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How Great Photography Makes (or Breaks) Great Websites

Countless aspects combine to make up a successful website. The code needs to be just right, it has to communicate your core message, and it should be optimized to be found easily through social media. 

And yet, all of these (and other) factors matter little if you cannot get the visuals right.

It's a simple fact, but one that's too easily ignored: great photography can make or break your website. Choose the right visuals, and your SEO will take off, your visitors stay longer, and your website contributes directly to business growth. Fail to do so, and you waste significant resources on a website that cannot attract, convert, or delight your potential customers.

That means you have to be strategic. You have to not just feature visuals on your website, but also ensure that those visuals are actually effective. Here's what you need to know to make that happen.

The Basics: Why Visuals Matter in Web Design

First things first: never underestimate the power of effective visuals. Especially on your website, they should form the center and focal point of each page you're looking to convert. From your homepage to individual landing pages, these visuals help you quickly and effectively communicate the most important information.

According to Nielsen, the average visitor to your website only reads about 20 percent of your written content. The rest is communicated by visuals. That makes sense, considering the fact that 90 percent of all information transmitted by our senses to our brain is visual.

And that's only the surface. A number of studies have found that it takes your visitors about 50 milliseconds to form an opinion about your website. For reference, that's about 0.05 seconds. Try reading even a single word in that time, and one thing is clear: your visuals make or break the way your potential customers feel about your website.

Just wait, it gets worse (or better, depending on your viewpoint). Almost 95 percent of visitors consider the visual appeal more important than the text on the page. Finally, the kicker: visual impressions are even more important than the usability and navigability of your site.

Combine all of these statistics and studies, and one thing becomes clear. Without effective visuals that capture your audience's attention, your website might as well be dead in the water. You absolutely need them to attract, convince, and convert your first-time visitors into long-term brand loyalists.

The Enduring Importance of Photography

Visuals, of course, is a relatively generic term. It can describe anything from video to infographics on a blog post. Which of them works best depends on the intended purpose. But in terms of overall effectiveness, we'll make a bet: nothing beats effective photography.

Ultimately, your potential customers want to see themselves in the right situation to make a purchase. That means showcasing both representative members of your target audience, and use cases of your product in the right situation. Each of them can be effective with professional photography.

Imagine the situation from your audience's perspective. You've encountered a pain point, and need a solution. So you start googling it. You might come across a few websites: one relatively basic one that describes a solution in word form, one that simply promotes its product, and one that actually shows a situation like yours solved with the product it offers.

Which of these you choose to look into further should be obvious. The one with visual proof of usability in a situation like yours will almost always win out. Sure, video, infographics, and other types of visuals matter in specific situations. But photography does and should continue to form the backbone of your online presence.

Custom Photography vs. Stock Photos: Which Works Best for Your Website?

We've established the importance of visuals, and the central place photography should play in these visuals. That leaves one final, crucial question: just where should that photography come from? How can you ensure that you're using images that actually help you accomplish your marketing goals?

The easy answer seems to be stock photography. It's relatively inexpensive, and comes with full publishing rights. You can find an image for nearly any situation. And yet, it might not actually be a good idea.

Stock photography is many things, but it's not unique. In fact, it won't help you realize many of the situations outlined above. You cannot show your own product in relevant use cases, or highlight images that showcase your team and facilities. Instead, you run the risk that your closest competitor decides to use the exact same image for their own promotional purposes.

That doesn't mean there is no place for stock photography on your website. Because so much of your online presence has to be visual, stock photos help to fill the gaps to make sure that everything you post - from blog post to social media update - has at least one visual attached. But your central images, the photos that come to define your brand, need to be custom.

One study, in fact, found that custom photography drove an 139 percent increase in website clicks. Hosting your own professional photoshoot helps you communicate your unique brand to your customers in a way that stock images simply cannot. 

Building a Visual Website to Accomplish Your Business Goals

Simply put, nothing beats high-quality, relevant photography for your website. It allows you to showcase your own products, used in situations that your research has actually shown your audience will use them. It also ensures that your messaging (visual and otherwise) is unique enough to distinguish your brand from your competition.

Getting there can be difficult. Actually getting that custom photography is certainly more complex than simply buying a few stock photos online. But the positive return you get will be well worth that initial investment.

Great photography on your website is a powerful tool. It attracts your audience's attention, effectively communicates your unique value proposition, and converts web visitors into brand loyalists. Once you integrate it into your web design throughout your site, the results will follow naturally.

You have to get there first. But once you do, the results will speak for themselves.