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July 9, 2018 (Updated: October 31, 2022)
Written content pieces hold a lot of knowledge; they allow us to showcase the author’s expertise and to explain difficult concepts clearly. They also give users the information they are looking for, which not only helps complete a good user search query coming in from organic search but also provides more thought leadership and positive brand sentiment for the organization.
For instance, a SerpIQ study mentioned by The Next Web found that on average, the search results in the top three positions were between 2300 and 2500 words. As you went down the list of search results, the word count for content usually got smaller.
Arguably, anything over 1000 words takes a more significant commitment to read, both because of user attention span and the assumed depth of the content. The average adult reading speed is about 200-300 words per minute, but that is only if a user’s sole attention is on reading the text. Otherwise, a user may go back and forth between an article and something else they are doing on their phone.
Because user attention is something so hard to keep and get online, it’s essential to break up your content with visuals that help illustrate your points and break down what you’re trying to say in a new way. Images in content have been shown to get 94 percent more pageviews than those without, and when you share the visuals from your content on social media to promote, posts with images have a 37 percent higher engagement rate.
While many content marketers use stock images to illustrate their content, there are a few ways you can take it up a notch and create images that can further increase text comprehension, brand awareness, and engagement. Here are some visual content ideas you can use within your blog posts.
Infographics can take a lot of time, resources, and energy to put together, but they can be a powerful accompaniment to your long-form content. As the writer is creating the content, have them keep a separate document or list of main points and statistics that should be included in an infographic.
This can be given to the designer or used by the writer to create an infographic that will best illustrate the main points of the content piece. Luckily, creating infographics online is getting easier as more options become available. Vengage, Canva, Visme, and Piktochart are all online infographic creation tools that have free account options if a designer isn’t possible. If you are unable to create the infographic in-house due to time or resources, you can also outsource to a design company. Typically, if you outsource your infographic, they create the writing, wireframe, and design for you.
TIME magazine regularly does polls with partners and creates infographics to illustrate the findings:
In this example, TIME polled respondents about what makes a great invention. The long-form results were quite extensive, but the full-page infographics make it a lot easier to understand at a glance. Most content pieces have the infographics at the end of the text portion, so it acts as a summary.
Infographics are also great for cross-promotion across other platforms. You can upload infographics on SlideShare and Pinterest, where they can get a bigger audience beyond regular social media sharing. Infographics are also unique to some of the other formats on this list because they are much more likely to be picked up by other publications and reshared on their own website or social media profiles, with credit.
For instance, this blog post from Creative Market has an accompanying infographic with a “Pin It” button to encourage social media sharing. You can also insert a plain text code below the infographic to encourage embedding on other websites.
If you don’t want to create entire infographics for your content, but want images, a graph or chart is a good compromise between the two. You also use Piktochart to develop modern-looking graphs, but you also can include charts and graphs in Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. If you are sharing statistics and date, graphs can be an excellent way to break down content to help reinforce data, especially if it’s unique or exclusive to your organization.
For instance, in your long content that is announcing data or a study your organization has compiled, you can use graphs and charts throughout a summary post on the study to give readers a good initial view of your findings.
Content Marketing Institute does a good job of this with annual industry studies. Here’s an example in a summary/announcement post:
In each graph, Content Marketing Institute also includes attribution for the image at the bottom in grey, in case they are shared on social media or pulled onto other websites. Of course, with adding logos and attribution at the bottom of images, there’s always a chance that another publication will crop off the bottom, but image trademark laws still protect the image. Make sure your creative commons or trademark policy is stated plainly on your website to protect your work.
Another common visual content addition to your regular content that many marketers are already doing (but more need to do) is the creation of custom images for all pieces of content.
Creating featured images with the content title is great for sharing on social media because users will know what to expect. Here’s an example from Social Media Examiner:
In this case, the featured image includes the URL of their website, but many marketers choose to use their logo on all images, like this example of a post on my marketing blog (the logo is at the bottom):
Most featured images should be the width of the main blog pages (usually on WordPress, that’s about 650-700 pixels). Again, a graphic designer could create these images, but there are also several online tools that make this easy: Canva, Pablo by Buffer, and PicMonkey are both examples of drag and drop tools that make good design easy (the last example above was created in Canva). You can also choose pre-designed sizes to take the guesswork out of what works best on a blog and in social media.
