Let me go ahead and say something that is really obvious. Ready? Okay.

Content is king.

Ah, I hate saying that because it’s so cliché. It’s also overly simplistic. And it’s misleading.

Like anything else in life, that statement requires more nuance, more explanation, more massaging and more substance to really matter.

So, yes, content is king, but …

And here’s where we need to discuss something that people often overlook: Images.

Images are the secret weapon in conversion optimization.

From their physiological power, to their emotional intuitiveness, to their mind-grabbing ability, pictures are incredibly strong factors in the conversion-readiness of a page.

If you aren’t using images correctly or successfully, you are missing out on a huge opportunity for conversions.

Although many CROs spend their time on shopping carts and guarantees, and CTAs, I think it’s time for a return to the optimization of the image.

In this article, you’ll discover some of the psychology that backs up the power of images, plus the tactical methods for unleashing the secret power of images.

The Psychology of Images

Before I share some of the wicked tactics for boosting your conversion rate with images, let me explore some of the psychology. Psychology backs up everything we do, so it has an undeniable influence on the efficacy of images in conversion.

1. The brain process images with lightning-fast speed.

MIT scientists recently discovered that the human brain processes images in 13 milliseconds.

Thirteen milliseconds isn’t a very long time. To make a comparison, the standard frame rate in cinematic videos is 41 milliseconds. Your brain can successfully identify images in way less time than a movie can play a single frame.

It takes 134 milliseconds for light to travel around the equator. In that amount of time, your brain can process 10 different images.

Thirteen milliseconds. That’s fast.

2. We respond to images nearly as fast as we recognize them.

So 13 milliseconds is fast, but that’s just the processing of the image. What about responding to them, both cognitively and physiologically? It’s also fast.

There’s a lot that has to go on for the human body to do something based on seeing it. But, as you’re probably aware from your own reflexes, it happens nearly without effort and without delay.

First, our senses have to take in the image, then we have to filter it through the perceptual processing in our brain, which stores it in the working memory, where it’s diverted into the motor processor where a whole system of responders — eyes, arms, legs, lungs, heart, mouth — all start responding in a variety of ways.

How we interpret images

(Image from Creative Commons)

That takes time, but the time is rapid and it’s instinctual. We respond to images without thinking about it.  You see something, and you act automatically. You see a picture or image on a website, and you act automatically.

3. The brain absorbs and retains information better when it is presented in both text and image form.

Online media are ideal for connecting with the human brain because of the ability to feature both text and image. If you leave either one off, you’re not as successful as you could be in connecting with a user’s brain. Images work best when they’re paired with text.
According to the cognitive principle of continuity, a combined approach of visual stimulation increases retention by 42%. Add text on or with your image, and you can reinforce your visual message.

This is great to know when it comes to optimizing landing pages. We need pictures and text.

How images can improve conversions

Okay, good so far, but what the heck does all of this have to do with conversions?

If there’s one thing that should be obvious from the preceding little psychological study, it’s this — images are really important. We respond to images rapidly, and take in the information without any cognitive effort.

Information processing on that level can be tapped for its conversion-boosting power. Images say things much more eloquently than text. What’s more, they communication concepts effortlessly, requiring low cognitive load.

So, what are some of the secrets for using images for conversions? Keep in mind that it’s not just having images that does the trick. It’s having the right images. Let me explain that point first, then we’ll move on to the other power tips.

1. Use the right images.

Images are not decorations

Every time you use an image, it needs to be with purpose. The image isn’t just a placeholder or a decoration. It has meaning and purpose.

Often, web designers simply pull images from a stock photo site, pop it on their web page, and call it done. But that’s not going to translate into top-notch conversion action.

Here is how you should implement the right images.

Images must be somehow related to the product or service.

Make sure that there is some connection. This can be challenging for some service-based sites. For example, what if you sell data storage? You’re not going to show pictures of servers are you? No, but you can show a picture of a happy businesswoman using a laptop, right? There’s a connection.

The connection doesn’t need to be overt. It just needs to have some level of coherence with the product or service being discussed.

If you’re selling a product, show the image.

You simply will not be able to sell a product unless you show a picture of it. There’s no way around it. If you sell a product, show pictures of it — big, beautiful, custom pictures.

VW nails it. All their images are totally spot-on.

If you’re selling a product, show the image, by VolksWagon

If you’re selling a service, show the attitude or action.

Okay, so not everyone is selling svelte silver vehicles. I get that. Show something else, or even someone else.

Salesforce is a SaaS (software as a service), but their landing pages has images that convey attitudes, actions and emotions that are related to the product.

Salesforce use images to draw emotions

Salesforce even uses images of products for a serviceSalesforce use image to promote service

It’s hard to create compelling product pictures when you’re just selling software, but Salesforce shows how it’s done.

