The term ‘image management’ has taken on new meaning in recent years, particularly in the context of websites. Images help businesses to communicate with their audience, boost online sales, increase user engagement and improve loyalty. Imagine how dull a website would be without images?
It may seem hard to quantify the impact of a rich visual experience, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest just how important images are to a websites audience. Facebook observes 105 per cent more comments on those posts with photos over those without, whilst eBay has noted in its seller centre that listings with large images (above 800px) are five per cent more likely to sell. So where images were once regarded as the least enticing part of the web they are now essential to a brands’ online success.
It should not come as a surprise when we think of images as a key driver for online user engagement in eCommerce, media, and travel and hospitality businesses. But their importance expands beyond those traditional “visual” industries. Corporations in automotive, banking and many other sectors are now increasingly dependent on visual assets for their web presence. The bottom line is that they all want to use fast-delivered impactful images, but they have to ensure they build them into a responsive web design so that users get a seamless experience regardless of the device they are using. The challenge, however, is that basic responsive design is subject to over-downloading on mobile devices especially when it comes to images, which increases page load times and leads to dissatisfied customers.
A case study – news publishers tell the story
News publishers often rely on images to tell their story. Turner Broadcasting, owner of CNN amongst others, has 60 billion image hits per month. All publishers are under pressure to keep content fresh, but the size of images can have a direct impact on the cost of news delivery and device proliferation, especially mobile, makes managing image format, size and compression levels even more tricky.
Responsive web design has certainly helped news sites to re-size images but this has not solved the problem of over-downloading, where heavyweight images are displayed on small screens where resolution is not even noticeable. This means that the crisp loading of news can be compromised - in areas where there are poor mobile phone connections - for example, and this can have a knock-on effect that results in visitors leaving the website.
News publishers are caught in a conundrum. Do they continue to publish image rich pages and risk higher abandonment rates, which can also impact on the viewability of paid advertising? To try and solve this, some news publishers are looking at third party integrations, but they can be complex and often not compatible with the publisher’s content management system. Others have responded by developing DIY toolkits, but this is not their core competency.
Other industries also have challenges, perhaps none more so than eCommerce, where sites are filled with catalogues of often thousands of products, photographed from many different angles and with varying colour options. Retailers must satisfy customers by optimising for mobile and tablet, and create the correct image sizes, formats and qualities, so that a mobile user is not forced to download a full-size image only to have it displayed on the device at postage stamp size. The turnover of images on eCommerce sites is also very fast, so not only do retailers have to consider the most efficient way to process them in order to maintain consistency on the website, but they also have to factor in storage.
On social media sites on the other hand, the challenges relate more to the vast range in the quality of images, due largely to them being user-generated. – Output from digital point and shoots, smartphone cameras and scans of photographs presents the site owner with the need to normalise each image to a standard set of dimensions, format, visual quality and metadata to protect user privacy, - a process that is both detailed and time consuming.
The other factor that social media sites have to be wary of is the trustworthiness of user submitted input, which could contain malware that in turn could infect the back-end processing systems, or worse, end users. According to a recent book entitled ‘High Performance Images’, securing the transport for images is straightforward if the right measures are put in place.
Taking control of image management
In all the cases mentioned images represent a key aspect of that particular industry’s online strategy and business, and there is now a way forward in the form of cloud-based image management solutions. As well as reducing the infrastructure needed to store the images, these solutions can help to optimise images into the right size, format and quality, particularly for mobile consumption. In addition, they can help to simplify image workflow and offer integrated storage, which helps increase user session length and provides support for more video ads.
A cloud-based image management solution can also remove the heavy human element in preparing images for websites by providing a full suite of image management functionalities that can be integrated directly into a digital asset management workflow. Through configuration policies, the news publisher, eCommerce business or social media site owner can upload one image to cloud storage and automatically create all the size and quality image variants needed for the different devices accessing the page.
The success of news publishing, social media, eCommerce, travel and hospitality or any other website depends on an efficient image management strategy. This needs to take into account the requirements of internal content creators, external mobile users, security risks and operational risk management. Simply put, the overall objective of an image management strategy is to utilise images to grow revenue, and encourage user engagement, whilst controlling operational costs.
Image source: Shutterstock/ESB Professional
Enrique Duvos, Director of Product Marketing and Enablement, Akamai Technologies EMEA