Images in Your Blog Posts: Best Practices

The main purpose of using images in your blog is to increase its appeal and boost the number of times it is viewed. Research on the Skyword content marketing platform suggests an average increase in blog views of 94% when a post includes images. Furthermore, the research also indicates that some types of content, such as news or political stories, will receive an even greater boost in the number of views if they use an image.

adding images to blog posts featured image

There are a variety of reasons to add images to your blog post. You might want to add a bit of decoration to your post. Images also help break up large chunks of text and increase white space, making the post easier to read. Adding a thematic image early in your post will attract attention and can set the tone for the content.

Images also help to make a point or emphasize a statement in your post. This is especially important if you are writing an instructional blog. Studies indicate that images help to decrease confusion and increase satisfaction and confidence in the reader’s understanding of instructional material. Screenshots and clearly labeled photographs are a simple way to increase comprehension in industries like tech or hardware.

Images can also benefit your site’s search engine optimization or SEO through the use of ALT tags and titles.

How Many Images Should You Use?

While there are many benefits to adding images on your blog, too many images can have the opposite effect. In the Prime Focus Lab blog, Nigel Merrick gives a compelling argument for limiting the number of photos in a photography blog to five. This is based on the idea that after five photos, readers stop counting and place any blog with more in a ‘lots of photos’ category and begin to disengage from the content.

A quick look at research performed by blogpros suggests an average of 3.2 images per blog and approximately 1 image per 350 words. But, when you look more closely at the data, the range varies from 0 images in a 2600 word blog to 44 images in a 4400-word blog. This suggests that there is no magic number of images per word. The research does indicate that only 16% of those blogs had no images at all, backing the idea that some images are better than none.

One of the main points about using images is to break up your content, but there are some other ways this can be done:

  • Pull quotes allow you to add annotations that are relative to your post in a graphical way. This helps to break up large chunks of text in the same way as inserting an image
  • GIFs are short animations you can insert into your post. Bear in mind that animations can be distracting to the reader, so how and where you place a GIF is important to minimise this effect
  • Embedding content from other sites can also serve the purpose of breaking up your content. However, embedded items such as video, podcasts, and Twitter feeds will draw attention away from your content for extended periods, so take care in what you choose to add.

Image Placement

How you place an image in your post is relative to what you want it to achieve, e.g. decoration, highlighting a point, instruction, etc. When you add an image, there are two main ways to display it: inline or in a block. Each method has a different effect.

Inline images allow your text content to flow around the image, usually to the left or right side of the image. This allows the reader to continue reading uninterrupted if they want. It is more suitable for decorative images and when you want your readers’ attention to remain focused on the written content. Inline images allow the reader to continue reading without breaking away whilst still achieving their purpose.

example of an inline image

An inline image of an inline image. How meta.

A common image placement method is to place an image inline with the right or left side of the first paragraph in your post. This draws the attention of your reader to the start of your content in a similar way to using a dropped caps initial.

It also reduces the line width of your opening paragraph, which helps people to engage with your content. By engaging a reader at the start of your blog, they are more likely to continue reading.

Block images will place the image on a line of its own, usually between two paragraphs. By placing an image in a block, your written content is interrupted, forcing the readers’ attention to the image. The block method is preferable when you want your reader to inspect the image, for example; if you have referred to it in your text or when it is part of an instruction.

Block image example

Block images scream LOOK AT ME.

When you are using a large number of images, especially if each is accompanied by a small amount of text, consider placing them in a slideshow. This will help to negate any issues of image overload, where a reader will simply skim past the images and scroll to the next large paragraph. Also, a slideshow is particularly useful when you need to add a large amount of instructional images. You can clearly label or number each slide or step and your readers will pause to fully absorb the instruction before moving on.

Finally, when placing images in your blog post, consider how any advertising is placed. Advertising usually comes with a call to action to take the reader away from your post, so it is may be better to advertise at the end of the post, or in the spaces to the side.

SEO For Images

When you add images to your blog, remember to add SEO metadata. A search engine cannot look at an image and intelligently determine what it represents in the same way that it can interpret your written content. Adding alt text helps your site get more traffic.

Here are a few rules of thumb to follow for image optimization:

  • When you create an image, make sure you save it with an appropriate filename. The filename is an easy way that you can add a keyword or concept to a blog post.
  • When you add the image to your post, a form is made available to enter your SEO metadata. Make sure you give it an alternative text tag. Like the filename, this is a good way to add a keyword or phrase.
  • Captions can also benefit SEO, but they should always remain relevant to the image, so don’t force a keyword or concept into a caption if it doesn’t describe the image.

Image Licensing

By law, every image and photo on the web is protected by copyright. The original poster of the image have to add a copyright mark to protect their work. There are plenty of stories of bloggers and brands being caught using a copyrighted image and facing a large fine, regardless of their ignorance of copyright law.

