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The Shocking Truth About How Web Graphics Affect Conversions

Does this situation feel familiar? —

Your web designer reckons your site is outdated. It makes you look amateurish. If we’re being honest, we might even say it’s downright ugly and you should be ashamed of attaching it to your brand.

The solution?

A redesign, of course. Not just a few tweaks, mind you, but a reinvention, taking your tired old website and bringing it into the modern day.

It’ll have snazzy vector paths, cute cartoon scenes, jQuery carousels, full-page high-resolution background photos, the works. By the time you’re done, you’ll have a breathtaking design that cost you a fortune to create—but you shouldn’t hesitate, because it’ll be worth it.


Well, check out the reasons!

1. Sites with images look good, and people enjoy eye-candy, so they’re more likely to browse around

2. Images are attention-grabbing, so new visitors won’t hit the back button

3. An eye-catching site impresses prospects, and impressed prospects are more likely to buy

4. Flashy images show that you’re hip and modern, and people trust hip and modern companies—so you get more sales

5. In summary, for every bit of eye-candy on your site, your sales will increase an average of 16.5%*

Wrong, wrong, wrong!

Many years ago, advertising legend David Ogilvy commissioned research into the use of images. He wanted to be sure that when he wrote ads, the images in them would increase response rates. The prevailing wisdom was that any kind of image would attract attention, and therefore get people reading. But Ogilvy wasn’t so sure.

What he discovered from testing various kinds and placements of images was quite different to the popular opinion of designers—then and now:

Images can reduce readership.

Yes, they catch people’s attention. But without some very specific conditions in place, that attention does not translate into people reading the body copy—or coughing up cash.

You might be wondering why you should care about research done in offline advertising. Well, Ogilvy’s ads were specifically structured to look like news articles. They bear an uncanny resemblance to most forms of online content. And the best practices he discovered for images revolve around broad psychological principles, rather than medium-specific tactics. So they apply to all kinds of content—not just advertising copy.

What Ogilvy Discovered

Here are four principles Ogilvy’s research turned up. If you ignore these principles, your images will generally reduce your readership. If you apply these principles, your images will increase your readership.

Of course, they are just best practices—a sensible place to start. The only way to know for sure how they will work for you is by testing.

1. Placement matters—a lot

The natural sequence for reading involves a very specific order. First we look at the image, if there is one. Then we scan the headline. Then we read the body copy (if the headline is interesting enough).

An image at the top of the page is a common practice, to catch people’s attention and draw them into the article. But if you’re doing this, you’d better be sure it’s above your headline.

tried-and-true layout—situated below the image

This site’s headline isn’t much to speak of, but at least it follows the tried-and-true layout—situated below the image, where it will get read.

Ogilvy found that, on average, headlines placed below an image are read by 10% more people than headlines above. Since reading the headline is a prerequisite of reading the body copy, you’re losing a potential 10% of your audience if you’re distracting them with an image in the wrong place. If you have a large audience—say 145,000 people—then putting your image below your headline could be costing you nearly fifteen thousand potential readers! As Ogilvy sardonically said, that’s not to be sneezed at.

2. Captions get read more than body copy—four times more

An image placed somewhere in the middle of text draws the reader’s attention more than the text itself. It might even draw him out of the copy (see the next point). For that reason, it’s extremely important to have a caption under every image—to press your main point home, and hopefully to get him back into the copy.

Captions under images are read on average 300% more than the body copy itself, so not using them, or not using them correctly, means missing out on an opportunity to engage a huge number of potential readers. (For images above a headline, the headline itself can serve as a caption.)

Captions under images are read on average 300% more than the body copy

Newspapers have long understood the value of captions for drawing readers in. Yet this knowledge doesn’t seem to have filtered down to web designers and marketers.

In copy that aims to sell something, your caption should include your brand name and your promise. That way, you have another chance to get your reader interested and to push him back into the copy—or even directly to the call to action. You have to make the most of his brief attention.

For other kinds of content, figure out the central purpose of the page itself, and encapsulate that in your caption. It is wise to craft your captions as you would craft your headlines—because they are similar lengths, with similar purposes.

