Using real photographs on your website instead of headsets and handshakes

I’m often surprised by how many websites don’t display photographs of their workers doing their thing, especially when those photographs might be interesting and help the user connect with what’s going on.

So many businesses choose stock photos (headsets and handshakes) because they’re slick, but users are blind to those photos, and would much rather see something real.

It’s easy to understand why users want to see real photographs. They’re trying to figure out whether to hire you or not.

The banal photo of the smiling, headset-wearing receptionist is useless at best. At worst, it might be considered dishonest, if this super-happy fake customer service rep doesn’t work at your company in any way shape or form, but that’s not really a debate I want to get into or the point I’m trying to make.

I just think it makes sense to show your users something real. If you are a contractor, let’s see some of your work and some of your folks out on site doing what they do. Show the user what makes you different, what makes you worth choosing over everybody else.

You might think this would be expensive, and it can be. But it might not cost as much as you think, and the money spent might be an investment rather than just and expense. It’s probably worth your time to at least contact some photographers in your area to see what they’d charge.

Another thing to consider is that a lot of web designers are decent photographers. Some are better than decent. Even if your designer isn’t as good as a true pro photographer, the fact that she is building the site might give her an understanding of what kind of photos are needed and how they’ll fit into the site. This might allow her to get a really good result out of a day or two of taking photos at some point in the design process. Paying your web designer to do photography may or may not be cheaper than hiring a dedicated photographer — it all depends on which designer and which photographer you’re talking about.

Finally, here’s an unorthodox method you can try if you’re really on a tight budget: Figure out which one of your staff members has the best eye for photography. If that person can shake loose from his/her other duties for a time, have him/her take a fairly nice digital camera around and take as many photos as possible. It’s not like you have to pay for film, and with a lot of photos to choose from, you might end up with some good stuff. The raw photos themselves don’t have to be perfect, just good enough that a talented graphic designer or web designer can clean them up and crop them up into something that will work on your site.

Photos done this way might not be as slick as stock photos, but they’ll almost certainly make up for it by showing something of interest to the user. (If you pursue this option, be sure to ask your web designer to shoot straight and let you know if the photos are so bad as to be unusable.)

In some cases, the work a company does is difficult to show in photos. But that doesn’t mean you have to resort to the headset lady or businessmen shaking hands. In these cases you might want to try some cool hand-drawn illustrations or some interesting vector graphics. If done right, these could really make your website stand out. At the very least, they should be better than fake photos (unless they’re horribly executed, in which case they might be equally lame).

If you really want to use cheesy stock images, knock yourself out. Just don’t be surprised when people ignore the photos, and your business.

The you/user test

When you’re working on something for your website, this is a quick and easy little test you can do for anything you are thinking of adding to the site.

The you test

Does this thing work for you? If it’s a piece of writing, is it boring to you or interesting? Would you read it or would you click away to another site and never return?

If it’s a navigation scheme, does it make sense to you or is it confusing?

The user test

Regardless of what the answer to the you part of the test is, the second part of the you/user test is to ask whether you are like the user or different from the user.

If a piece of writing is boring to you but you are a 27-year-old male and the site is for 60-year-old women, maybe it doesn’t matter whether you find the thing interesting.

Then ask whether the actual users of the site are likely to find the thing useful, interesting, boring, etc.

If you aren’t sure, you might need to round up a few of those people, show them what you’re working on and see what they think. You don’t have to do a formal user test with 400 people, but you can do a little quick and informal research.

You can run this little you/user test for just about any part of a website or web presence.

Two questions to answer when starting a website design project

Here are 2 relatively simple but hugely important questions that need to be answered anytime you build a website or web presence:

  1. Who is the audience? Old people? Young people? Men? Women? Tech-savvy? Tech-noob? People who love sports? People who hate sports? Music fans? Foodies? Wine lovers? Beer drinkers? Art snobs?
  2. What do you want those people to do as a result of visiting your site? Do you want them to do something on your site? Do you want them to do something after they leave your site? Buy a product? Understand an idea? Know your product exists? Tell a friend? Come back to the site?

Just 2 little questions, but the answers will guide pretty much everything you do in the short term and the long run of building and running your web presence.

You probably already knew this but just a reminder.

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