In the US, the penalties for copyright infringement can range from $200 to $150,000 and potentially include a jail sentence, so it is vitally to ensure you have permission to use any images you post on your site.

In addition to being legally required, not stealing someone else’s work is simply the right thing to do. 

People who post images and photos online are able to apply creative commons licenses to their work. There are several different licenses and and each defines how you can use the associated image:

  • Attribution License: This license allows you to use and modify the image in any way you want. It can be used for commercial and noncommercial purposes, so if you make money through your blog, you are OK to use it. When you add a photo or image that has this type of license, you must credit the photographer or creator.
  • Attribution-NoDerivs License: This license allows you to copy, publish, and distribute the image as you require. However, you are not permitted to modify the image in any way, it must be used in its original form. You cannot crop it and it’s not clear whether you can even resize an image associated with this license. The image can be used commercially, and you must credit the creator.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License: This license allows you to use the image without any modification, but it cannot be used for commercial purposes, i.e. if you make money from your blog in any way. Again, you must credit the creator.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial License: This license allows you to copy, publish, and distribute the image for non commercial reasons. You are permitted to modify the image and you must credit the creator.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License: This license is the same as the attribution-noncommercial license, but with one additional requirement. Any modifications to the image must also be licensed under the same terms, and you must still credit the creator.
  • Attribution-ShareAlike License: This license allows you to use the photo for commercial or non-commercial reasons. You can modify it and if you do, the modified image must also be given the same license, allowing others to use it under the same terms. You must also credit the creator of the original image.

Some images do fall under public domain laws and are free from copyright restrictions. However, it can be difficult to judge how those restrictions may apply to you. Public domain laws differ from country to country, so it can be easy to incorrectly use this type of copyright-free image.

There is an additional creative commons license which some image creators can use to get around this, the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license. This effectively releases the image from copyright restrictions and is applicable worldwide. This type of license doesn’t require any attribution, although it is still good practice to apply it.

Searching for Images with a Creative Commons License

Google image search provides a tool which allows you to filter the search results by usage rights:

  1. Perform an image search
  2. Click on tools to show the additional filters
  3. Select the type of image rights you want under the usage rights menu to only show images that have been granted these rights.
search for CC0 images

Choose an image filter based on how you plan to use the image.

The most important factors to consider when searching for images under the creative commons licensing are:

  • Do you make money from your blog? If you make any money from your blog, you cannot use any image with a non-commercial license. This includes business blogs, affiliate blogs, blogs that include advertising etc.
  • Do you want to be able to modify the image in any way? This includes even basic changes, such as cropping, resizing, adding a filter, adding text to it etc. If you do want to be able to edit the image, you cannot use any image with a no derivatives license.

Attribution for Creative Commons Licenses

When using an image under a creative commons license arrangement, you must always credit the creator of the original image. There are several ways you can do this:

  • Image captions. You can credit the creator of an image by adding a caption. This will add a line of text below the image and make the reader more likely to break away from reading the content and focus on the image
  • Footnotes. Adding the attribution in a footnote will allow the reader to maintain their focus on the content and review the attribution at the end of the article
  • Creator specified. In some cases, the creator will specify how they want their work to be attributed

When attributing images that are licensed under a creative commons license, you must always include the following details:

  • The title of the image or photo, if it has been given one
  • The name of the creator of the image
  • The source of the image
  • The image license details

These are requirements of the creative commons license. There is also a useful best practice guide for attribution on the creative commons website. Where possible, it is good practice to add links in your attribution. If the creator has a website, add a hyperlink to their name. Hyperlink the source and you can even link the license information to the appropriate page on the creative commons website.

Where to Find Free (or Inexpensive) Images

While a Google search makes it possible to search for free to use images, there are a large number of websites specifically designed for supplying images that are either free or can be purchased. Here are a few examples:

  • The Getty images site allows you to perform a search for royalty free and rights managed images. Royalty free means that you pay a one off license fee for the image and you are free to use it without any restrictions. Rights managed means that you have to inform Getty images on how you intend to use the image before they agree to license it to you.
  • Shutterstock allows you to use their images based on a payment plan. There are three plans, an on demand plan that allows you to make a one time purchase of up to 25 images, a subscription plan that allows you to use a number of images every month and a team subscription that allows a group of users to use a set number of images every month.
  • Photodropper is a simple tool that allows you to search the Flickr creative commons database or to search for and buy premium images. It can be downloaded to your device or integrated with WordPress. Premium images are licensed for unlimited web use, and they are priced based on credits and cost no more than $3 per photo.
  • Pixabay provides an archive of images licensed under the CC0 license. Although these images are considered copyright free, there are some restrictions that apply to how they are used.
  • The Stock Free Images database provides over 1.5 million images that you can use. You need to register an account and you can access and download royalty free images, CC0 licensed images, free and premium stock photos. Again, some restrictions apply to how the images are used, so take time to read the terms and conditions.

