November 15, 2017 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
Forget 1000 words, some studies indicate that humans absorb 60,000 words from the average picture. If you’re not using pictures in your content marketing campaign, you’re hamstringing your efforts for no reason. But beware: if you use the wrong images, those 60,000 words will be telling people to hit the back button. Or worse, you could get into legal trouble by using an image that required attribution. In this guide, we’ll cover the requirements for adding images to content such as blog posts, whitepapers, etc. and we’ll be focusing on options that are either free or cost only time.
You should always choose pictures that fit two criteria: they match your brand voice, and they fit the intent of the content. For instance, a garden seed company would probably aim for a positive and encouraging brand, one that gets people excited about turning the seeds they buy into a lovely garden. Some good pictures could be landscape garden photos, macro shots of beautiful samples of grown plants, or a shot of the many different size and shape vegetables of different strains to emphasize choice.
Intent is specific to the content piece itself. Consider a bank with a free e-book on how to turn your credit around. While banks are typically very serious in their branding, the people reading this e-book could probably use some encouragement. Lighter images, perhaps even cartoons, will help subtly show the bank’s desire to make the reader relax, and to assure them that their situation is not the end of the world. On the other hand, content from a law firm about what to do when you get sued would likely suffer from overly cheery images, making the content feel insincere.
Image via Flickr by Amy Loves Yah
Pixabay, Alana.io, and other sites are all worth checking out for free pictures, but check the rules on each site’s about page. If you find an image in Google that you want to use, try TinEye Reverse Image Search, a plugin that finds where it was originally posted. You can see if it’s free to use or contact the creator and ask. If you have design skill, you could even compose something original by altering, combining, and customizing image elements with apps like Canva. If it’s unrecognizable from its sources, you’re in the clear, although it’s still nice to attribute your source images.
Study how the latest Creative Commons licenses work, and be careful about whether images are free for commercial use. This is a grey area, because it’s not always clear if something is commercial. An e-book you sell should only have images marked free for commercial use or that you paid for such use, because they’re part of a commercial product. But consider an article that links to one of your products. While you aren’t selling the article, you may want to play it safe and pick free-for-commercial-use images in this case as well.
SEO isn’t all about keywords and other text elements, because pictures play a strong role of their own. Make sure you give your images appropriate names and fill in the alt text. Not only does this allow your images to contribute to your website’s rankings, but it’s nice for visitors with visual impairments, as they’ll have software that reads this data to tell them about the picture.
Also, don’t go too crazy with image size. Larger images increase page loading times, and Google’s spider bots judge websites and raise or lower their rankings based upon how quickly they load for the average visitor. You can always keep images on your main content smaller, but have them link to the full size in a separate window. This way, people can see a bigger version of the image if they want, and it won’t impact the speed or SEO ranking of the content.
While general images shot with a camera can be great for setting the tone or establishing an idea, don’t forget the vast choices available to you. Hand-drawn illustrations might fit a more neighborly brand or a very specific tone. Infographics and other interactive media are fantastic alternatives to ordinary images in your content, and can help explain complicated ideas. Charts and graphs are great for whitepapers and other business and research-related content.
There’s one type of image that most businesses will find useful: screenshots. These direct screen captures are often effective at making a point or illustrating something. They are your own and therefore require less or no attribution, and they have a certain authenticity about them. A note, however: if you’re using a screenshot that contains information from someone else, such as positive testimonials on social media, try to get permission from everyone involved. Research Fair Use law and how protected you are based on the screenshot and its context.
Beginner content marketers sometimes worry that they’re using too many images, drawing attention from the text. Much like feeling uneasy about using subheadings or leaving more white space, this is natural but counterproductive. The fact is that these things are more appealing to the eye and do not have drawbacks. After all, there are no pages to print, and no one cares if they have to scroll a little more due to spaced out text and pictures.
There’s no reason not to use images in nearly all types of online content, so don’t worry. A content piece can have as many images as you feel are pertinent. Unlike long walls of text, there’s nothing lost if someone is tired of looking at pictures and skips past a few to get back to the rest of the content. Use them generously, and use them for logical reasons, and you’ll be fine.
You now know some good tips for finding, making, and choosing images for your content marketing, as well as tips on choosing images that are totally free and safe to use for your projects. Be sure to keep these things in mind as you create new content, and don’t forget to add images to your older content if you were afraid to in the past. It may just draw in more eyes and higher engagement.
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