How to use images effectively online

Images play two important roles in the cluttered world of digital communications; they draw people in and they get your message across quickly. Are you paying enough attention to the images that you use on your website and in social media? This article explores how to use images effectively online. 

It’s well known that people generally grasp ideas more quickly through images rather than words. But a well-chosen image doesn’t just convey information; it can also enhance your brand, help people relate to your products/services, and trigger a positive response (eg social media posts including images get significantly more shares than text-only posts). A badly-chosen image, on the other hand, could undermine your brand or confuse people; at best it’s simply a waste of space.

Most businesses understand that it’s good to use images – there’s certainly no lack of images online – but they don’t necessarily have a strategy for using them effectively. Websites often feature stock imagery that has little connection with the rest of the content, while social media images can be inconsistent and/or unprofessional. In these cases, the potential power of images is being lost.

It’s clear that there’s a business case for spending a little time thinking about how to use images effectively online. Here are some guidelines to get you started:

1. Understand who you’re appealing to

Identify your target market(s) and always keep them in mind when choosing images. Will they find your images appealing? Will they relate to them? It helps to include people in your images – but if you do this make sure they reflect your audience.

2. Be clear about what each image is for

Each time you use an image ask yourself some questions. How does it relate to the rest of the content? What does it add? What does it convey? Will it appeal to your target audience (see point 1)? Does it reflect your brand (see point 3)?

3. Be consistent

Think about your brand and how to apply this to the kind of images you use. You don’t have to be rigid about it, but the more consistent you are the more you will reinforce your brand. For example, you might decide to stick to a particular colour palette, use a white background, or crop images square. Try to be consistent throughout your website and across different social media platforms.

4. Get the size right

Different social media platforms use different image dimensions, so bear this in mind when choosing and resizing key images and make sure they look right when displayed in these different sizes (it goes without saying that you should also be consistent with the images you use for your profiles across different sites so that you’re instantly recognisable). This handy cheat sheet lists everything you need to know, and includes some useful advice about what kind of images to use:

5. Keep it fresh

People will stop seeing the images on your website after a while unless you change them, so think about replacing them on a regular basis. If this is too onerous at least rotate them to keep the site looking fresh.

Finding the right images

So you know what kind of images you need, but where do you get them from? You have three main options: use stock photographs, hire a photographer or take the pictures yourself. Stock imagery isn’t a complete no-no, but just make sure that you choose carefully; there’s no point using generic images that don’t relate to anything or communicate something specific. Professional photography can be expensive but it’s really worth considering; the result will be high quality images tailored to your brief. If your budget won’t stretch to this you can always do it yourself; most mobile phone cameras are pretty high spec these days, and there are plenty of editing apps and tips online about how to take good photos.

Jenny Brindley is a freelance writer and editor who specialises in working with SMEs to enhance their web presence. Contact for details.

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