How to stop using images that suck

image of people

Does this photo suck? Let me know what you think in the comments section.

How do you know when you’ve found a good image for Web marketing? Many of us probably use the same criteria that Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart used when trying to define obscenity: “I know it when I see it.”

An amusing but not exactly helpful benchmark.

I produce a handful of social media ads for one client, and images and image selection always seems difficult … because it is.

That’s why I was interested in a webinar recently hosted by vwo.com on “Hero Shot” images that improve conversion. Presented by Angie Schottmuller of Three Deep Marketing, the webinar definitely helped me to identify and measure hero shots better.

I won’t give you chapter and verse on the webinar, but I will give you key takeaways on what I learned.

What makes a hero?

First, what do we mean by “Hero Shot” images? Well … it’s the dominant image used to demonstrate your product. It can be an image you use for a landing page, an offer page, in online ads or social media advertising, etc.

Schottmuller defined a hero image as:

“A credible photo or video of a solution that includes relevance, context and value and emotion to support, educate or persuade a customer.”

She then went on to define persuasion factors – but I’ll stick to the main takeaways that struck me as particularly helpful.

The first was a great analogy. Think of the words and keywords you use to attract attention to a hero image as a “scent trail.”

The keywords or text you use to draw interest are to initiate interest; you maintain interest on the page you direct visitors to – and you enhance interest via the hero shot.

[* Cool website for word association/ideation: www.humanbraincloud.com]

This idea dovetails nicely with something other marketers have mentioned: the need for a relatively seamless continuity of images and styles when putting out a breadcrumb trail for your site visitor to follow.

The eyes have it

Another great imperative of hero shot images: pay attention to the eye path of the subject of the photo.

People naturally find pictures of people rather than objects more interesting. But trying to find or make the right images with people is very hard – specifically because of where the photo subjects are looking (or not looking).

People naturally follow the photo subject’s eye path. They will look where the photo subject is looking. So, is that to your offer, or a headline? Or is it off the page – to a blank space?

And another thing, according to Schottmuller: People making direct eye contact tend to disrupt the flow of what’s taking place on the page. That’s not necessarily a good thing or bad thin; the point is to use that tool properly. For instance, in a display or social media ad, you may want to use the full eye contact image.

On a page with a longer flow to it, full eye contact images may not be such a good idea.

Schottmuller also mentioned (of course!) authenticity – the age-old stock photo issue. But here I’ll add my own caveat, which kind of went unsaid by Schottmuller: a stock photo is perfectly fine, so long as it is relevant, conveys emotion and helps persuade the customer.

Emotional appeal

She also mentioned the importance of portraying desired emotions in hero shots. Don’t think of this as the correct emotion much as the emotion that leads to the logic and value of the offer.

This I found particularly helpful: don’t shy away from images that convey strong emotions. Key in on primary emotion such as: fear, pain, hunger, curiosity, love.

We may not want to admit it … but the right emotion can trump logic said Schottmuller. I think to people outside of marketing that may sound a bit cynical but … if you’re a marketer, you’ve probably seen this axiom play out in real life, in some way.

Remember what Flint McGlauglin of Marketing Experiments is fond of saying? “Clarity trumps persuasion” – and if you are able to portray that clarity with an image, so much the better, IMHO.

Another key point: Your customer is the hero … not you! This may seem self evident, but it has to be said. Because I really, really, really cannot stand to see generic images of “our employees” (you know the kind) on websites or in marketing.

These kinds of images just scream “It’s all about US!” or “We’ve all been taken over by pod people – for the love of God send help!”

Measure – and test!

And finally, what I found really helpful was Schottmuller’s recommendation to use a scoring system to help you decide on good photos. She recommended using a scale of negative one (-1) to plus 2 to rate images on 7 different criteria.

The scoring works like this:

  • -1: Negative potential
  • 0: Not quite conveys the point
  • 1: Somewhat
  • 2: Great

+1: for a successful direction cue

The criteria you can use to judge are:

  • Keyword relevance
  • Purpose clarity
  • Design support
  • Authenticity
  • Added Value
  • Desired emotion
  • Customer hero

This is a great system to use when you are weighing your image decisions. And although you may not necessarily find this makes every decision easier, it certainly helps you key in on what’s important.

And finally: test and measure your results. If you are using analytics of any sort, be sure to measure bounce rates on offer pages or pages using images. Of course, it’s all about conversion in the end!

Finally – the Bizarro lesson

Because I often think in terms of flip sides, here’s what I learned about hero images that don’t work. An image that is not helpful:

* Doesn’t have realistic emotions

* Doesn’t thematically or emotional match keywords in headlines, caption or teaser text.

* Doesn’t explain anything about the product’s value.

* Demonstrates zero concern/interest in the customers point of view,

Great job to Angie Schottmuller and VWO.com