+, YouTube, and LinkedIn combined.
And you'll be surprised at how easy but powerful some of the following image tips are!
1. Dig for images in more places
Even if you have a regular subscription at a popular website selling stock images, you can consider alternative sources of pictures and photos:
- Use the advanced Google Images search http://www.google.com/advanced_image_search
You can specify the keywords, file size and many other parameters, but pay close attention to the "usage rights" filter:
Yep, it helps quickly filter out the copyrighted pictures and search for the free ones.
- Look at Flickr and DeviantArt
Some of the best photographers share their works on these two websites, and the awesome thing is that they also share images under the Creative Commons license. If you fall in love with an image with the mark "All rights reserved," send a personal message to an author asking if you can use their work with the attribution link. My experience shows that most photographers have nothing against this practice.
- Search at Wikimedia Commons
- MorgueFile and Stock.xchng are two more good websites. There’s one thing you should know – the premium (paid) photos on Stock.xchang are placed at the very top, so you can scroll down a bit to see free images. Before downloading and using any image, please read the usage rights and when attribution is required, provide a link.
- Free Range Stock
On free Range Stock you can find high-quality images and textures (images are at least 2400 x 1600 pixels) that you can use for free on your website or blog.
Unsplash.com offers "free (do whatever you want) hi-resolution photos."
Every 10 days 10 new photos are added to the collection. Though these photos won't suit every business, most of them are of superb quality and can fit many blogs and online magazines.
2. Create your own unique photos
Before you skip this point (and I know many would love to do that), let me assure you that taking pictures for blog posts doesn't require professional skills and huge experience. In many cases, all you need to do is choose the right angle at daytime (for maximum light) and apply some color correction filters.
If you think that non-professional photos are not popular, take a look at these most recent Instagram stats.
If you are ready to accept the challenge of taking pictures for your blog, remember these simple principles:
- Take care of lighting – use natural lighting whenever you can. When taking pictures indoor, use a flash.
- Crop smartly – any photo can look so differently when various types of cropping are applied.
As a newbie, learn the rule of thirds in the first place, and cropping will get much easier.
- Get an interesting perspective – bend your knees, lie on the floor, stand on the table – you'll be amazed at how objects look at different angles.
- Make use of contrast - Try to get your blacks as black as possible and your whites as white as possible. Contrast small shapes with large shapes.
- Be creative – almost any picture tells some kind of story and you, as an author and creator, should try to make this story impressive.
Here you can find some helpful articles and tutorials for both beginners and more advanced users:
- Digital Photography School
Very comprehensive photography resource. Lots of inspirational and informative articles.
Read great photography articles for beginners on Photodoto – you can find them under the “Photography 101” link.
- About.com: Photography
Photography articles and techniques from the team at About.com.
- Digital Photography Review
Comprehensive reviews on just about every new piece of digital photography equipment released over the last few years. The must-read for everyone who wants to get more of the gear they already own.
- The Online Photographer
A great deal of content to help you choose the equipment and understand the technique and the concepts behind photography.
3. Use a smart approach when picking a stock image
In addition to the types of stock images you'd better avoid, there are some simple recommendations for choosing the right stock image for your site and blog:
1. Pick relevant images, don't simply focus on the title of the page – analyze content ideas and think what image better supports your ideas.
2. Select images that are a play of words. Part of the challenge is that we’re all getting images from the same place. So when we hear "outdated SEO tools," we some tables and graphs. But everyone uses graphs and tables in this case. You can go the other way and use the picture like this one:
That's what Alesia Krush used in her post on extinct SEO tools – the picture definitely gets an extra second of reader's focus and attention.
3. Choose horizontal/landscape images. Well, of course it often depends on the blog, but most often horizontal pictures look better compared to the vertical ones. It’s easier to position them without damaging page's design.
4. Choose the right-sized pictures. Though choosing a smaller picture can save you a couple of bucks, it's not always worth it. Make sure that the resolution of the image is high enough for your site's pages.
4. Test images for landing pages
Your pages can always do better – bring more traffic, conversions, followers, etc.
(An image plays a vital role for this app, as it immediately explains how it works)
However, to understand what works best for your target audience, you need to test images. Here's a short to-do list if you are new to testing pages:
- Choose a page you want to optimize.
- Pick picture variations – these can be bigger/smaller, pictures of people/objects, pictures at the top/bottom of the page, pictures with/without text.