3. Don’t break the left margin

When we read, we rely on the left margin always being there as an anchor, to give us a place to return our eyes to. Without a consistent left margin it’s exceptionally difficult to follow the text. (The reverse is true for text read right-to-left.)

That’s why body copy is never justified to the center or right in the Western world: if the location of the left margin changes, we have to relocate it before we can continue reading. Our eyepath is interrupted, along with our train of thought.

Yet you’ll see an awful lot of websites that scatter left-aligned images throughout body copy. If you have a particularly clever designer, copy might even flow around images in an arty way.

This forces the left margin of the copy to change location—breaking your reader’s flow and forcing him to readjust. Far from helping to keep his attention, such techniques threaten to lose it.

breaking the left margin on a blog

“Oops”. I couldn’t resist a gentle poke at Unbounce, who break the left margin here on their blog.

For images placed inline with text, always be sure to align them on the right margin. Never break the left margin.

4. Images without clear relevance are a waste of space

If the images you’re using are not clearly tied to your value proposition, or to the central theme of your page, then they will only confuse your readers. At best, they’ll be pointless distractions. At worst, they’ll give the wrong impression and lead readers to feel tricked or disappointed.

It’s actually pretty easy to avoid irrelevant images just by using captions. If you can’t come up with a good caption for an image, it’s probably because the image has no place on the page.

The best kinds of images fall into just two categories:

1. Images with story appeal

2. Images which demonstrate

An image with story appeal is best for putting above your headline. It evokes a strong sense of curiosity in your reader. He wants to know what’s going on in it—so he reads your copy to find out.

homepage image with some serious story appeal

Although doesn’t do everything right, its homepage image has some serious story appeal.

But these kinds of images are not very easy to come up with. Most of the images I see at the beginning of web pages are obviously taken straight from some stock photography site, and have at best a tenuous connection to the content on their pages. Not only do they have little story appeal, but when I see them, I immediately suspect the story they’re telling is not the same as the story in the copy.

An image which demonstrates is exactly as it sounds. It demonstrates something you’ve said in the copy.

It’s hard to go wrong with this sort of image—the only caveat is that it needs to convey your value proposition or central theme with more force than copy alone could. Product photos, before-and-after shots, charts or graphs showing comparisons and so on all fit the bill nicely. And the higher quality the better—if it needs to be downsized to fit into a fairly narrow column of text (and it probably will), then make it clickable, so readers can see a larger version in a lightbox.

Images that turn readers off

Here are some kinds of images to avoid like the plague. They will distract your readers with their visual dominance, without the benefit of interesting your readers with their content. And very often they will convey the impression that you are incompetent, thoughtless about your page content, or just unable to come up with anything of real quality.

  • Stock photographs that are obviously stock photographs—their generic dullness and lack of imagination rubs off on you. Just because a stock photo is attractive doesn’t mean it will be effective.
  • Poor quality images of any kind—better to not show anything than to show something pixelated, over-compressed, badly resized, of a low resolution, or otherwise shoddy-looking.
  • Crowd shots. Try to use photos that have a single main subject—people find crowd shots boring because there’s no one to focus on.
  • Bigger than life-size images of faces. According to Ogilvy, readers avoid them because they seem slightly grotesque.
  • Historical subjects—unless you’re catering to an audience of history enthusiasts, it’s a safe bet your readers will find historical shots boring.

images with no value for homepage

This website is a study in images done wrong: there is a stock photo top center depicting a model we all know doesn’t work for Datacom—and to add insult to injury, it has been distorted from resizing. The images in the columns beneath have relevance only in the sense that they were forced into context without being needed—they convey no value whatsoever since they demonstrate nothing.

Every image must be worth its page weight in gold

Lastly, while you’re mulling over whatever fancy graphic your web designer wants to sex your page up with, mull over this: page load times are still the number one criterion for maximizing readership. For example, a few months back Google discovered that a loading time increase from 0.4 seconds to 0.9 seconds decreased traffic by 20%. In fact, we created a handy infographic showing how more and more readers abandon a page as load time increases. Needless to say, images increase page load time.

