When Pictures Hurt Websites

Is it possible that an entire marketplace is wrong? Could it be that the biggest buyers of low-cost photography aren’t just wasting their money by buying images but actually damaging their own earnings? And if it is the case, is it possible that we can keep this to ourselves so that they don’t find out?

The answers to the first two questions aren’t entirely clear but the last one is a definite “no.” Enquiro Research, a firm that uses eye-tracking technology to follow what users look at when browsing – or more accurately, scanning – websites, has published a white paper that offers some disturbing news for image users… and for their suppliers too.

The company has found that when placed on Web pages, images can act as barriers to action rather than the sort of eye candy that generates sales when placed on magazine covers. Users don’t just ignore them; they try to look around them. Worse, when action buttons (or “triggers”) such as subscription fields or purchase links are placed near or even on those images, users look straight past those too then click away.

“…design theories are based on a push media perspective, where a glossy graphic grabs attention and brand association,” the report says. “In this medium, sometimes big graphics get in the way, sometimes white space and videos are hurdles that the user begrudgingly jumps over; and sometimes those newspaper type grid layouts create too many barricades to a natural scanning pattern.”

All of that suggests that there are more problems with websites than the fact they have photos. The biggest problems, it seems, is that designers don’t know how to use them. That’s good news for photographers — it means there’s hope for them yet. But also because it means they might be able make their own websites better.

Copy the Photographer

Ironically, photographers seem to be better at using their images than their clients are — although that might just be because they have it easier. Because the photos are the main items on a photographer’s Web page (what Enquiro calls the “anchor point”), specialized portfolio services like PhotoBiz make the images big and the text small. Users will click the arrow button at the bottom of the image to see the next photo, and most of the time that’s all you want them to do. At some point though, you will also want the user to stop looking at the pictures and get in touch. Enquiro’s research suggests that users are most likely to do that if the contact page itself contains no images at all, a practice that most photographers seem to follow anyway.

But the company’s research also suggests that certain types of images might work better than others, especially when put in the right places. When that happens they can act as gateways rather than as barriers. Photos placed on the side of the page for example, are most likely to complement natural scanning flows while even large images in the center of a page can be ignored. Much though depends on whether the user is looking for information in written form or is hoping to see some nice pictures.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean that side graphics are better than top graphics,” the report says. “It means that these graphics are obvious barriers when a user is driving the relationship and looking for information. Blending your conversion trigger into that graphic makes it invisible. A better strategy is to put the trigger at the end of the user’s natural flow through the text elements on the page.”

So take a look at many websites and you’ll probably find that a high percentage of the photos are in the wrong place and obstructing action. But why should you care? As long as the client is paying for the photo, it’s not your business to tell him what to do with it, right?

Wrong. You want your clients to succeed. If the images you sell them do the job, they won’t just come back for more. They’ll be back with even more money than tey had before.

Help your Buyers Use your Photos

One strategy you might want to use then is that in addition to selling image licenses from your website, you could also offer suggestions on how those images should best be used. That might sound a little presumptuous – after all, you’re just the photographer not a designer. But just as you might appreciate a notice on a client’s website saying what sort of images he was looking for, so your buyers might like a little guidance about the best way to use your photos.

You wouldn’t want to lay down rules. But some well-meaning suggestions recommending that they put the image below the trigger rather than next to it could be helpful – especially if you also include keywords that help with your search engine ranking.

With microstock sites making nine-figure revenues from images often used on websites, and with every Web page filled with graphics, photos and multimedia, it might be a little odd to suggest that buyers are using them wrongly, and certainly to worry that they’ll stop using them. If Enquiro’s report is right though, it’s only a matter of time before buyers start to realize that they aren’t getting the most out of their purchases. When that happens you want to be sure you’re in the best position to cash in on the change.

And in the meantime, of course, you can keep selling your photos to whoever wants to buy them, whatever they want to do with them.

One comment for this post.

  1. sabrina Said:

    great article, i totally agree. i just had a job and the client had a diesigner who used my photos in all the wrong ways and my suggestions went NO WHERE, I am so unhappy with the site that even tho the shots were good you will never see that on my portfolio.

    who ever made up the saying that customer's always right.. was soo wrong 😉

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