Way back in 2012, Skyword confirmed the old adage about a picture being worth a thousand words ... or maybe it just proved the average person is far more interested in looking at an image than making his way through All Those Words.

However you spin in, Boston-based Skyword, a content marketing software and services company, deterimed embedding relevant images in content meaningfully improve content performance. Specifically, content containing related images generated, on average, 94 percent more views than articles without images.

It's enough to make every writer rue the day she passed on the opportunity to be a photographer.

But enough of that butt-kickling retrospection. Here we are, four years later, still trying to optimize our content and craft the best content strategies.

How can we make our marketing materials pop?

Carmen Pietrau, a content strategist at Dreamstime, a Brentwood, Tenn.-based microstock photography agency, thinks marketers should be strategic and careful when choosing photos. Certain types of photos will automatically engage the consumer’s eye, but if they don’t add to the overall campaign, they won’t achieve results, she explained.

Maximize Your Visual Content

1. Use images that speak for themselves

chili peppers
Either you come up with a powerful, short message or find an image to portray it.

"It may sound as cliché, but the image that speaks a thousand words by itself will actually turn viewers into customers faster than any superfluous copy. People rarely take the time to read the story, so go for the image that tells your story. Strong images convey strong messages. Fun photos are worth taking a campaign risk, and emotional images will make people remember who you are," she said.

2. Put yourself in your audience's shoes

Know your audience and who you're talking to. Think of their expectations and how you can relate this to your product. They may need it, but will they buy it?

"Ask yourself what people like, and you'll see that there is a graspable range of photography subjects that are common to today's audience. You can take the risk with a controversial theme, or you can play it safe with a subject everyone will definitely like, although it can come across as cliché if you aren’t careful," she said.

"Think of Facebook and who or what gets all the likes. Here's your abbreviated list: cats, babies, families, travelling, people, and food. Spot the right topic for your audience, and there you have it. Even if you're not selling pet stuff, you can often still get your message across when using a cute kitten or dog in the right context for your product."

3. Stay true to real life

dad baking with child
Remember the mantra: Be authentic and genuine. People relate to real people in real time, doing real stuff.

"We're living the snapshot era: casual Friday topped with an office party, mom and baby selfie seconds after birth, and a hungry man about to bite a juicy sandwich are just a few examples of images that convey the feeling of reality. You want to engage the audience emotionally, so visuals like someone chasing a windblown umbrella are more likely to evoke something to the viewer rather than a smiling salesperson," she explained.

4. Ranked highly? Use it!

Popular images are popular for a reason. And if other editors selected one stock photo over anoher, maybe you should consider using it to. Of course, this involves the risk of perpetuating an overused image.

"But for your campaign, you'll always want an image that is extremely good, both technically and conceptually. You want in-focus images that look crisp and clean. Go for bright colors, or choose a clean, simple black and white, especially if you're doing a campaign where you let the image do the talking," she said.

5. Customize Your Images

Stock images are cost effective, but alas they are also generic. How do you reallly make it yours? 

"All you need to do is add some clever edits to save the day, the message and your campaign. Don’t just add copy and hope for the best. Make the image yours by adding your brand sign in an unexpected place, contextualize it with a new background, photo shop something out or in the picture, and brighten the colors. In order words, personalize and customize it," she suggested.

All images from Dreamstime