So take a look at your latest graphically-endowed content. Is that extra weight really helping? Is each image demonstrating your value proposition forcibly, or teasing your reader into your copy with story appeal? Is it positioned correctly and captioned enticingly? Is it worth its weight in gold? If you’re not sure, it’s time to start testing, measuring—and perhaps culling.

* Figures are entirely made up for effect. Designers don’t really go this far…but I’m sure some of them want to.

About the Author: Bnonn is the author of a free course on 5 website changes you can make today to bring in more sales. Known in the boroughs as the Information Highwayman, he helps entrepreneurs sell more online by improving both their web copy and design. When he’s not knee-deep in the guts of someone’s homepage, he is teaching his kids about steampunk, Nathan Fillion, and how to grapple a zombie without getting bit.

  1. Nice post! Thanks for the tips and sharing Ogilvy’s research in an internet-marketing-sort-of-way.

    I feel like I need to disagree with your point on breaking the left margin. While the points you make are certainly valid, lots of A/B testing on several sites suggest that buttons/ads/CTAs/etc placed on the left margin are exponentially better for conversions. While it may disrupt a reader’s flow, it can be very good in the right situations.

    Anyway, it all comes down to testing; it might work for an individual’s situation, and it might not. They’ve got to test it to be sure. :)

    • Thanks Mitch. Re the left margin: absolutely. It all depends on what you’re wanting to achieve. If you want something to stand out, like a button or ad, then breaking the left margin is a good idea. Same with CTAs—they should definitely be placed wherever they’re most likely to be seen, and often that means breaking the flow of text to bring a reader’s attention to them.

  2. This was an amazingly great article. I upvoted it on inbound as well as shared it on G+. The sad thing is that I’ve been doing much of what you say shouldn’t be done. I’m going to make an effort with my next couple of articles to follow these rules and we’ll see what happens.

  3. David Ogilvy is always a great place to start from! His ‘Ogilvy on Advertising’ is a classic and should be both read and kept at your elbow for quick reference. The very first paragraph puts his philosophy in perspective:-

    “I do not regard advertising as an entertainment of an art form, but as a medium of information. When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative’. I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.”

    Just another of his gems. “Headlines of ten words sell more merchandise than short headlines”. Statement of fact, certainly worth testing, though!

    Sometimes a site just might need a complete overhaul but, generally, other issues can be identified if the right question is asked:

    • +1 for “Ogilvy on Advertising” – great ideas to be found in this book. Ogilvy tests everything and questions everything, the same way we should online.

  4. Keith Gilmore Feb 24, 2012 at 9:13 am

    I really appreciate you articulating and demonstrating this so well. I have had countless conversations and arguments with clients who have an old website or their site follows the “wrong, wrong, wrong” rules you mentioned.

    Another rule that I have learned in copy (and maybe you said this and I totally didn’t pay attention) is usually best to place images, particularly of faces on the right side of the text. The reason I understand it works is because we, in the western world, read from right to left, and when we see an image on the right of the text, our eyes may be attracted to the image quicker than the text, but our brain will more likely acknowledge the text because it was scanned by the eyes while they made it over to the image. Have you heard this? Do you know of any studies or tests of this?

    Thanks again for backing me up and spelling this out so well!

    • Keith, I’d say it depends on the image. Here are a couple of considerations:

      Hero shots, which are small portrait photos of the author, tend to do best immediately before the opening of the text, on the left hand side. Because they’re fairly small, they don’t disrupt the text much, and so when people’s eyes go to them, they naturally continue into the text itself.

      Larger shots in general should be right-aligned, because you don’t want to break the left margin. But I think you’re absolutely right to point out that right-aligned images (faces or not) tend to cause the eye to scan over the text and therefore notice it before stopping, whereas left-aligned images tend to stop they eyepath before the text.

