Choosing Images for Your Content is One of the Most Important Decisions You Can Make

I recently read an article that discussed how Netflix experimented with different types of image thumbnails for its content in order to drive consumption. Their findings were so fascinating to me that it got me wondering why more companies don’t do that with their content? Many companies today are content to simply used canned templates or stock photos when it comes to the preview images they use for their content, but while those images may be cost-efficient and easy, they certainly aren’t as effective as they could be.

According to the research that Netflix did, images accounted for 82% of the time people spent browsing for titles to watch in the Netflix library. That means that the images were 4x more likely to draw someone in over a catchy title or well-written description. That’s not to say that titling and descriptions aren’t important. They most certainly are. However, this does show that we are living in a day and age where people aren’t as interested in traditional methods of enticement. We live in a digital age where companies are constantly fighting for the attention of their users in a shorter window than they ever imagined.

In general, I’d say, you have about 30-60 seconds to capture someone’s attention and make them click-through or engage with your content. In many cases the window is probably even smaller, so it is extremely important that you make that window count. Well, according to MIT, the human brain can process an image in as little as 13 milliseconds. That means you can maximize that tiny window and grab the user’s attention before they even realize what has happened. Pretty powerful stuff, right?

“While the results from our research were often surprising, it is clear that an image can move people in powerful ways.” – Nick Nelson, Netflix

So, what can you do as a company to ensure that you’re maximizing this opportunity? Well, it’s actually pretty simple. Follow the Netflix model. Seriously. If you read the blog post that Netflix published, you will get a pretty good idea of where to start. From there you should conduct your own research amongst your followers or customers to see what makes them click. The answer will almost certainly be different for everybody and every business, but the idea remains the same. The day of canned, cookie-cutter imagery is over. People see through that. We live in an age where brand authenticity is of the utmost importance, so using an image that doesn’t feel true to your brand is a huge misstep.

I understand the reason(s) people use template-based looks and stock photography. It’s easy, it’s cheap, and at that very moment, it’s good enough. The problem is that those types of images are accessible to far too many people. You run the risk of using the same image that someone has used before, or simply becoming a blur in the noise of social media when you really want to rise above it. I recently saw an ad for a college here in Tennessee. They were advertising their new online classes, and they used a stock photo for their billboard. On the other side of the city, the same image was being used to advertise a drug rehab facility. Do you think the college wants that sort of thing associated with them? No, they don’t. But that’s the risk you take when using a stock photo.

The main thing to take away from this article is that each piece of content you create is unique, and should be treated as such. Don’t settle for good enough when great can be achieved with just a little extra work. Take pride in the content you create and do your best to ensure that it’s as clickable and shareable as possible!