Guest post by Natasha Lane.
Because a picture paints a thousand words, the visuals you choose to use on your website are often more important than the words. Humans are highly visual creatures; we’re able to take a lot of information in at a glance just by looking at an image.
If you’ve ever wondered whether it’s better to use photos (stock or custom) or illustrations (which should always be original), check out this guide. It provides useful examples that will (hopefully) help you make the right decision and create a more appealing website.
First, here’s the case for the illustrations and when you should use them.
When You Want to Stand Out
Custom illustrations can be one of the most memorable elements of a website, if they are created properly.
If you design your website so that it’s unlike any other in your niche, you set your company apart and give your brand an edge. Your visitors are more likely to remember you. And if you use custom illustrations across multiple touchpoints, they are also likely to recognize your brand when they see an ad or your social media content.
Your custom illustrations don’t even have to be elaborate. Something simple yet with a twist can be all you need. Case in point, the Spores website.
They’ve chosen a very interesting color combination, and their illustrations are simple yet perfectly in line with their product. While not an expensive venture, it is likely to work.
When You Want to Make the Abstract More Tangible
Illustrations are also a great way to present complex subjects, processes, or concepts. Sometimes there just isn’t an image that can do an idea justice. In that case, do your best to illustrate it.
This is especially true in service industries. Of course, you can use photographs of your employees and satisfied customers, even mid-service. But an illustration can provide more information in less time and help your visitors grasp your message.
We Recycle’s homepage does this marvelously well. There’s simply no photo that would have showcased what the brand does as effectively. Their color story is also in line with their eco-friendly and earth-first mindset, making their chosen solution perfectly on target.
When It’s On-Brand
Finally, illustrations might simply work well with your brand. If you are a designer or illustrator, they’re the obvious choice. However, you might also just be a fun brand or a brand that has a specific, laid-back philosophy. You may work with children or just want to be able to capture your essence better than a photo can.
The beauty of illustrations is that they can achieve almost anything. You can showcase your values more effectively, as you are in complete control of the imagery and able to use your imagination (or that of the designer) to achieve amazing things.
Here’s the homepage of See Make Play from Australia, whose illustrations make their website more fun and more in line with what their target audience might expect.
True, they may not actually be seen by their young audience, but their parents will undoubtedly understand the messaging.
Next, here’s the case for using photos.
When You Need to Show Something
The top reason to use photos instead of illustrations on your website is when you need to show what something looks like. If you are showing a product, you’ll almost always use an image.
However, photos are also the better choice whenever you’re trying to add a visual layer of context to a post or page. If you’re writing about a noun (a person, place, or thing), show a photo rather than an illustration. Stock photos are fine, as long as they match the topic of the page.
Here’s a Dogs Planet post on Retrievers versus Labradors. It uses simple images of the two dog breeds, which match the topic of the page perfectly. After all, the only thing a reader will want and expect to see is a dog. Or, well, several.
When You Want to Establish Credibility
Photos are also a great way to establish credibility. For instance, you’ll want to rely on high-quality photos when you’re talking about your customers or what a certain product can achieve. They’re also a great choice when you simply want to show the human side of your brand.
Photos, being more realistic and emotive than illustrations, will always have a bit more weight. As long as they’re not stock photos and they can be traced back to your brand, they can demonstrate your expertise, deepen trust, and showcase your personality.
Here’s a section from the Ahrefs homepage as an example. The page features plenty of illustrations as well, but here they use real photos when talking about their team members and their audience. This contrast is what makes them more authentic and has greater impact.
When It’s the Simpler Option
Finally, using photos is sometimes simply the simpler option–especially if you want to use stock photos. It’s more affordable, although it can be time-consuming, as you need to source a photo that matches the page well. However, when it comes to the more general kind of blog post, this is a perfectly acceptable, even beneficial solution.
When using stock photos, just make sure they add value to your page. Avoid using them on your main site pages. Save them for your blog.
Here is a post on decorating coffee tables on The Confused Nester. All of the images used are stock photos, but they’ve been matched to the headings well and they provide additional information. All in all, it’s much more affordable and simpler way to add visuals to this type of blog post.
Using both illustrations and photos on your business website will enhance it and make it more appealing to your audience. Just make sure you choose them correctly, bearing in mind the purpose of the post and the effect you’re trying to achieve.
Natasha Lane is a lady of a keyboard and one hell of a geek. She is always happy to collaborate with awesome blogs and share her knowledge about branding, digital marketing trends, and business growth strategies. To see what she is up to next, check out her Twitter feed.