Images and graphics are an incredibly important tool for capturing your audience’s interest.
Like multi-pixel eye-candy for your readers.
In fact, images rank right up there with your post’s headline for creating impact, grabbing attention and enticing your reader into giving your article a chance when the competition is fierce.
Add to that the growth of social media platforms like Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest–and the increased ease with which we can take, alter, upload and share images–and it’s impossible to avoid this new age of visual fascination.
For many writers, this may be alien territory, but since the importance of images in today’s world can not be denied–or ignored–finding simple but effective ways to source, edit and incorporate images into your platform building is essential.
Strengthen Your Content with Images
Often, seconds are all you have to make your content stand out, grab your reader’s attention and effectively convey your message.
A great photo can do most of the work for you, so it’s important to spend a little extra time to craft a visually stimulating experience that not only attracts, but engages your audience.
Adding graphical elements to your article can help highlight key points, illustrate a concept or even trigger an emotional reaction from your reader.
Remember, even the most avid book lover will tend to scan and skim online, so photos can also help to break up large, intimidating walls of text and add visual interest and aesthetic appeal to your online content.
Concerned as to how you can pull off the ‘visual storytelling’ that plays a major part in your author branding and your presence online and off?
Don’t have mad Photoshop skills or a Masters Degree in Photography?
“Not sure how or where you should be using images once you figure out where to get some?” (Tweet this)
There are many tools and resources available to aid you in your quest for the ideal visual representation of your post topic or your author brand. I’ll walk you through the steps to finding, editing and effectively using images below.
1. Where to Find Compelling Images
There are many places online to find great images, both free and paid for. Here are some options, and the ones that I use most often:
Morguefile is one of many free stock photo sites that provides high resolution photos for use in blog posts or other creative projects.
- Just click on ‘Free photos’ and your set! (Always check the license to ensure you are using and attributing the image appropriately).
Creative Commons Using a Creative Commons-licensed image requires a bit more work to ensure that you are following the terms of the license. Most images require only that you attribute the work to the original photographer (usually via a link from your article back to the source), but some licenses include additional restrictions. Be sure to review these carefully.
- Tip: Search for images under the attribution license. An Attribution License allows you to copy, distribute, alter and publish a piece of work, even commercially, as long as you give credit for it. Other licences can limit whether you alter a photo (like adding text, cropping) or using the image in a commercial context (this might be a concern if you monetize your blog, or if you use the picture on or within an ebook you’re selling on your site).
- Once on the Creative Commons homepage, look for ‘Explore’ on the lower right of your screen, and click on ‘Find CC-licensed works’.
iStockPhoto provides professional photographs on a royalty-free basis. The images aren’t free, but for a small fee you are able to use an image without paying royalties to the photographer.
For certain projects and to add a degree of professionalism to your site or marketing materials, this may be a good option. Again, just make sure to carefully check for any limitations or restrictions on use for all images that you choose.
(For additional ways to ensure that you are using using online photos legally, check out this post.)
Use Your Own Photos. Depending on your skills and interest, sometimes the simplest and safest approach is to use your own photos.
Pictures of you speaking at events, at book signings, and behind-the-scenes peeks at your process can be added to posts or shared with your followers on your social media platforms.
Take advantage of what inspires you and your work–photograph a tree in your backyard, the way the sun shines into your office, a bookshelf holding a collection of ‘favourite reads’, the street musician on the corner, even your pet. Get your creative juices flowing!
By looking for new and striking ways to visually convey your content or ideas, and incorporating them into your blog and other media, you will increase the engagement and excitement of your readers as well as ‘personalize’ your author brand.
The key here, however, is to ensure the photos are of a quality that will represent you, your book or your freelance services in the best possible light.
SEO-ize Your Pictures
Beautiful or jaw-dropping images are for your audience, but ironically your photo descriptions are what the search engines find compelling.
Using descriptive, relevant text for your image will help search engines figure out what your picture is about. Images or photos that you use on your website or author blog can provide another way to rank in search results, so optimizing your images to take advantage of valuable SEO traffic related to the images you use is just smart. And luckily, relatively simple.
Since your images will be indexed by Google, your goal is for them to be indexed well and ideally bring more visitors to your site. After downloading a photo (or using one of your own), make sure you do the following:
- use a descriptive file name and make sure it contains your targeted keyword phrase for your post.
- once the photo is uploaded to your site, add or change the image title to something relevant, catchy and concise.
- Add a short description (including your article keyword or keyword phrase) that tells the visitor what the image is about under image Alternative Text (or Alt Text).
2. Edit Your Images Like a Pro (But For Free and Without the Learning Curve)
Whether you are just learning the basics of your point and shoot camera–or have the high quality photography chops to play with the big boys–inevitably a little photo editing will be required.
Enter PicMonkey.com: a free, online photo editor that you can use to transform your images from ho-hum to hallelujah in a matter of minutes.
“Creating impactful images often requires more than just a brilliant photograph.” (Tweet this)
You may want to add text, overlays or borders; edit, resize or touch-up; or even add a watermark to your image to identify your work and give others the opportunity to contact you.
All of these image enhancements (and more) can be achieved with a little time, a little creativity and PicMonkey.
