10 ways images can make your content more effective

Infographics will take your message only so far. Try these other ways of adding visuals to your content marketing to expand your reach and attract new customers.

There’s no shortage of content on the Internet. More than 2 million blog posts are published every day.

If you’re a content publisher or work for an organization that engages in content marketing, all that content poses a challenge: How can you stand out? Is there any hope of being memorable or getting your audience’s attention?

Some content publishers hope the volume approach will get their audience’s attention. They publish lots of content—up to several pieces per day. Another approach is to create a small amount of high-quality content that you promote to the hilt.

Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. We create high-quality content fairly frequently, then promote it as much as possible.

However, I like to cheat.

I don’t mean stealing other people’s content or using black-hat SEO, clickbait or anything like that. I mean keying on how people’s brains work—and people’s brains work with images.

Images grab attention

Our brains process visual information 60,000 times faster than text, but that’s just the beginning of how hard-wired we are to favor images.

Although I’d love to rattle off a dozen statistics about why images are persuasive, we really ought to know how to apply those statistics. How can we use all this nifty brain science to get better marketing results?

Here are 10 ways to use images in marketing:

1. Include a header image in blog posts.

There are a couple of reasons you should do this. First, when people land on the blog post, they’re more likely to stay if there’s an attractive image.

Second, the photo you use becomes the default image people see when someone shares your post on social media. This drives more shares, and thus more views, of your post.

OKDork and BuzzSumo recently studied 100 million articles and discovered that articles with at least one image get more than twice as many shares as articles with no images.

Because that header image will be used on social media sites, make sure it looks good in a variety of sizes. (In other words, skip the small type.)

Use Canva to make your header images. It’s the granddaddy of online image-creation tools.

If you feel that you don’t have enough graphic design skills to fill a teaspoon, don’t worry. Check out Canva’s Design School for a quick design education.

2. Add an image every 350 words.

This is Neil Patel’s recommendation based on a BlogPros study about which articles get the most shares and reads.

Images are so crucial to the user experience that they’re now an SEO ranking signal, SearchMetrics’ 2015 Ranking Factors study says.

To find images, try any of the dozens of free image sites online. Canva offers a nice collection, as does nuSchool.

3. Include photos of your staff.

People connect best with other people—not with faceless companies.

To make your marketing more human, include photographs of the people behind it. Add a photo of the blogger next to her byline. Include staff headshots on your about page. You can even add photos of contributing authors near the credits in an e-book.

The images don’t have to be huge. Try something like this at the end of a blog post:

4. Make more infographics.

Infographics may not be the sharing magnets they were a few years ago, but they still perform well. A Buzzsumo study found that infographics still get more shares than any other content type.

You don’t have to make long infographics. Three data points is enough for a simple one. Just don’t forget to include the date, copyright information and your sources. Also be sure the infographic’s file name includes your organization’s name.

5. Use before-and-after images to show effectiveness.

There’s a reason diet ads show before-and-after images. Nothing illustrates effectiveness better than before-and-after shots.

This approach is so deeply ingrained in us that Discover didn’t even have to show a difference in the images to make its point:

What would be more compelling: Telling you the Hamptons were crowded on Labor Day and practically empty the next day, or to show you this:

Comparisons like this prompted the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

6. Use images for simple tutorials.

You’ve probably seen step-by-step visual tutorials for tying a tie or applying makeup. Adapt this idea for your marketing purposes.

You can show what’s required for a project, as Cutting Edge Stencils did here:

Or you could create an image featuring products in a survival kit for a huge conference, the holiday marketing season, daylong meetings, etc. Here’s one for the zombie apocalypse:

7. Use images to describe an item’s anatomy.

Also known as diagrams, these images are good educational content. The image below was part of an interactive infographic, the “Extreme Guide to the World,” created by HCC Medical Insurance Service (HCCMIS).

With careful content planning, brilliant execution and influencer promotion, this infographic drove a 1,000 percent increase in blog traffic and a 96 percent increase in email revenue.

8. Use images to describe a process.

Flow charts (or process charts) get a lot of play in magazines. It’s time that B2B marketers stole this technique.

There are a lot of survival flowcharts online to inspire you. Create a B2B version, such as a CRM upgrade survival chart or a 2016 tax season survival chart.

Here’s a nice flowchart from FastCoDesign.com:

9. Use hard-drawn graphics, doodles or charts.

Do you want to add an edgy, startup feel to your content? Do so with hand-drawn graphics. You can also add your own handwriting.

If drawing a stick figure seems beyond your artistic ability, have no fear. Copyblogger has a terrific post titled “How to Create Simple Drawings to Clarify Your Ideas and Captivate Your Audience” that can get you started.

Also check out James Clear, who makes simple but elegant hand-drawn graphics for his blog posts.

Once you’re comfortable with hand-drawn charts and stick figures, try your hand with a business cartoon. Humor can be a powerful persuader-just handle it carefully.

10. Make memes.

Memes are a staple on many social networks. They consists of a memorable image overlaid with a clever phrase or quote.

You can create memes with a dozen different free tools, such as MemeGenerator.net. To create memes on your phone, check out WordSwag. (It also lets you send eye-catching text messages.)

For best results, avoid stock photographs

This can seem challenging, but it’s easier than you’d think. Photographs of real people and places will get you more results than photos of models. A consumer credit counseling service discovered this when it let MarketingExperiments run a test on its home page.

In that test, the image of a real person got 34.7 percent more conversions than the stock photo.

Based on the results of this test and its experience optimizing websites for nearly two decades, Marketing Experiments put together this image assessment grid. It might help you ask the right questions when you’re selecting an image:

The Nielsen Norman Group also recommends using photos of real people.

If you have to use a stock photo …

Check TinEye.com before you publish. This free online tool will show you how often your stock image has been used.

Here’s an example of an image from the cool, but popular, free image site UnSplash.com:

If I paste that image’s URL into TinEye, I get these results:

TinEye also has browser plugins for FireFox, Chrome, Opera and IE.

One more piece of advice: Choose photos that don’t look like stock photos. Every image database has thousands of perfectly polished models, but they also often have a couple dozen photos of people who look real. Run those shots through TinEye, and see what you get. You might find the perfect shot.

How do you use visuals in your marketing?

A version of this article originally appeared on the Act-On blog.


Ragan.com Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from Ragan.com directly in your inbox.