Last updated on December 1st, 2017
Best practices for choosing a blog post image that connects, compels and captivates your audience
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then blog images should be a pretty important part of your online content marketing and social media strategy. The truth is, images may play an even bigger role than you might have thought.
In this article, I’ll explore the importance of including a photo with every blog post you publish and ten rules to follow when choosing the perfect featured image.
Why Blog Images Matter
First, let’s get this common question out of the way…
Are blog images really necessary?
Absolutely. And here’s why:
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Use this infographic on your site
<a href="http://www.seo-e.com/blog-optimization/choosing-featured-blog-image.htm" target="blank"><img src="http://www.seo-e.com/wp-content/uploads/blog-image-stats.jpg" alt="Blog Image Statistics" title="Blog Image Statistics" style="width: 100%; max-width: 900px; display: block; margin: 15px auto;" /></a>
I think you’ll agree that these are some pretty compelling numbers.
The 10 Commandments Choosing a Featured Blog Image
First Commandment: Thou shalt not steal
First and foremost, it’s imperative that you have the right to use images you’re publishing on your website. The most fantastic photo in the world will do you little good if you don’t have permission to use it. Using copyrighted photos without permission isn’t just bad form, it can also land you in a heap of trouble.
Should I bother using licensed photos? Will the image owner ever find out?
Honestly, maybe not. But it’s rarely worth the risk.
Our web developer recently received a letter from a lawyer saying we didn’t own or have the right to use an image we’d used for a blog post.
As it turned out, the photographer had made the image available on two separate stock photo sites – one with managed rights and the other with different usage restrictions. We went back to the image subscription service we were using at the time, found the image we had legally downloaded, and sent the info to the lawyer.
So in this case, it was the photographer who made the mistake and the issue was quickly resolved. Thankfully. But this is not always the case.
Moral of the story: Always be able to document where your images come from and if you’re unsure about the copyright, give credit to the original source.
Consider this lesson learned.
Second Commandment: Thou shalt be bold
When it comes to choosing a great blog image, research shows that the devil is in the details.
What do I mean by that?
According to an enlightening eye-tracking study from the Nielsen Norman Group, detailed photos are more attractive to browsers than generic, stock images.
For the best result, choose thought-provoking visuals with bold colors, contrast and good composition. The main image subject should be positioned in the center, or off-center with a rule of thirds composition. While not mandatory, this technique generally makes for a more appealing composition and overall image.
Other best photography practices include making the image subject easily identifiable and in sharp focus, maintaining good exposure (not over or underexposed), and choosing clear photos with low noise or graininess.
Third Commandment: Thou shalt customize
Customize and brand your photos whenever possible. If you can have someone on your creative team take high quality photos, that’s the best option. But if you’re sticking to stock photos for ease and low cost, consider adding some slight variations to customize the images and make them stand out.
For example, SEJ contributor Stoney deGeyter does a great job of using a few slight variations on his photos (different fonts, different font sizes, making some of the key phrases stand out, etc.) which work really well…
Try creating templates like these for a super simple, quick and low cost solution to custom images.
Fourth Commandment: Thou shalt avoid clichés
Choose images that are interesting and unique rather than cliché and generic stock photos. You know the one’s we’re talking about – the images that show happy business people in a pristine office with an insane smile on their face during a meeting. (Come on, nobody is that thrilled to be in a meeting.)
We’re all guilty of publishing images like this at some point. In fact, if you dig back far enough on our own SEO-e blog, you’ll find laughably generic photos like this…
Let’s not even talk about this one…
Finding unique and interesting photos on stock photo websites can be tough, but taking that extra time to get creative with your photos helps present your blog as more professional and personal.
Fifth Commandment: Thou shalt be relevant
Your image should be closely connected to your main topic idea. Relevancy is one of the most important factors to consider when choosing a photo for your blog post.
Something to ponder:
The featured image and headline are typically the first thing your audience sees when scrolling through their social media feed, email inbox or search results. If the connection between your topic and the featured image is confusing or weak, the content can come across as unprofessional (or even worse, clickbait) and significantly reduce your clickthrough rate.
Choose an image that confirms to the reader that they’ve found what they’re looking for rather than one that confuses or distracts from the main topic. It should say to the visitor, “Yes, this is exactly the article you’re looking for.”
