Would it sound awfully cliché if I were to start off this post by saying content is king?
I know … you’ve likely heard it about a million times.
But what about this one: visual content is king.
As it turns out, in this day and age, people care a lot more about visual content than they do about text. And data confirms. Various studies report quite exciting stats regarding visual content and its impact on the way humans are predisposed to consume information.
For instance, the human brain is 60,000 times faster at consuming visual content than plain ol’ text. And it’s not only that we’re more efficient at devouring images, but we also simply like them better – almost two times better (94 percent – that’s how many more total views articles containing images get in comparison to those that don’t contain images).
Visual content is also the hit on social media. It’s reported that photos account for 75 percent of all content posted to Facebook, and the engagement rate on them is a staggering 87 percent (other posts receive no more than four percent). So what’s the main takeaway from all this data?
Simple. Visuals matter.
If you’re not incorporating any sort of visual aspects into your content, you’re missing out. And since you already know the data at this point, you’re missing out knowingly. How’s that for bad news?
But this post isn’t actually a get-you-up-to-speed kind of publication. It’s a tutorial. Therefore, let’s go over the individual steps and examples of how to create visual content, what tools to use, and what principles to focus on.
Here is how to create awesome visual content that gets noticed.
The goal of visualizing your content
Content marketing isn’t an easy game to play, and even though it’s reported that 93 percent of marketers take part in some form of content marketing, only 42 percent of them consider themselves effective at it.
So let’s be honest for a minute. At the end of the day, the meat is still what matters the most. This means that if the core message that your publication/post conveys is subpar, no amount of great visuals will make it popular.
If, on the other hand, you do know that what you’re publishing is worth of your audience’s time, good visuals can be the difference between making the piece mildly well received vs. making it a true hit.
Think of your content as a car engine, and the visuals as a supercharger. There’s no point in putting a supercharger on a weak engine. Yes, you will gain some power and make the car a bit faster. But the real fun starts when you put a supercharger on an already powerful engine. This is what gives you true performance. And it’s the same story with content.
So in short, here are some of the things you can achieve with good visuals put on a great piece of content:
- You can grab the visitor’s attention right away (remember, we process visual content 60,000 times faster).
- You make the content look great when shared on social media, provided your site supports Twitter Cards or other social media APIs.
- You give the visitor a visual cue to recognize that piece of content wherever they see it on the web (when someone shares it).
- You can use visuals to separate different sections within one larger article.
- You can aid yourself when explaining complex ideas, by giving them an easily digestible form.
- You get to make your content appear unique in general – something really difficult to achieve with text-only content.
Types of blog post visuals + how to create them
Sorry if some of them sound a bit obvious, but I just want to keep the message complete:
A great screenshot goes a long way, and especially if you want to illustrate part of a how-to post or a tutorial, or to present an example of something.
That being said, screenshots are also the easiest type of images to mess up. The common problems include:
a. Distorted aspect ratios:
b. Bad and hard to read text overlays:
c. Screenshots scaled badly and thus completely unreadable:
This is the biggest issue of them all.
Luckily, those are all quite easy to fix if you have the right tool at your disposal. My favorite one is called Lightshot. It’s free and can be downloaded as a stand-alone app for Mac and PC, as well as a browser plugin.
In short, it just takes over the native print screen feature in your computer. So the way you work with it, is just press the Print Screen button on PC or whatever it is on Mac and then use the on-screen controls to crop the area you want to capture.
Some general rules to follow:
- Crop only the minimal area you need. Having unnecessary details in the screenshot will only make the message less clear.
- Use annotations to point to the important parts (feature in Lightshot).
- When taking a screenshot of a webpage, use your browser’s zoom-in feature to improve readability. Usually available under the keyboard shortcut “Ctrl +” or “Command +”.
Example of a good screenshot:
2. Simple animated GIFs (aka. pimped-out screenshots)
Contrary to popular belief, creating those is actually super simple and you don’t need to know anything about animation in order to pull it off.
There are loads of free tools out there that can help you. The one I like to use is called LICEcap.
It’s a really easy to use little tool. It literally consists of just a see-through window and two buttons.
What you do is resize the window to whatever you want to capture, click Record, pick where you want to save your final animation, and then start going about your business – the thing you want to present on the GIF. When you’re done, just click Stop.