      Where faces are involved, the direction of the eyes is of prime importance. A right-aligned image where the person is looking to the right is no good—people follow other people’s gazes, and so what will happen is your reader’s eyepath will disappear off the side of his monitor. In a case like that, simply flip the image to get the eyepath back into the text. Images where the person is looking at the headline are, of course, the best :)

      Hope this helps,

  5. Loved all the advice and examples. One thing to remember when studying Ogilvy’s research is it was done when technology was in a different place, and tested on a different generation. I’d love to see a more up to date study on the screen-generations who intuitively know a lot of the old advertising tricks.

    • I think that the fact that technology was in a different place and tested on a different generation is really irrelevant. Unless that older generation was reading right-to-left or top-to-bottom… facts are facts.

      • Brian Hildman Mar 29, 2012 at 8:55 am

        These aren’t facts. These are observations on Western European readers over 40 years ago.

        As technology changes, people change. Culture changes. Consumption changes. Even our attention span changes. TV commercials back then are quite different than they are now. A website is not a newspaper.

        Some of these insights are good to either test or keep in consideration, but the relevance to this opinion, based largely on a study on a completely different generation, is nothing to be viewed as “facts”.

  6. Gregory Ciotti Feb 24, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Excellent post, and speaking of which, I’m loving the new look over here.

  7. Ironically, this website is full of fail according to the article.

  8. Craig Sullivan Feb 24, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    Some additional comments (we’ve tested about 28M people images on our sites, which was very interesting). We replace glass on cars, so it’s a ‘distress purchase’. We’ve tested loads of stuff but found single images work best on our sites (35 countries, 19 languages):

    Here are the highlights we’ve discovered. Remember your site is different so test any changes you make:

    Eyes looking straight at you best, or slightly towards call to action
    Uniform (for our images) has an uplift on tests – even a baseball cap adds to conversion, if it has a branded logo
    No corporate guff, vans, stores, rainclouds or other stuff – just people work best.
    Groups of people split attention.
    Two people looking at each other or groups like this – they’re ignoring you, the viewer. Don’t use unless you’re demonstrating something that they are looking at and are involved with.
    For service industry like ours, open, approachable, genuine, smiling
    Avoid bad body language (arms folded, crossed, arms on hips, forward leaning stance etc.)
    Watch for hands (they need a prop, focus or pre-defined placement – people do odd things with them so props help)
    Stock photos tank – I agree, we use our own staff and it works really well.
    Test images – we found that the most beautiful are not the best performing
    Gender – Female images work best in most of our key markets, beating males handsomely.
    Long body shots – avoid as the brain is looking for that facial recognition workout – it’s not really interested in the rest of that dangly bit. We get best results with head/shoulders and mid body shots.
    Backgrounds – when using people images, always opt for plain, non busy backgrounds – isolating them from background ‘noise’ tests better
    Eye crinkle – if you’re not seeing a genuine smile, it won’t test well. We’re very good as animals at sensing when something isn’t right and a smile that looks great for that glossy magazine, won’t fool people in their thousands. We see a direct link between the authenticity of the overall expression but particularly the smile and especially eye/cheek/upper face support.

    In our case, when people are taking the photographs, I ask them to consider the emotional response. In our case, people need help – it’s a distress purchase (replacing windscreens). So what we do is look for images that are appealing, genuine and most importantly – real people that work for us, not actors or stock images.

    We imagine a French department store where you have 5 minutes to make a purchase before you go for your flight. What does the person look like that you imagine helping you, when you don’t speak any French? Take that photo.

    If you love the terrible stock photos, you should check out (I kid you not) and

    • Cody Baird @ milkmen Feb 26, 2012 at 7:19 am


      Your comment had as much insight as the post itself. NICE! 28 M images, 35 countries, 19 languages…um yeah, solid sample size. Cut, paste, text…save where I can find this….

    • Craig, thanks so much for sharing this. As Cody said, you’ve doubled the value of my article!

    • David Ogilvy is experiencing something of a renaissance these days as his experience and research in offline marketing are proving true in online marketing. And we need him. Images are an abused medium on the Web, and this article points out mistakes that you are probably making.

      This is an important article, and you should read it before you blindly follow the advice of lazy designers.

    • Great follow up info! Thanks. Preparing to launch a “pet centric” site but many of your face and eye comments still resonate with our image selections.

