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As a psychology/visual communication major this is a no brainer for me. It has been a constant struggle however to convince people of just how important it is for Social Media. So here is, fact based information on the why of it.

It is common sense that the images we use in our adverts are important. However, to leave it at that would be a gross understatement. You and your audience are extremely visual creatures.

Over one third of your brain is dedicated to processing visual input from the world around us, and this includes the adverts we see on our screens. The correct visual imagery can provoke some of the most primal emotions that drive action and behaviour.

So how much time do you put towards picking the right image for your advert? Hopefully it isn’t an afterthought; hopefully it isn’t a quick detour through Google Images.

Below we consider what to think about when choosing, evaluating and refining your images.

Two critical criteria

Of course, there are countless things you could think about when picking an image for your advert. However, in my experience the most important considerations are straightforward;

  • who will see the image, and

  • the graphical context of the image (e.g. nearby images, page colour schemes)

From here, you can then design/pick the image itself much more efficiently. For example, if you are displaying images to a younger demographic on Facebook, you will want to pick something that is relevant to them, looks good on a white background, and stands out from the competition.

So far so good.

Additional Constraints

However, you should also work within additional constraints to have the best result. You will need to consider brand continuity and style guidelines; this is all about managing customer expectations.

For example, if you have a very stylised image advert with a red and black colour scheme, and the landing page for the advert is white and blue (your company colours), you will automatically weaken the effectiveness of the image advert.

However, with that said, don’t let your existing style guidelines prevent you from running the correct image advert design. Create a specialised ‘squeeze page’ that matches your custome designed advert, if you need to.

Consider the following real-world example:

My company commissioned a beautiful banner advert collection by a well established and talented designer. We all loved what we saw: the attention to detail, the new choice of colours, the clever call to action, etc.

We put some big bucks behind it and let it rip, both through Google Adwords Display network and affiliate partners. At the same time, I knocked up a garish, brazen, bold, basic banner that matched our landing page.

Not only did my image convert users who had clicked it much more effectively, it produced x3 as many click throughs as the more beautiful and detailed banner.

The two take home points here are that the best looking banners won’t always win, and however they look, they should match the page they lead to. If this means creating a new specific squeeze page that matches the advert style, then so be it. It will be worth your time.

Clearly, it is crucial that you measure the performance of your image adverts.

Application to Facebook

Turning our attention specifically towards Facebook. Clearly the platform offers different ways for you to use images in your campaigns, but it doesn’t matter whether it is the 100x72px ‘right-hand column’ or the larger real-estate offered by the News Feed, the image is absolutely crucial for a successful advert on Facebook.

My data would suggest that it is the single most important element of your advert campaign. Specifically, a basic analysis of variance (ANOVA) shows that the vast majority of the variance accounting for how well an adverts performs (regardless of how it is measured) can be attributed to the image. When I am designing or picking new images, I follow the same guidelines listed above.

Facebook does put a number of important constraints on your use of images in promoted posts and adverts. Most notably, when you wish to promote an image that you have posted to your Page’s Timeline, you may be very aware of the 20% text constraint.

Facebook splits your image into a 5×5 grid. If text appears in 6 or more grid locations, it will fail the 20% text on image check. Putting text on images is not something Facebook wish to endorse, so think carefully whether you can convey the same point using the image itself, without resorting to text overlays.

Pay your images the attention they deserve

You may be familiar with the concept of testing, measuring, tweaking and repeat on your advert copy and headline. However, the image is so important it deserves the same level of attention all by itself.

Make sure that you have a tool that allows you to quickly upload the numerous image variations that you make and promptly rollout the different overall advert combinations.

Create three or four very different images and see how they do. Once you start to see a bias towards one outperforming another (hint: use metrics like CTR, and pixel tracking with conversions), focus on it and carefully consider what is it about the image that drives audience behaviour.

Often it will be something simple like the colour, but on occasion something more subtle will have caused the variation in performance, and that’s where the real analytical fun begins.

In considering who the image advert is for, and where it is presented, you will gain better insight into why it is working, ultimately aiding you in creating the perfect image for your advert.