This type of custom image is also a good way to reinforce your brand’s colors or overall aesthetic. For instance, Social Media Examiner has their mascot of the guide with a map that regularly appears on featured images or in their content. With repetition, this continually reinforces their brand.
The longer your content is, the harder it might be for some readers to remember all the points made in the piece. That’s why summarizing key points in an image gives a good visual reminder of the main takeaways of the article.
When I worked at Search Engine Journal, we used to do this, insert the images in the post, and then share the summary images on Instagram:
In a few seconds, readers knew exactly what a main takeaway was from this long article on “optimization techniques that Google hates.” Because SEJ’s minimum word count was about 1,000 words at the time this graphic was created, users could instantly get a takeaway from the content before sitting down to read the entire article.
Besides key takeaways, several publications also do summary images that pull quotes from the article. This is especially useful if the author is one of the figureheads of your company or a thought leader in the space.
For instance, take this interview from Women@Forbes.
The author broke down the expert’s insights into topics, which would’ve made them a good candidate for a quote image. While Forbes didn’t do this, the quote image could’ve looked like something like this:
While this is just a quick example made in Pablo by Buffer, the author could’ve also created images with the Forbes logo or made them different sizes to fit the format of the blog layout. No matter what extras are used to make the image best fit the content, the point is that summary images can be used to instantly give takeaways to users before, during, or after reading and should be included in any thorough content marketing service.
This is one of the newest visual content formats that have been gaining steam, especially because gifs are now supported on Twitter and Facebook. Illustrative gifs are moveable illustrations that loop as gifs.
There is usually two ways that illustrative gifs are used. They are commonly a step above custom images that were mentioned above. Instead of a still custom image for the piece, articles are including artful gifs created by talented artists.
To see some examples of illustrative gifs, here is a tutorial from DigitalArts with a gif gallery, and here’s some commissioned work from Wired, as shown below:
Illustrated gifs are also used to showcase a concept that is explained in the content. For instance, if a shoe company released a landing page explaining how their shoes were made, illustrated looping gifs could be embedded that show the shoes being put together. These give readers an instant understanding of what is being explained. The looping gif format also makes the media easier for the reader—they don’t have to click a play button and the media is silent, which many internet users appreciate.
More and more users are fed up with invasive media that is constantly moving and in their face without their choice to hit play. So choosing to create media that is more seen as art than a nuisance is always a good thing.
For instance, Digiday reports that 85 percent of all Facebook users watch videos without sound. With these findings and the move by Google Chrome to ban autoplay videos on websites for users, silent looping gifs can be a better alternative to disruptive and distracting long videos.
Finally, if you do want to try longer “traditional” video, some summary or explainer videos still do very well for content. One such niche is food, where summary videos are useful to readers who want to make sure they are following the recipe correctly.
This recipe is for Keto Cheesy Spinach Stuffed Chicken Breast. If you click through to the link, you’ll see the recipe steps and ingredient list, as well as the pinned video at in the middle of the recipe post.
If you are creating summary videos and want to use them as part of the content promotion strategy, Pinterest also allows the use of summary videos for advertisements. The videos automatically start to play as a user scrolls down the page. Pinterest does a good job of spacing these types of ads out, so they aren’t too overwhelming or annoying to the user.
These types of videos like the example aren’t easy or fast to produce, but you can also use a tool like Lumen5 to create an animated slide show video set to music or narration. Summary videos and video infographics are just another way to display information that helps users get a better picture without necessarily having to read all the content.
Blog posts don’t have to stop at stock photos. You can use visual content like infographics, illustrative gifs, summary images, or custom images to make your content stand out and look more polished and professional.
With 75 percent of a piece of content not being read on average, according to a Sumo study, it’s worth it to content marketers to experiment with visual content ideas to make sure the message sinks in. Otherwise, all the work that has been done with interviews, content ideation, creation, and promotion may not go as far as it could.
Screenshots were taken May 2018. Other image created via Pablo by Buffer.
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