    • There is little debate about the range of sites and their purpose. I’m designing a site for academics, providing information about their pensions. A previous designer had create a wizz-bang site with carousels, a lot of images and so forth.


      The target audience don’t give s**t about all this stuff. They wanted information about how to change pension inputs, retirement dates and so forth. The essential message here is don’t make assumptions about the use of eye-candy features. There are sites out there for which such stuff will impede not enhance the user experience.

  9. craig sullivan Feb 24, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    What happened to my post from earlier? Wail!

  10. Excellent article. I’ve learnt do much anout image placement. Thanks

  11. This website sucks ass lol I’m so distracted by everything, but good read nonetheless

  12. Hi Bnonn
    Great advice; well written; thank you.
    And timely – I was just about to launch a site that wouldn’t work as well as I’d like it to!

    Note on link: no website there yet but there will be shortly – one that will have been modified as a direct result of Bnonn’s article…

  13. These are really great. It embarrassingly allows me to notice all the things I’ve done wrong on my own site =\

    Should load times always be kept under 1 second? Seems tough to do especially with WordPress sites that rely on lots of plugins.


    • Hey Tom, as with everything on the web the answer is: it depends.

      The only absolute is that load times should be kept as low as possible. Lower for mobile users. But if you can’t get it under a second (and with AJAX and webfonts and high-quality images and video and dynamic content loaded out of databases and PHP queries putting everything together, that’s pretty likely!) then getting it under 2 seconds is still better than just under 3. And 3 is better than 4. Etc.

  14. Thank you for debunking several notions running rampant in Blogistan, the chief offender being “every blog post must have an image.” Better no image than an image done wrong.

  15. Excellent post Bnonn. I definitely learned some things that I can apply right away for our company blog. It amazes me that we forget some of the tried and true learnings from offline media when applying ourselves online.

    As pointed out in your post, load time is important from a ranking factors standpoint and from a traffic standpoint. Users expect everything to load near real-time. For mobile users typically less bandwidth, this is even more true.

    Sometimes images optimization through a graphics program can dramatically reduce image file size without giving too much on quality. Photoshop works well for this and if you are looking at Open Source, GIMP can get the job done also. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Turning graphics and images into .png files instead of using jpeg is my favorite way to reduce file size and load time without sacrificing any image quality.

    • Thanks for your comment. This works well with simple graphics, but with photo-style images the opposite will be true. PNG is a great format for producing tiny logo images, CSS sprites and so on—but as soon as you get more than a few colors in there, the filesize blows out dramatically compared to JPEG.

  17. Great points, I will admit I think (being a web designer) a couple of my web designs are guilty of that. So I will endeavour to try and break the rules much less!

  18. Thank you for your insight. I just changed the look of my website, and did notice an increase in readers. Plus I always get comments saying how they enjoy my new layout. I have a lot of readers long before the change. I hope the change will help.

    I suspect I am using stock photos, but finding photos that are good in my profession is hard. I tried to change this so far it is a no go. Certain topics are hard to find photos for. Plus you can’t go busting into certain professions and take photos. If you did that to a school, you would be arrested.

  19. Great article – adding in the examples kept my interest to be honest :)

    Have always hated with a passion, stock photos – and especially the corporate stock photos. They add nothing to a website.

  20. How many readers do you lose by having an annoying “GET FREE EMAIL UPDATES” hovering over 1/4 the width of the page?

    • Hey Alex, well I can’t speak for KISSmetrics—I just wrote the article for them. But as a conversion-rate optimization expert, here’s what I’d say:

      You probably don’t lose many. Not many people actually get turned off by that kind of thing. They simply ignore it if they aren’t interested.

      But what you will find is that in the long term, you gain a great many readers. That’s because people who read the article and like it will be inclined to sign up to receive similar ones. But most blogs just place the signup form at the bottom. That’s a wasted opportunity, because very often people have “aha!” moments somewhere in the middle of the article. And that is the time when they suddely thing, “Wow, I should make sure I get more articles like these.”

