Once upon a time, online content was just text. And links. With the occasional grainy photo of a large conference room filled with the backs of people’s heads.
Not any more.
Today the best content is rich with striking photos and graphics, not just because they look great (which they do), but because they work.
Make Your Visuals
Research shows that while we retain only 20% of what we read and 10% of what we hear, we hold onto 80% of what we see. Visual content is that extra push to make sure your message and your audience have the meetup you’ve been planning — and remember it afterward.
But stepping into the deep end of the visual content pool can seem terrifying to a lot of us. “I’m not an artist,” we think. “The only photos I take are on my iPhone!” So how do you make visual content work for you when you don’t have a huge design budget or a designer on staff?
1. Think strategically about the images you use
There’s a simple rule of thumb I’ve been heard to mutter under my breath while selecting photos: “Brand first. Image second.”
It’s all too easy to have your head turned by a gorgeous photo and thereby torpedo the message you’re trying to deliver. While puppies and kittens rate among the most clickable content on the Web, chances are an adorable Golden Retriever probably has absolutely nothing to do with your product … unless you sell pet supplies.
- Who’s the audience? What’s their experience of your product?
- What’s the tone of the message you’re delivering? Serious? Hip? Funny? Thoughtful?
- How will an image contribute to a compelling product story and support the call-to-action?
Perhaps most important, your image should never be an afterthought to the text. Start thinking about the right photo or graphic during copy development.
2. Share images from your customers
Think about it: you and your customers are co-owners of your brand experience. So why not invite them co-create your visual content too?
But that doesn’t mean you have to post blurry, boring photos on your Facebook page just to please your customers. It’s absolutely OK to set standards for image size, quality, composition and subject matter. Set up a page on your website and throw in some tips:
- Think about the emotional response you want your photo to inspire: pleasure, curiosity, sadness, delight — whatever. Aim for an interesting composition so it naturally becomes the gateway to your text.
- Make sure your photo has a focal point that’s intriguing. (Where is that woman with the red shoes going?)
- Group shots are deadly. Instead, feature the faces of no more than 2-3 people, heads tipped together and cropped so we can see their expressions.
- Help your subjects feel relaxed and comfortable in front of the camera so that even a posed shot seems spontaneous.
3. Customize stock photos to make them your own
Stock photo sites have been an incredible lifesaver for those of us who don’t have sizeable design budgets. (It’s impossible to imagine life without iStock or Shutterstock, and new sites pop up all the time.)
They’re also tremendously helpful when you need a photo — and fast — so you can maximize a real-time opportunity. But used without discretion, they can make your visual content look conventional and your marketing uninspiring. And Google isn’t a fan of them either, because it doesn’t want to rank multiple copies of the same old boring sunset.
That’s where the new DIY tools have become indispensible for your marketing efforts.
Canva, for example, lets you play designer without a degree and holds your hand throughout the process with a wide assortment of templates, fonts, backgrounds and more. They have a free Design School that’s worth an investment of your time. It’s a terrific confidence builder and a way to train your eye to look for quality in visual content.
4. Optimize, optimize, optimize
We’ve gotten pretty conversant about SEO for text, but it’s essential for search to optimize your visual content too.
It depends on the CMS you use for your website, but at the very least make sure every image you load has a title, an alt tag and a description. (Alt tags were originally designed to provide explanatory text when an image fails to load. Of late they’ve become a great way to give your SEO a boost.)
A few pointers to keep in mind:
- Think about your goal for the user.
- Use keywords to help your site rank better
- Describe the image with an eye to supporting your strategy for the post.
- Think about the text surrounding the image and keep your tags relevant. (This also helps Google index your content and rank it.)
5. Maximize the money you do spend on a professional designer
If you do make the decision to hire a professional designer, here’s what to ask for so the investment has long-lasting benefit for you:
- A series of properly branded templates (backgrounds over which you can overlay text) to give every promotion a polished, consistent look
- Two files for every image designed or photo taken: a regular .jpg and a .png with a transparent background (That way you can add a graphic or text on any background.)
- Proper tagging so all your images are easily searchable once they’re posted to your library
How are you using visual content in your marketing? What’s working? What’s still tripping you up?