I’ve found myself harping on quite a lot in recent blogs about how social media has gone visual. Now, as worrying as that may sound to all you budding young bloggers out there, the fact that the visual web has taken off in spectacular fashion should not actually be too much of a concern per se.
No. When I say that social media has gone visual, I don’t actually mean that written content is no longer valuable – it is. But when it comes to enticing your audience to click on one of your social links that will take them to your most recent blog post, it’s your featured image that is going to capture their attention, no matter how well-written your actual blog post is.
The Visualisation Of Social Media
I don’t think that there will actually be too many of you out there who are reading this that will disagree with me when I say that the social web is now a largely image-based portal. Even us nerds readerly/writerly/researcherly types, who spend most of our waking hours either gorging on or disgorging words, are probably more likely to click on an article with an intriguing picture than we are to click on one with just a headline to whet our literary appetites.
But, beyond this – let’s just think for a moment about the most successful social media that have emerged and flourished in recent times. What were they again….?
What have all 5 of these social giants got in common? That’s right, there at least 2 vowels in each of their titles. But, more importantly, they are all visual based platforms.
But even our old favourites – Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – have slowly developed to become focussed on delivering visual content rather than readerly.
Do you remember the good old days when Facebook status updates were all about how you were feeling? Or when a tweet was 140 characters or less with nothing else to it? Well, those days, as you know, are gone.
Status updates now on Facebook are much more likely to contain a visual link to a video, a meme, or an article on a news site. And as for tweets – if you’ve done any experimentation at all, then you will know unequivocally that any tweets with images attached to them perform – in terms of engagement – far, far better than ones that don’t.
And As For Blogs…
Blogs need an image (or 3) like a bear needs the woods.
Blogs are actually rather strange, almost idiosyncratic entities. They are not news articles. They are not sales pitches. They are not short stories, opinion columns, or charitable pleas.
No, they are something else entirely.
Blogs are about giving away free information. About educating your followers. Piquing their interest in you and your brand. Positioning yourself as a thought leader and industry authority. Adding value to the product or service that you offer.
Blogs are there to give advice, and actionable tips that readers can take away and use themselves.
But, increasingly, blogs, too, are becoming a visual format. Once upon a time the form was new enough to just do with words on a screen. But now every semi-serious business site has a blog, and those blogs are all paying close attention to the images that are attached to them. And so they should. A screen full of text is frankly boring to look at. And I for one tend to very quickly leave a blog if there aren’t a few images in there to liven things up, and I’m pretty certain that I’m not alone.
As humans, we are visual creatures, and images attract us. Indeed, according to Heidi Cohen:
- 94% more total views on average are attracted by content containing compelling images than content without images.
- 67% of consumers consider clear, detailed images to be very important and carry even more weight than the product information, full description, and customer ratings.
- 60% of consumers are more likely to consider or contact a business whose images appear in local search results.
- 37% increase in engagement is experienced when Facebook posts include photographs. This is consistent with research by Dan Zarrella of Hubspot.
- 14% increase in pageviews are seen when press releases contain a photograph. (They climb to 48% when both photographs and videos are included.)
The Combination Of Title And Image
The point of images, of course, is to give the reader – or potential reader – a flavour of the blog post very quickly, without said reader having to click on the link and begin reading the post.
In this day and age there are so many blogs and so much content created almost on a constant basis, that people simply don’t have the time to browse through every offering in that way.
No, we want to know what we’re getting before we get it – and here’s where the art of choosing the right featured image for your blog comes in.
The title of your blog post should marry with your featured image – but not in a too obvious way. For example – who remembers my post earlier this year entitled ‘Above Or Below The Fold – What Should Go Where?’
Well, here is the image that I chose as the featured image to accompany that title:
The ‘fold’ in question, as you will (of course) remember from the post, has nothing to do with paper or origami – but rather about how much of a website is displayed on a web browser before users have to scroll down.
But, it’s a play on words. You see, the trick with featured images for your blog posts is that they shouldn’t be too obvious. They should of course be relevant to the topic, but nonetheless slightly (and I do mean slightly) abstract. In fact, some of the best images for blog posts have a certain amount of poeticism about them.
Consider the difference if I had chosen something very blatant and literal:
Ok, this image is very clearly illustrative of exactly what the accompanying blog post is about – but how boring is it?
Very, is the answer you’re looking for.
Yes, this type of image is just far too boring to be suitable for a header image. It’s not fun, it’s not entertaining, it’s not clever, it’s not even visually appealing. It is informative – but apart from that it’s dull, and such an image gives the impression that your blog post will be equally as dull.
Granted, this sort of thing does have its place in a blog post, but certainly not as a header image. It is illustrative of some of the points that the blog post made, and to that extent it is educational and informative, and so it could play a very suitable role in the body of the post. But, as for using it as an enticing featured image? No. Not in a thousand blog posts. Would you click on it? No, of course you wouldn’t – so don’t expect anyone else to.
Ok, so I hope I’ve managed to convince you of the importance of the marriage between your blog title and the accompanying image that you choose, and that the social web is a very visual place in this day and age.
So, where are you going to find such great images?
The Legalities (Briefly)
Well, if you’re not in a position to create the images yourself, then you’re going to have to source them from the web. And there are some legalities that you’re going to have to adhere to when doing so.
Any image that you source from the internet will belong to somebody, which means that you cannot use the image without the express written permission from the owner – unless you want to find yourself in a few legal difficulties, and most likely face a hefty fine.
To make things easy for you, you want to try and source images that are free from copyright restrictions, i.e. ones that are licensed under the creative commons public domain dedication. And here are 5 sites that offer whole catalogues of just such images. Enjoy!!
5 Fantastic Sources For Free Stock Images
My favourite source of free stock images by far is Pixabay. The free photographs and other images that the site provides are of excellent quality, and the search function is top notch – which is just as well, since there are nearly half a million images to choose between. I invariably start my search for the perfect featured image here.
Arguably the most used source of free stock images, the Unsplash catalogue consists of exceptionally high quality photographs that are quite simply stunning. Every 10 days, 10 new photographs get added, and all are completely free to use in whichever way you want (as I think the above image of a pineapple in a field illustrates succinctly).
#4. Lock & Stock Photos
Photographer AJ Montpetit loves the Open Source community model – and so do I. Which is why he has created the Lock & Stock Photos website, and I’m telling you about it. All the images that you will find on his site are free to use under Creative Commons.
#5. New Old Stock
For those of you who think that being retro is modern, then New Old Stock will be the catalogue for you. A stunning collection of vintage photographs awaits, which are ‘free of known copyright restrictions’, which means that you might have to exercise a little caution if you are using the pics for commercial purposes. However, as the website states:
“All photos are at the very least available for personal and non-commercial use (Medium articles, blog posts, personal projects, hero image for your 404 page). If you are curious of whether or not you can use it, check the institution’s rights statement through the link I provide to the original Flickr posting. Most prefer that you link back to the original Flickr photo and mention the institution by name.”
Know any more great sources for free stock images? Please share your snaps with us below.
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