We are visual beings drawn to beautiful things and appealing images. Visual assets help us understand, learn and remember things better and quicker. Our brains process information better when it is presented in pictures and words instead of words alone. Images can create an emotional response and evoke feelings in visitors. They set a scene to your content, sometimes images can make the visitor wish they were there, something they can make them laugh. 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.
Take your own pictures
Before starting make sure you have 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.
Also consider if the image quickly makes 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.
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.
Search 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.
To help you in your hunt for free stock and creative common images this is the list of best free stock image resources. You can download good quality images on these sites without needing to register and you can use them in your blog content and social media marketing. Some of these like The Stocks are great resources as they compile the list of best royalty free stock photos and save you time. Take a look and explore each of the sites in order to figure out the one most useful to you:
- The Stocks
- Stock Vault
- Wikimedia Commons
- Pixa Bay
- Free Photos Bank
- IM Free
- Morgue File
- Pic Jumbo
- Free Media Goo
- Big Foto
Reduce the image size before uploading
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 page loading time. 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 on the image quality. EWWW Image Optimizer and WP Smush.it are WordPress plugins that help automate this process for you. Use the BJ Lazy Load if you have an image heavy site as it only loads images that are in the browser’s view (i.e. above the fold) and loads the rest only as the visitor scrolls down the page. For more WordPress plugins go here.
Fill in the meta data to optimize your images for SEO
Use a file name that describes the content of the image and includes the relevant keyword phrases instead of the generic file name with random numbers. 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:
Don’t insert links that open the same image in the new tab
As you see in the image above WordPress features the “Link To” option that allows you to open the image in the new tab. In most cases this is not necessary as the image opened will be the same image as the one already displayed within your content. There is no value in this for the user and you are just moving the user away from your main content. Only use this option if you actually want the user to click on the image and see a larger version of the image or if you want to take the user to a different location.
Use social media open graph 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 blog. 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. 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
Can you go even further with images?
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. 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?
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. Check here for my full step-by-step guide on creating highly shareable visual assets.