Guide to Website Images

The Do’s and Don’ts of Choosing the Right Images for your Small Business Website

We all know the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”, right?

This couldn’t be more true when it comes to websites, when you only have a few seconds to capture a visitor’s attention before they move on. However, the images on a web page are not only critical to quickly capturing your visitor’s attention, but in conveying your message and encouraging them to stick around to learn more about you and your product or service.

Unfortunately, some business owners don’t give a lot of thought to the images they use on their websites. We’ve all come across sites with images that are too small or just poor quality – or that don’t seem to bear any relation to the context of the page they’re sitting on. In these cases, the poor choice of images could not only be failing to capture the interest of their site visitors, but actively turning them away! The result is that those visitors just move on to the next site – and quite possibly their competitors.

website images

Another common saying is “don’t judge a book by its cover” – but unfortunately, its human nature to do just that. I worked for one of the top book publishers in Australia for a while, so I can tell you that getting the cover of each book “just right”, was a big deal! Considerable time and effort was spent crafting a cover that would grab the eye of its intended readership, inviting the potential reader to take the book off the shelf, and read the blurb on the back. They knew the power of the right image!

What makes a good website image is fairly straight-forward – good quality (clear, in focus, with minimal pixelation, blurriness or fuzziness), high resolution, and when it comes to photos, preferably professionally taken.

But there’s a lot more to consider in choosing the right images for your website. The right image will not only attract the attention of your target audience, but lend credibility to your business. 

The DOs

1. DO: consider placement and purpose

Where and how an image will be used on your website will determine the best size and orientation for each one. An image to be used as the background for  a full-width banner ideally needs to be landscape oriented (not portrait), and at least 2,000 pixels wide. It may also need an area that is less detailed, for any text sit over and still be readable.

Keep in mind that an image that is too large can easily be resized or cropped and still retain its quality, but an image that is smaller than you need cannot be increased in size without losing quality and crispness.

2. DO: be strategic

Being strategic about your use of imagery means ensuring they are consistent with the overall goal, message and tone of your website. Only use images which match that goal and message.

Don’t just use images at random (even if they look professional) and don’t use images to fill space or create the illusion that your site has more content than it actually has. Images are not a substitute for poor website content!

For example, if you are a lawyer, you shouldn’t be using images of cute kittens or babies. You would focus on images which convey a sense of professionalism, and evoke a sense of trust and reassurance. If you’re a massage therapist, you may want images which both convey and evoke a sense of peace and relaxation.

3. DO: consider colours

Colour is an extremely important consideration when it comes to any element of your website, and images are certainly no exception. Consider not only how the main colours of the image will work with the rest of the website’s colour scheme, but also the psychology of those colours [link to article on the psychology of colour]. For example, for the massage therapist trying to convey a sense of peace and relaxation, an image that has a large amount of red may not work as well as an image which is predominantly blue.

4. DO: consider your target audience

Photos containing people should show people that are in your target audience. For example, if your website is targeted at teens, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to use images of adults or senior citizens. The more you can narrow down your target audience, the more relatable you can make the images on your site to that audience.

5. DO: Evoke emotions

Photos are a more effective way of evoking emotions than text. Think about the emotion you want to evoke in your website visitors in order to get them to purchase your products or services.

For example, message therapist may want to invoke relaxation, a lawyer or accountant may want to induce feelings of trust or security, and a charity might try to evoke sympathy.

A photo which elicits the right emotion in your visitors will have a greater impact than one which doesn’t.

The DON’Ts

1. DON’T: use images without checking copyright/licensing

It’s vital to make sure you can legally use any images you have chosen on your website. You can’t just use any image you come across on the internet, or on google image search! These are more than likely subject to copyright, and using them on your website would infringe that copyright.

Instead, look for stock images (there are plenty of both free and paid ones available), or even better, hire a photographer to take unique photos that exactly meet your requirements and will be unique to your business.

2. DON’T: use cliched, unoriginal stock photos

While stock photos are a great resource if you can’t afford to hire a photographer, stock photo sites are filled with photos that are obviously stock. What do I mean by that? The sorts of photos that you see so often that your eyes glaze over them, or those that contain overly posed, smiley people that make you roll your eyes!

Avoid images that come across as artificial, or have little emotional impact. Photos involving people should look as natural as possible, as if the photographer had just happened to capture a moment in time – not as if the photo had been deliberately staged.

Also avoid images that you have seen variations of many time before. Instead, try to use unique, interesting and compelling images to get your message across.

3. DON’T: try to be too clever

Sometimes business owners will use images which may be relevant in a way they understand, but may leave most of their audience scratching their heads. Metaphorical images, for example, may seem like a good idea – especially if what your business does doesn’t lend itself to aesthetically pleasing imagery – but may fail to get your point across to your visitors.

Getting feedback from a range of people before publishing these less-than-obvious images on your website will help ensure you are getting your message across to your visitors.

4. DON’T: overdo the use of images

While images are great addition to any website, you want to be mindful of using too many. Bombarding your website visitors with too many images is likely to not only overwhelm them, but is also likely to slow down the loading of your web page.

Its much better to use a few carefully chosen photos for the right reasons, then use a whole slew of photos (however attractive they may be) just for the sake of it.

In summary

Choosing the right images for your website needn’t be hard. It is, however, something that requires more attention than it is often given by small business owners. Giving some careful consideration to your image choices by following these do’s and don’ts, will help ensure your website captures and holds on to your visitors’ attention, and is therefore more likely to convert them into paying customers.