      So I think although the wording of the form could be improved, having it floating is a very sensible move on the part of KISSmetrics :)

      • I’d like to also sites his site is awful to read on an iPad. The “Like this” box at the bottom covers up the main copy and makes it almost unbearable to read because you have this big box blob blocking your view. I don’t imagine I’m the only one reading from an iPad.

  21. Great Article!

    Would you be able to recommend any additional reading / materials by Ogilvy?

    Thank you.

  22. Wow thank you for a post packed full of valuable information!
    I actually feel a little silly that I haven’t used captions before.
    The tip about the left margin will change my blog posts forever :-)

  23. Great article and great discussion so far. Thanks. Clicked on the link to your home page in the bio to learn more, but it’s dead (href=’http://informationhighwayman/’, when of course it should have the .com).

  24. Excellent Article!!! It’s nice to know that my pet peeves, images on the left, any content that has a center justification and istock photos, actually dissuade people from reading a page. And I thought they just hurt my eyes.

    Learned 1 new thing … Caption, Caption, Caption. I’ll be using this like a crazy woman now. lol

  25. Tomasz Kolinko Feb 26, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    Wow, this is like the best article I’ve read about design in a long, long time. Very nice, concrete examples, excellent!

    I’d love some information about how polished the design should be. I mean – how much does a less than perfect (but readable) design affect sales

  26. D Bnonn Tennant Feb 26, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    Great question Tomasz. I’ll see what I can do about getting an article together on that :)

  27. Marie Germain Feb 26, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    Indeed to all of the above. As a career Creative Director, it never ceases to amaze me how many boring images are related to brands. Yet you into pinterest for example and it is a cornucopia of amazing images. The question for CMOs is are you feeling safe in these choices? (I wouldn’t since revenue streams from taking risks, being remarkable, telling powerful stories in one pic.) Marie

  28. I was totally captivated by this article. In fact, I was so captivated that I thought to myself, ” I wish I could write like this. I have to forward this to my writing coach.” Then I finished the article. . . turns out my writing coach doesn’t need me to forward this to him, because he was the one who wrote it. Awesome post, Bnonn!!!

  29. The picture of the lady on the datacom website is one of the most used pics out there. Whenever I see it my respect for the company declines substantially. I’ve seen this pic even on large important corporate websites – must be the designer doing a number on them!

  30. Jeremy Kaiser Feb 26, 2012 at 10:56 pm

    All the web designer should read this article, especially the ones I work with !

  31. Craig Sullivan Feb 27, 2012 at 2:00 am

    If you want more examples of the bad side of photos, try:


  32. Definitely this is a must read post for all web designers.

  33. Where are the citations for all of the studies you used to support your claims here?

  34. The left margin idea is new to me. What do you think about using eyes in graphics? I think that when people see eyes looking at them, they are compelled to look back. Where would this fit in, do you think it would be more of a distraction to a reader?

    • Hey Mike, eyes are definitely something to test. Generally, people find them very captivating. They also look where the eyes are looking. Generally, what works best is either eyes looking directly at the reader (as you suggest) or eyes looking at some important element.

  35. Interesting read Bnonn, thanks for taking the time to put it together. I wonder how this translates into video and poster images that sit on the video screen until play is pressed. I have a recent site I’ve put up that provides motion graphics services an the landing page has a short video at the top showing some recent work.

    There is a headline above this and a sub-header below the video which is supporting additional keywords. The video auto-plays in order to drive viewers attention directly to the video and nothing else until it’s finished.

    I’m curious if you’ve had experience of how the video affects the copy below – in the sense of does the video work the same as a compelling image, better, worse?

    I have other site where the video doesn’t automatically play and this is based on my own research showing that some niches benefit from auto-playing video and some don’t. As you say, whilst following any guides, you still have to test everything yourself.

    All the best
    Phill Mason

    • Hey Phil, I think video basically operates like an uber-image, yeah. So a compelling video (assuming it’s fairly short so their attention doesn’t wander) will probably prompt someone to read the copy. A lame-ass video won’t.

