On the Web, traditional marketing images are increasingly being seen as useless annoyances by customers. They undermine the credibility of the brand.

The two webpages were trying to get you to sign up for test drives for supercars. They were identical (pictures of the cars, video, etc.) except for different headlines:


One headline convinced 34 percent more visitors to fill out and submit the lead generation form. "We think headlines can be the most influential element on the page, and this test certainly shows that," the WhichTestWon website stated. "WhichTestWon.com research shows headline tests are one of the easiest ways to raise your site's conversion rates," Ann Holland founder of WhichTestWon states. "Subhead tests and response device headlines (such as wording on a button or at the top of a form) are also extremely powerful."

Words are absolutely critical to the success of a website and yet many marketers, communicators and senior managers spend far more time on images.

"My group must continually respond to requests to add yet another image to our home page," Cliff Tyllick wrote to me in an email recently. Cliff is the Web development coordinator for the Agency Communications Division of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Cliff went on to state that they had done a large study of their homepage's usability which "showed quite clearly that images not only divert attention from themselves ("This looks like an ad. I'm not here to buy anything; I'm here to get something done.") but also poisoned the drawing power of words at or below their level on our home page ("This looks like fluff, so nothing beside or below it could possibly be serious. I'm looking for serious content.").

One participant in the study Cliff's team conducted visited the website every day and complained that it was impossible to find information on a particular program. For the previous six months there had been a large graphic on the homepage advertising this very program.

In another website we were involved with there was a graphic advertising a service in the right column of the homepage immediately visible. The homepage was long and three screens down there was a text link for this service. The link got several times more clicks than the graphic ad.

In another study we did most participants never even saw the banner ad that took up 40% of the homepage because they had clicked on a navigation link before it had time to fully download. Yahoo did a major study on banner ad effectiveness and found that while these ads had some impact on those over 40, those younger than 40 hardly ever saw them.

If these stock photography marketing cliché images are actually damaging to a brand's reputation, why do we keep using them? There was an Irish family that had a tradition of cutting the roast in two every Christmas. One of the children wanted to know why but nobody could tell her. It was a tradition going back generations, she was told. Finally, the child asked her grandmother. "When I was young, sweetheart," the grandmother said, "we had a very small oven."

Recommended Reading: Web Design: The Decline of the Homepage