5 essential technical tips to ensure your blog images make your blog more search engine friendly and inviting to your readers.  

search engine optimizationIf you’re a blogger, it’s important to have a compelling image on every one of your blog posts. Good images add colour and interest to your content, but they also serve some very practical purposes as well. Google and other search engines ‘like’ rich media, such as images, videos and audio, meaning that sites with rich content get more ‘points’ in their searches than those without. Google also has a different tab for image searches, which opens up another pathway for people to find your website.

But many bloggers don’t understand how to make their images work for them. Without ample care, images can do little to improve your visibility on Google and can slow down your site so much that people simply don’t stick around long enough to read your content. In this article, I will discuss (in layman’s terms) 5 key things that can help ensure that your images will enhance your blog rather than harm it:

Choosing a good, royalty free image
Making sure your images don’t slow down your site
‘Branding’ your images
Optimising images for search engine optimization (SEO)
Making your images ‘sharable’
Choosing a Good, Royalty-Free Image

Before you do anything else, you’ve got to ensure you have the right image for your blog post. Don’t do what ‘newbies’ do and go to Google image search. Yes, you’ll find images but – from both an ethical and legal perspective – these images are of no use to you. Nicking images from someone else’s site might seem a really easy thing to do, but technically it’s theft. SOMEONE owns that image, and while its rightful owner is unlikely to track you down if you post it on your blog, it’s still stealing. As someone who’s dealt with (and taught) the ethics of copyright and intellectual property for decades, I’m a big believer in giving artists their due. That’s why I only EVER use images that I have paid for from a reputable royalty-free image service. Here are some good royalty free image providers I have used and would recommend:*

123rf.com.  Pay as you go or subscribe. This is my preferred site for price and variety. http://www.123rf.com/#teknochik.
iStockPhoto. Pay as you go or subscribe. http://bit.ly/OM8rqW.
Dreamstime. Pay as you go or subscribe. http://www.dreamstime.com/#res5481027

* TRANSPARENCY: These are my affiliate links, which means I may earn a small sales commission if you click the link and make a purchase from these sites. I ONLY use affiliate links for products I have personally used and would recommend.

Please note that ‘royalty-free’ does not mean ‘free of charge’ (except in the case of images specifically offered for free). It just means that, once you’ve bought the licence, you don’t need to pay the owner of the image any further fees.

Note also that purchasing a licence does NOT automatically give you permission to use the image in any way you wish. For example, using images for your blog would be considered ‘non-commercial use’ (the cheapest licence) because you’re not using them as part of a product for sale. However, using an image as the cover for a book you’ve written or as part of the branding for a product you intend to sell would require a commercial licence. There are different kinds of commercial licences, so if you intend to use an image for anything other than your blog posts or newsletter articles, be sure to write to the company and ask them which kind of licence you would require.

When choosing an image for your blog, you would normally only need the smallest size non-commercial option. A small image is typically around 400-450 pixels on its widest side, at 72 dots per inch. That’s more than big enough to make an impact on your blog. In fact, many people would find it larger than they need. Most sites charge ‘1 credit’ for a small image. Prices vary according to the site, your country and how many credits you purchase, but typically they’ll start at around £1/$1.50 per image and go DOWN in price as you buy larger packages. For example, a package of 40 credits costs £29 on 123.rf, which would cover your needs for almost a year if you blog once a week. It’s small business expense that ensures both ethical and legal use of images.

And besides, the quality, relevance and variety of images you’ll find on these sites is much higher than those you’ll find via a random Google image search. Don’t try to cut corners on this one. It’s a small business expense that is really worth every penny.

Finally, when choosing an image, put some thought into it. Make sure it draws upon key points in your article and evokes the ‘feel’ of your brand and/or message. Don’t get frustrated if you don’t find something right away. Try different keywords and look at several options. And don’t pick something too ‘obtuse’ by choosing something that would be difficult to ‘speak’ on its own. The reason for this will become more apparent later when we talk about ‘sharing’ in key point #5.

Making Sure Your Images Load Quickly

We live in an ‘impatient’ era. These days, if a website takes more than a few seconds to load, people are apt to get tired of waiting and click away before they read the content. For that reason, it’s important that your images load as quickly as possible on your blogsite.

First off, make sure that your blog images are of reasonable size for web usage. Average size would be 450 X 350 pixels, at 72 dpi (dots per inch) or smaller. Don’t make the mistake of using your highest-quality, 8 X 10 inch, 300 dpi headshot, book cover, etc. on your blog pages and posts. While you do need these for print, they’re not appropriate for the web and will slow down your site massively. If you have a media page, you can put a link for people to download these high-resolution images, but be sure to down-size the images before using them for display on your website.

