By Mike Goldberg published April 5, 2015

Real-World Analysis: 6 Ideas for Images That (Really) Work


Looking to connect with your audience? Don’t rely on words to start conversations; use images to communicate instead. With more and more competition for our increasingly short attention spans, it’s no wonder we are seeing an increased reliance on visuals as the leading form of communication across the web. Technology, coupled with our desire to consume as much information as possible as quickly as possible, has awakened our primal urge to communicate visually.

From the beginning of time, images have been at the center of human interaction. It began with cavemen communicating through drawings in, well, caves. The Egyptians did it through symbols on walls, and after what seems like an eternity, marketers have finally returned to embracing the power of images to tell brand stories. Did you know 90% of the information sent to the brain is visual, and that images are processed 600,000 times faster than text? Seems like using images in your messaging would be a no-brainer, but choosing the right image takes real smarts.

While a picture may be worth a thousand words, every picture has its own value. For advertising, it’s important to attract the customer’s attention in a subtle, yet meaningful way. The type of image you choose to use and where it runs could have a substantial impact on brand awareness and customer engagement. At TripleLift, we have reviewed hundreds of campaigns to understand the best types of images that get noticed. For this analysis, we looked at images used in B2C campaigns specifically served across the desktop. But even if you are working with B2B goals in mind, the results should not be much different. At the end of the day, you are looking to connect with a person on an emotional level, and using the right image can be the difference between success and failure.

Furthermore, whether you are trying to enhance awareness and visibility through a paid-, owned-, or earned-media strategy, images can have a substantial impact on results — especially when it comes to social sharing. A crux of the earned-media strategy, social sharing is escalated with the use of images. Seventy percent of advertising agency executives think people share more image-based ads versus text-based ads, according to a Digiday study last year.

Based on our analysis of over 100 native ad campaigns that ran in 2014, we found some of the common elements from each higher-performing image. This summary shares our recommendations based on an aggregate of findings including clicks, rollovers, and shares.

Do not show it alone

Products in action (a product set in a real environment) accounted for six times more shares than products in isolation (a product pictured alone). Since we tend to be visual thinkers, showing a product in a specific environment helps us visualize more easily how we could use this item in our own lives, as opposed to showing a product situated against a blank background. When developing content that references a product or service, it is important to show it in use.

photos-environment-image 1

Test images, not words

In A/B tests, we noticed that ad engagement increased by 65% when a new image was tested versus simply testing new copy. This observation does not discount the power of words, but in the end, subtle changes to an image have more of an impact than fretting over what words to use. Think about using different images to test which ones receive the strongest engagement from your audience.

test-images-not-words-image 2

Think real life

Don’t be so quick to use the photo of that fabulous model on the catwalk or stuffy businessman from stock photos. Real-life people in natural settings drove a 45% higher click-through rate and generated 15 times more shares than models in posed, studio environments. When crafting your story, you’re using words to be honest and evoke real emotions. You should do the same with the images you use. Try to source real photos from blogs and social media to support your content versus stock photos that end up hurting your narrative.

real-life-photos-image 3

Pave the way

Sending users to a product gallery versus a standalone product page resulted in 164% more time spent on a brand’s site. While the results seem obvious, few marketers do this, opting instead to direct users to the specific product featured in the content. Why not introduce prospects to a number of comparable products when they clearly have demonstrated a desire to learn more about a product or service?

product-gallery-image 4

Consider the real estate

Click-through rates for in-feed ads were six times higher than ads living on the right rail. Even when larger ads were on the right rail, in-feed ads performed better. This proves the old adage that it’s all about location. For delivering sponsored content, it is important to reach customers where they are paying attention. The area traditionally reserved for banners – outside of the prime content area of a website – goes unnoticed the most. We have been trained to ignore banners, and really, anything you place takes a back seat to the focal point of the site.

photos-location-image 5

Rise to the top

To further show the significance of the location, we noticed in-feed ads delivered below the fold still outperformed ads above the fold on the right rail, with a 270% higher click-through rate. Performance remained constant no matter where the in-feed ad was placed.

in-feed-photo-location-image 6

The web as a whole is relying significantly more on visuals to communicate. Sites are constantly updating their pages to focus on large images versus more text. That does not mean you cannot still engage users with relevant, inspiring words, you just need to supplement the words with engaging images that will capture their attention. If you employ some of the recommendations we’ve made, your content marketing results should be picture perfect.

Images, text, video, etc. – need help finding which content marketing tactics will put your business on the path to success? Check out our guide to Building the Perfect Content Marketing Mix: Execution Tactics.

Cover image by Viktor Hanacek, picjumbo, via

Author: Mike Goldberg

Michael Goldberg has a wealth of marketing experience in the rapidly evolving technology, advertising, and media space. As the Senior Director of Marketing, Michael oversees corporate branding and messaging, ensuring TripleLift is well positioned in the market. He leverages his insight and expertise to produce, measure, and grow marketing campaigns across multiple channels. Prior to joining TripleLift, Michael played a pivotal role in establishing Martini Media’s strong industry presence and developed the marketing plans for several unique products and services while serving as Marketing Director at Datran Media, now PulsePoint. He has spoken at various industry conferences, has written for a variety of publications, and is often quoted online and in print on technology, advertising, and media trends. Connect with Michael on Twitter @TripleLifeHQ or LinkedIn.

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  • Alessio Bresciani

    As a digital marketer, I often think about doing A/B tests, especially with headlines. This post is a good reminder to test different images, as well as different treatments of images (eg. model vs real people, as in the example above). Thanks.

  • Ram Babu SEO

    Thanks Mike for this wonderful job on real world analysis on Images perform, it’s really unbelievable facts you shared here .. . i am going to make some changes in my web presence and social sharing plan.

  • Steve O’Bryan

    This is great. It reinforces the idea that content comes in many different sizes and shapes, including of course photos and images. A/B testing of images is important but so is picking the right photo and or image. The photo should tell a story and that story should reinforce the content that is presented on the page. If the style, tone and mood doesn’t reinforce it what’s the point? So glad you wrote this. Thanks!

  • Mike Goldberg

    Glad this is helpful, as content marketers, we often overlook the power of an image to tell the story.

  • Kristen Colwell

    Great article, thank you!

  • Keith Winter

    Great article. We always try to think from the customer mindset, this reinforces this in an easy to understand manner.

  • Monica Galvis

    This is great information, thank you!

  • Jade

    Great insight!

  • Dom Reidman

    the picture image is also based on type of campaign your running. Most of those examples above are square images. For ‘like’ campaign the dimensions should be 1,200 by 444. That makes it mostly horizontal image.