When a thousand words fail you


A picture is worth a thousand words? Think again. The adage refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single image. It also sums up our ability to absorb large amounts of data more quickly through images as opposed to text.

With this in mind we are convinced that images should be an important part of your media mix. Research shows that for the average web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words; 20% is more likely. So it makes sense to use images to convey thousands more words that strengthen your business case.

Let’s think about this for a moment: it might be true that you can describe the content of an image in a thousand words. However, you’re not going to get the same amount of information from an image if you give it a quick glance, as opposed to one that you study in great detail. The truth is most images are merely given a quick scan. Those you study, conversely, might take more mental effort than text because you have to figure out for yourself what you’re seeing. So in most cases the thousand words are not really being communicated.

What does a picture really convey? The mind processes two types of information: knowledge and sense data, including emotions. The main purpose of words and text is to impart knowledge. When you scan an image what we extract from it is not so much knowledge as a sense of what the image represents – a sense of excitement, of fun, or of danger, friendship or whatever it may be.

Pictures also generate a sense of the relationship between things and the way they interact with each other. This is why they are so effective at supporting and enhancing knowledge conveyed through words.

This means a picture is not really worth a thousand words but a certain number of emotional and 'sensed' connection points. That is why we need to think carefully about what imagery we choose to support our text or audio message. Poor quality images, those that don’t really fit the context, or stock images that look the same as everyone else’s, are all a wasted opportunity and lessen the effectiveness of your message.

Use clear content supported by imagery that fires up the emotions and you have got a web winner.

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