Photo by alemdag
Vivid images are like a beautiful melody that speaks to you on an emotional level. It bypasses your logic centers and even your intellect and goes to a different part of the brain. ~ Steve Bochco, popular TV producer.
One of the most common things people e-mail me, besides the usual ‘great post’ and all, is how much they enjoyed the way I blend images, together with my writing and form an easy to digest, eclectic post. Clearly, images make a profound role in each of my posts, and I can’t see any reason why you shouldn’t reap it’s benefits as well.
Blogging isn’t just about writing. It’s a bit more demanding then that, I’m afraid. A good blogger has to make his presence felt and convey his message as best as he can and through as many channels as possible. By mixing in words with visuals stimuluses, you’re providing a whole different reading experience, as well as enhancing the broadcasted message.
There’s are literary millions of blogs out there, with quite possibly millions of posts everyday. How can you possibly expect to stand out or be unique? Standing out is, thus, crucial, and the images in posts, alongside the writing of course, provide the necessary means in doing just that.
Why Should I Use Images In Posts?
Photo by neonhil
Some of you may feel like images in posts are redundant, a waste of bandwidth, that only succeed in distracting the readers, but from my point of view you’re plain wrong. And I’ll tell you why too, simply by laying some basic and evident benefits of using them. A few lines in and I’m sure you’ll most definitely chance your mindset or at least have second thoughts.
- Grab attention. Internet users nowadays have the attention span of a 3 year old, and wait till you see the traffic from social media. If they stay for more then 5 seconds on your blog, you should immediately sacrifice a virgin to show your appreciation. Really now, there’s no secret bounce rates are getting higher and higher, and what’s left for blogger is to use all they’re available resource to flag the reader and say: ‘Hey! I’m worth reading‘ or ‘Hey! I look somewhat interesting, might as well check me out.” Images are great for this. Just think about it for a second. How many times did you stumble across a blog, gazed upon a really significant image, that literary caught your eye, and then continued reading the respective blog post? I know I do it, and I know you do it too, because it’s just normal. It’s in our nature to do it, because our brain is highly receptive to visual stimuli. That’s why I always like to post a representative image in every post, before the any sign of written content is in sight. This is, of course, not a rule or anything, it’s how I ‘roll.’
Also I think it’s important to stress out that images pose a crucial role when targeting RSS readers. Because there’s actually no design involved in the feed reader software, your post’s images and title are the ones that can make the difference from ‘just another post in my reader’, to ‘a good read I had during my morning coffee.’
- Keep attention. Images not only help attract visitor’s attention, but they can also keep it. This especially applies in the case of more lengthy posts. Remember what I said about people’s attention span a few lines above, right? Well further adding images, through out your post, in “key spots” will definitely decrease your bounce rates, because it brakes the text and makes the readers more alert. What are the key spots? Right after subheading and heading or right after you start an important paragraph will definitely do.
- Scannability. Internet surfers like to scan through content until they find something of interest, so clear and easy to use information is a must. Images, again, help us a great deal here, by breaking text and enticing users to keep on reading. More on scannable content in a previous post.
- Summarize. There’s an old proverb say ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, and I couldn’t agree more. Images are great for not only diverting visitors to your post, but to also convey a post’s entire essence and message. So, just like a good title, a well picked image can summarize your post. By doing so, readers know what to expect and will keep reading your post until their needs are satisfied.
- Relevancy. Images help better communicate your message by visually stimulating the reader to associate the image with the text. They can drastically thin the line between readers and bloggers, by reinforcing the writing; thus a good combination of writing (extra marks if you use a familiar, open tone) and well picked images, will amplify the emotion your post will carry out into your readers, and by doing so it will greatly improve their sense of connectivity and empathy, both key ingredients for a popular blog. A simple Apple logo when you’re talking about the new iPhone 3G or a picture of a delicious dish, when you’re talking about a food recipe, can really make a huge difference.
- Learning. When how-to or tutorial posts are concerned Images, in my opinion, have to indispensable. Screenshots, sketches, doodles, step by step photographs, all contribute to the learning experience of a user and are a must if a post if to become popular and, most of all, understood.
