Good images make for good content

If social scientists and literacy experts are to be believed, the internet has turned us into a bunch of skimmers and scanners, capable of digesting no more than 140 characters at a time and easily derailed by memes and clickbait. NPR drove that point home brilliantly with a provocatively titled article that exposed a crowd of so-called “readers.” (Gotcha!)

So how, in a world where most readers don’t even make it halfway down the page, do you get your content to stand out and make people actually pay attention? One way is to use visuals.

First impressions matter

Users make aesthetic judgments of websites in as little as 17 milliseconds, according to Google researchers. Compare that with a blink of an eye, which takes 300-400 milliseconds. If you had such a short amount of time to grab someone’s attention, would you show them an image or a block of text? Leading with an image engages readers and opens the door for what you have to say with words.

Something is not always better than nothing

As important as visuals are, you can’t just throw up any old image and expect your stats to skyrocket. A low-quality, pixelated image that obliquely references something in the text isn’t going to get you anywhere and may even detract from your content. At the very least, it will distract readers from the message you’re trying to communicate.

Good images illustrate and explain

While a picture may not be worth 1,000 words (cognition scientist Alan F. Blackwell pegs it closer to 84.1), images convey meaning much more succinctly than text. Instead of writing a paragraph about something, try using an image that clearly and simply illustrates your point. When users can instantly understand your message without having to wade through cumbersome, unexciting blocks of text, they’re much more likely to stick around.

Use stock photos sparingly

Eye tracking studies show that stock photography is largely ignored on the web. We’ve seen enough smiling, generic-looking nobodies selling insurance and IT services to last a lifetime. However, when used thoughtfully and sparingly, stock images can still be impactful. We have a soft spot for Stocksy, a cooperative that prioritizes high-quality photos and fair pay for photographers. Or, if you’re strapped for cash, microstock sites like these ones are a great place to find images — gratis!

Don’t be afraid to DIY

If you own a smartphone in 2015, you already own one of the best compact cameras on the market. It’s always with you, it’s easy to use, and it makes uploading and sharing images a breeze. Even if you don’t fancy yourself a photographer, creating usable, high-quality images for your site is totally feasible. Check out these tips for improving your phone photography skills, then up your game with these photo editing and management apps.

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