I’ve written plenty of blog posts that didn’t have a featured image, but lately I’ve been realizing how important it is to use at least one good photo in each of as many posts that you possibly can.
A few years back, most people were mostly reading your blog posts either 1) on your site itself, 2) in some sort of feed aggregator such as Google Reader, or 3) by email through an RSS email subscription service.
New ways to browse content
While these are all still common means of blog consumption, people are also now getting blog content through sharing on sites like Facebook and Google+. Aggregators of good content are creating their own virtual newspapers with apps like Paper.li. And don’t forget about Pinterest, where it’s all photos, all the time.
In addition to standard web apps, the growth of mobile device usage has brought us apps such as Flipboard which presents content in a magazine-like layout that allows users to “flip” through articles on their iPad or iPhone.
Have you ever enjoyed flipping through a magazine without any pictures? Me neither.
I personally subscribe to quite a few blogs through my Google Reader account and have that feeding into my Flipboard app on the iPad. It’s allowed me to keep up and find interesting articles much easier. And the articles that usually catch my attention are those that have some sort of interesting lead photo.
This is also true as I browse through my networks on Facebook, Google+, or LinkedIn. When people share a link to a blog post or article that they like, a gripping image thumbnail next to it is what usually catches my eye first. It bugs the heck out of me when there isn’t an actual photo for the post the share either shows 1) no image or 2) one of the banner ads from the website as the post thumbnail. A simple photo associated with your content is better than nothing. On top of me actually reading the article, I might be inclined to share it across my own networks, thus increasing the reach of your well-written post with the eye-catching photo.
Where to find images for blog posts
Let’s start with the obvious: Take your own pictures. As long as the photo isn’t terrible, using your own creativity to come up with a photograph that fits with the content of your blog post is fun and FREE. This is something I want to do a lot more with my own posts.
If you’re not a photographer but you have a knack for designing, open up Illustrator and create your own artwork.
If you simply want to use existing photos that won’t cost you anything, check out the creative commons archive on Flickr. I use this quite a bit and there are literally millions of photos to choose from. The caveat with creative commons photography is that there are different types of licenses. Some photos can be used in commercial work which some can only be used for personal purposes. Most licenses require some sort of artist attribution to be included as well. I’m okay with giving credit where it’s due, so the commercial, attribution-required pool of photos is where I usually start.
Google Images also has an option to search through creative commons photos if you use their “advanced” search. I actually just found out about this one so will probably use it quite a bit going forward.
Stock.XCHNG has a nice collection of stock photography that you can use for free, but make sure you check the license of each photo. Sometimes they have licenses that limit the ways the photographs can be used.
In the past, I’ve also used the Zemanta plugin for WordPress (also available for Chrome) that helps you find images for your posts directly from the WordPress dashboard. It takes care of all the attribution details as well. It can even help you add related articles and links.
If you don’t mind paying, you can also find affordable images on sites like BigStockPhoto and PhotoDune. Since you’re just using the images in blog posts you won’t need to buy the super high-res (i.e. more expensive) versions.
While this isn’t even close to an exhaustive list of resources, it should get you started. If you already have good resources for images not mentioned here, please share them in the comments.
Let me also just mention this: I LOVE FLIPBOARD. It’s my favorite iPad app, hands down. In addition to the iOS app, I’d love to see them release a Mac OS X desktop version.