- Relaxation. Reading text on a screen is a lot different from reading text on conventional platforms like paper and other ‘material’ outlets. The main reason behind this is the fatigue Internet users are exposed, as opposed to common magazine or book readers, simply because our eyes are highly exposed to tiresome radiations from the PC display. Try reading a 300 page ebook and an equally long regular, paper book; the difference is startling. Providing your visitors with something that eases their reading will significantly improve the on-page experience and, in term, will lead to lower bounce rates, as well as ‘faithful readers’ conversion rates.
- Aesthetics. Just like a good design can make a blog look beautiful and easy on the eyes, so can some images turn a blog post from just another boring old blurp into a true gem, and in the process help improve the overall aesthetics and user experience of the blog.
- Search Engines. Some of you may not know this already, but images hold a really important SEO role. Not only well optimized images can improve your rankings for your overall, conventional content, but they also bring traffic of their own, through the specialized images searches. Sure, some will argue the traffic from Google images is plain useless, visitors only sticking around only to see or download a photo. I beg to differ. On a music blog, I co-own, half of the search engine traffic comes from Google Images; that’s well in the tens of thousands. With a CPM based ad network behind you, those visits can convert into a pretty penny, and if we take a look at how the visitors convert into actual readers, the numbers don’t look as grim as we might expect. Most people just quickly double click on an image in Google, so they skip through seeing the content with which the image is in context, but there’s a good chunk of users as well who prefer to click just once and check out the rest of the related content.
Where to Find Images?
Photo by The lookbook
Finding the right image for your blog post can be a bit more difficult then it seems. Personally, I take a great deal of time looking for the perfect pictures suitable enough to go well with the post. At first I used take even two hours of my time, going through hundreds of photos until I found the perfect one. Now, it only takes me about 20-30 minutes to come up with the pics, as you’ve already stacked a good amount of source from where I can find good photos and also I’ve thought myself where and how to look.
Most bloggers use the o-so-common Google Images as a means of image research for their blog posts, by going through the delicate process of querying in a keyword and clicingk on the first results that meets their eyes. Seriously now, you should know that using Google to find images for your posts is not by far a recommended solution, not necessarily because of the quality (although images there tend to be randomly unprofessional), but rather because of the copyright issues. You see, among the millions of the images indexed by Google, a good chunk of those are protected by copyright, and can’t be used without strict permission. If you don’t believe me, go to Google and try searching for a pic. Here’s what you get on the side: “Images may be scaled down and subject to copyright“.
So, you see, Google Images can prove to cause quite a bit of trouble and hassle. Where to find good, and, most of all, free images then?
My favorite source for finding images for LAOB is none other then Flickr. A social photo sharing community that’s home to millions of amateur/professional photographers and artists alike. The quality here can truly be incredible, and you can be sure you can always find something of quality that fits your needs. You only need to know where to look and have patience. I won’t go any further in the process of finding images on Flickr, because Skellie already did a very job on it a while ago. If you’re interested, head over to her blog and read her comprehensive guide to finding and using incredible Flickr images.
A quick note, though. Not all Flickr images are free to use. Some users can choose to protect their photos under Creative Commons and prohibit their use. Don’t worry, if they’re protected, you won’t able to download, nor hotlink the respective photos, if you’re feeling tempted to use them. Also, Flickr has the option of searching only through copyright free images, so there’s another thumbs up to use the service. More about this on Skellie’s guide.
The problem with Flickr, however, is that the photos there tend to be a bit too artsy. Blogs that tackle on more mundane subjects, like business, cars, fashion etc., might feel more at home using stock photo imagery. The thing is stock photos are notorious for being outrageously expensive, going into the thousands of dollars mark, just to use a single photo. There’s plenty of stock photo websites, that offer free imagery, though. Bellow you can find just a few awesome free stock photo that I, along with thousands of other bloggers, use every day.
If you’ve found the above list somewhat limited, check out this awesome list of 100 free and legal sources to download images.
How to Properly Use Images In Posts
Photo by mannover
Adding an image to a blog post is easy-mode, but to actually add something that enhances the value of a post and improves it’s quality, from multiple points of view, requires a bit of an effort. A harmony between the text (with all the necessary formating, for maximum performances) and photos is necessary so that you may create an even flow between the two, that which eventually provide the ultimate reading experience.
