Visual communications can boost engagement and foster long-lasting connections.
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Like many Minutehack readers, I haven’t walked down the career path ‘most travelled’. One common theme running through all my experiences, however, is a passion for using visual imagery to tell stories.
In my early career, I worked as an assistant to my university’s staff photographer, where I learned trade secrets like using glue instead of milk in cereal shots. Later, I dabbled in a little university photojournalism, and then ran my own boutique photography business for many years, mostly capturing events and family stories.
More recently, in the business world, I have been applying my love for photography to help companies tell compelling visual stories online. As with food photography all those years ago, the new secrets I am learning today about how to engage audiences online are as simple as they are effective.
Most people intuitively get that visuals matter. However, whether your business is selling clothing, package holidays or specialised airplane parts, the right visuals aren’t just important, they’re everything. Today’s social-media savvy consumers are impatient, time-poor and have unprecedented choice so the visual has the power to make or break a sale.
Here are the top 5 things every growing business should consider when creating winning, visual-centric content.
1. Replace words with visual imagery
According to research cited by multiple sources in 2015, the average attention span is down to a mere eight seconds - lower than that of a goldfish. That means you need to get your message through fast. The most powerful way to do this is through images and video.
Research shows that we remember what we see visually much better than what we read, and that visual content gets viewed 94% times more than content without any visuals at all. Besides being expedient, images are emotive. Through a single image, a brand can convey its essence, values and an overall aesthetic.
Pro tip: The next time you give your website an overhaul, consider replacing sections of text with photography, illustrations, infographics or videos. When writing your next white paper or eBook, consider adding more visual content, more emotional hooks, and let your images speak volumes.
2. Old-school photography rules for framing and composition still apply.
One of the first and most important rules in photography is the rule of thirds. The composition rule suggests that you divide the frame into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, and line your subject within one of the intersection points.
This beautiful video featuring filmmaker Philip Bloom explains more. When framing or cropping your images for the web, a social post or thumbnail consider this rule to help your viewer be guided to the most important subject.
Pro tip: When cropping, bear in mind that multiple versions of your images have to appear correctly on many different screens and sizes. Recently I saw a major retailer had tagged a pair of shoes on a model whose feet were cropped out of the frame, so the shoes weren’t even visible. Whoops.
3. Investments in professional photography will always pay off.
I can’t emphasise enough the value that custom photography will bring to your brand and campaigns. Stock photography can be a lifesaver, but it’s always someone else’s vision. Initially, you’ll need to invest a little more in photography. However, the payoff - converting clicks into customers faster - will really make the investment worthwhile.
Pro tip: Finding the right photographer can feel like a lottery, so do ask colleagues, business associates and friends for recommendations. A word of warning: most people know at least one hard-working freelance photographer who specialises in a particular area like people, food or events. Do provide a brief or you’ll be inundated with responses!
4. Don’t stop SEO at your web copy
Chances are your web developers are likely applying basic SEO techniques to web copy, especially Google’s recommendations for image optimisation. However many marketing and communications people fail to apply simple SEO best practices to images they use in campaigns and promotional material. This means losing out on important ranking power.
Pro tip: First, always be sure to use unique images that are relevant to the page. The images should be of the highest quality, and as small as possible. Always include a concise caption and utilise the “Alt Text” to maximise accessibility.
5. Boost engagement and sales with video
The decision whether to use video on your site should be a ‘no-brainer’. According to HubSpot, 64 percent of online shoppers are more likely to purchase a product after watching a video about it. Emails that include videos can boost click-through rates by up to 300 percent. Demand for video is growing as younger consumers go online. Indeed, 54 percent of people want to see more video content from marketers.
And yet, so many companies shy away from video because they are concerned about production time and costs. According to Forrester, only 38 percent of companies received passing marks for engaging consumers with video.
Pro tip: More research from HubSpot reveals that videos under 90-seconds have a high retention rate of 53% and that 34% of viewers keep watching until the end. So keep your video content brief and to the point. That also has the advantage of keeping production time and costs down.
I hope these basic points of advice will persuade you to integrate more visuals into your website, campaigns and online marketing materials. It can feel daunting at first, so start slowly and experiment.
Watch the analytics to see how content is performing and build things up over time. When you get them right, visuals really help to boost engagement, foster long-lasting connections and convert more clicks into commerce!
By Juli Greenwood, Director of Global Communications, Cloudinary