Altering Images

Some images may require a little modification to make them more interesting. Some simple enhancements to an image can increase its effectiveness on your blog post. In order to do this, you will need to use an image editing tool.

Most Windows desktops come with MS Paint by default, but this image editor is pretty limited. Luckily, there are plenty of other tools to use.Here are a few suggestions:

  • Photoshop is one of the most well known image editing applications. It provides a full range of image editing tools that you can use to enhance the images you use in your blog. This is an application which you install and run on your device and is available through the Adobe Creative Cloud plans
  • Pixlr is a free to use online image editor. It is similar to Photoshop, so if you are familiar with Photoshop, you should find this easy to pick up. There is also a simple filter tool available on the Pixlr site calle O-Matic. This allows you to add a picture and add a variety of effects and overlays to get the image you want
  • Gimp is an open source image manipulation program that you can download and run on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X devices
  • Pixelmator is a Mac only image editor. You can download and install in on your Mac and it works in a similar way to Photoshop
  • PicMonkey is a user friendly image editor. It allows you to edit your images online, using a very simple and intuitive user interface. This is available on a subscription plan, but there is a free version available that provides limited access to the editing features
  • Canva also has a simple and free to use online photo editor that allows you to edit an image. You can upload an image and make use of some simple editing tools, such as filtering and cropping. This is a really quick and simple way to enhance an image for your blog
  • Snagit is a screenshot creation and editing tool, that is specifically designed for creating instructional images. TechSmith also offer a free version called Jing, with limited editing capabilities

Most image editors will provide a wide range of features to enhance an image. Here are a few common editing features you can use to spruce up an image:

  • Cropping is the simplest method you can use to make your image more interesting. It can cut out distracting space in an image and focus the attention on the subject relevant to your blog. By cropping an image to follow the ‘Rule of Thirds’ you can add tension, making the image instantly more appealing.
  • Resize is a simple way to reduce the size of an image. However, when you resize an image, it can be easy to stretch or squash it. Most editing applications will allow you to scale an image up or down, rather than resizing by hand. This enables you to resize the image without warping it
  • Color, balance, brightness and contrast enhancements can make the image really stand out or blend into the background, depending on how you use them and what you want to achieve
  • Filters create a stylized appearance to overlay an image. They do not usually have a lot of parameters to adjust and as such, they are a quick and easy way to create an effect that you like
  • Add text to an image for instructional purposes. If you are adding a lot of instructional images, try to make sure that your text boxes are all formatted in the same way, including the font and any coloring. Also ensure any additional items that you add, such as arrows and speech bubbles are formatted with consistency in mind

Using Your Own Images

If you decide to use your own images or photos, consider how you edit, place, and add SEO details as discussed above. You might also consider adding a watermark to your image.

A watermark is a simple translucent mark placed over the image to indicate that it is owned by you and this can include adding copyright information. Most image editing tools will allow you to add a watermark, but there are also some web resources that are specifically designed for this purpose:

  • uMark Online is free to use. You upload an image, add your watermark, right-click and save as to download the watermarked image to your computer. There is also a paid for version of the software which allows you to watermark images in large batches.
  • Watermark works in a similar way to uMark, you import your images to their online editor, add the watermark and export the results. There are free and paid for versions of this software available.

Keep in mind that using a watermark will change the appearance of the image, and another person could still take the image, crop it to hide the watermark and use it as their own.

Whether your image is watermarked or not, linking it to a license will give you control over how other web users can use it. The simplest way to do this is to use a creative commons license, as discussed above. All you need to do is tell people which license applies. There is a useful tool on the Creative Commons website that helps you to choose the license you want to apply, add metadata to the image and generate the css code for an icon to place on your web page.

Before deciding which type of license you want to apply to an image, consider how you would allow any other person on the internet to use and edit them. By putting your images online, you are opening them up to the possibility of misuse by other people, groups and organisations, including extremist organizations.

In practice, you are responsible for monitoring the use of your images. If you want to track where your image appears online, there are a few applications that can help:

  • A Google reverse image search can allow you to quickly find an image and others like it, you use the URL for where the image is stored on your site and search by image
  • Tineye is a simpler way to find other appearances of an image based on the URL
  • Copyscape is another reverse image search tool that works in the same way as the Google reverse image search and Tineye

If you do find any misuse, the best way to deal with it is to contact the site first and ask them to remove the image. If you get no response, or the site owner refuses to remove your image, you can find the host for the site and report the problem to the host. Beyond that, you may have to resort to legal action.

Conclusion

If you have already been using images without consent, be prepared to remove them from your blog posts and refrain from using any more.Take the time to think about how and why you are using images in your posts, and then try to estimate the quantities of images that you will need in the future.

This will help you to decide the best way to source the images you need and consider whether you should consider paying for a subscription to a stock photo site.

Mathew has been writing blogs and manuals and recording video guides for the best part of a decade. He is an experienced technical author at Red Robot Media with a passion for clear and concise communication. He is also a husband and proud father living in the UK.