      That said, a difference between video and images is that video is “self-interpreting” in a way that images aren’t. They don’t need captions—they explain themselves. So for example, if you wanted to prompt someone to watch the video, then a headline above which captured the value proposition might work well, whereas with an image you’d want it below as a “caption”, because there’s only a single “frame” to take in anyway.

      Don’t have any hard evidence on that. Just my gut.

  36. Great tips but it would be nice if you followed your advice. I found the ‘Get free email updates’ and ‘Like this? Share it ‘ divs extremely distracting.

    If breaking the left margin is a no-no then using a ‘position:fixed’ element on the left of the content (ie that doesn’t move the way your content does) is like breaking the left margin X10. Also the ‘Like this? div breaks the left as well as covers the content. Throw in the fixed ‘link to another article’ at the top and you’ve wasted ~30-40% of the content area to self promotion.

    I saw value in the article you wrote but it took a concentrated effort not to disregard the advice because 1. The presentation clearly breaks the rules being described and 2. It’s obvious that the owner of this site values social network attention whoring over user experience.

    • Evan, a couple of points:

      1. This isn’t my website, so although I wrote the article I don’t have control over the layout of this site.

      2. I believe the divs are supposed to be distracting, as they represent the primary calls to action for this page :)

      That said, since the divs don’t break the left margin and thus force you to readjust your natural reading pattern, I’m not sure why you say that fixed elements like this are like breaking the margin x10. (If the div is covering the content on low-resolution displays, that’s an issue that should be addressed though.)

      • Mitch Mitchell Mar 02, 2012 at 10:33 pm

        On point #2, I think it has to do with the size we’ve viewing this post in. I normally like viewing posts larger, but doing that makes the boxes on the left so large they blot out the content in the post, so I had to reduce things. That’s somewhat irritating, but as you said, it’s not your blog.

  37. Interesting article. It does against some conventional wisdom, but it does make quite of sense. I do however wonder – is there any problem in breaking the RIGHT margin? From your article I would say that the answer is no, provided that the image makes sense…

  38. Mitch Mitchell Mar 02, 2012 at 10:34 pm

    Great point about images, especially the concept of having content under the image, something I’ve not done. That’s because I mainly get images from Flickr so I use that space giving attribution to the creator. I also don’t have images on every post, at least on this blog, because, as you said, if they don’t fit what I’m writing about then I feel it would confuse the reader.

  39. Well,I believe what you said, but if your ads had no pictures or a small amount of, with what attract the audience

  40. Great post…I know I’ve made the mistake of using the left margin. I will not do it in the future.

  41. An article (a good article) preaching about website design, yet I, like another reader here, has the ‘like box’ covering the article. I am reading this on a laptop not an ipad. It (deliberately???) covers the article making it difficult to read unless I accept the bullying and click a like button which will presumably make it go away.
    I read the article through a very small gap, I did not click the like button as I consider it online spam, and have made a note not to visit your website again. Website design? Take a look in the mirror.

  42. I found very interesting the tips on the topic presented. Thank you very much

  43. This article is too damn wordy. Plus, I can’t wait to go out and break David Ogilvy’s 50 year old “rules.”

  44. Idee matrimonio Apr 02, 2012 at 2:27 am

    thank you so much. English is no my mother tongue but I made a little effort to read this long article. This is useful for my new project


  45. Very informative and helpful.

  46. Catherine Mcgee Apr 10, 2012 at 1:41 am

    It’s onerous to find knowledgeable folks on this matter, however you sound like you already know what you’re speaking about! Thanks

  47. Amazing article. Knew of the Ogilvy wisdom from my direct mail days. However in terms of visuals and design, we all tend to look at sites differently. I’m a coder and my view of how good a site is varies from that of my designer, who immediately comments of the colours, layout and images. Me, I tend to ignore all that and immediately look at the content. As Brian Eisenberg has said more than once, we need our websites to appeal to all four personas.

    However I do agree the basics haven’t changed a lot and we can still learn a lot from what those in the newspaper sector have know for decades what works.

  48. There was so much good info on this post I almost lost my mind. I cant believe I wasnt subscribed to this blog. Thanks for the great post!

