It’s safe to say that you’re not blogging just because. You want people to actually read what you’ve written. For that to happen, though, your blog needs to be easy to find online. The right images can boost your blog’s visibility significantly, especially now that Google is in the process of shifting from text to “a more visual way to find information.”
For years Google’s algorithm has preferred blogs with images. Now images are essential if you want increased organic search traffic and user engagement.
But any old image won’t do.
Your images must be optimized, on-topic, and appropriately placed. We’ll cover everything you need to know about selecting pictures for your blog. But first, let’s dig deeper into the role images play in improving your rankings.
Why Blogs Need SEO-Friendly Images to Rank
Why are optimized images important? As already mentioned, Google (and other search engines) value the skillful use of visuals. Optimized images can be an indicator of a high-quality blog.
Pictures break up text, creating an easier and more pleasant reading experience. They can also spark the interest of your readers and drive home your main points, all of which keeps visitors on your site longer.
When search engines realize that people tend to stick around, they draw the conclusion that your blog offers value. This, in turn, improves your organic search ranking.
Opportunities for SEO
All images have file names, and the images on your blog should also have alt texts and sometimes captions. Each provides you with an opportunity to improve your keyword density and emphasize to search engines what each blog post is about. (We'll discuss writing SEO alt texts below.)
5 Tips For Selecting Appropriate Images
Keep these five tips in mind when choosing images for your blog posts.
1. Always Check Licensing
While some websites provide completely free images, others provide theirs under licenses that place certain obligations on you. For example, in some cases, you may have to contact the owner for permission or provide attribution to them in your post. Some images, of course, cannot be legally copied or used at all.
Before you choose an image, find out what you need to do to be in the clear legally.
2. Choose Relevant Pictures
Both for SEO purposes and for the benefit of your readers, it’s imperative that you choose graphics and photos that are related to your subject matter. Doing the opposite can leave both search engines and readers confused, which hurts your rankings.
3. Don’t Forget About Mobile Users
Over 50% of internet traffic is mobile, so all of your blog needs to be mobile-friendly, images included. Moreover, mobile users will view your sites with a variety of screen sizers. The way your blog is displayed can differ greatly across devices. You’ll want to make sure that your images are an appropriate size, appear in the right places, and maintain their quality regardless of what mobile device is being used.
4. Choose Compelling Pictures
Images aren’t just there to look pretty. They are tools to motivate people to action, even when “action” simply means continuing to read your blog. Therefore, you need compelling images that will boost engagement.
Photos of people are an excellent tool for this purpose. Research has shown that audiences respond particularly strongly to faces. For example, one study found that Instagram photos featuring faces are 38% more likely to receive likes than others. Whenever possible, choose dynamic images that will engage your readers.
5. Keep Your Images “On Brand”
To achieve the best results, there needs to be no confusion when it comes to your branding. For brand consistency, the photos you choose need to be in line with the way you present your business as a whole. There are several aspects of this to consider.
As mentioned previously, your photos need to match your subject matter. If there is no obvious link or connection between the two, and the images do not help you to better communicate your thoughts, there’s no point in using them.
Additionally, the types of images you choose should accurately reflect your business and its personality. If your blog has a lighthearted or serious tone, choose images that match. You should use your brand colors when possible, perhaps by applying filters to all of your photos to keep them consistent, and whenever possible, make them a uniform width.
If you decide to produce your own images, which we'll discuss later, you’ll also need to keep your fonts and logo placement consistent.
Where to Get Images For Your Blog (And Avoid Legal Risks)
At this point, you know why you need images to rank, as well as how to select appropriate ones. Now, you need to know where and how to find images for your blog posts. You have three options: free stock, paid stock, or in-house. Here are the strengths, weaknesses, and legal hurdles of each.
Free Stock Photos
This option is excellent if you’re on a tight budget but would still like to enjoy the benefits of using optimized images in your posts. There are several sites where you can source completely free images for your blog. Some of our favorites include:
Instant Magazine recently put together a comprehensive list of 10 free stock image sites.
Regardless of which site you use, you’ll always need to exercise caution. Different sites have different requirements with regards to crediting the original source of each photo. Some require nothing at all, while others require proper attribution to the creator.
In a similar vein, some sites – and even individual photographers on those sites – may place limitations on the way their work can be used. For example, some pictures can only be used for non-commercial purposes. You need to be sure what’s required of you before you download and use them; doing otherwise exposes you to potential legal action.
Paid Stock Photos
Paid stock images are similar to their free counterparts in terms of requirements and limitations. As long as you respect the rights of the creator, as stated on the stock photo site, you should be safe.
