Pictures vs. Text: The arguments for and against the trend to have a "visually immersive" home page design |

As a web designer, I’ve seen a lot of design trends come and go over the last 15 years — from frames to flash websites to the rounded corner shininess of Web 2.0. The latest trend in web design includes eye-catching home pages with hugely immersive imagery (like evernote.com). But sometimes, this bold trend is difficult to pull off.  The thing is, what works for Evernote won’t necessarily work for your professional services website. Let me explain why.

If you are selling something beautiful, like a Tory Burch bag, an Armani suit, a vacation rental in the Caribbean, or a new Apple watch, this trend can be very effective in increasing sales. Similarly, the product you are selling may align with a passion that your audience shares. Patagonia sells clothes for the great outdoors, so adding amazing nature photos makes perfect sense and is “on-brand”. Immersive imagery on your home requires a significant investment in high-quality photography.

Another cutting edge trend is immersive video. Videos tell a story like no other media can — lifting a slice of hot, cheesy pizza for instance. This is expensive to pull off on a home page, and can obscure your message and confuse your audience. Quality videos can range from $3,000 – $20,000. Add to this the cost of your new website and decide whether it’s worth the investment. So often, I see small businesses covet new design trends even though these approaches end up being less effective than a less visual, more text-based approach. There are a few reasons for this.

It’s true that eye-catching photos can draw a site visitor in. They add color, texture and depth to a website. At the same time, a poorly chosen, inappropriate or low-quality image can tell the wrong story, confuse a site visitor, and diminish a brand.

If you are selling services such as legal, accounting, consulting, PR or business coaching, it is far more difficult to find a single image that represents your brand. I see consultants struggle with imagery all the time, and end up putting a big photo of themselves on their website. Unless you are a rock star consultant, like Tony Robbins or Dan Sullivan, it does not make sense for you to personally represent your brand, especially as you approach retirement or as you consider an exit strategy for your firm. I strongly believe that people like to do business with people (not brands), and so it makes good business sense to have your photo (and team photos) on your website. I am simply recommending that you don’t lead with a big photo of yourself (unless your face IS your brand, such as a speaker or songwriter).

So what types of imagery should a professional services firm include on their home page? Here’s what we recommend to our clients:

  1. Images taken in your office, and possible a small, professionally shot portrait (preferably in your office environment). It helps your site visitors to better know and trust your business. Your portrait makes your firm “real”, and a well-lit, lightly retouched, in-office portrait makes you look a thousand times more professional. For DC-metro firms, I highly recommend Tamzin Smith Photography.
  1. As appropriate, professional photos of you working with your clients, leading a workshop, or somehow delivering your services. We set up a photo shoot for Total Health Physical Therapy when designing their website and the photos really tell a story about the personality of the group.
  1. Photographs of your neighborhood or city, especially if you deliver services locally. If your website visitor recognize his/her neighborhood, it can be reassuring. Invest in stock by a professional photographer with a wide-angle lens and an eye for composition.

Avoid adding in photos that are irrelevant and unconnected to the services that you offer. I’ve seen websites with sailboats and golf courses and wine bottles. These are interests of the business owners and simply confuse website visitors.

Most importantly, remember that a business home page with little to no text is practically invisible to Google and Bing. Your home page is more important than any other page in Google’s rankings, and if you want your business to be found via search, it HAS to have text and search-friendly keywords. Words are how your business connects to new clients, words convey your value, and words explain how you are different from your competitors. Images are not enough. Never doubt that your ideal clients WILL read the text on your website as they make their decision to work with you— or choose one of your competitors instead.

Keep in mind that with just about any advice you get about pictures vs. text on your home page, there is almost always a strand of truth. People DO love pictures. Still, the wrong picture will send the wrong message and become a liability to your brand. People may not like to read a lot of text, this is true, but if they are your perfect clients and they are looking for your services, this text will matter to them. To discuss this post, feel free to email me at [email protected]!

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