How to find and use free images for blogs online

Posted by Gerald Heneghan Sep 3, 2013 3:38:48 PM

Topics: copywriting, images, online advertising, blogging, website design

Blogs and social media posts that include images tend to perform better than those without, but sourcing and embedding imagery can quickly turn into a time sink.

To save you time, we've put together a guide that'll take you through the role that images play in content marketing, provide tips on where and when to use visuals and how to stay on the right side of copyright laws when using other people's pictures.

- A Picture Paints a Thousand Words

It may seem like common sense to include pictures, videos and other rich media when producing content, but have you ever stopped to question why this practice is so A good image can improve the performance of social media postseffective?

The old adage of a picture painting a thousand words rings truer than ever in the digital age. And if pictures paint a thousand words, videos have the potential for millions. Studies back up these assertions, with research finding that people tend to process visual information much faster than text.

Similarly, while a complex concept might be hard to get across in words - it's often much easier to comprehend when all the elements are laid out in an easily-digestible, visual format.

As noted in previous posts, walls of text can be intimidating to prospective readers and images also provide an easy way to break up text-heavy content. Social media posts also benefit from the inclusion of images, particularly on Facebook, where engagement levels for visual posts spiked significantly when compared to text-only entries.

- Convergence

Use images to improve your content and social media effortsIn recent years, a number of factors have converged to make creating, curating and sharing rich media easier than ever. In the era of 56k modems, images could take a veritable age to download, while videos were something of a luxury.

These days, we've got high-speed networks literally whizzing round us, which brings me nicely on to the second contributing factor - the rise of mobile computing devices. Tablet shipments are set to outpace those of PCs this year and the smartphone market has seen exponential growth over the past decade.

The vast majority of these devices come equipped with a camera, an addition that has massively contributed to the amount of pictures being shared, edited and remixed. And the barriers to creating and editing videos continue to be lowered, with apps like Vine and Instagram's video functionality putting ever-more power in the hands of the average smartphone user.

Social networks oriented towards visual content have also been on the rise in recent years, with the likes of Tumblr and Instagram leading the way. However, networks like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ haven't been slacking on the image front, with each finding unique, near-seamless ways to incorporate rich media into their users' feeds.

- Uses

So now you're sold on the benefits of images, you're undoubtedly wondering how you can use them to their greatest effect.

Images are a vital pillar of digital marketingFor good or ill, the way we interact with the internet has geared us toward instant gratification, leading to waning attention spans and craving for bite-sized chunks of information.

Images provide a straightforward way to catch the eye of your prospective reader, as well as break up text-heavy content in a non-disruptive way. So make sure you're using them prolifically in both blog posts and social media updates whenever possible.

While figures show that pretty much all content performs better when paired with appropriate imagery, certain categories benefit more than others, particularly news, politics and sport.

The fun doesn't stop there, however, and optimised images can also add to the SEO value of a page or post. By tailoring titles, captions and metadata (like alt tags) to keywords and phrases, you can help enhance search visibility for your entire site, as well as boost the performance of an individual entry or page.

- Sourcing

If you're committed to content marketing, you're likely to be putting out a steady stream of articles and social media posts and that can quickly equate to a whole lot of images. We know that most businesses can't turn themselves into publishers overnight and finding usable pictures without inadvertently infringing on the copyright of their creators can be a challenge.

Fortunately, the past few years have seen a great deal of growth in resources that will help you sidestep or at least mitigate these concerns. Some of our favourites include:

CC Search: This is a must-have resource for anyone with a non-existent photo budget. CC Search will scan a range of image databases for pictures that permit reuse under a Creative Commons license, meaning all you'll need to do is credit the owner.

Stock.XCHNG: Another great option for those with no budget, this free resource boasts thousands of pictures on pretty much any conceivable topic in reasonably high definition. Does what it says on the tin really.

Shutterstock/ThinkStock: There's little to differentiate these two sites, which are a good choice for those with a little spare cash to splash on quality, royalty-free images.

- Subject Matter

Content creation efforts can be eased with free and low-cost stock imagesSo now you know how to track down and deploy images, what should you be looking for? The bottom line is your choice in this area will largely be dependent on what your subject matter is. However, there are a few tips that we can glean from the experts and research into social media.

Danny Groner, manager of blogger partnerships and outreach for Shutterstock, suggests that humans like looking at pictures of other humans. However, it's worth noting that pictures of women, somewhat unsurprisingly, tend to perform better than those of men. He also claimed that photos which look staged will be less engaging than ones that appear natural.

A Curalate study into the best-performing images on Pinterest also contained some valuable advice in this regard. It found that brand images without faces are repinned 23% more than those including them. It's findings indicate that aspect ratio also plays a role, and "very tall" photos should be avoided. Similarly, when it comes to colours, red wins out - although images with several dominant colours will exponentially outperform those with only one.

- Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

While the above tips will help start you on the way to becoming an image pro, sadly finding the optimum way to utilise pictures is something you'll largely have to learn by doing.

However, if you're able to develop the knack of deploying the right images at the right time and in the right place, the evidence suggests you'll be well-positioned to reap a range of benefits.

What's your experience been in sourcing and using images in the course of your content production? Do you have any resources you'd like to share or think we've missed out any obvious ones? If so, don't be a stranger and let us know in the comments - we're always keen to hear your thoughts.

And if you're still unsure about the best ways to use imagery within your content marketing activities or simply want some advice on what social media channels you'd be best off targeting - get in touch today.


Image used courtesy of Cea. on flickr, Wikimedia Commons and Kaschey the immortal on Picasa.


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