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A picture is worth a thousand words… that’s certainly saying a lot isn’t it? That’s a lot of responsibility resting on one solitary image’s metaphorical shoulders.
So what makes images so important and so much more valuable than words? That’s what we’re going to look at today.
Well for one thing, they’re great to look at. They are quite often easier to digest than page after page of copy. There’s 1,900 words in this article and 3 images and I’ll bet you can see the images a lot quicker than reading the text.
Images are used to attract your audience’s attention, elicit particular emotions, break lengthy text into smaller chunks and drive home a message. Like it or not, what we see has a massive effect on how we act, which is why it is so important that you understand how to successfully utilise images within your content.
Earlier this month Yahoo acquired Tumblr for $1.1 billion. That’s a whole lot of cash for something which many people use as a glorified image dump (or maybe that’s just me?). The popular blogging platform is filled with people sharing, reblogging and commenting on images as well as other content, and it’s not the only one of its kind either.
Since it launched in 2006, popular social content site BuzzFeed has gathered an audience of over 40 million monthly readers. Having taken America by storm, it launched in the UK earlier this year. The company is now estimated to be worth £132 million. (Source GQ)
Instagram is essentially a camera app (recently turned video camera app) with some extra filters, yet it’s one of the most successful phone applications of all time, with over 130 million monthly active users and 16 billion photos shared to date (Source: Instagram).
What makes these brands so successful? It’s the fact that people love to share information with each other. It is services like these which allow people to do that in an easy, inventive and aesthetically pleasing way; through the use of visuals.
If you can attach your information, or brand message, to an attractive image or collection of images, then you make it much easier for people to share your content.
When writing a new online article, it’s understandable that picking the correct image(s) to go with your text may not always be at the forefront of your mind. Even if it’s not the first thing you think of, it should definitely be a priority. People are engaging more and more with content when they’re on the go. Mobile browsing has increased immensely over the last few years, and online readers have developed a habitual ‘too long; didn’t read’ (TL:DR) attitude to content.
Using images to break up and accompany your content is the perfect remedy to ‘TL;DR’. Images reach your audiences in ways that sometimes the text can’t, and give your readers a chance to take a break from reading paragraph after paragraph of (what is probably a very engaging) text. As James Carson pointed out, “The web is becoming more visual”.
One visual craze you may have noticed is the recent rise in popularity of Infographics. Turning what would usually be lengthy strings of data into an engaging image has become increasingly popular, and nowadays it’s almost impossible to browse the web without stumbling into an infographic here or there.
These aren’t the first ever visual representations of information, and they’ll certainly not be the last, but they are a fantastic method of getting the message across to people in the internet age. Their colourful visual format makes them instantly easy to read and share with friends. In a world where people share almost anything they find engaging, Infographics are the perfect way for people to communicate facts.
Thumbnail images are literally everywhere on the web. Combined with your title, thumbnail images give viewers their first impression of your content. As everyone knows, a good first impression goes a long way.
I couldn’t count how many times I’ve flicked through the catalogue of films and shows on Netflix, only to settle on some obscure title because the cover image looked interesting. Whilst I should point out that more often than not this process does not reap the best rewards (curse you Killer Clowns From Outer Space), the same kind of visual selection applies to content, (hopefully) with much better results.
Take Sandra LeDuc’s informative article on Content Zombies for example. Her post is about the need to create quality content that’s compelling and audience focused, instead of adding to dull masses of soulless articles that get published daily. The reason I clicked through? There was an image of a women being attacked by zombies on my Web Optimisation news feed. My interest was piqued, and I was not disappointed.
It may seem a little childish to some, clicking on something just because it looks interesting. I’ll be the first to admit that my attention can be grabbed as easily as magpies with shiny objects. But if you’re honestly sitting there thinking to yourself how gullible and easily swayed I must be, then get real.