When recording your animated GIFs, keep the following in mind:
- The sequence that you want to present can’t be too long or too complicated. Focus on quick and simple actions.
- Just like with static screenshots, crop only the minimal area you need.
- When recording part of a webpage, use your browser’s zoom-in feature to improve the readability.
- Perform all your on-screen actions slowly. Animated GIFs have low frame rates, and you don’t want to leave out any important details.
3. Loosely related images
Blog post images are not always meant to illustrate what’s being said. Sometimes, you just want to give your readers a visual break that would separate individual sections of the post.
This is where loosely related images come into play. Now, what do I mean by loosely? Those are images that are in tune with the site’s theme/angle/character, but don’t have any direct connection with the topic being discussed.
For instance, if I were to include a break here, I could use an image like this:
Guidelines to follow:
- If you use more than one such photo per blog post, try using only photos that are in the same style.
- Give attribution where it’s due.
- Use the same aspect ratio on all images. (Fine tune them in Paint.NET for example.)
The places to get this kind of photos from:
- Obvious stock repositories like iStock, etc.
- Free repositories. And the king of those is TheStocks.im. The reason why I love this site so much is because it aggregates a number of other sites providing free stocks. In short, it’s the one place where you can find them all.
- Using vintage photos of your own. Just look around your office, or lean out of the window, take a photo of something loosely related, put it through an Instagram filter, and you have yourself a great photo you can use in a blog post. It’s original, fresh, and of high enough quality. Like this one I just took:
4. Hand-drawn images
There’s something great about hand-drawn images, something old-school. Plus, they just convey this another layer of dedication on the author’s part.
The only obstacle, obviously, is that not anyone feels like they can draw something of high enough quality. No sweat though, I’m that guy too, so I’ve come up with a workaround.
Here are some of the types of hand-drawn images I use regularly, plus how I actually create them. Let’s start with the final images first:
- Text-based images to separate sections of a post or the subheadings.
- Re-creating minimalistic flat design graphics available under some kind of a free license.
The source I found (designed by Freepik):
- Hand-drawn graphs (my no.1 favorite kind of hand-drawn images).
Here’s how I create them and how you can do the same:
- Do some drawing. In a nice notebook or on a nice piece of paper.
- Lay it down on a wooden floor and put the pen next to it.
- Take a photo with your smartphone camera.
- Put the image through an Instagram filter, and save it to your camera roll.
- Crop it and put it in a blog post.
Speaking of graphs…
5. Graphs and charts
Graphs are perfect for illustrating all kinds of data, and it doesn’t even have to be complex data.
For me, there are two methods to create a truly quality graph:
- a) Doing it with a tool called Visme. It’s easy to use, has almost no learning curve and offers all the features you’d need.
- b) Forgetting about tools and apps, and going for the hand-drawn approach instead.
For example, here’s one of my graphs, illustrating that 60 percent of marketers publish at least one piece of content per week:
As you cans see, nothing fancy.
Quick cheat. Still not sure about your drawing skills? Create the graph in anything (Excel, for example), then print it out and trace over it on a new piece of paper – having the original one beneath.
6. Drop-dead obvious stocks
We’ve talked about loosely related images a minute ago, so now let’s have a quick word about stocks.
What I mean by drop-dead obvious stocks is all stock photos that illustrate the text of your blog post almost to the word.
For instance, if your post talks about how to improve one’s negotiation skills, you can use a stock photo of a person during a job interview, shaking the hand of the interviewer. Everyone smiling. And in suits. And young. And attractive.
Now here’s the kicker. Nothing’s wrong with that kind of images. If you already have a subscription to iStock or Fotolia, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take advantage of this. I’d say that using obvious stocks is your no.1 method to make sure that your images are always of super high quality.
7. Background image + text on top
In my opinion, this is the king of all images when it comes to visualizing your blog posts and giving them a truly unique look.
Here are some of the images I’ve created for my posts with the exact titles of the posts on them:
Such images can be used for a variety of purposes:
- As an image you put at the very beginning of the post.
- As the featured image (used in some WordPress themes).
- As the image you share when submitting the post to social news sites.
- As the basis of social media images for the post (more on that in a minute).
How to create such images:
- Get a loosely related image (read point #3 on this list).
