You’re a blogger in a visual world. The visual part of online content publishing is as important as the written words, if not even more. We are visual beings drawn to beautiful things and appealing images. Visual assets help us understand, learn and remember things better and quicker. This is why the images you choose to use on your site have a lot to say when it comes to your content’s popularity. Adding stunning pictures to your content is one of the most effective actions you can take to grab and hold the attention of your audience.
Traditionally online great content is usually seen as text. A lot of text and only text. Majority of posts I have written on this site are text based posts as well. It is the most comfortable and the most traditional way of creating content online. It is easy, it is cheap and has the lowest barriers to entry. It doesn’t have to be this way only though. Pictures can be superior. Neuroscientists have discovered that our brains process information better when it is presented in pictures and words instead of words alone. With digital storytelling the possibilities are limitless. That is if you have the skills and/or resources. There are a lot of ways to create immersive content including long-form content, video, animations, infographics and so much more. These give you a lot of new ways to communicate in the post-text world.
As bloggers we are constantly looking for ways to make our blogs more interesting. It goes without saying that it’s important to write well and to know our audience and focus on topics relevant to it. However, these days it may not be enough to simply write good posts and assume that our readers will be sufficiently entertained. Visuals help bloggers make statements. Images can create an emotional response and evoke feelings from visitors. They set a scene to your content, sometimes images can make the visitor wish they were there, something they can make them laugh. The goal of an image is to grab people’s attention and do this as quickly as possible before they click the back button.
How do you communicate with words when your readers are conditioned to absorb information through imagery? To succeed, you better have effective visuals to hammer your points home and hook people with visual cues that tell them they’ve found what they need. To do the best possible job of marrying pictures to your posts, consider these factors:
- A visually appealing design theme. Why bother with images if your site design doesn’t utilize them in visually appealing ways in the first place? Make sure that your design showcases and uses pictures prominently. Here are some suggestions for themes to use.
- Does the image quickly make its point? First-time visitors to your site are unsure you have what they need, and you have just a few seconds to convince them to stay. A powerful picture is one that virtually screams the topic you’re talking about. Don’t pick something abstract. You can’t drop any old photo or illustration into an article and pat yourself on the back for thinking visually. There should be no mystery what the picture is communicating.
- Words in photos. Just as a photo inserted into text can help illustrate a point, the right powerful word or phrase embedded in an image can turbocharge a picture. The word or the headline of your post helps the picture tell its story, and makes it abundantly clear the topic your post is tackling. Images with quotes and facts are also highly shared in social media.
Some picture blog success stories
Several picture blogs have been launched, made it big and got book deals in a record amount of time. The bloggers of picture blogs are usually relying on the readers to contribute the majority of the content. The author comes up with a good idea, puts it online on a platform, and then lets the readers be contributors, and lets them provide the majority of the content. The blogger is basically the editor that compiles all the best material and publishes it.
These picture blogs are very viral and do very well in social media and get thousands of visitors from Reddit, StumbleUpon etc. It is not unusual that they get millions of visitors just weeks after the launch..
The viral popularity of these sites gets them on the radar of the publishing industry and at least 8 books created from user-contribution, picture blogs would be published during the year. One of the first releases, “I Can Has Cheezburger?”, a book of cat photos with bizarre captions, has sold more than 100,000 copies. And the domain name was registered as late as January 2007. Examples of popular picture blogs:
Looking at these sites, they get lots of comments, lots of reader interaction, tweets and Facebook shares. There definitely is a huge interest and a huge audience for the entertainment blogs. And the job seems easier than writing a lot of text several times a week. So my advice is, whatever your next project is, try to think a bit out of the “writing a lot of text content” box. Can something be said better with pictures? Maybe with video? Is your audience willing to contribute with the content?
Where to find pictures to use in your content
- Taking your own pictures
When possible try to use original images (meaning your own). This will make your site more unique. High quality image does not necessarily mean that you need to invest in a DSLR camera. You just need to find great light and motives. Walk around your city. Take photos when you are on vacation. Find the beauty in small details that might not seem as interesting at first glance. These images have have been shot by you and nobody else has access to them. Here are some general tips to keep in mind when taking the pictures for your site:
Quality: You don’t have to have a professional camera, to shoot quality images (although it helps). Make sure to train your eye and keep a steady hand. Be aware of light and don’t rush. Take your time. Learn about photo editing further down in this article. You can remove the blur, the red eyes, you can sharpen the image and you can even it out.
Motive: When taking food photos for instance, setting up the plate before you take the picture is essential. Think about the colors of the food, the background and the position. Maybe a red tomato will take the image from plain to extra in a matter of second – plus tomatoes are tasty.
Accessories: Different accessories can have a lot of impact and can enhance your pictures. You will noticed for example food bloggers using fancy plates or cute spoons.
Practice and learn: Look at other pictures and noticed how others are doing photography. It’s fun and it’s inspiring. Don’t copy others, but take inspiration from them and interpret the different styles that you see online. Soon enough you’ll have lots of ideas on your own.
- Searching for creative commons license pictures
If you don’t have a camera and cannot get your own images there is creative commons license to help you out. With creative commons attribution license you are free to share (to copy, distribute and transmit the work) and to remix (to adapt the work).
Only thing you need to do is to attribute the work in the manner specified by the author. This basically means that you can use any of the images you find in creative commons as long as you credit the source with a link.
CC Search is a search engine for sites that feature creative common materials.
Also Flickr images are used by many of the biggest sites. You need to find images that you are permitted to use. You can narrow your search results to the Creative Commons license only. When I use images from Flicker I usually credit the source of my image with “image by” link at the end of my articles.
How to use pictures to attract traffic
Images can also help you drive more traffic. For content distribution Instagram, Flickr and Pinterest are 100% visual platforms, while Facebook, Twitter and Google+ also place big emphasis on images. Without images you will not reach an audience on these platforms and without highly sharable images you will not get much engagement. Recent studies show that image posts get 53% more likes, 104% more comments and 84% more link clicks when compared to text only posts. Here’s what you should do in order to attract more visitors:
- Reduce the image size. First-time readers are impatient and won’t wait around for your giant image to load. Make sure the photo is big enough to make an impact, but not so large that the file size prevents a quick pageload. Several image editing tools have the “Save for web” option which can drastically reduce the size. It is possible to reduce the image size to a third of the original size without losing much quality.
- Fill in the meta data. Use a file name that includes the keyword phrase instead of the generic file name to better describe the picture. Also make sure the image title tags and alt text have relevant keywords in them. You can also use descriptive text near the image by writing an image caption. All this will help you index in Google Image Search and hopefully send you new traffic. This is how you do it in WordPress:
- Use social media meta tags. On Facebook the image meta is called Open Graph, on Twitter it is Twitter Cards. If you don’t use these tags Twitter and Facebook won’t be able to recognize your image so your posts will display without them when being shared which will affect your clickthroughs. In both cases WordPress makes it easy, just install WP Facebook Open Graph Protocol plugin for Facebook and JM Twitter Cards for Twitter.
- Go to image based social media sites. Now that you are comfortable about images and have started using them to make your content better, you should also work on using images to get attention and get more visitors to your site. There are several different image based social networks that you should be a part of and submit your pictures to in order to get a wider reach:
- How to optimize your Flickr presence
- Your guide to building an Instagram community
- How to use Pinterest when blogging
Creating shareable images
Hooked on images? Pictures and other imagery will certainly boost your content and your social media engagement. Check here for my full step-by-step guide on creating highly shareable visual assets.