People tend to stay on the page longer and read the entire blog post when a blog image is highly relevant to exactly what the reader is searching for.
Sixth Commandment: Thou shalt consider quality
It should go without saying that image quality is a very important consideration when choosing a featured blog image. An amazing custom photo or graphic won’t do you much good if it’s pixelated and blurry on your website. Low res images look unprofessional and sloppy.
Resolution should be 72 DPI (dots per inch) for any image used on any screen (including mobile, tablet and desktop).
Seventh Commandment: Thou shalt optimize
Once you’ve chosen or created the best image for your blog post based on your main topic and audience, it’s time to properly optimize it for search engines.
The ideal dimensions for your featured image depends on the display size of your blog or website. Resize the image so that it matches your blog layout perfectly.
Also, don’t forget to include these two important SEO elements:
- Image title – an attribute that serves as the title of your image; displays in a popup when a user mouses over the image
- Image alt – text that appears inside the image container when the image can not be displayed; include keyword
Both the image title and image alt improve the accessibility of your website and serves as a ranking factor for images.
Eighth Commandment: Thou shalt remain in budget
If you produce content regularly, then you know how quickly costs can add up when you have to buy and/or create custom images for each post. Most stock photo platforms offer subscription plans that allow you to download X amount of photos per month, or they’ll charge you per credit.
Fortunately, there are many stock photo subscription services to choose from various- all at various price points. Five of the most popular platforms with massive databases of pay-for-use images are Shutterstock, Getty Images, iStock, Fotolia and VectorStock.
If paying for a stock photo subscription or creating your own custom photos is out of reach for your organization, here are several ways to find free or low cost photos online:
- Wikipedia Public Domain Images – Public domain images are not copyrighted. Copyright law does not restrict their use. Wikipedia pages are hosted on a U.S. server, so U.S. law governs whether a Wikipedia image is in the public domain.
- Unsplash – Free, high quality images without attribution required.
- Death To The Stock Photo – Free images are emailed to you monthly without attribution required.
- LittleVisuals – 7 free images emailed to you weekly. Attribution not required.
- New Old Stock – Free, high quality images from the past. No attribution required.
- PicJumbo – Free stock photos daily. No attribution required.
- IM Free – Find categorized, free photos that don’t require attribution.
- Gratisography – Quality stock photographs that are free and don’t require attribution.
- Pixabay – Download royalty free photos and videos and share your own pictures as public domain.
Ninth Commandment: Thou shalt make your image shareable
Adding a photo to social media drastically increases the post’s outreach potential and shareability- or the measure of how likely a post is to be shared, retweeted, pinned, liked, etc. Infographics, for example, are liked and shared on social media three times more than other any other type of content, according to HubSpot statistics.
Don’t forget to consider the various size formats that social media thumbnails can come in these days. Use this size limitation to your advantage by choosing simple, but compelling images. Gauge your success with analytics and repeat what works.
Tenth Commandment: Thou shalt be funny (sometimes)
When the topic warrants it, consider injecting a little bit of humor into your post with a funny image or meme. You’ll readers will love you for it. Humor resonates with people in a way few other emotions can and funny photos are highly shareable.
Of course, you’ll have to use your own discretion for when a funny image is and is not appropriate. For instance, in the legal industry there may be times when using a blog image intended to be funny can come across to the reader as insensitive of their current predicament.
Moral of the story: Humor is a great way to engage your audience, but alway keep your audience in mind when selecting an image for your website or blog.
Oh, and one last thing:
Don’t forget to follow the earlier rule about making your image relevant to your post. Sure, everyone enjoys a good cat photo, but you’re just going to confuse your readers if it has nothing to do with your topic.
Now Your Turn…
So there you have it – the ten commandments of choosing the perfect blog image:
- Only use images you have permission to publish.
- Choose interesting images with good composition.
- Customize and brand your images as much as possible.
- Avoid generic stock photos.
- Keep images relevant to your topic.
- Choose high quality images.
- Optimize your images with SEO.
- Don’t spend too much money or time.
- Make your images shareable.
- Use humor (when appropriate).
Armed with this advice, you’re ready to go forth and find images that inspire, entertain and inform. Happy searching!
What’s the worst blog image you’ve ever used? What tactics/strategies do you use for finding great blog images?
Share your comments and feedback in the comment section below or via Facebook. Thanks for reading!