Internet Marketing: How your peers balance images and copy

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“Art & Copy” is a recent film about advertising and the title pretty much sums up your marketing communication tools right there. In Wednesday’s free Web clinic – Images vs. Copy: How getting the right balance increased conversion by 29% – Flint McGlaughlin, the Managing Director (CEO) of MECLABS, will a strategic process for integrating images and copy to increase response.

But first, we wanted to hear how you balance art and copy. And while no one responded, “Steel cage grudge match between the copywriter and the art director,” here are a few of our favorite answers…

Both images and copy must justify themselves.

For any that can’t, you should probably consider trimming out words or images that don’t bring your prospects closer to a sale.

Especially with images, I get rid of any that don’t accomplish one of the following objectives:

  • They illustrate a point that makes it more likely that the visitor will take the action you want, giving logical (left brain) reasons for doing so. Graphs and illustrations fall under this category, when their data is compelling.
  • They set what Joseph Sugarman calls a “buying mood.” These types of images tend to create right-brain pattern matching associations between a specific mood and the product or service you’re selling. For example, if I’m trying to get people to enroll in college, I might show an image of a happy graduate in cap and gown. Its purpose is to give the feeling of how much better life will be once one has the product, service, or idea you’re trying to sell, getting the prospect to feel the experience as if they already had it.

Cost and Complexity

One of the major considerations when deciding on a mix of copy and images depends on the cost and complexity of the product or service you’re trying to sell. If the product is complex or if it’s a large, considered purchase, you’re probably going to have to use more words, since they are often more effective than images in making left-brain justifications for purchasing this kind of product.

Lower-cost items often do better with less copy and more images, provided that the images used illustrate compelling benefits of the product’s feature set.

Emotion or Logic?

Also consider whether emotion or logic is most likely to be your strongest selling message. If you’re selling diet pills, emotion rules. Overweight people understand that we should lose weight. Convincing us with logic likely won’t work, because we already know what we should do. However, until we feel a real emotional desire to do so, we’re unlikely to take action.

In my experience, there aren’t many copywriters who can effectively stir emotions with words, but if you’re blessed with one of them, words can very effectively stir emotions. I once presented a piece of copy for a diet pill to the company’s owner. She read it and actually cried, herself one who had struggled with weight loss. Really good emotional copy can be that powerful.

However, if you don’t have a copywriter with a knack for creating effective emotional copy, images are more likely to connect with your audience when selling products with a strong emotional element. In the example of diet products, it’s easier to show “before” (sad, overweight model) and “after” (happy, trim model) pictures to illustrate emotion with an image than to stir that same emotion with words.

Let Your Audience Decide

The most important way to find the right image-to-copy ratio is to test. Let your audience be the ultimate decision-maker when determining what’s going to work for you.

Best practices only take you so far. I have said to many of my clients that the best testers I know seldom predict the winning experience in the tests they run much better than two thirds of the time. On the other hand, if I went to Vegas and could consistently win two thirds of the bets I made, I’d never need to work again. The more you test, the better you’ll get at predicting to what your audience will respond best.

Keep testing and your audience will help you to find the copy-to-image mix that’s right for your product or service.

– Steve Myers, Test&Target Consultant at Adobe Systems Incorporated

Disclaimer: These opinions are my own and do not express the views of Adobe, my employer.


How about you suggest they rename the film “Art vs. Copy”?

Certainly it can feel that way sometimes, depending on the marketing manager and material.

Jokes aside, the answer to your question can vary greatly and is affected by a variety of factors such as how users are getting to the landing page, what you’re offering, and what you want users to do. If it’s for PPC, then you’ll need at least a paragraph or two of keyword-rich, relevant content or your relevancy score will suffer. If it’s for an email campaign, you might be able to get away with a line of ad copy and a call to action (CTA).

But let’s just get to the heart of your question…how do you balance art and content? The answer: with the right amount of good content. It’s really an issue of quality over quantity and having an intelligent copywriter who can tell the difference. Also, A/B test (more on that in a second).

Unless you’re H&M or CK1, you’ll probably need a headline or some ad copy, and no matter who you are, you’ll need a CTA – otherwise how will visitors know what you want them to do? After that, it’s just basic copywriting 101 – focus on the essential features and benefits, tell readers what they want to know, present the material in an easy-to-read manner (such as bulleted lists or short paragraphs), and stay true to the brand voice. If you can fit all that in four bullet points, then that’s the perfect balance. If you need two paragraphs and a sidebar, then maybe that’s the way to go.

But how do you know you’ve hit the perfect balance? A/B test. One of my favorite things about Internet marketing (as opposed to DM, magazine, TV, etc) is that success is more accurately measurable. With landing pages, you can send 50% to a page that offers “Get FREE Information” and 50% to a page that says “Learn More” and find out if that subtle difference in wording affects your CTR. Anne Holland’s site, Which Test Won?, offers a variety of examples that might surprise you.

Star Zagofsky, Content Manager at Monster


I couldn’t agree more about testing

Yes, you need strong designers and copywriters to ensure great landing page content, but they need to work hand-in-hand with testing. Organizations that truly want to improve and find the right way to dynamically convert visitors will adopt a culture of testing and targeting. As Steve said, let the site visitors guide your creative teams to making correct decisions. Stop guessing!

– Mark Simpson, Founder and President of Maxymiser


Related resources

Related:  Best Practices Are Often Just Pooled Ignorance

MarketingExperiments Research Directory – Analysis of hundreds of A/B and multivariate tests

Images vs. Copy: How getting the right balance increased conversion by 29% – Wednesday, November 10th, 4-5 p.m. EST

Landing Page Optimization: Nomadesk.com

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2 Comments

  1. CopywriterSheri says

    I’m always urging clients to test subject lines and landing page headlines. Yet it continues to surprise me how few will. I’ll submit 5-7 different email subject lines or landing headers targeting USP or offer in different ways. Clients inevitably pick the one they “like” the best and toss the rest….so we never get a chance to evaluate different creative pitches or approaches. They always say the same things: they know they “should” test, but don’t have time right now, need to get this out a.s.a.p., are behind in schedule. So much marketing intelligence lost that could have enhanced future efforts.

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