Image, and Web Site Images

  |  October 10, 2003   |  Comments

Graphics are more than window-dressing. Do your site graphics inform, persuade and sell? When are images better than words?

The right words can be worth many thousands of images. Regular readers of this column and my book should be familiar with my thoughts on the subject. It's the nature of the Web that words are the foundation of the medium. This does not mean images can or should be neglected. One very effective way to boost your conversion rate for retailing, lead generation, and even content and self-service sites is to optimize your images.

Blurred Vision

Ever click an image (it may say "click for details") only to be brought to a page displaying a larger image, but no site elements and no way of either buying or leaving? Perhaps the image appeared as a pop-up (that may or may not be blocked) with a huge product picture, but no call-to-action. Click "larger image" here. The only way you can get out of there is to click the browser back button or close the window.

This halts persuasive momentum. An image's objective is to facilitate the buying process, not to make a site look cool or flashy. Every pixel should carry its conversion weight in gold. If a picture doesn't help sell, it could hurt. It wastes valuable real estate. If you use a shopping engine like Froogle, the fight for the click-through starts with an image. How does your product image stand out from your competitors'?

User Interface Engineering tested how online shoppers bought hiking boots from the REI and L.L. Bean sites. Although the boots were nearly identical, the firm found REI easily outsold its competitor. The difference: REI featured a photo that showed the sole of the hiking boot, L.L. Bean did not.

"This example shows that you have to know what the customer wants," UIE Founding Principal Jared Spool said. "It's crucial to know how they're shopping at your site."

Pictures or Words?

  • Words work for procedural information, logical conditions and abstract concepts.

  • Images work for details, location, and explaining spatial structures.

  • Does the image convey real value?

Words are symbols. Symbols are powerful conveyors of abstract thought. Usually, images aren't as precise as words. Be careful what your images convey. You may think you're saying one thing, but images may say the opposite.

What should you show?

Recently, a friend wanted to "pop up" a larger image of a vitamin bottle. What's the value visitors get from the front of a vitamin bottle? What a visitor should see is a larger image of the back of the bottle. The label is what could be significant. One way to do this would be to have an image of the front and an image of the back of the bottle side by side. Then, link to a page with a larger picture and additional details (features). (After all, they clicked for more details).

That way, you display all the calls-to-action. These could include an add-to-cart button or present all the product size and feature options. The persuasive momentum continues. A pop-up isn't the best option for this situation. They generally slow momentum. The point of the image is to persuade. Why do so many people fail to realize images are to aid in the persuasion process, not just portray what the product looks like?

An Excuse to Buy

Never overestimate your visitor. Assume she needs more information. TigerDirect is a wonderful example of a Web site that isn't afraid to explain and explain and explain. It uses images, words, and lots of 'em. When the page with images loads, you'll see they spent time optimizing and compressing them for low bandwidth.

Lands End uses images and diagrams to provide visitors the information they need. They even use a virtual model to permit you to "try on" clothes. This idea can be adapted for many types of Web sites. Imagine showing a china pattern on different color tablecloths, or with different place settings. Zooming in on an accessory like a wallet to see the grain and stitching (they miss with "enlarge image"). The possibilities are endless.

What's the Image Trying to Convey?

There are three things an image can convey:

  • Features

  • Benefits

  • Values


Does the image accurately portray product features? Consider alternate ways to show features. If you feature product size, is it in the palm of a hand, next to a competitor's product, or sitting alone and not answering your prospect's question?


Does the image convey the benefits? If you sell cookware, is the image pots and pans, or food those pots and pans produce? People don't always buy a pan. They may buy an easy way to clean, or durability.

Consider how these sites portray a simple cheese cutting board:


A value image needn't be placed near a product. These images may convey the value of your site as well as the value of a product. Look how ClickTracks, a Web analytics company, uses these images on their site.

Does the Image Convey Your Image?

Obviously, images must have the same "feel" throughout your site. Image quality, look and feel must be consistent. Images must relate to your site and the value you're trying to portray. If each image looks and "feels" different, you'll loose your site's overall value.

Value is conveyed though the words and images you use. Credibility and value are life and death. A visitor needs a reason to buy a product on your site, not to search for a lower price. The words and images on your site must be consistent with the value you convey.

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Bryan Eisenberg

Bryan Eisenberg is co-founder and chief marketing officer (CMO) of IdealSpot. He is co-author of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times best-selling books Call to Action, Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?, and Always Be Testing, and Buyer Legends. Bryan is a keynote speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as Gultaggen,, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others for the past 10 years. Bryan was named a winner of the Marketing Edge's Rising Stars Awards, recognized by eConsultancy members as one of the top 10 User Experience Gurus, selected as one of the inaugural iMedia Top 25 Marketers, and has been recognized as most influential in PPC, Social Selling, OmniChannel Retail. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of several venture capital backed companies such as Sightly, UserTesting, Monetate, ChatID, Nomi, and BazaarVoice. He works with his co-author and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at

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