Despite the old adage that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, that’s exactly what we humans are hardwired to do. Particularly in this time of information overload and easy accessibility to a dozen (or hundred, or thousand) options with a quick Google search, people know they don’t have to spend much time on your site if they don’t feel comfortable there. Whether you like it or not, people will make make a snap judgment about your site. In fact, one study found that people can form the first impression of your site within one twentieth of a second! How much of your website could a person possibly take in in just five hundredths of a second? Not many of your words, that’s for sure. People couldn’t read any of your great content in the blink of an eye, so what could they take in?

blinking eye

They could take in your layout and typography, and maybe some day we’ll do a blog post on those. The other things they can absorb are some of your images. Humans are visual creatures, which is one of the many reasons images are so essential on your site. You have to get the text of your content right, as I explained in our Quick and Dirty Method, but you also need to consider your images as important components of your content.

If you sell products or services, I’m not just talking about the images of your products, or of people engaged in your services. You do need high-quality product photos, of course, or similarly beautiful shots of people enjoying your services. Those are expected, but actually won’t get you that much traction. The image of a satisfied consumer has almost become a cliché in our society, met with apathy at best, and skepticism at worst, so when your site visitors see a beautiful model enjoying your product or service, one part of their brains may be favorably impressed while another more cynical part will probably snort. That’s why you need shots that add to your message, not just your product awareness.

So how do you get your images right? Where do you get them, how do you recognize them when you find them, and what are some of the considerations for including them in your site?

First, where can you go looking for appropriate images? Some companies have an in-house team of graphic designers that can pump out an illustration of anything they can imagine. That’s fantastic, but it’s pretty uncommon. Many companies may have a moderate budget for buying rights to use stock photos from such companies as Shutterstock, Envato, or iStock, which is also fantastic.

If you’re on a shoestring budget, though, there are plenty of sites offering free stock photography that you can use with or without attribution.The best two I’ve found are Unsplash and Pixabay. The big, paid sites almost always have exactly what I want in an easy-to-find format that they’ll gladly charge me through the nose to use. I find that if I go digging, though, I can usually find something that works just as well in the free sites, too, and so can you!

So what are you looking for? You’re looking for an image that perfectly illustrates or encapsulates what you’re saying in your text. You may have invested some time and sweat into coming up with your text, but you should realize that there’s a better chance that your visitors will look at all your images than that they’ll read all your text. So find pictures that are interesting, engaging, and that draw your visitors into your site. Find the right images, and you might stop people dead in their tracks. They might read what you’ve written just to find out how it relates to your images!

You’ll get better at finding and identifying compelling images as you try it, so take some time right now to go find some images that illustrate chunks of your text. Then, when you’ve got them in hand, come right back here for our next installment of the series.