As I have to keep telling clients, the bad old days of text-only blogs is over. Every post needs at least one image at the top so that it has some visual interest on the page and in any list of search results.
You need not only to find that image, but know how and where it will be displayed and at what resolution, in order to avoid that ‘elementary school project’ look.
The associated image might be the first image inserted in the post or a ‘featured image’ as defined by the blog template of the site you’re posting to.
Again, there’s no set formula, but here are some general principles:
- Your first and/or featured image can be a photo, illustration or artwork
- It has to be a good quality original (even if it is resized to fit the template).
- Pixellated or blurry images are not acceptable (unless you’re going for abstract or artistic styles, in which case, know what you’re doing).
- It has to be in the style of the rest of the blog – if it’s a smart business blog with professional photography, don’t randomly throw in bad clipart.
- Don’t throw in bad vector graphic clipart, period. This isn’t 1998.
- If you are using stock images, check that you’re not one of ninety-nine thousand sites using the same tired stock image. Also check the licensing of the stock images you use – don’t be a pirate.
- Include somewhere in your blog posts the image credits for the images you use (especially if they are yours – include a licence attribution either to encourage sharing or discourage the pirates).
- It is acceptable to re-crop images to fit the aspect ratio for display, or to highlight a particular part of the image for interest or relevance.
- Depending on the context of the image, you might include a caption describing what it is (and its’ relevance to the rest of the post)
- Position and size your images consistently. It matters when looking down your category list pages or search results. If you can pull off eccentrically quirky randomness, fine; otherwise, the professional look should be neat, orderly and consistent.
- Don’t forget your ‘alt’ tag – this is the Internet, alt tags help in search, accessibility and in case of image loading failures. It is also good to include a title attribute. Try to make alt and title tags relevant to the content of the post.
Now we’ve set the rules for your lead image, do the same for any supplementary images if you have any.
Say that your post is a how-to post of instructions with illustrative photos or diagrams; you need to pay attention to size, position, cropping, captions and probably numbering so the text cross-references the illustrations.
You’ll also want to be consistent or source and style of artwork – exceptions being if you want to throw in a humourous cartoon or a visual reference to another site or source. These must be relevant to your written content.
Tipping the scales
Your typical blog template has small- to medium-sized image blocks. Your chosen shots have to work at that resolution, so they have to scale. An aerial shot of a WWII battle may scale down to a few indistinct pixels, as might the dismantled interior of your Subaru Imprezza’s gearbox. They won’t necessarily work as inset thumbnails. Better to find a close up of a tank or a gear wheel instead.
Unless your post is an instructional how-to, in which case…
Keep the higher-resolution master that you can link through the low-resolution thumbnail, with an option to ‘click to enlarge’ so your reader can see the detail when they need it.
Heroes and villains
Some blog templates however, go with a big, splashy initial image, header image or featured image. In this case, a low-resolution original isn’t going to cut it displayed as a blurry, indistinct header or feature blown it up two or three or more times its’ native resolution. This is the other reason for keeping a medium- or high-resolution version of your image.
Lastly, keep in mind that your chosen artwork has to inform, illuminate or otherwise add to the written content of the post. A cartoon cat falling off a roof is less relevant than a cat-shaped piggy-bank if your post is about personal finance. Piggy-bank – visual cue in the listings; cat-shaped – different enough to stand out from the all the other pig-shaped piggy-bank-driven personal finance posts. Get it?
As mentioned in the previous blog post; we’ve now outlined some principles for structuring the contents of a blog post, covering the written elements and the artwork to accompany it and give it some visual pizazz.
What I can’t do is give you the engaging original content to go in it. That’s down to you. RC