This kind of thing happens daily, to almost everyone in the world. Look around you on your commute to work tomorrow and you’ll notice countless advertisements attempting to grab your attention with alluring and attractive imagery. No one is immune to it. Even if you feel desensitised to the waves of images you encounter every day, it still seeps into your subconscious, and sits at the back of your mind, ready to surface when you least expect it.
The images you use are essentially advertising your content to the masses. Choosing the best possible image that reflects your content is vital.
Let’s not negate emotions. Pictures can act as powerful emotive catalysts. Just as old family photos can stir memories, brands constantly utilise images as emotional triggers. Charities might use a thought-provoking image of a starving child to cause us to feel sympathetic for example. In many ways images are just as powerful as the words that inspire us. Images can be used to inspire hope, such the images of love for Boston that New York sent after the bombing tragedy.
They can also be used to emphasise a point, and highlight a certain story. After all, seeing is believing, and many news outlets use images to not only bring our attention to events but to also give visual proof that these actions are unfolding. Images allow others a window into what is going on in the world. The recent riots and subsequent silent protests in Turkey have been chronicled in photographic form by thousands online, each picture as moving as the next.
Let’s stop for a moment and get scientific.
We are naturally pictorial in the way we think. Up to 50% of our brain processes information visually. Because of this, it only takes us around 0.01 of a second to grasp a sense of a visual scene presented to us. (Source: Neonam)
This is why road signs are graphic-based. Rather than having to sit and read instructions, we are presented with a clear symbol. Because of their imagery, road signs take us mere milliseconds to interpret.
But what about content, how do images help then? Well, according to a study by Nielson Norman Group, on average people only read roughly 28% of the words on a page per visit. This is an incredibly small amount of content that’s being absorbed every time they visit a page. Luckily, pictures have come to our rescue.
Researchers at Xerox found that the use of colour in a document can captivate the reader’s attention and improve communication. In fact, they found that colourful visuals increase people’s willingness to read an article by up to 80%. Images work so well with content, that people who follow instructional text with illustrations perform a whopping 323% better than those with just text.
Psychologists found that adding pictures to back up what they were saying made people more inclined to believe them.
As you can see, the science clearly shows that images are awesome!
By now, you’re probably saying to yourself: “OK, so the science adds up, but are there any disadvantages to using images in my content?”
If the images you use are irrelevant, confusing or offensive then yes, it’s likely that they’ll have a negative effect on your content. No one want’s to be made to look at something they don’t want to see after all.
There’s also the small matter of the law. If you didn’t create the image then it’s not yours to use unless you have permission, plain and simple. Just like the content you are in the process of creating, someone has spent time and effort creating and publishing that image you want to use.
Like all other forms of content, images are protected by copyright laws. The law states that the only way you can use an image is if you own it (you took the photo or brought the rights), you have a licence to use it or if it’s fair use.
The law surrounding copyright and the use of images online is incredibly dangerous territory; you certainly can’t just perform a quick image search and use the first picture you find. You’ve got to abide by the law and use royalty free imagery if you don’t already own the licences for any photos. Even then you’ll still have to accredit the source from which you acquired the photo.
Things can get real confusing quickly, but to be on the safe side you should always make sure you have permission to use the images before you put them in your content. For more information, check out the incredibly helpful article on the legal pitfalls of using images in social media by Rachel Boothroyd.
If you can’t just copy and paste your images from Google, where can you get them?
You can always purchase your images. There are plenty of high quality online image services available. Sites like BigStock for example have an extensive library of high quality photos, with a range of different pricing packages available.
If you’re strapped for cash, or don’t want to pay out for a picture, then there are also plenty of free image services, which have tons of royalty free images for which you are unrestricted to use as long as you give credit to their source.
So there we go, next time you think about writing content, think about including images as well. They’re beneficial for both you and your readers. Plus if you optimise an image properly, it can also help with your site’s SEO, but that’s a story for another time.
So what do you think? Have you seen any posts that could benefit from images? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.