How to select the perfect header image (Part 1)

By 5 June, 2017Uncategorized
–This is Part 1 of a 2-part series on How To Select The Perfect Images.–

A few weeks ago a new client came through one of our workshops.

As we always do, we opened their website to see how long it would take us to figure out what they do. The website opened with a stunning photograph of a big, majestic oak tree, with beautiful rolling hills in the background stretching all the way to the horizon. It was a lovely photo. Underneath, a headline read: “Nature’s wonders”

I told my client: “Ok, from a very quick glance I would say that you run some kind of resort in a beautiful natural oasis. I don’t see a booking form, though”.
The client looked at me in horror and said: “No! Not even close. We sell sustainable designer furniture.”

If I had scrolled down and started reading the text, then of course I would have read about chairs, tables, and so on, but like most visitors I was only scanning the website, and the header image is what I used to form my first opinion.

Because, here’s the thing:

The human brain takes 13 milliseconds to process an image.

To put that in context it takes about 5 seconds to read and process a headline. This means that before you’ve even registered the presence of words on a website, you’ve already formed an opinion on it.

On top of that users devote about 80% of their attention to the area above the fold (that’s everything that you can see of a website before you have to scroll).

It becomes clear that if you want your website to engage visitors and convert them into buyers, your header image is probably a good place to start.

So, how do you make sure that the very first thing your customers see elicits the right impression?

In this first part, I want to take you through a list of the most common mistakes I see with header images. In part 2 I will give you a formula for selecting the right image every single time.

Your website may be turning customers away if you are making any of these mistakes:

1. Your images are misleading

Think of the example I gave about my furniture client. Obviously their intention was to emphasise the natural quality of their products, and to use Nature to say “sustainability”. But people don’t consume company websites they way they consume a magazine, or even a blog post. You have 13 milliseconds to make an impression. Even if it’s a good one, make sure you’re not making the wrong one!

2. Your images are just decoration

Many companies, and even web designers, select images purely on the visual value they think they will add to the website. This is, at best, a waste of precious digital real estate. I’ve seen plenty of websites that use a textured background (some classics are wood, paper and canvas) just so their headline sits on something pretty. That image serves absolutely no purpose: it does not tell a story, it does not show a product, and it doesn’t move anyone.

3. Your images are negative

Many websites use their images to show the pain or the problem that their customers face, and that they promise to solve. While it is very important to show that you understand your customer’s problem, images are NOT the place to do that.
Remember, 13 milliseconds! In such a short time you will just elicit an emotion, and guess what: if your image portrays a pain it can only be a negative emotion.

4. Your images are too crowded

Regardless of the type of image you selected, or how good they are if your images are too crowded it will lead to a sense of confusion, which is enemy n. 1 in marketing. Your marketing efforts should go towards creating clarity, and a crowded image will ruin that very quickly. 13 milliseconds to be precise!

5. Your images are commonplace

I am talking about generic stock images of people in suits jumping and cheering, attractive tele-support girls smiling at you, businessmen having the best meeting of their lives, and so on.
Please don’t do it. They look stupid and you’re really just inviting visitors to make fun of you.


Bonus mistake: Don’t use sliders.

Sliders, or rotating carousels, show multiple header images in more or less rapid succession. There are 2 main problems with sliders:

1. You know what the brain detects even faster than images? Movement. That’s actually  a very nice feature of our reptilian brain that can save us from a snake lurking in the trees, but when it comes to websites it means that that movement will take our attention away from the message.

2. Sliders are the visual equivalent one of the biggest mistakes you can make in marketing: lack of focus and confusion.
You’re basically telling your viewers that that there is no important message for them to remember and that you’re not that convinced about your product/service/idea yourself.

Are you making any of these mistakes with the images on your website –especially your header image?
If so, your website may not be doing as well as it could, and you could be losing customers.
Go through your website today and start identifying the images that are not working.

When in doubt about an image, ask yourself this question: Is it contributing to tell the right story? If the answer is no, well, you know where the trash can is…


In part 2 we will go through a time-saving framework for selecting/commissioning the right images every time.