    The basics are the basics for a reason

  49. Graphics can make or break your site. Best to pick something awesome and eye-catching that relates to your theme, product or service. If you find something that works, test it.

  50. Am an avid believer in picking the right graphics. After all, there are no shortages of images out there these days, you just need to pick the right ones, either royalty-free, or purchase them online. Awesome graphics make an awesome website.

  51. Great post. This is really informative. Improving your business’s online presence will increase web traffic and generating sales.

  52. I rather use one or two images of good quality, rather than many useless

  53. Very nice I thank.
    Also like

  54. Wow, you’re right about where to place the image in your articles. Placing the image first is definitely better at keeping a captive audience.

  55. Thanks for this great article. Gives me some intellectual fuel to convince my team to leave stock photos behind and focus on relevant, interesting content.

  56. Carson Samson Jan 10, 2013 at 7:37 am

    Excellent read and very sound advice. Much can be gained from following Newspaper layout best practices. Thanks for this.

    Did find your disdain for designers a bit unsettling though.

    Best regards,

  57. Funny how some basic things can be ignored by the persons behind the website redesign. If you come to think of it, all the tips given here is just trying to tell us one thing. Quality. If we put quality beyond anything else, we should not stop revising until we get that perfect design. Forget about using stock, boring, and worse — low resolution images. They are a total turn-off. And oh, make sure your website is fully proofread.

  58. Thank you for a well written and informative article! I will soon be re-doing my website and from what I read it needs some help bad.

    One part I am a bit confused on is the left margin. Maybe this sounds stupid but do you mean the far left of the page or the left of the content area. My site has a left column with a menu and ads and to the right is my content – which is left aligned. Is it better to move that column with the menu to the right?

    I’ve been reading about the zig zag and “F” reading and getting more confused but this article makes most sense.

    thanks, Ken

    • Hey Ken, glad you found the article useful.

      By “left margin” I mean literally the left margin of your body copy. You can of course have other elements to the left of your body copy itself — the important thing is that the beginning of each line of the copy falls along the same vertical line. Hope this helps!

  59. Kelvin Baluyot Feb 22, 2013 at 10:15 pm

    I am just so glad I checked in on my twitter fee minutes ago! If not, I would have missed this very insightful article. I am about to launch my own website later (might need to delay it a bit now) and just finishing the images for the about page. Now I am going to re-think what to put in there and organize the images on my portfolio.

    Thank you so much for this!

    Btw, you might want to check this article on a smartphone. Coz it ironic reading this “Poor quality images of any kind—better to not show anything than to show something pixelated, over-compressed, badly resized, of a low resolution, or otherwise shoddy-looking.” is not being applied to this page.

  60. Great Post. I will definitly set up some good instructions here.

    Tks for the sharing :)

  61. Bridget Holland Apr 15, 2016 at 12:57 am

    Sorry if this is a dumb question, but where does the statistic about captions being read 300% more than body text come from?
    It make intuitive sense when pointed out. It’s something I do myself when scanning articles online or offline. I’m not disagreeing at all! I just hate quoting statistics without knowing where they come from…

  62. Who’s Right?!? Can Someone Offer An Explation

    This article states,”Bigger than life-size images of faces. According to Ogilvy, readers avoid them because they seem slightly grotesque.”

    I also just read another blog article on the exact same subject. It’s on the site “Social Triggers”, and there “multiple” pages on that site with a huge picture of that dude’s face.

    Is there new information on BIG faces that I should know? Would love to know the expert opinion.

  63. ”Bigger than life-size images of faces. According to Ogilvy, readers avoid them because they seem slightly grotesque.”

    Agree – but I would go further.
    Being greeted by ANY screen-filling photo is a turn-off – mostly drawing me to the Back button.
    Few so-called “hero images” add value or actual info.
    Instead they shout “work” – i.e. scrolling … just to see real content and info.
    Being “pretty” just isn’t enough.

    I’d much rather be greeted by a Contents list or bullet points summarising what is within.
    Photos can come later – when I want a close-up of the product.
    A photo with a news item should be thumbnailed. Very rarely do they add to teh story.


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