Here’s a video how-to, where I add an overlay, some text and a watermark to a photo to create this post’s featured image:
PicMonkey Tutorial: Free Photo Editing for Writers
Can’t see the video? Click here. (Blurry video? Try clicking on the gear icon on the lower right after playing to adjust the quality.)
3. How to Use Images for Impact
When adding images to your repertoire, it’s not just what photos and graphics you choose to include, but also how you include them that matters.
“…visual information, when delivered well, has the power to capture and hold audience attention and significantly increase the percent recall beyond what is generally accomplished when information is delivered through primarily aural or text based methods.”
~ 7 Things You Should Know About Visual Information, Office of the CIO, Ohio State University
A great image is not only eye-catching, but important for your reader’s ability to retain the information that you are sharing. The more of an impact your message, your instruction or your story, can make on a visitor, the better.
“Use images to gain attention and retention!” (Tweet this)
With this in mind, lets consider some options as to where we can use images and graphics and how to optimize their use in those locations.
- Use a featured image in your posts. Located at the top of the blog article, featured images are usually full width or approximately half-width and aligned either right or left. Shorter line length is usually less imposing and can help draw readers in, so half-width (or a little less) images aligned right are ideal.
- Functional images like screenshots or graphs that provide additional detail to the text of your post, should be almost full width so that they are as large as possible and easy to read.
- Additional images, like graphics, logos or quote boxes should be smaller, and typically aligned right. Images aligned left make it more difficult to read the text, and if images are closely alternated between right and left alignment, readability becomes even more difficult.
- The number of images to add to an article is defined by what is required by the content (in terms of aiding understanding) and what is necessary to help keep a reader focused and engaged. Too many images is distracting; too few, and there may be less incentive for the reader to wade through the next 1000 words.
- Your blog header sets the tone and is a great place to get creative. Even if you just use text, why not try a really cool or unique font?
- Not every site has a slider, but if your blog does (see the Your Writer Platform homepage, for an example), use it to promote your top posts and spruce up the visual style and interest of your homepage.
- The concept of a feature box was introduced by Derek Halpern of Social Triggers, with the challenge that: if you removed your logo and tagline, would people know what your site is about without scrolling and clicking? Consider adding a feature box graphic to help potential fans quickly ‘get’ what you, or your site, is all about.
- Less is definitely more when it comes to your sidebar, but maximizing your sidebar real estate is super important. Consider adding a picture of you (with a short bio and linked to your About page), ‘call-to-action’ graphics that link to your books, additional resources or your top posts. (Slide your eyes to the right to see how I’ve done it here on YWP, or check out how Catherine Ryan Howard does it at Catherine, Caffeinated).
- Don’t let your blog posts monopolize all the great images! Find throat-grabbing photos for the important pages of your site, like your New Here?, About, Media/Press, Resource, or Services/Hire Me pages.
- Crafting your own book trailer using images, text and music can create quite an impact if done well. Check out Joanna Penn’s post, Book Trailers: 11 Steps to Make Your Own.
- I hesitate to suggest creating your own book cover, as it is almost always better to have a professional design your cover for you. However, you may want to add a ‘cover’ to a novella or short story that you’re publishing only on your blog or maybe you’d like to test your new PicMonkey skills and create a cover for work you’re sharing on Wattpad.
- When designing your own book covers, consider Kura Carpenter’s 5 Top Tips to Making Your Cover Look Professional (via Bubblecow).
Pinterest and other social media profiles
- Keep the photos you use professional (no blurry photos with a beer in your hand 🙂 ), and ensure the images and graphics you use convey your message and author brand across all platforms. (For more detail, check out this post on Twitter marketing.)
- Pinterest is huge, and the art of crafting pinnable ‘pins’ is a blog post all on it’s own. However, here are a few guidelines to making the most out of your images on Pinterest:
Send a clear message. On Pinterest, your image may be the only thing someone sees in order to decide whether or not to visit your site.
Use easy to read, bold text on your photo or graphic. Use words and fonts that will resonate with your readers and reflect your core philosophy in tone and style.
Try to use a picture that conveys the whole message of your post or page.
Currently, only images and video (YouTube and Vimeo) are pinnable.
Size your images to display without distortion. Anything wider than 735 pixels gets resized. There are no height limits (i.e. how tall your image is), but images larger than about 5000 pixels tall require a lot of scrolling; people are less likely to go back to the top of the image to rePin it.
Even more so on Pinterest: make sure your images are beautiful, striking and compelling.
Creating Images for Your Social Media Profiles Just Got Easier
I’ve scoured the web, trying to find the most *up-to-date-for-right-this-moment* social media sizing cheat sheet (no easy task with the networks continually making changes), and here’s what I’ve found:
- In Bufferapp.com’s ultimate guide to ideal image sizes for social media posts, they recommend the following sizes for sharing images:
Facebook – 1,200 x 628
Twitter – 1,024 x 512
LinkedIn – 800 x 800
Google+ – 800 x 1200
Pinterest – 735 x 1,102
Instagram – 1,200 x 1,200
Over to You
Are you eager to start creating images that grab attention and draw your readers to you–and your work–in droves?
For those more savvy photogs, any additional tips or resources on creating images that go for the jugular? Please share your experiences in the comments below.
Original photo by nasirkhan