Apart from the file size of your image, there are two important factors that influence whether or not it will load quickly:

Whether or not the image is local to your site
Whether or not the image needs to be ‘resized’ for display
When you insert an image into your blog post, you have the option of referencing it to a URL instead of actually uploading the image. For example, let’s say you want to use some graphics from another website you own, or you want to use the logo of one of your affiliates. The ‘easy’ way to do this is simply to insert the URL of the image from the other site. But while this might be easy for you, it’s not so easy for your blog visitors’ servers, because they have to ‘look up’ every one of these external image sources. The more external sources it has to look up, the slower your site is to load. Another reason not to reference external images is that you have no control over them. If someone at the other end changes the image (or removes it), it will affect the way it appears on your blog.

Now let’s talk about resizing. Many (if not most) people upload and insert an image into their blog article, and then use the image editor in WordPress (or whatever platform you’re using) to ‘resize’ the image to their preferred dimensions. But what they don’t know is that setting images to be resized actually slows down a blog’s loading time. There are two ways to work around this. One solution is to use a plug-in called ‘Smush It’, which I discussed in a previous article. While ‘Smush It’ is great for compressing resized images so they upload more quickly, it is also known to be very ‘resource hungry’, which means it can create problems on some servers. So the better solution is to resize and save your image using some kind of image software, like Photoshop, Picasa, etc., and then upload the correctly sized image so you don’t need to resize it on your blogsite.

Of course, to prepare your image, you’ll need to know what size you want to use. I tend to like larger images, and set them to somewhere between 400-425 pixels wide. If you prefer a more delicate look, use a smaller setting.

Of course, if you’re making a larger ‘info graphic’ (which are increasing rapidly in popularity), you can use a larger image size (but always 72 dpi). There’s a site called http://visual.ly/ that can create info graphics for you, but I haven’t actually used them yet.

Putting Your Brand into Your Images

This is something I’ve only recently started doing, and I believe it makes a difference to our images. Before I upload an image to my blog post, I take it into Photoshop and insert the title of the blog AND our web address. I think this extra touch adds colour and interest to the image, as it makes it feel a bit like an ‘info graphic’ rather than a ‘stock image’. It also reinforces the branding of the site and makes it less likely to be used randomly by others, as it clearly identifies its source (i.e. this blog). While I know this is not something everyone would care to do (or would know how to do), I really think it’s worth it. All I know is that I get a LOT more responses to our images when I share them on social media than I did before I started to ‘brand’ them.

Optimising Your Blog Images for SEO

The acronym SEO means ‘search engine optimisation’. To have good SEO is a fancy way of saying ‘Easy to find on Google’ and other search engines. Having good SEO is essential if you want your blog to be found when people search using your keywords.

However, a lot of bloggers don’t realise that SEO doesn’t just apply to your blog content and titles – it applies to images too. When you upload an image to your blog, it’s essential that you include a keyword-rich image title, ALT tag and image description. For those who might not know, an ‘ALT’ tag is the text that will appear if an image is missing or a browser cannot display the image for some reason. Some search engine optimization experts also recommend including a caption (but I tend not to use them just because I don’t like seeing them!). All of these are things you can set in WordPress when you upload your image, and you can edit this information at any time.

In my opinion, your ‘keyword-rich’ titles and ALT tags should not just pertain to the image itself, but should include some keywords relevant to the content within the article itself. For example, in this article, I didn’t just call the image ‘blog.jpg’ but ‘optimize-blog-images-seo-speed-branding-sharing.jpg’. The ALT tag is the same as the title of this article, and the description is the teaser from this article.

Oh…and one last thing. In addition to inserting the image into my post, I like to set the ‘featured image’ for every one of my blog posts, so the correct image will display when people share the link to your posts on social media.  However, on some WordPress themes (notably ‘Twenty Twelve’), this makes the image appear in the banner at the top of the page. Very irritating and very ugly! If you experience this problem, there is are a few suggested workarounds for this issue at http://wordpress.org/support/topic/twenty-twelve-featured-image-showing-up-twice and http://wordpress.org/support/topic/removing-featured-image-from-header.

Encouraging People to Share Your Blog Images

So now that you have nice, royalty-free, branded images that load quickly and are properly SEO’ed, it’s time to put them to good use. Don’t just let them sit silently on your site; give them LEGS:

Share the image on Facebook with some commentary AND a link back to your blog article. It’s much more impactful than simply sharing the link, and other people on Facebook are MUCH more likely to share your image than they are to share a plain link.

Share your image on Pinterest, again with commentary and a link back to the article.
Share your image on Twitter. Alternatively, when you share on Pinterest, be sure to check the ‘share on Twitter’ option. Tweeps love images, and the images will stay on your profile page for longer whereas your old Tweets/links will disappear quickly. It also makes your Tweets more likely to get picked up by automated systems like ‘Paper.li’.

Put ‘Pinterest’ sharing capability on your site. Two good plug-ins are ‘Flare’ and ‘Pinterest Pin-it Button for Images’ (unfortunately, the latter doesn’t seem to work on this site anymore!).

ASK people to share! Don’t just make your images compelling; give people a compelling reason to share. Start a discussion. Ask their opinion. See what happens. And watch your web traffic.

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