Got it? Okay, let’s go on to some of the other powerful tips that will amp up your ability to use images for conversions.

2. Use just one image at a time.

The brain has a remarkable ability to group related images together, and to ascertain what a whole image looks like based on a part of it looks like.

What the brain isn’t so good at doing is assimilating a lot of images all at the same time. The brain has a limited bandwidth, know as attention. We have to focus attention on small visual areas to make sense of them.

For example, if you were to look into a sea of faces, you wouldn’t be able to notice your familiar friend’s face right away. You would almost have to look at each face individually, or at least a group of people at time to find your friend.

loss of focuse

(Image from Flickr.com)

Images are much more powerful when they are focused on one thing. That’s why landing pages with tons of images just don’t work.

This isn’t helping me to focus on a single product:

landing pages with tons of images just don’t work

This image from Apple works way more effectively. I see one thing. I focus. I can place all my mental focus on the iPhone 6 — not anything else.

Apple's useof iamge to draw focus

3. Detailed product images work best.

Rolex does a powerful job of this. Their responsive site has detailed product images. And this is a screenshot, in all its tens-of-thousands-of-pixels glory.

Detailed product images work best by Rolex
ConversionXL asserts, “Don’t just show a single image, show as many as you can – from different angles.”

I tend to disagree with that blanket statement. Their application of it — different shots of the same product — tends to work okay. However, as a general rule, work on featuring one image at a time.

Amazon recognizes the importance of keeping one image at a time in front of the customer. All their product views allow thumbnails, but not a whole spread of images. This is intentional and strategic.

amazon's use of images for conversions

Lifeproof takes a similar approach by featuring plenty of thumbnails, but only one featured image at a time.

Lifeproof use thumbnails for conversions

4. Big images are powerful.

Generally speaking, bigger is better. It’s often true for CTAs, and it’s usually true for images, too.

In an A/B test from WhichTestWon, two versions of a product page were featured. The control had a standard-sized image. The variable had an image that was 28% larger. The larger image improved bidding by 74%, and conversion rates for the online form shot up by 329%.

an image's AB test from WhichTestWon

(Image from eConsultancy)

In another test, Dell tested two landing pages. One was the standard, boring corporate landing page. We’ve all seen these, yawned, and gone to sleep.

Dell test images for conversions

The test version included an image that was way bigger. It was so big that it served as the background for the entire page.

Dell image for conversions

The big image won. Not only did it reduce bounce rates by 27%, but it also boosted leads by 36%.

Sashco.com, a home improvement site, uses huge images. Now, let’s be clear that these aren’t what we would call “beautiful” images. Gallons of wood finish clear coat? Not exactly sexy, but the big images definitely work.

Sashco.com, a home improvement site

5. Pictures of people work really well.

Humans are wired to look at pictures of other people’s faces, especially their eyes.

In a research project from Georgia Tech researches and Yahoo Labs, scholars wrote, “human faces are powerful channels of non-verbal communication.” The research team discovered that photos with faces have 38% higher engagement levels than pictures without faces.

Photos with faces attract more likes and comments on instagram

When we see pictures of people, we look longer. Our brains light up in the area associated with human interaction and friendship.

When we interact with other humans, we sometimes have our guard up. We are trying to figure out whether the person is a friend or foe.

Something happens, however, when the person smiles. A smile has a psychological connection, in which we view the person as friendly and non-dangerous. This phenomenon has proven true from studies of babies and other human interaction.

That principle holds true in online images, too. Images of people’s faces gain better engagement and a deeper and more visceral human response.

Here’s what Chemistry.com does with their homepage. They are interested in establishing human connection, and their homepage does an effective job in asserting this from the very start — a smiling face.

Chemisty.com Homepage image

As a bonus, the woman is looking toward the form, which causes the user to also look at that image, and to convert on the form.

Lest you think it’s only matchmaking sites that use images, let’s take an example from a data SaaS, Kissmetrics. Here’s their homepage. Smiling guy. Oh, and he’s looking toward the conversion action, too. Win. Win.

KISSmetrics homepage image

Evernote produces software, not dating services. And here’s their homepage. More smiles. In fact, they have a slider image that shows a total of four smiling people.

Evernotes cover image

Conclusion

Images are a secret weapon, but you don’t want them to backfire. Although they are incredibly powerful, that power can be counterproductive.

We’ve all seen stock imagery that doesn’t fit, doesn’t compel action, and does more to inhibit a conversion that cause it. Images that suck can do worse things for your conversions.

You need to ensure that you’re doing images right. And here’s how you do them right:

  1. Use the right images.
  2. Use just one image at a time.
  3. Use detailed product images got best results.
  4. Use big images for power.
  5. Use pictures of people to create a human connection.

Ready to amp up your conversions, and take them to the next level? You’ve got the weapon. Now use it.

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