Are Bad Photos Wrecking Your Small Town or Local Business Website?

by Joanne Steele on June 3, 2011

I’m home after two months of traveling all over the US.

Joanne in Turkey, Texas

Joanne with the town symbol of Turkey, Texas.

Often, my husband and I would use websites to plan which small town to drive through each day.

I, like Andy Hayes of Travel Online Partners was struck by how many small towns and even local businesses are missing out by not effectively using photos on their websites.

Four photo issues struck me as we researched rural communities online.

1. NO Photos!

There are tons of small town  and local business websites devoting online space to impenetrable WALLS of tightly packed text that nobody will actually take time to read AND NO PICTURES!

2. Photos of some celestially beautiful location that we could never find.

Yes, there were a few times that we drove into a rural community and decided that we had been lured by a Photoshopped version of the town rather than the reality.

The thing is, most small towns, no matter how remote and rundown, had something charming, unusual or interesting that we were glad we took the time to discover.

Rural community explorer visitors getting off the interstate are looking for AUTHENTIC, not Disneyland. Photos of those unusual, unique, quirky things about your town or local business are gold. They act as a lure, a challenge to people like me who love to seek out the unusual and authentic in small towns.

3. No people!

One of the most vital reasons for putting photos on your website is to help your Perfect Customer see him or herself in the picture.

If your town or local business’s Perfect Customer is an active retiree traveling with her husband in their motorhome, she will respond to a photo including an active retired couple.

Without people in photos, you’re asking visitors to do more visualizing than most of us are willing to do in the 3 seconds we spend deciding whether to stay on a website.

Look at cruise websites. Look at major destination websites. PEOPLE EVERYWHERE! Copy these successful businesses and watch your success grow.

Not just any people, but pictures of your Perfect Customers. Read here to learn more about identifying those Perfect Customers. What Idaho Can Teach Rural Tourism Businesses About Focusing On Your Ideal Customer.

3. No captions!

Captions are the most read parts of an article. Think for a moment about how you read the National Geographic Magazine. If you’re like 99.9% of the population, you look at the pictures, read the captions, and then if you’re really interested, you get into the article.

We explorer types love the challenge of the hunt, but give us a clue for heaven sakes! If you use a photo of a scenic overlook, use the caption to tell me where it is.

Use the caption to provide enough information to entice me to read further.

And, be sure to use the alt tag option, which all of you who have a WordPress website have seen when you upload your photos, to tell Google about the photo.

Google is blind to photos. Alt tags are like Braille for Google, telling the Google crawlers what the photo is about. It’s just one more little tiny way to make Google happy. And for those of you who have taken my trainings, you’ll remember how many times I said, “If Google isn’t happy, you get relegated to page 5 – lost in cyber space!

So, how can you use photos effectively to marketing your small town or local business?

1. Use photos that are an accurate depiction.

There is ALWAYS something photogenic – use images of THAT rather than “has been” photos that will lead to disappointed customers when they arrive.

2. Use an enticing photo close to the top of your webpage to capture your customer’s attention and get them to spend some time on your website.

3. Use captions to provide more information about the location and to encourage visitors to read further.

4. Include people in every photo possible. And when you have a great photo without people, use the caption to suggest who will enjoy this view – your Perfect Customer.

5. Make Google happy by always including an alt tag when you upload your photo.

No… I’ll never shut up about targeting your Perfect Customer. Here are a few more specific examples:

Coos Bay’s Social Media Strategy to Attract Visitors… One At a Time

What World Series Baseball Can Teach Small Business About Market Focus

1 Nancy Knighten June 10, 2011 at 7:14 am

Love the post Joanne! Will certainly be using these tips with our rural businesses, but will also post for all our other businesses to see! The tips are definitely helpful for all businesses posting photos on their websites!

2 Joanne Steele June 10, 2011 at 10:09 am

Thanks Nancy. Please alert me to any great examples that I can share with other areas.

3 Pat Vanden Bosche June 5, 2011 at 10:05 pm

Great post about pics on a site, Joanne! I try to tell my clients that we need pics of people enjoying their location, product, service, but to also get model releases signed when possible. Thanks for being such a great resource — and putting into words exactly what a business needs to be addressing with their online marketing efforts.

4 Joanne Steele June 6, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Oops! Thanks Pat for stressing the importance of model releases. I know of an adventure company that includes that model release right along with their liability release. It’s more vital than ever if you include images of children.

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