- Open it in a tool like Paint.NET or Pixlr.com.
- Pick three fonts:
- bold and thick font (like Arial Black),
- thin font (like Arial Narrow),
- flashy font / hand-written font (like Freestyle Script).
- Place the title of the post in the foreground. If the background is dark, use white font, for light backgrounds, go with black. Also:
- Use the bold font for the main point.
- Use the thin font for words like and, to, for (if it’s visually pleasing).
- Use the flashy font for additional emphasis where it makes sense.
That’s it. All you need is three fonts and some black or white text.
Bonus. Put a watermark on the image if it tickles your fancy.
8. Minimal CG images
Flat design, and minimalism in general has been a true hit of 2014 and the trend is very likely to follow into the future. There’s just something uniquely beautiful about minimal images. They’re clear, easy to grasp, and work great as a brand building tool. They also don’t distract the visitor from the main message that you want to convey in your blog post.
Here’s an example at Codeinwp.com; a featured image for a post talking about landing pages in WordPress:
There’s just a simple text, one-color background and an icon or a graphic that’s related to the post itself.
Building something similar is really simple and quick. Here’s the process:
- Get a nice set of free flat design icons. There’s a load of giveaways on the web. All it takes is a quick Google search.
- Make sure that you can use the icons for commercial purposes and that they are available in high quality (when it comes to icons, that’s 256px+).
- Start with a blank image in Paint.NET or any other similar tool. Make the background single color. Try using pastel colors – they’re a bit friendlier on the eye.
- Use the “three fonts trick” described in the previous point to put the blog’s title or any other text in the image.
- Put one of the icons beneath the text.
For example, here’s the image I created for one of my posts:
You knew this one was coming…
Infographics are the new black of content marketing. In short, if you’re not using them as part of your content strategy, you’re missing out.
Actually, there’s a couple of awesome posts on this site already explaining the power of infographics and how to create them, so I’m just going to send you over to them instead of pretending that I can explain this better:
- 9 Awesome Reasons to Use Infographics in your Content Marketing
- The 7 Key Elements to Creating Successful Infographics
This one, on the other hand, you probably didn’t see coming…
So what’s a post-o-graphic, right?
In simple terms, it’s a kind of post that looks like a simple infographic but underneath it’s built with standard text, HTML, and visuals (images).
Let me just give you an example of a post I wrote at Bidsketch – the guys behind the proposal tools for freelance bloggers:
The screenshot doesn’t do it justice so I urge you to check out the live post – Don’t Take Your Business to the “Next Level”. Even though that post uses a number of visuals to convey its message, it’s also perfectly crawlable by Google, and it works on any device and screen.
Another great thing about post-o-graphics is that because everything is based on simple HTML, they are compatible with any WordPress theme.
How to build them:
- Start with a standard text post.
- Pick the pieces that could benefit from additional visual emphasis. Some possibilities: subheadings, lists, quotes, examples, data, study results, etc.
- Turn those elements into their visual versions, use any of the methods described above.
- Replace the plain-text versions with the visuals.
- Add transitions by using arrows or other visual breakers (you can find free arrow icons on Google).
- Add whitespace to improve readability.
- Use columns, or tables to create some diversity in your content layout (caution; some HTML skill required here).
- Publish the whole thing.
Creating visuals for social media
To close this guide on a high note, let’s have a word on how you can use your blog post visuals on social media.
It’s no mystery that people prefer sharing visual content on social media to sharing standard text content. Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms know this very well, and that’s why they’ve provided us with specific APIs and tools to make our posts more visible on readers’ news feeds.
So, the first thing you need to do is pick the social networks where you want to direct the most of your effort and create a set of images optimized primarily for those networks.
- Here’s a great guide on what works on which network, along with the specific details on how to create optimized social media images.
- If you want to go the extra mile and possibly multiply your results, here’s another guide listing some unusual content marketing tips on how to use visual content on social media.
What’s your way of handling blog post visuals?
That’s it for this guide, but I’m very curious to hear your opinion on blog post visuals. How do you visualize your blog posts right now? Is there anything you’re struggling with?
Guest author: Karol K. (@carlosinho) is a freelance blogger and writer, published author, and a team member at Bidsketch (proposal software) – helping small businesses, freelancers and consultants create great looking and functional client proposals.
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