Many people who have heard me speak know that I'm not a fan of using gratuitous images just to spice up your web design. By its very nature, the web is a visual medium, and the wrong image can create a visual distraction that pulls your visitor away from your key message points and/or call-to-action. Aside from causing a distraction, images can create confusion (if they aren't aligned with visitor expectations) and even make a visitor feel insecure (if the quality is low or is commonly used as "stock" imagery.) Naturally, all of this leads to lower conversions.
But I do need to set the record straight: I'm not against images altogether. In fact, the right images, properly placed, are an important element of every website, especially if you're marketing a product or service online. Images can help engage visitors and focus attention on your value proposition and/or call-to-action. Used correctly, the right graphics and images can help personalize your organization, especially if your customers' first (or only) contact with you is online. Here are six ways you can use images to increase your web conversion rate:
Get emotional. Like it or not, decisions are made emotionally. Neuroscientists have shown that, of the three parts of the human brain, our choices are driven by the emotional "reptilian" brain. Many interesting books have been written on the subject, but if you remember just one thing about the reptilian brain, make it this: the reptilian brain is visually oriented and responds rapidly to images. Choose your images very carefully to be sure that they will evoke a specific emotion that will help push your visitor's buy buttons. While this is more easily done for a lifestyle product or service (restaurants, travel, consumer products, etc.), creating emotions through photos and images should be done for all websites. Your job is to figure out what emotions will help drive the purchase of your product or service, and work to create those feelings through your pictures.
Be original. We have all seen them: the image of three professionals hovering around a conference table or the shot of the female phone operator smiling into her headset…stock photos that get overused so often they become laughable. Stock photos are a cost-effective way to include images in your marketing materials, but they can adversely impact your web conversion rate. Even if you have the most innovative products in your industry, you may lose a lot of customers if your cookie-cutter images make you seem like a cookie-cutter company.
Keep it real. If you use testimonials on your site (and I hope you do), you know that your customers can be your best salespeople. But have you considered using a photo alongside each letter of praise, or even shooting a video testimonial? Include photos and videos of your customers throughout your site, not just buried on a testimonials page, to help build trust and confidence in your organization. Showing real people who have benefitted from your products or services can make a huge impact on your conversion rate.
Be symbolic. Your company may not have immediate brand recognition, but you can still use high-value logos and recognizable symbols to inspire confidence and reduce any doubt that your company is worthy of your visitors' business. If your company has been written about in the news, include the logo of the media outlet. If your clients represent well-known companies, display their logos to show who you've worked for. And if you allow transactions online, use symbols to assure the visitor that her information will be safe with you. Symbols and logos are key elements to building trust online. They can help validate you in ways that words simply can't.
Be photogenic. One of the best ways to connect with your customers and improve your web conversion rate, especially if you have a local brick-and-mortar business, is to display candid photos showing visitors what it's like to visit your establishment. For example, if you own a local restaurant, you probably want to show diners having a good time and enjoying your cuisine. Even if all of your company's transactions happen online, showing photos of your staff and your environment can help assure potential new clients that you're an established organization and not a fly-by-night company run out of someone's garage. Let your website be a window into your organization, and invite your visitors to peer in.
Create a cheerleader. Want to get really creative? Think about inventing a mascot for your business. Studies show that consumers not only buy brands they recognize but, specifically, the face of those brands. Consider the Coca-Cola polar bears, the Geico gecko, and the E-Trade baby. You could create buzz, brand recognition, and instant credibility by being the only company in your industry to have a real character.
Implementing just one of these strategies can boost your web conversion rate and increase sales. You may not have the time, creativity, or internal support to create a mascot for your company, but can you switch out some of your stock photos with images that truly connect with your customers? Even this small change can deliver surprising results.
This column was originally published on October 30, 2012.
Tim Ash is CEO of SiteTuners.com, a landing page optimization firm that offers conversion consulting, full-service guaranteed-improvement tests, and software tools to improve conversion rates. SiteTuners' AttentionWizard.com visual attention prediction tool can be used on a landing page screenshot or mock-up to quickly identify major conversion issues. He has worked with Google, Facebook, American Express, CBS, Sony Music, Universal Studios, Verizon Wireless, Texas Instruments, and Coach.
Tim is a highly-regarded presenter at SES, eMetrics, PPC Summit, Affiliate Summit, PubCon, Affiliate Conference, and LeadsCon. He is the chairperson of ConversionConference.com, the first conference focused on improving online conversions. A columnist for several publications including ClickZ, he's host of the weekly Landing Page Optimization show and podcast on WebmasterRadio.fm. His columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.
He received his B.S. and M.S. during his Ph.D. studies at UC San Diego. Tim is the author of the bestselling book, "Landing Page Optimization."