Oh, I hope I haven’t scared you too much. It’s actually very simple really. After all, we’re just talking about adding some images. I don’t have to be the next Picasso to make a post look attractive or interesting. Shoots, you don’t even have to a developed sense of aesthetics, as long as you follow a few guidelines and keep some things in mid when choosing the perfect photos for your posts.
- Relevancy. Of course, when picking an image for your post it has to be related to the subject at hand. If you’re doing a post about gardening, a photo of a particular flower or, I don’t know, vegetable would be suitable. Just look at most of my blog posts, and you’ll soon notice how each image is tied to each post’s subject. It’s a no brainer really. However, you don’t necessarily need to put related images, it’s not a rule. I sometimes like to post random photos in my blog posts, but they’re usually so spectacular and so beautiful, that people not only look over the fact that they’re not relevant, but they actually enjoy them.If you using lists or writing a whole paragraph about a new service, company or product, it’s recommended you also put a small icon or logo representing the current subject you’re writing about. This greatly helps the reader better assimilate your content, by making it easier to understand, thanks to the graphic-text correlation. An easy to read text is a pleasure, and that’s something we should all look after in our posts.
- Positioning. This is very subjective, and I’ve found people have different photo positioning habits, much like anything else. I, for one, prefer to start off every post with an image. It grabs my readers’ attention from the very start and entices them read further. Again, that’s just how I like to roll, after many weeks of experimenting with positioning. Some use images to great effect by positioning them right after a few paragraphs and keep doing it as the text progresses. The logic behind this is to use images to keep attention, not monopolizes it, so that the text and subject is the main stage. Either way, I suggest you experiment and find your own style.
Generally the most widespread post image positions are either left/right corner rectangle images or big/flat images right after the title (like I use to do).
- Multi-imagery. Is it recommended to use more then one image in a post? Well, for me, the more the merrier, as long as you do it with a keen sense of moderation. If you’re articles average about 500 words per post, I’d say one image is enough. If you happen to write larger pieces or elaborate essays, it would be a good idea to add more images along the post, as it will greatly help stimulate the attention span of readers. Also, as far as lists are concerned you can always use a different image for every bullet point or subheading.
- Size. Now, this depends on how your blog theme handles posts width, but generally you’re free to use images of all shapes and sizes, as long your respect your themes CSS boundaries. Again image sizes will vary a lot. For example, I like to post my images large, as wide as the post itself. I like it this way, because for one it really looks good, and then there’s that thing about attention span. Bigger means more interesting and more interesting actually means more readable. Don’t over-react though and don’t use images larger then they have to.
When you’re writing about a company, in example, there’s no need to stretch it’s logo all over the damn display. A simple 150x150px pic will more then suffice.Be careful about your photos’ clarity. Make sure they’re of the right resolution and not pixelled out. Look at the ratio between the height and width of an image, and make sure they’re in correct aspect ratio.
- Storage. This is a somewhat delicate subject. Basically, you can split bloggers into two; those who upload the images on their own servers and those who upload or hotlink (embed an image from another URL) from external sources. Both come with advantages and disadvantages, and it’s only up to you to decide what is your favorite solution.
There’s free services like photobucket or the highly popular Flickr, that allow you to upload as many pictures as you want on their servers (maybe not Flickr, you put a maximum of 100 photos, afterwards you have to pay 25$/per year) and then simply hotlink the pics in your posts. What you gain? Well for starters you save a lot of, lot of bandwidth, a growing issue among bloggers lately.
If you’re self-hosted, on your own domain and server, you can upload the images on your own server. What you get? Well, for one thing you’ve got full control over your own stuff, and not at the mercy of some third party. I’m sure many of you have already hotlinked images from other websites; tell me this then: how many times did some of your images disappear? I thought so. Then there’s highly important issue of SEO, that’s really not worth neglecting. Images can bring a great deal of search traffic to whoever’s hosting them, so if you’re ready to kick away a bunch of traffic, you better use Flickr.
