Take a good look at your website. Are you really sure that the images used to support the content are doing any heavy lifting? Can you express out loud why each image is there and the benefits it brings?

I’m suspecting in a many cases there will be a l-o-n-g silence.

In this day and age, good design standards and conversion tactics are well known, leading to a higher overall standard of site design. Most people are so used to interacting with high quality websites that they can spot a dud instantly, which usually lowers their trust to zero.

One of the key things that sends their trust crashing to zero is stock photography. No matter how good it is, people will mostly react negatively to stock photography, even if they don’t realize they are doing it.

If your site contains stock photography, that is where your trust and conversion problems could be hiding.

When People Feel Vulnerable Online They Click Away

D. M. Rousseau, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, states that:

“Trust is a psychological state comprising the intention to accept vulnerability based upon positive expectations of the intentions or behavior of another”

The key words you need to pick up on are “accept vulnerability”. A website needs to generate enough trust signals to bring down the defensive shields of the viewer, or at least just enough for you to connect with them.

Once you connect, they will trade off their vulnerability against their desire for what you have to offer them.

Numerous studies have now found that people can rapidly filter out stock imagery, or make an instant decision based upon viewing it. In eye movement studies, it has been found that people do not place any value on what they perceive as stock images.

In some cases the images may not even be “stock”, but unless they appear to show real people or situations relevant to the text, then they are filtered out visually.

The cold fact is that even average Joe has learned that stock images are cheap to buy and do not offer information to him that will help make a trust decision about you.

Average Joe could even be sidetracked by wondering what you have to hide, or why you were too lazy to photograph your actual business, or lack pride in your own people.

Click, he’s gone.

This can be backed up by peer reviewed science. Riegelsberger et. al (2003) and Aldiri et. Al (2008) both found that a facial photo of an obviously real representative was a strong trust indicator.

When that trust indicator was absent it was not considered further, but when it was present but unconvincing, it provoked a strong negative reaction in the viewer, causing them to lose trust and move on.

People Like People, But Only When They Are Real People

Every day of our lives, mostly without even realizing it, we are making judgments about people through visual contact alone. You know what I mean by that, sometimes you will look somebody up and down and think “I don’t really trust you.” You don’t know why, but you get an instant feeling generated by the images your brain is receiving.

The same thing happens when we are viewing a webpage. One interesting split test found that replacing a generic contact me image with a picture of a human face increased conversions by 48%.

So even though people knew who they were contacting by name, they were more encouraged to actually do so when they could see the face and the name.

The bottom line here is that if you invest in good quality images of you and your employees, within a context that makes it immediately clear they are real, it can have a positive effect on the trust you build and the actions people take. Showing people who you are, within the context of what you can do for them, builds an emotional connection that can be very powerful.

Build Clarity And Don’t Expect Emotional Charity

As well as trying to use real human faces to build an emotional connection, the images must also reinforce the message you are delivering on that webpage.

So for example, if you are a removal company, don’t just have a picture of a smiling guy with a box in his hand, make sure you take a picture of that guy in front of one of your removal vans outside somebody’s house.

Manipulating the context of a photo in this way will build an instant connection, that drives right to the heart of what you are offering the visitor.

Although the smiling guy with a box might be good enough for a few people, he won’t be good enough for everyone. Put that guy in front of a van with his box outside a house, and every visitor will understand what the content is about in under a second and link your company directly to that positive image.

  • Have a highly relevant image

Few will believe this is your team.

  • Make sure it creates context for the words on the page
  • Ensure that it creates rapid understanding of the topic

Text alone can take a few seconds to comprehend and is read slowly. If somebody lands on your webpage and it has no highly relevant and believable image on it, it will take them as long as 10 seconds to read the first few lines of text and fully comprehend what is going on. This is very often more time than people are willing to invest in a website.

If you have already delivered the context of the page through a believable and highly relevant image the second they hit the page, then the text will be read with instant clarity.

Rather than asking “Am I on the right page?” Your webpage visitor will already be passed comprehension stage and into considering the information. If you don’t instantly answer the “Am I on the right page” question visually, you are relying on the visitor giving you the benefit of the doubt. Your conversion rate will reflect this.

Stock Imagery Can Have Benefits If You Are Honest When Using It

In many situations, people use stock photography for the reason of filling space on a webpage. If the image is only there for that purpose, you would be wise to reevaluate the whole page to make it more productive.

It’s not true that stock imagery does nothing in every circumstance, it can still create an emotional connection with your visitors if you are able to take a conceptual approach to your imagery. Let’s be honest, not everyone has the budget to hire a professional photographer to build a library of images for their exclusive use. In these instances, it’s very important to consider the images that you choose. Ensure that the image can not be construed literally to avoid the possibility of damaging visitor trust.

In these cases, although the stock photography will not generate significant trackable eye movements, it is establishing valuable context.

However, that is a minor benefit. The issue here is that most images add very little to the webpage they are on, in terms of the goal for that page, when compared to using original photography.

Another important note to remember is to never write your marketing message based on an image. Far too often, many people will see an image they really like and then try to write their content based upon a photograph. This approach is completely backwards. The message you want to convey should be constructed first and it should be able to stand alone without an image. If you’re writing your marketing content based upon an image you like, step back think about whether or not you are pigeonholing yourself all for an image that you like.

The exception for stock imagery is ecommerce. If people are buying global brands on a site like Amazon, they are happy to see stock product imagery. But even in this context, the the message from testing is that using images which build additional context will bring dividends.

Consider as an example a small regional electrical retailer. If our website is purely full of the same stock images as on Amazon, but with prices 10% higher, what is the website visitor going to think?

But if alongside those stock images are real images of sales staff in the shop talking to customers with those products, it will convey a different message. That message is obviously a trust and customer care message.

Take A Long Hard Look At The Images You Use On Your Website

So take a look at your website and consider the imagery in detail. From the eye of an outsider, ask yourself some challenging questions:

  • Does the image build instant understanding of what the page content is about?
  • Does the image connect with the viewer?
  • Is there a real human connection?
  • Do I trust this webpage is what is claims to be, purely based on the visuals?
  • What was the reason for that image being there?
  • Is this really just a filler image?

The biggest barrier to your visitor making contact or buying from you is usually trust. If the photography on your site does not reflect your actual company, what message are you sending potential customers?

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