Why are spiders visually illiterate

Why are spiders visually illiterate?

For thirty years, I’ve planned and produced photographic shoots to produce powerful images that sell products and services all over the world.

This has involved thousands of conversations with clients that can sometimes follow a predictable and unhappy course. A very long brief (as opposed to a brief one) typically includes discussions about why they’ve never managed to get the right results in the past even by using a professional photographer. It usually finishes with the question – how much will this cost -closely followed by another – can you do it for less!

At this point, we’re no longer talking about the image we need, but instead, the image we can get for the client’s perceived value. When this happens, I normally bow out because I know that the low road will cost the client far more time, sweat, frustration and money than the high road would.

Even a track record of mediocre photography, issuing from conversations with someone who knows someone who’ll ‘do it’ for a few hundred quid, doesn’t seem to influence their decision to go for yet more of the same. And anyway, it’s going to be different this time, and it’s so much cheaper than using that art director guy, right?


It’s one of the reasons why so many businesses end up with dull, predictable imagery in their website and printed materials. The ubiquitous ones that try to convince us that the smily, attractive telesales operator speaking into their headset is the person at the end of your enquiry – or that the two people shaking hands is an original representation of good business -perleease! Stock imagery has its place, but it also makes mediocrity easy and cheap and can demolish any chances of creating a company’s visual DNA.

The right picture almost instantly reveals how you think and what you have to say – it’s shorthand for communicating your story. It’s a headline – a hallmark of sincerity, the authenticity and insight into what you’re offering.

But even if we do decide to invest in well conceived, emotive pictures that really live up to their reputation for speaking a thousand words, why do we still need so many words in our website?

Search engines don’t understand images. They view your website with a clever piece of software called a spider. This software only looks at the text in the source code of your site. When people search the web, 99% of searches use text or voice, not images. So it seems eminently reasonable then, for search engines to return their results in the same format.

If your website has little text or the wrong text in it, you’re limiting the amount of visits you can expect from the search engines.

Not only that, but in January 2013, Google decided to bring high resolution pictures directly within their search results. This change leaves users with little incentive to click through to the sites where the picture was originally hosted. This move has led to a massive decline in image traffic (globally) of around 60% and this impact was significantly worse if your website was heavily dependent on images for your website search traffic.

However, if the images on your website are properly optimised (SEO), they can contribute to your successful site. In Google search results, content with at least one image significantly outperformed content without any images. And it’s estimated that a disproportionate 15% of searchers do click on an image in the Google search results.

So for the main part, images don’t create the initial path to web sales or page views, but when your customer arrives there, the right image can often be the deciding factor in their decision to read more, or purchase your product.

For websites to work, they need words to get you to the site, but when you’re there it’s the right pictures that will do all the talking – at least a thousand words worth! After that, it’s back to the written word again to convey all your detail. But without the right image, there’s a huge part of your story missing. Get the picture?