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When your eyes land on a web page, what do they see? Well, two things: writing, and images. I’ve been a web writer for decades, speaking and writing about the topic for almost as long. So naturally in today’s post I’ll be talking about … web images.

What’s interesting is that sticking words and pictures together is not a new idea. Ancient civilizations from the Chinese to the Egyptians to Mayans combined alphabetic characters with pictorial imagery to more completely tell their story.

Since those two elements still work closely together in today’s websites, here’s what a web writer has learned about web images.

A Fast Look vs. a Long Look

Y’know that hypothetical web page we were just talking about? You’d probably glance at the images before reading any of the words. That’s because our minds process images in a fraction of the time that it takes to process words.

In terms of how much time we spend on each, text takes the point. While we might spend minutes reading the content of a reasonably interesting web page, we typically achieve ‘closure’ on the meaning of a photo in milliseconds.

It Depends What You’re Selling

Although I typically go on and on about the importance of strong, persuasive writing on a business website, that applies more to companies selling business services. The stock images of, say, people sitting around a conference table are essentially superfluous, there mostly to provide some visual ‘atmosphere.’

On the other hand, if a firm is in the flowers, food, car, jewelry, or fashion business, it’s those gorgeous images that are doing the persuading. The accompanying text, I hate to admit it, is the mostly superfluous element. Often, it’s there to give you ‘logical’ justification to shell out bucks for what your heart already desires.

Icons, Icons Everywhere

On that company web page you landed on, there’s probably three chunks of brief text arranged side-by-side. What’s likely sitting atop each one? An icon – those stylized little drawings that have their own rich history. And it’s true that having a colorful little visual like that draws the eye to a written blurb that you might otherwise have ignored.

But the dirty little secret of icons is that no one really looks at them closely. Meaning, the fact of having an icon is more important than what it depicts. Which is a lucky break, since the topic of the paragraph below it doesn’t always lend itself to easy symbolization.

The Stock Photo Controversy

Sure, lots of professionals eschew stock photography for its legacy of grinning businesspeople and phony perfect families. Okay, I get it, but when a stock shot might cost $2, and an original photoshoot altogether can run from $200 to $2000, well, you see the point.

The truth is, you really can find great shots these days on stock photo sites. It just takes a while, sometimes hours. So if you’re designing a site for a client, you might throw in those cheap stock shots for free, but be sure to include those hours in your estimate.

The Big Pick

When you’re trying to choose the perfect picture from either the stock photo site, or from among the  (hopefully large) selection of shots provided by your photographer, my advice is, don’t.

What I mean is, attempting to pick the winner from all those options is frustrating and inefficient. Instead, go through quickly to pull all the ‘possible’ shots, and put them in a folder or light box. Next, inspect the side-by-side photos on that short list to make your final choice. Trust me, this is an easier way to help the cream rise to the top.

People Love People

From shortly after we’re born, humans are intuitively drawn to faces, and the emotions they display. That’s why pictures with people give a web page a sense of natural warmth, vs. the same page without them. Just the right expression is essential, though. For example, a warm, confident smile typically works better on a business website than the silly wide grins that make you want to slap some of those stock photo models.

The people photos on a site can also help you target the right market better than words alone. For example, a social media sign-up page might offer to help you “meet people just like you.” Whether the group shot shows pudgy retirees or a diverse group of teen rebels helps the reader know whether it’s the right fit.

Crop Me, Baby

There’s hardly a photo that can’t be improved by chopping off some from the top, bottom and sides. This helps the eye go straight to the main subject that you want folks to notice. Less irrelevant background equals more visual impact.

This is even more important when photos are used small, or even icon-sized. A small subject lurking in the background of a small image takes more effort to decipher than most readers are willing to offer.

The Big Conclusion

Websites attract and retain visitors when both the words and the pictures are amazing in themselves, and work together amazingly well.

How did I learn what I know? Mostly by looking at other websites, and noticing what grabbed my eye – and what made that eye mosey over to the Back button. If you yourself carefully pay attention to your attention as you browse the web, you’ll learn far more about images than what some web writer has to say.

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Tom TortoriciAbout the Author:  Tom Tortorici is an Atlanta copywriter and web content writer who helps companies make a genuine connection with their audience. His classes and conference presentations have focused on how writing, strategy and design can work together to grab attention and interest even among readers with short attention spans. In addition to working directly with businesses, Tom regularly partners with web designers and marketing agencies.

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Tom Tortorici Inc. | Tom@TomTortorici.com | 770-934-7861 | 3101 Rockaway Rd | Atlanta GA 30341