By now, pretty much everyone has heard the stats: using an image with a Tweet increases engagement rates 300%, Facebook posts with photos get 50% more likes, articles with a picture get 94% more views. We all know (or should know) by now that we need an image to go along with our written content in the new media age. Well, actually, that’s pretty much always been the case, from ancient papyrus texts, medieval religious tomes, 19th century newspaper engravings, and in the last 150 years, photos. The human mind responds to and processes images much more quickly and thoroughly than it does the written word, which requires more elaborate decoding.
So just about everybody knows this, and it is rare these days to see things like blog posts without images, but to treat the visual as a simple afterthought is to not really get it. Too many people write the content, and then throw in any old image they think can fit with it, but doing this misses the point somewhat. Sure, the image is important, but it’s about more than just ticking that box and posting. Good images should be thought of as a main part of your content strategy, not just a supporting actor in it. Bloggers tend to be particularly guilty of neglecting this, as their bias tends toward the written words they’ve worked so hard to craft.
There is no single right way to pull off a great visual content strategy. Like all things creative, there is a broad range of possibilities that can work, whether the image directly illustrates something from the text, is connected to it only in an abstract way, or anywhere in between. In part two of this post, we’ll cover different ways to source visuals for blog posts and social media content. Here we’ll talk about how to choose the right images for your posts, and the different types of images that can be used (there are more than most people realise).
Choosing and using the right images
Ultimately, the images you pick are a matter of creative taste. There is no right way to do it, and depending on the blog and the audience, there is a wide range of possibilities. The image should be relevant to the topic, but needn’t have more than an abstract connection. If you can create your own blogpost artwork and own the rights to it, then you have an extra content stream to drive traffic to your blog. Make sure you properly format the description so search engines know what the image is about. Also, consider hosting images on a site like Flickr with the correct licensing requirements so others can use it and link back to you. It doesn’t matter what type of image it is, if it’s compelling, people may want to share it in other contexts, and you can use that to your advantage. The following are the primary types of images to use in your blog posts:
Photos are the most common choice of artwork to add to blog posts for obvious reasons. Photographs capture the world as we see it better than any other medium, and that’s why most newspapers and magazines rely on photographers so much more than other visual artists. We’ll spare you the obvious cliche about a picture’s worth, but needless to say, a great photo can set the mood for a blog post. The right picture can prepare a reader to laugh, to empathise, to be thrilled, or to feel love. In a way, a picture softens up the reader for the emotional punch of the writing.
The content of the photo can be as direct as being a literal reproduction of the people, places or things in the blog post, or as abstract as you like. We like to employ this more indirect approach. Software companies like us often struggle to source compelling art for blogs, and there’s really only so many times you can use the Instagram-filtered shot of the cappuccino next to the MacBook. Instead of these generic photos, we like to use simple but aesthetically pleasing landscape shots, typically either urban or rural scenes without people in them. Whatever you do, unless you’re writing a very generic business blog (and even then maybe not), avoid the corny stock photos with posing models. They’re horrible to look at and have an overly corporate feel that can trigger PTSD episodes in those lucky enough to have escaped that world. Just don’t.
Charts and graphs
There’s no area with a larger comprehension gap between the visual and the written word than in presenting data. Even to the most engaged reader, trying to figure out even simple data comparisons from a written paragraph is extremely difficult. Enter the chart. There are a ridiculous amount of different tools that make all types of graphs incredibly simple to create. Anytime you’re talking about numbers or data, you should illustrate it with one or more charts. To not do so is blogging malpractice. There’s a limit though; graphs can be fun to play with once you get going, be careful not to have too many.
Infographics are all the rage these days, but they’ve been around for a long time, especially in magazines. There’s a good reason for it. Infographics are the best of both worlds, presenting information in the easiest way for the majority of people to process: short bits of text, graphs when needed, images, and an easy to follow flow. Their huge popularity these days is in their easy shareability. Smart bloggers produce compelling infographics that are likely to be shared, driving traffic to their blog and building up their backlink portfolio.
Drawings, comics, paintings and the like are more difficult to use, but are very effective when done right. Brands need to be careful with this as doing it wrong can look unprofessional, but for a more quirky company, it can be quite compelling. Usually this type of image will need to be done by a competent artist, but that’s not a firm rule. If it really supports the post, even quickly sketched stick figures can work in the right context.
Coming soon, part two of this post on where to get images for social media and blog posting.