Choosing compelling images to maximize ad performance is not an exact science, but because we process visuals 60,000 times faster than text, finding the right image can be crucial. A good image will help convey information and persuade your audience, whereas a bad image can confuse, bore, or alienate them.

Read on for 6 tips that will help you pick the most effective images for your online ads.

1. Your image should support the tone of your marketing message.

First things first. Before you start thinking about imagery, first decide what message you want to convey, and then pick an image accordingly. (Don’t do this in reverse.)

Next, match the tone of your message. For example, if you’re sending out an email promotion with a limited time offer, you’ll want to pair your copy with a congruent image that creates urgency and reinforces that message (like, say, a ticking clock).

But don’t just look at the object in the image — think strategically about the colors, because they can evoke feelings as well.

Warm colors like red, orange, and yellow connote warmth (think sunshine, heat) and are considered to be inviting, fun, and energetic. So if you have an ad that needs to convey happiness or enthusiasm, try using warm-colored images to help get your point across.

Cool colors like blue and green, on the other hand, connote calmness and trust (that’s why banks and financial companies often have blue logos), so try using cool colors for any transactional messaging you may have.

2. The image should be interesting to look at, but shouldn’t overpower the copy.

Double Exposure Portrait for effective online ads
Double exposure portrait of a girl and nature by Roman Striga

Picking the right image means striking the right balance. Given things like ad fatigue and banner blindness, you’ll want to pick a visually engaging image that will draw attention and catch people’s eyes — but at the same time, it shouldn’t stand out too much or it will overpower the copy and messaging. The image needs to work together with your ad’s headline and text to tell a cohesive story.

3. Localize your imagery.

You can always use abstract images that will work anywhere in the world, but if you’re using images of people, it’s crucial to localize your imagery and make it feel authentic, especially in an age of globalization. Localization means tailoring your content appropriately based on specific geographic markets. So if your audience is, say, Brazilian, then use authentic images of Brazilian people. You’ll also want to do a little cultural research to ensure you’re picking accurate images for each market.

If you’re sending an email campaign with images of food to a Spanish audience, for example, be mindful that a tortilla in Spain (left) is not the same as a tortilla in Mexico (right). Audiences can easily tell if an image is authentic — not just based on model ethnicity, but also from cultural cues and nuances like clothing. If you don’t localize and adapt your content, you run the risk of alienating your audience and diminishing your brand.

4. Less is more: Keep copy to less than 20%.

Too much text on your ad can be distracting and make it lose its effectiveness. Try to reduce the amount of text overlay and keep it to a minimum. For effective banner ads in particular, try not to include more than 20% text, or else it’ll appear cluttered and confusing.

5. Different marketing channels need different types of images.

Images aren’t one-size-fits-all. An image that works on Facebook might not work on a banner ad. Each marketing channel behaves differently and has a different goal, and should be treated as such when you’re selecting images.

White Frames Stock Photo
Different picture frames on the wall by tovovan

For example, with email campaigns, you’re trying to (re)engage customers, so the images should convey a specific mood and encourage them to take a specific action. A landing page, on the other hand, is more focused on purchases or sign-ups, so these images should clearly depict what you’re selling, or else you’ll confuse your audience and lose their attention.

For banner ads, you’ll want an image that can work well across multiple IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) sizes, like leaderboard (728×90) and skyscraper (120×600), as well as different monitor sizes (what looks great on a 32″ screen won’t look great on a 13″ screen). Images that are busy and crowded will not work well for banner ads, even though they may be visually striking. Take a look at the composition of the image and ask yourself: Is there enough space for copy? Where would it go? Would it be easily readable?

6. Download the largest, highest resolution image possible.

Colorful Feathers Stock Image
A beautiful bird Harlequin Macaw feathers by BOONCHUAY PROMJIAM

This is a basic tip, but it’s a good idea to always download the largest, highest resolution version of an image, even if you’re just making a small ad. You can always scale down and make the image smaller, but if you try to stretch a small, lo-res image and enlarge it, it loses quality and becomes pixelated.

Learn More: How to Optimize Images for Web »

Ads need more than just well-written copy to be effective. Their success hinges on both the text and images you use. Images are persuasion tools, and they can swiftly and powerfully communicate information about your business. By selecting the right images and using them strategically, you can improve your users’ experience and increase purchases.

Top image: Long exposure of stars by oceanfishing

Now that you’ve created effective ads, check out some information on color psychology in advertising.