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How Photography can Maximise Website Conversions

“Readers look first at the illustration, then at the headline, then at the copy.”

If you recognised that quote (top points if you did) you might not be surprised to hear I’m going through a bit of an “Ogilvy phase”. This followed my “Richard Branson” phase which mainly came about as I totally see myself owning a tropical island and working from a hammock in the future but I digress. Ever since getting into a conversation with a copywriter about Ogilvy, I have been engrossed in his books and intrigued by his theories on advertising and how easily they can be applied to user interface design.

His extremely successful agency Ogilvy and Mather worked hard to discover what worked and what didn’t and although he “hated rules” he still managed to come up with 15 tried and tested ways to use photographs to turn his advertisements into money-making machines. Not all of them are relevant in today’s world or with regards to the web, but here are the theories that I believe can still be applied:

  • The subject is more important than the technique.
    Ogilvy said that if you don’t have a particularly good idea for your photo, not even a great photographer can save you.
  • Photos work best when they arouse a reader’s curiosity.
    The more intrigue you inject into the photos, the more people will look at your ‘advertisement’ or in this case the rest of your website.


Photography used on The Coach website

  • Photos sell more than drawings
    Photographs are deemed more believable and better remembered. Ogilvy managed to triple the success of a campaign by substituting the drawings for photographs.
  • Keep it simple
    Focus your photos on one person. Crowd scenes don’t pull
  • Before and after pictures fascinate people
    If you have a product or service where this can be applied it’s worth knowing that in a study of 70 campaigns there wasn’t a single before and after campaign that did not increase sales.
  • Men prefer pictures of men, women prefer pictures of women.
    People want to see photos of people with whom they can identify.
  • Enlarged close-ups of faces repel readers!
    I can really relate to this one. People tend to get squeamish / intimidated / put off when faced with, well, a face! Especially I imagine, if it’s not a particularly attractive one.
  • Use recognisable people or characters
    It helps in making your brand / website / advertisement more memorable.
  • When you don’t have a story to tell in your photo, make your product the subject.


Photo taken by Irving Penn for Philippe Saalburg of FCB-Impact in Paris

Using photos to represent or communicate your content is one of the best ways of connecting with your site visitors and getting your message across. But there’s much more depth and potential to them; if you carefully think and plan them, there’s clear evidence they enhance the user experience, and ultimately increase site conversions.

A website is an advert, no matter which way you look at it. Once you realise this, you can apply processes and tactics that make it more user-centric and ultimately successful.

“Ogilvy on Advertising” David Ogilvy 1983.




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