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.
Many bloggers use Flickr to find images to use in their posts thanks to the Creative Commons. The platform is very good at that as it has a wide variety of images from many photographer all over the world. For many years I exclusively used pictures I discovered on Flicks as featured images for my own articles. 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. These are sites like Instagram and Pinterest. Flickr is one of the largest too and can also be used as a host for your images. It allows a free terabyte of space to host your pictures. That’s enough space for some 600,000 high definition pictures so this is great for bloggers who work with a lot of imagery on their sites.
Optimizing your Flickr profile
Flickr has a large audience and especially if you focus a lot on images and videos in your content you should have an active presence there with the aim of spreading your content through the platform too. You could do that by uploading all the amazing pictures and other multimedia that you take yourself. This could help get your work in front of targeted people that are interested in what you do and that may lead to you getting more customers.
When you join Flickr the first thing to do is to make sure is to go through the different account settings options and make sure to optimize everything in there. Go into your Account Settings and under Personal Information you can edit your profile.
- Make sure your profile is searchable first of all so you can be found in the search results. To do that untick all the three hide from search boxes and click on “Save”.
- You should also set the URL of your Flickr account by going into “Your Flickr web addresses”. This might be your full name or might be the name of your site.
- You should also set your “Screen Name”. Again it can be your name or your address.
- Now it is the time to add information to your profile. In the “Describe Yourself” area feel free to include your bio and all the other relevant information. These area can be edited with HTML so you can add images and links to it. See what HTML codes are allowed here.
- In the “Online Bits” of your profile fill in your name and URL as that will list your site in your public profile.
Now let’s move over and look at the Flickr metadata that you need to fill in for every photos that you upload to the platform.
Optimizing Flickr metadata
When you are uploading pictures to your Flickr account do make sure to follow the guidelines below to optimize the images and the potential for getting views. Flickr is pretty simple and it doesn’t have too many options in terms of image optimization.
It is pretty similar to optimization of YouTube videos with metadata in terms of headline, description and tags being the most important things to look for. Metadata is the information that surrounds your image and helps Flickr and other search engines figure out what your images are about.
The choice of headline, tags and keywords are important as they allow Flickr users to find your images based on their interests while browsing the different tags. The same works for Flickr search or other search engines like Google Image search.
Without filling in these details your images would be invisible and difficult to find in search. Fill in the following data to help the Flickr algorithm rank your images:
- Headline – By default Flickr will take the camera title for your image and that doesn’t look good. Make sure to give all the photos a short but meaningful headline. Also try and put the main keyword in the headline – (i.e. person in the picture, description of what the picture shows)
- Description – Write a short description which describes what the picture is about, where the picture was taken and who is in the picture. Description is also a great place to put in links. For example links back to your website, to your site or to the social media profiles can be placed in here. Include a call-to-action with a link back to drive traffic. To make it easier when uploading a large amount of images you could think of this as an email signature. Create a signature with all your social media links and include them in every description.
- Tags – Tag all the important keywords with short and meaningful tags. Include key names, key words and phrases. If your tag is more than one word remember to place double quotes around the tag, i.e. “Web Design”.
Promote your images
When the image has been uploaded and headline, description and tags have been optimized you can help drive the initial views by sharing the link to the image on your social media profiles.
Flickr images are also available as embeds (kind of like YouTube videos are). If you go to the image you want to embed, click on “Share” button and take the HTML code from there by clicking on the “Grab HTML/BBCode”. Put that code in your post and the page will show the image from the Flickr account and will also link back to the Flickr account.
Don’t forget that Flickr is a social network on its own as well. Take these steps in order to get more connections:
- Invite your friends through Facebook or Gmail to start building your own network of connections there.
- Link to your page from your sidebar alongside the other social media profiles.
- Interact in groups. Search Flickr groups, join relevant and post your pictures and interact there.
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.