We all know the importance of visuals in content marketing. In the last couple of years, marketers have taken the use of images to the next level in creativity, quality and the use of different formats and publishing platforms.
The days of throwing a one dollar stock photo at the top of your content are over. Really. Stop it.
Today we’ll talk about the imagery supporting the most popular piece of content on the Internet: The blog post.
Most importantly: The featured image of your post.
Why this image is so important, how to create awesome visuals for your content and some great examples.
Why are images so important?
We all know social media link posts with images perform better in terms of traffic generation and engagement.
If you haven’t experienced the difference, you’ve seen the results in several studies. Here is an example of a Twitter A/B test conducted by Buffer earlier this year:
But we’re not here to argue if you should use images or not, we want to talk about how to get better results by taking them to the next level.
Imagery with purpose
The first thing to consider is having a purpose for the featured image of your content.
Ask yourself these questions:
- How many images do you see online that truly support what’s been communicated in the post?
- How many images stand out in the endlessly stream of content you see on the Facebook news feed or your Twitter feed?
- In how many of these images do you immediately recognize the source?
Content overflow. You know it, you see it every day as soon as you turn on your machine.
It’s so much, you can only hand pick a few as your reading consumption every day.
What’s funny is that there is always a chance you missed on a few great posts, but you usually get the ones that stand out.
Take a look at this overwhelming river of links:
Visuals are supposed to help tell a story. In your blog they have a supporting role, but when they go out into social media, they become the star in the battlefield for attention.
Your blog post published in social networks is like the cover of a book in a library, that cover is supposed to grab attention and communicate what’s inside. In a sense, you are telling a story in one image. Not an easy thing to do.
Let’s take Netflix for example, the following are books turned into television series. See the difference between the original artwork for the book cover and what Netflix has done to market them.
This is Orange is the New Black.
And of course, House of Cards.
Which ones do you think tell a better story.
In other words, if you’re writing a post about Twitter, a picture of a bird no longer makes the cut.
One of the most common mistakes I found after reviewing hundreds of blogs is that many headlines and images make perfect sense when you are in the blog, but once you take them out and they become a standalone piece in a social feed of all kinds of topics, they don’t make sense at all.
Your image and your headline need to provide context, otherwise we don’t know what you’re talking about.
The lack of context in your social media posts will hurt the number of click to your blog.
Branding is also very important but, you don’t often recognize where the post is coming from without reading the title, description or the domain.
Jon Loomer is a great example of this. To be honest, I don’t know if I could put my face in every single featured image, but what Jon has accomplished with this and being consistent with the brand (colors, fonts, layouts, etc.) is that no matter where you are, you immediately recognize his content on the screen.
Here is an example:
Another important aspect of using clear branding elements on your images, is that you have fewer chances of your images being stolen. I’ve seen many images I created being used on other blogs, you probably have too. I can assure you no blogger will be stealing Jon’s images any time soon…
Creating custom images for your content gives you all the benefits we mentioned above. Like I said before, bloggers and marketers have taken this to the next level.
Let’s explore some of those examples:
We know each networks is slightly different when it comes to link post image dimensions, and while you could craft an image for each one of them, your reader will only be able to share the one on your blog post.
What you should do then, is create one that will be the best fit for all of them.
I optimize for Facebook dimensions, that seems to work for all other networks. My images are always the same size: 1200x628px, which is a ratio of 1.91:1.
Let’s look at the same link post in the 3 social networks:
— Francisco Rosales (@socialmouths) December 3, 2014
Failing to use the correct dimensions will probably result in the same thing that happens when you are watching a high definition TV but the content is not HD, the black bars, or your image is cut off, either way, not the best first impression.
Where to find images
Stock photography is obvious, it’s lazy, and everybody knows it costs you about a buck.
We’ve all used them, I’m guilty too, but this is a different time.
But you still need good photography, so here are a few places where you can find high quality, royalty-free and at very affordable prices or even free.
Where to find graphics
With the amount of graphics available online and the crazy low prices, you can pretty much hack your way to great design.
Here are few options to find great graphics, some are free, others are very affordable:
- Creative Market
- Graphic River
- Freebies Gallery
- Graphic Burger
- Freebies Bug
- Creative VIP
Tools to create custom images
If you don’t have access or the necessary knowledge for tools like Photoshop or Illustrator, don’t worry about it, these tools have made it so easy anybody can be a designer.
Most people will use JPG format when using photography, we’re used to it.
Besides, JPG is a lighter format, which is important to reduce loading times.
BUT, when it comes to using text or flat colors on top of photography, it’s better to use PNG.
Let’s compare both formats on Facebook:
The compression some of these networks apply to your images is so high, they can really damage the quality, but they need to keep their sites loading fast.
My conclusion, PNG for the featured image, so it can display nicely on social sites, and JPG for the rest of the content so your site keeps loading fast.
20% Text Rule
If you are planning to promote your post on Facebook, it’s important that you follow the 20% Text Rule, if you want it to be approved.
If you’re not familiar with this, it basically ensures that the text in the image doesn’t exceed 20% of the real estate.
To test your image, you can use Facebook’s Grid Tool:
- Upload your image
- Click on the boxes that contain text
- Your text should not cover more than 5 boxes
In this example, the text cover 6 boxes, which is 24% of the ad, and it will probably result in an unapproved ad.
Again, this only applies if you plan to promote the post on Facebook.
Make sure the right image is shared
I’m sure you’ve seen your post shared on social media with the wrong image, or even an ad on your sidebar, after you worked hard on creating a nice featured image.
There are ways to control which image is automatically displayed when visitors share your post, the easiest method is probably using the plugin WordPress SEO by Yoast.
Of course that is not all the plugin does, but this is not a post about SEO. By the way, I’m one of those guys that insists in having the least amount of plugins possible, but this one is an absolute must.
The plugin adds a box right below your editor in the Post Page, here is what you need to do:
- There are 4 tabs at the top of the box, click on “Social”
- Look for “Facebook image” and “Google+ Image”
- If you’re using an external host, like Amazon Web Services, just enter the image URL, or click “Upload Image” if you host the images in your own server
Now, every time a person shares your post, Facebook will know which image to pull from your blog.
Image optimization is one of the most overlooked opportunities online. If you don’t optimize your images, you are pretty much sending them to war without any weapons.
Let me show you what I mean. This is a search for the term “Facebook Tabs” in Google Images. In the top results, you’ll find 3 images that belong to SocialMouths, if you click on them, you’ll be directed to the blog page.
What’s so impressive about that? These images belong to a post published more than 3 years ago.
Do I need to say more?
What’s scary is the amount of bloggers that still don’t take advantage of this, even today, when we have entire networks of 100% visual content.
This is why I always do the “Pin experiment.” Pinterest pulls the “Alt Text” of your image to use as the “Description.” If you don’t optimize this, you can end up with a description that makes no sense, a file name, or even no description.
Consequences? Good luck showing up in Pinterest search results, or any other results, really…
All you need to do is add this information when you upload your image to your WordPress.
So when your visitor shares your image, the description is already in place.
Chances that the person sharing will add the description for you are very low.
Let’s recap then…
What should the perfect blog post image have?
The perfect blog post featured image should have the following ingredients to perform better on social media:
- It should stand out
- It should help tell a story
- It should provide context
- It should include your branding
- It should use dimensions that display correctly, at least on the major networks
- It should maintain its quality (PNG format)
- It should only include 20% text if you plan to promote on Facebook
- The networks should be able to pull the correct image when it’s shared
- It should include a description
How about you?
Do you have a process to work on your blog’s featured images?
Image source: Graphic Burger