- Bandwidth. Whether you’re using your own server or some other form of third party storage, you should be careful about it’s size in KB. A lot of people around the wold have limited bandwidth and have to pay for every excess KB they download. Make it easier on them and on your server, and pick an image as small in memory size as possible, if you can, optimize it. Use only .jpg and .png. Use .gif only if it’s strictly necessary, as they tent to occupy a lot of bandwidth and are low quality of well (we all like to party like it’s 1999, but not on the Internet).
- Composition. You can basically use images containing whatever coloring and composition, but there are some exceptions. Stay away from too extravagant images, that are packed with too much color and lighting. Imagine having your blog posts look like a teen’s myspace page. Also, if you’re using a post background other then white, you’re gonna have to face some extra issues as well. You’ll probably have to take an extra step further to find images with appropriate background or style them yourself, which will lead to some severe time loss. You could always try using .png images, that use same background as the one you’re posing on, but good luck finding suitable ones.
- Credit. It’s a wide known issue that copyright can be a huge hassle for bloggers of both side of the fence, those who own them and those who publish them further. Be careful and don’t blindly post any image. Check it’s copyright and eventually ask the author or source for permission of use. It’s a lot of trouble, I know, but it might get you out of a lot of trouble. Read more about how to protect and enforce your blog’s copyright in a previous post.
Anyway, there’s an unwritten law among bloggers everywhere that basically states for anything that you take from another blogger, be it an idea, a news item, a story, an image, whatever, you have to properly credit them with a linkback. In the case of images, I just like to include a small link underneath every photo crediting the authors, usually from Flickr.
- Processing. You can either post an image as you get it, in its default state or you can take it a step further and process it a bit. The most common things bloggers usually do is they crop and resize the images. Then, of course, for those a bit more skilled there’s always styling (you can make a pic black and white, add grunge effects, add frames etc.). If you’re looking to be a bit more professional with your posts, you can always describe your photos with a small caption under them (something like ‘Photo of Barrack Obama speaking in front of Congress’). Recommended tools: Photoshop and GIMP (for open source fans).
- SEO. A lot of bloggers are really wind up about their search engine traffic and go to great lengths to improve their rankings and overall SEO, but what most of them neglect is images search engine traffic. I’ve already talk about it a some lines above, so there’s no need to go over its benefits again, but what’s important to note is to pay some special attention to it.
With a minimum of effort and attention when you upload your images you can have a bunch of your images rank high for competitive keywords in image searches.There’s basically five (well six, if you count the CSS class field) important elements that characterize an image in xHTML. There’s src (which is your image’s actual URL), width, height, alt text (the text that appears when you go over an image with your mouse) and title. Of these, when uploading an image, src, width and height and automatically complete by WordPress, with only alt and title remaining to be complete. How convenient, right?
First thing’s first, though. Before you upload an image be sure to rename it from 41240j1.jpg or whatever its called, into keywordname.jpg. For example if you’re writing an article about U2 and also want to add an image featuring the band, make sure, before you upload it, that you rename it appropriately; something like U2.jpg or U2theband.jpg will work perfectly. This will take about 5 seconds to do. Like I said, WordPress will automatically take care of the width, height and src when you upload or hotlink and image, it’s then time to take care of the title and alt text fields. Just complete the respective field the same way you renamed the .jpg, with the keyword and you’re set. The whole process takes about 30-60 seconds per image, but the benefits it brings will clearly out-weigh the minimal effort you landed.The most important aspects you should take in consideration, when SEO for images is concerned, are the alt text and the relevant content around your image. So, if you’re looking after ranking high for a particular image keyword, you should also concentrate on a keyword rich environment around it, much in the same way you’d do with conventional SEO.
Images, Turning Blogging into Art
Photo by antonio burguet
A blog post, no matter how well written, without a good, representative image next to it is just plain. It’s like food without salt, like life with fun. Just look at one of the most raging phenomenon’s on the web now, photo-blogging or blogging only in photographs. Then end result can be just stunning (see Kathleen Connally’s photoblog).
Simply put, images provide a whole different reading experience to the average blog aficionado, and it’s our ‘job’, as bloggers, to give our readers the time of their lives during their stay.
Thoughts and opinions on blog images? Do you use them? If no, why not? Curious here.
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