When a phone user is scrolling through social media feeds so quickly that the posts meld together into one giant blur, the only thing with the hope of snapping them out of their reverie is an image strong enough to command their attention.
If you’re an ecommerce entrepreneur or run any aspect of your business online, you’ll know how important the relationship between social networks and ecommerce is. Standing out from the crowd with strong visuals is crucial.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of setbacks in the perfect image quest: high-quality images can be difficult to source in the right sizes, it’s tricky to keep up with changing formats and requirements, and large image files can slow pages down (to name a few).
This leads to a lot of companies and individuals take the “throw in the smallest file you have and hope for the best” approach to imagery.
It doesn’t work very well, oddly enough. You can pick the right styles and themes (and avoid editing blunders), but if you don’t get the sizes right, you’ll get disappointing results.
Here’s why the image sizes you use affect much more than how quickly your pages load.
Different hosting systems and social media platforms have different image requirements, with many forcing images into particular aspect ratios or scaling them up or down to suit their layouts.
While this can be done very well, there are still plenty of sites or channels that take quite a ham-fisted approach to it, resulting in images appearing horribly stretched or pixelated.
When you don’t take the time to provide images in the right formats, aspect ratios and sizes for the platforms you’re using, you run the risk of ending up with warped versions that don’t make you or your business look very good at all. It gets even worse when you have images with text in them, as is particularly common for header images or video thumbnails — the moment those images get stretched or scaled, the text is ruined.
Or think about photos with careful composition and subjects strategically placed for maximum effect. Element ratios can significantly affect how a photo is perceived. Imagine the awkwardness of smartly placing a product in the perfect position in a photo, only to upload it to a page that crops it clumsily and ends up showing more of the background than the product itself.
Even if you don’t use text or interesting composition in your images, or you don’t think images are an essential part of the value your content offers to users, it looks distinctly amateurish to have ill-suited images because it’s entirely (and easily) avoidable.
The good news is that it doesn’t take long to find comprehensive and regularly-updated resources to make it entirely clear how to prepare media for the major platforms, such as this blog post on Facebook cover photos. It may seem simple enough, but you’d be surprised how many brands get their composition wrong in a cover photo or end up covering a crucial part of their logo or image with their profile picture because they haven’t considered how their page will look on mobile or tablet.
Even if you don’t think a high-resolution file is warranted on the page, you should include it (as long as it doesn’t massively affect the speed). Realistically, standards keep getting better and better, and a website that looks decent on today’s display might look terrible on one built two years from now.
When Apple brought “Retina” displays into public awareness, you may remember, it rapidly rendered a lot of old content unfit for purpose — all of a sudden, old images had to be redone.
Another reason to aim for top-quality images is that you may at some point want to reuse the content elsewhere. If you were to allow someone to repost one of your pieces on their own site, for instance, or collate your copy into a downloadable document (either manually or using an ebook creator), you would suddenly face stricter demands, and you certainly wouldn’t want your work to be showed in an unflattering light.
If you really can’t justify slowing a page down for the sake of the imagery, at least start with high-resolution materials and scale them down for your on-page resources. That way, a few years down the line when average connection speeds are greater and fast hosting is cheaper, you can easily swap the smaller images out for superior versions.