- Choose the criteria for data analysis – are you going to test pages using free organic traffic or traffic sent via pay-per-click campaigns?
- Set up an A/B testing campaign in you Google Analytics account (Watch this video to learn how).
- Collect and analyze the stats. Also, even if you just wanted to learn which layout and image brings more good, you can still go a bit deeper in analytics and see how other metric changed: time spent on page and bounce rate for instance.
- Detected a winning page? Now set up another test – there’s always room for improvement.
When you test the effectiveness of images, don't modify other page elements (headlines, call-to-actions, sign up forms). Otherwise, you’ll be not sure if it was the image that helped the page get better results.
5. Think viral
Better images give your site and blog a higher chance to get noticed by millions of Facebook or Twitter users. But what makes a certain image more catchy and viral? Social media is all about emotions:
Choose an image that features irony
Human’s brain loves the unexpected so use this trick. The moment you put that image on the screen, you’ll see people trying to "get" it and the pleasure they’ll have when they do will be worth the work of finding the perfect picture. Here’s a sample you might like.
Select images that can surprise and shock
Surprising and shocking pictures grab user's attention and make then spend more time reading the page. It's important not to overplay with "shock," as some pictures can look really vulgar and disturbing – they won't help you build up consistent traffic and the bounce rate will be really high.
Consider this example:
Two lovers on a bench, but one of them has his arm going behind her back and holding hands with his other lover on the other side of the park bench. The picture has several connotations and it does tell the whole story!
Pick images that let you tease readers
If someone tells you beforehand that you are about to see some nude pictures, you'll probably get surprised and excited and maybe nervous. Then you click the link and see two old men working out in the gym with bare torsos. That's how you got attracted, but it was a tease. Don't tease users all the time, it's quite an effective technique that can be used rarely and for selected audience.
6. Keep pictures of people real
When you’re running a website, whether you’re a corporation, a small business company, a freelancer, or any kind of business you should almost always add a picture of yourself and your team. Why? Because people like to connect with people, not some objects or smart guys from stock images.
I've run some eye-tracking tests on customers' sites and found out that people spend more time on pages with pictures of company's teams. And no matter where a photo is placed – at the top of the page, or in the footer, it always grabbed attention. People want to do business with people they know, like and trust. Just like Jakob Nielsen put it, if you don’t show your photo, people often think the reason why is a bad one, and they assume you're not worth being trusted.
Need inspiration on how to represent your team? Take a look at these creative examples:
Distilled.net uses the animated pictures of the team, when you hover over a picture, you’ll see "the other side" of the person:
Th_nk.eu goes further and makes animated images you can click on and read more about every team member:
If that sounds too complicated, take the minimalistic approach, like Station Four does with photos/pictures and a short job description:
Use real photos of company's people to build your credibility, thus increasing your conversion rates.
7. Don't forget SEO for images
Optimization of images is not rocket science, but it is still one of the most frequently ignored aspects of SEO. Using the following tips, you'll be able to improve your site's rankings in image search, and get more traffic and conversions:
1. Name your images descriptively and in plain English
Do not keyword-stuff - get a short name and descriptive name. If you need to rename a big number of images, use the special tools that let you bulk edit the image files.
2. Optimize alt tags of images:
- Describe all images in plain simple English, just like you do for image file names.
- When selling products that have model number (or serial numbers), use them in your alt tag.
- Again, do not keyword stuff your alt tags (for example: alt="ford mustang muscle car buy now cheap best price on sale").
- Don't use alt tags for decorative images. Search engines may penalize you for over-optimization.
3. Optimize file size
Page load speed is one of the search engine rankings, so you’d better optimize the file size of site's images. And with such free tools like Image Optimizer and TinyPNG, you have no excuse for using extra heavy images!
4. Optimize captions and text content close to the image
There’s no evidence that it helps images rank higher in search results, but even if there’s a very small chance it does, why not to try? Add relevant and catchy captions to the images (you can optimize them with keywords as well) and test how it works in the long run.
5. Add a sitemap for images
Just like with the common sitemap, you can create the one for images (and videos) – that’s especially important for product websites that feature huge numbers of images.
If you spend hours (or days!) crafting the perfect post or site’s landing page, don't miss out on the chance to get better results by using beautiful relevant and optimized images. Many of the steps I described above should take you no longer than a few minutes, and sometimes, it really can be the "icing on the cake!"