Where can you find paid stock images? Here's a few sources:
Typically, the quality of the images on these paid sites is a bit higher, and often these photos are already sized for web content.
In-house Image Creation
Are you hesitant to use stock images? If so, it’s understandable. Although it’s unlikely you'll ever use a picture that any of your readers will recognize, it’s a possibility. Even if it never happens, some stock photos have an obvious "look" about them; almost everyone has seen a picture at some point and thought to themselves, “Oh, that’s a stock image,” even if they’d never seen it before.
With a decent camera, good lighting, and a decent editing program, you can produce your own images that will boost your blog’s rankings and engage your readers. The downside: this option is the most expensive, both in terms of the equipment and software you’ll need and the time and energy it will take.
Which of the three options you choose depends on you and your needs. Whichever you pick, when you’re hunting for pictures, bear the following in mind:
Where Not to Source Images
There are some places you should never take photos from. It’s true. For instance, never pull images from Google Image Search or any similar search engine tool. For almost any search, nearly all of the top results will be copyrighted.
You should also avoid taking photos and graphics from social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. On those platforms, most of the images operate under fair use. If you’re writing for a monetized or affiliated blog, you are not allowed to make use of those images.
The same applies to screenshots that you take of other websites. The fact that you took the screenshot yourself will not necessarily protect you. Publishing an image of somebody else’s website amounts to republishing their content. Make sure that you have the rights to do so, even with attribution.
Always Do Your Homework
In sum, make sure you understand copyright law and fair use before you commit to using other people’s images. Reach out to the creator whenever possible, make sure they’re compensated for their work, and always give credit where it’s due.
Making Your Images SEO-Friendly
Once sourced, it’s time to optimize your images for better on-page SEO. What’s involved in this process?
Adding Alt Texts
All of your images have something called "alt text" that “tells” search engines what the image depicts. Google evaluates alt text for accuracy and relevance. Misleading alt text can incur a penalty.
Alt text also appears when your image fails to load in the browser, and it’s what screen readers read to visually impaired web surfers.
To add this text, you can write it directly in your site’s HTML tags. It should look like this:
<img src="image.jpg" alt="A sentence describing your image" />
Many WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) content editors, like the one that WordPress uses, allow you to enter your alt text into a simple text box.
Writing the Alt Text
Your alt text should be a concise sentence (125 characters is the usual limit) that describes the image. For instance, this image might have the alt text, "Closeup of pine cones on a tree branch" – and in fact, that's exactly what the alt text is.
Choosing the Right Size
There are three main types of image file on the internet: PNG, JPG, and GIF. Each has its niche, and figuring out which to use on your blog can be tricky. Here’s a quick breakdown of each.
- PNG stands for Portable Network Graphics. PNG uses DCT compression to create lossless images, meaning images that can be saved, reopened, and scaled without losing quality. It’s the standard for most digital photographs, and it’s ideal for graphic designers who work on high-quality images and vectors, but can be too detailed (meaning the file size will be too large) for some blog posts.
- GIFs, or Graphic Interchange Format images, are also lossless, but they only support a maximum of 256 colors. They work best with motion graphics, small icons, and graphics with little pixel variation.
- JPEG images are named for Joint Photographic Experts Group (the originators of the file type) and it has become the standard for blog images. It is a lossy format, meaning it loads quickly but tends to lose quality as it’s scaled and reuploaded.
As for dimensions, make sure you only resize down, never up; nothing’s worse than blurry, grainy images. For header images, make the most of your web real estate by measuring your site’s banner width and choosing pictures long enough to span your entire page. For body pictures, keep the pictures relatively small to avoid interrupting the flow of your post.
Place Your Images Carefully
The appearance of a page can dramatically increase or decrease your blog’s bounce rate. Therefore, where you place your images is critical.
- Header Images: Recently, Ogilvy found that headlines placed below hero images get read 10% more often. That means poor featured image placement can drastically reduce your readership. Don’t make things hard for yourself. Place your header images at the very beginning of your blog.
- Body Images: Sandwich your pictures between paragraphs, as close to the relevant paragraphs as possible. Try to avoid positioning them immediately after headlines and at the end of body sections.
Follow these rules of thumb and you'll see good results.
Still Confused? Hire Some Help
To recap, there are many things you must consider as you select the right images for your blog. Among other things, you have to think about whether or not a picture is relevant to your topic, compelling, in line with your brand, free for you to use, and appropriate for visitors using mobile devices.
When you’re not comfortable with the process of vetting and publishing images, it can be quite time-consuming. If seems like too much hassle, consider outsourcing with a service like Compose.ly, which provides content complete with SEO images. Why not make things a little easier on yourself?
This article was written by Compose.ly writer Nia Gyant.