Improve The Performance Of Your Visuals


Visual content is downright essential for any digital marketing effort. The rise of platforms like Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram, sites such as Houzz, and even the dreaded wasteland known as Buzzfeed, prove that yes, we like to look.

A frequently-cited study states that visual content receives 94% more views. All I know is, if I click on an article or website and don't see something besides words, I bounce out of there lickety-split. You do, too. Newspapers and magazines have known this for decades. Even a literary bastion like The New Yorker peppers their copy with those lackluster cartoons.

Even as a writer, I'd argue that visual aesthetics are the more important aspect of content marketing. High-quality text and copy is absolutely vital for any business or service, but nothing communicates as effectively as one remarkable picture. It is undoubtedly the most powerful form of storytelling any brand or service can offer.

Visual cues are processed by the brain 60,000 times faster than text. Can't argue with science (actually, arguing with science can be fun, but I digress).

Let's take a look at visual content needs for blogs, social media, and ecommerce sites, with a few tips and tricks for optimizing graphics for search, and link building with images.

Images On Blogs

I'm continually stunned to find excellent writing surrounded by...nothing. No corresponding graphics. No featured image. Perhaps some people think it makes a blog seem more serious and scholarly if text is the only medium involved. This is far from true. It just looks boring.

  • Is an image still worth a thousand words? Who cares?! The important fact is: one photo can trigger a pantheon of emotional responses. And the best tool for building a devoted following is invoking genuine, impassioned reactions.
  • The most successful corporate or business blogs (and social media channels) generally adhere to the '80/20' rule. 80% of your content, including images, should be about something other than your products or services. Naturally, 100% should be relevant to your audience or industry. Remember that a blog is not an advertising platform.
  • If you're a locally based business, featuring pictures and content from your around your regional area has been shown to boost engagement, from famous landmarks to insider tips.
  • We can take another visual content lesson from print advertising: showing "real" action. Instead of a gal holding a handbag in front of a sterile studio background, show her running through a field of wildflowers (or flying through a mosh pit) with said purse. Far more engrossing.

Images On Social Media

Even Twitter, originally a text-based platform, has gone on the record: it's all about the pictures. There are few place this is truer than social media, where attention spans are measured by the split second.

  • The most successful business blogs prove that it's not about parading your product or latest sale in front of potential customers - it's about showing what you can do with your product. Ideally, from the customer perspective (think GoPro's or Starbucks' user-submitted photos). Consumer collaboration reigns supreme.
  • Repetitive and boring is the death knell on social media. If you have something cool to share, don't do it identically on a dozen different platforms. Mix it up!
  • Make images easily sharable. This means more than simply having the right buttons alongside your content. Frankly, this really depends on your industry's target demographic and how that audience engages on any particular social network. Research is fun!
  • Can we make a universal decision to cool it on the inspirational quote graphics? They're not engaging. They're not inspiring. "Oh, look a lifeless William Faulkner quote over a crappy, low-resolution sunset photograph. Huh. I'LL TAKE FOUR OF WHATEVER YOU'RE SELLING." Nope. It doesn't work like that.

Images For Ecommerce Sites

If the photos of your merchandise aren't top-notch, you might as well save your customers some time and reroute your product pages directly to your competitor's website. Great pictures can even make mediocre products sell like huckleberry hotcakes. This is one area where you do not want to cut corners.

  • High resolution photos are an absolute necessity. Ideally, you'll want multiple sizes, from thumbnail to extra-large (up to 1100x1100 pixels is recommended if you plan on utilizing any zoom capabilities).
  • Speaking of zoom ability, if you don't have a plugin for a mouse-over zoom or something comparable, at least show "zoomed" close-ups of the product's details.
  • Don't forget context: make sure there's some way to quickly determine the actual size of the product. Simply listing the dimensions isn't "visual" enough.
  • Studies prove that providing alternative angles of a product boosts conversion rates. A consumer needs to feel confident that what they're ordering is what they'll get. Give them the full experience!
  • Though this varies with industry, it's generally best to have an 'action shot' or interesting background for at least one of your product's featured images. Show your merchandise at work! The remainder of the photos should have a clean, white background.

Link Building/SEO With Images

In days of yore, link building with images mostly meant rallying up a few infographics and spraying them into the universe. No more. To be fair, infographics are still a thing. But barely. Keep in mind that images, just like any facet of your website, should be primed for SEO value.

  • Search engines can't see your pictures, so throw them a bone. First, the file itself should be named something suitably descriptive, preferably terms that people actually search for.
  • Giving your image an 'alt text' tag is not only a good SEO move, it also allows those with visual impairment to "see" your images, too. Note: keep it under 125 characters.
  • If you contribute to blogs other than your own, dropping a photo from your website into a post and linking it as an "image credit" can be a solid strategy. Granted, this must be done judiciously and only when it's relevant. It also makes another case for having superior product pictures.
  • On that note, if someone is using your images (photographs, logos, graphs, whatever) on their blog without attribution, a reverse image search can point you in the right direction. Generally, if you get in touch with the webmaster, they'll add a link back to your site. Or you sue 'em (I'm kidding).
  • If you do decide to let others have free reign with your photos (this can be strategic), make it as easy as possible for them. No watermarks. No hoops to jump through. A simple clickable embed or attribution footer should do the trick.

Free Tools

Even though studies show color is far more effective for sustaining interest, personally, I go for 'old timey' black and white images. Not just because that's what I like: most of these images are public domain, therefore I'm not infringing on anyone's copyright. Or pissing off artists.

  • Not all "stock" photos are cringe-worthy staged office shots or puppies in Santa hats with watermarks across them. If beautiful landscape shots and artistic filters are your thing, check out Unsplash.
  • Pexels is another cool, free "stock photo" site.
  • For history buffs, this Flickr account of vintage Smithsonian photos has some gems.
  • No graphic designer on retainer? Canva has some awesome templates for making cool graphics. For social media images, Buffer's new program, called Pablo, seems super legit. Plus, you can say you "Pablo'd" something. Which is fun.
  • Speaking of Buffer, they actually curated a super awesome list of over 50 free photo sites and services. (Not to mention this incredible resource for all your visual content needs. Making anything I have to say on the subject essentially redundant.)
  • This image resizing tool certainly isn't the only one out there, but the domain is so straightforward that I had to include it.
  • Find a copyrighted image you're just dying to use? Track down the photographer or agency and ask! What's the worst that could happen?

Pictorial storytelling is something every brand or service should embrace, but it's far more important that they do it well. Low quality photos and humdrum images say much more than, "Looks aren't important to me". Crappy graphics can almost be interpreted as an assault on the senses.

The importance of complementary images and text goes further than simply thematic branding. It's the message you send out into the world. Visual content (or lack thereof) does saying something - but is it something you want to be saying?

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* With image work via 45SURF

About the Author: Meghan Cahill

Meghan Cahill is a content marketing specialist and staff writer for the Linkarati blog and Page One Power. You can generally find her buried under an ever-growing stack of 1940's film noir on VHS.


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