Use Images (Not Just Words) to Turn Your Distracted Visitors into Engaged Readers

woman taking iPhone photo

If you have kids — or if you’ve ever been around kids — you’ve heard the sound before.

It’s a noise that’s somewhere between the cry of a lost wolf cub and the wail of a nearby car alarm. It’s one of the most annoying sounds you’ll ever hear.

It’s the ear-piercing cry of a child who has been over-stimulated.

The angelic child becomes a hot mess of whiny, clingy neediness.

If you’re the adult in charge and you manage to keep a cool head, you say something like, “Calm down. I don’t understand what you need. Use your words.”

And sometimes it works. It stops children long enough to engage their brains rather than just their emotions, and they are able to communicate what they need.

As consumers of information online, we’re a little like that over-stimulated child.

But as producers of online content, one of the worst things we can do is throw more words at our readers. Because the best way to reach an over-stimulated population is to offer something different. How do we do that?

I propose you offer an image.

We are visual people

More than half the surface of the brain is reserved for processing visual information.

With that much brain power behind understanding visuals, it makes sense to harness the power of images to communicate our messages.

Besides, we all know we’re drowning in words.

So. Much. Content.

Not. Enough. Time.

Fortunately, images are processed in a different part of our brains than words. Using them gives the over-stimulated, word-crunching parts of our brains a break. And images will help your carefully crafted words attract and hold attention and have more impact.

Harness the power of images

We’re living in an amazing time for people with the courage to learn new skills online. There are tools and resources available to all of us — many of them free — that would have been unimaginable 10 years ago.

Let’s review some of our options when it comes to image creation, starting with the pure DIY track.

Make your own images
Most of us are walking around with powerful cameras right on our phones.

You may feel like you’re not a competent photographer, but consistently using a service like Instagram can increase your confidence.

Instagram’s square format forces you to focus on the most important elements in your viewfinder, and the easy-to-apply effects make even ordinary photos more interesting.

A content marketing bonus? You can set up your account so it posts to Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook all at once. That’s what I call social media efficiency.

When looking for images to use in your blog posts and email marketing, think beyond images with people. Focus on showing the telling details instead.

For example, zoom in on the tools you use to do your work, whether they’re machines, computers, paintbrushes, or a big stack of books. Let viewers into your world by sharing close-ups from your environment.

Enlist stock photos
Stock photo sites are pretty amazing. I still remember the days when stock photo catalogs would arrive at the design studio where I worked in the early days of my career. They were bulky, unwieldy, and printed on paper. (Can you imagine?)

Plus, those stock photos each cost several hundred dollars, and the exact prices depended on how you would use the images. Once you received an image, which came in slide form, you had to pay to have it scanned and converted so you could use it in print.

Now, we have access to thousands of searchable, inexpensive stock images on sites such as:

And there are plenty of free stock image sites, too. Here are a few of my favorites:

To use photos from these sites for business purposes, be sure to review and respect any licenses associated with the images. And steer clear of the obvious, overused images and lame visual clichés.

Modify images with easy-to-use online tools
Unless you purchase exclusive rights to a stock image, you won’t be the only person using it.

The solution? Modify the image — add a filter, crop it creatively, or add text to it. My favorite sites for editing images are:

Remember, you want your image to be easy to “read” visually. Use filters that enhance, not obliterate, the original image.

If you decide to add text, use a clear, high-contrast font so the message can be read and understood in a single glance.

Dig into Flickr’s Creative Commons
Flickr has a deep well of images by photographers who’ve agreed to share their photos on a Creative Commons license. You’ll notice you see many Flickr images on Copyblogger. They take longer to find, but if you take the time they often bring a creativity that can be hard to find on the stock sites.

Searching Flickr by “Creative Commons” allows you to look through photos with a variety of licenses that allow you to share, adapt, or even use for commercial purposes. Be sure you understand what rights you have — and don’t have — for a given image. The broadest license is “Attribution Only,” which needs only credit and a link to the creator.

Keep in mind that it it takes time to find the great photos in the sea of amateur images. Copyblogger likes to build relationships with exceptional photographers on Flickr, in some cases even those who retain copyright of their work. The photographer gets a wider audience, and Copyblogger gets fantastic images. It’s a win-win.

Lead with an image

Our brains also process images faster than words.

Way faster.

In fact, our brains can process images in as few as 13 milliseconds, according to a team of neuroscientists at MIT.

Images at the top of blog posts work so well because they make an immediate impact and open the door to the rest of the information you present.

When you choose your image carefully, it can add shades of meaning to your content.

Look for images beyond typical stock photo fare. Avoid overly posed and polished images that feature professional models. Aim to find images that feature everyday people.

Avoid the obvious, and go for subtlety.

Get radical: consider only using images

Sometimes, an image can stand alone– whether it’s on your blog or social media.

Take, for example, this popular infographic here on Copyblogger: 11 Essential Ingredients Every Blog Post Needs.

It’s strongly visual content (paired, of course, with some well-chosen words), and as of this writing it has been shared more than 3,000 times on Twitter.

If you want to stretch this idea a bit, video is another format for sharing compelling content.

Think outside the word box

The next time you need a direct line to the inside of your prospects’ brains, consider an image.

If you’d like to chat more about how to use images to communicate your message, click over to Google+, and we’ll compare notes there.

Editor’s Note: If you are excited to learn more about how incorporating images increases the impact of your blog posts, we recommend you read this post by Alex Turnbull next: The 8 Types of Images That Increase the Psychological Impact of Your Content.

Correction: The original published version of this post claimed “visual information is processed 60,000 times faster than text,” based on a statistic cited by 3M. The research backing the number is not available, however, so the claim has been removed from this post.

Image via Death to the Stock Photo.

About the author

Pamela Wilson


Pamela Wilson is Director of Special Projects at Copyblogger Media. Follow her on Twitter or Google+, and find more from her at BigBrandSystem.com.

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