The following is a guest blog post submitted by Jeff Weiser, CMO of Shutterstock.

One of the biggest challenges businesses face is getting in front of their potential customers in a meaningful way. Consumers are bombarded with advertisements online and standing out is no easy task but using the right photos can drastically impact engagement with your target audience.

At Shutterstock, we partnered with eye-tracking specialists, Lumen, to understand the types of visuals that garner the most engagement. We gathered almost 300 individuals and tracked how their eyes are drawn to specific images and how they dwell on particular parts of those images. The study revealed some interesting patterns across gender and age groups such as:

  • Men are more responsive to online ads than women: After showing participants a randomized series of photos and advertisements, researchers found that men engage more with online ads than women do. Male participants viewed almost a third of all ads shown in the study, while female participants noticed just a quarter. Men also looked at the images for nearly double the amount of time that women did.
  • People engage more with images they can relate to: The study found that advertisements depicting elderly couples were viewed by more than half of the subjects that were 55+ in age, while only a third of the participants aged 18-34 dwelled on these images. Similarly, parents viewed images featuring children for almost half a second longer than participants without children. The study determined that using photos depicting members of the same demographic as the subjects doubled engagement.
  • It’s all in the face: Faces grab attention quickly and are often the first thing that people notice in photos. Put extra thought into the layout of your ads, as busy images tend to split attention. The eye tracking technology found that when there are multiple focal points in an advertisement, not everyone is attracted to the same portion of the image, which leads to less engagement.

It’s notoriously difficult to prove the efficacy of online ads, but this study helps explain the types of images that people tend to engage with the most and what kinds of advertisements are most effective. Ultimately, people are drawn to what they know. To capture the most attention, marketers should use simple and relatable imagery that appeals to their target demographic.