Why Original Blog Images Are Critical & How to Make Them

They say: a picture is worth a thousand words. I say: an original picture is worth a thousand words. So today we’re going to dive into the value of original blog images to accompany your content, and how to make them.

Our brains process images at lightning speed – 60,000 times faster than text to be precise. So there’s no doubt the visuals accompanying your articles are important. In fact, optimizing an article with visual elements leads to an average of 37 percent more engagement, and to 40 times more social shares.

The thing is, they can’t just be any old images.  

Stock photos no longer work

A Google search for “stock photos suck” returns 16.9 million results, which should tell you everything you need to know.

Stock photos can hurt credibility.

Stock photos might be so harmful to your brand that they turn readers away. Because any brand can use the photos, scammers can use the same photos as you. That means you could quickly be associating your visual identity with negative feelings, without even realizing it.

Stock photos showcase clichés.

You wouldn’t want to commit a verbal cliche faux pas, so why allow the same issue to fly in your images? Stock photos are now considered so appalling, there’s even a Know Your Meme page dedicated to stock photo clichés.

Stock photos align your brand with competitors’.

One of the main issues with stock photography is that your competitors could be using the same exact images. For example back in 2004, competitors Dell and Gateway used photos from the same photo shoot of the same Everywhere Girl in their “Back to School” promotional material.

OK so you need images. And they can’t be stock photos. So what’s the solution?

Original blog content images drive better results

Create original imagery to support your blog posts and content marketing efforts. It can be scary to invest money into something new, so here’s how the ROI will prove itself out.

1. Original imagery improves social impressions.

Original images are critical to making your content pop on crowded social feeds, such as on Facebook and Twitter. When I switched one site over from stock photos to original illustrations, we saw more than double the social traffic, up from 14% to 32%.

Furthermore, Pinterest is one of few social networks where much of your work is evergreen. And, Pinterest is a social channel based on visuals. So by investing in original content imagery and then sharing your blog posts on Pinterest, you will can drive views forever. Which could also be a game changer for your conversion, as Pinterest has a 50% higher conversion rate than other social media sites.

2. Custom images improve organic traffic.

Now that both Pinterest and Google have visual search engines, they’re beginning to prioritize relevant images more than ever. As Google shared“We particularly discourage pages where neither the images or the text are original content.” So using non-stock photos is important, because Google and Pinterest’s visual search are so advanced they nearly know precisely what’s in an image.

And Google already penalizes sites for duplicate copy. With its focus on high-quality content being original, I’d imagine soon enough they’ll make the switch to penalizing for duplicate visuals as well.

To see how much traffic your images are driving to your website today, log in to Google Search Console. Just go to Performance, then Queries, and then update the Search type at the top left to Image. This report will show you how many impressions your images received in Google and how many clicks they got.

Click on Impressions to see where you’re getting the most top of the funnel exposure. It could be worth trying to improve clicks on these images by creating originals where you add more color, add eye-catching visuals like gradients, or add a very small amount of text that teases what they’re missing out on by not clicking.

Click on Clicks to see which images are getting the most interaction. Consider updating those images’ alt text and file names to best match a relevant keyword, if you haven’t already. That way you can drive more views of images that are already bringing traffic back to your site.

Over the last six months, the images from this site have gotten 52K impressions which presents a tremendous opportunity to garner more clicks. And today, my images (which are original, but not all that great) are only driving 5% of my overall search traffic. I bet you’ll find something similar with your site.

3. Custom blog images improve conversion.

Using original imagery also boosts on-page conversion. For starters it’s more likely to strongly align intent, matching the content on the page and the reason the customer arrived.

Plain and simple: your image has to match what’s on the page, in order to maximize performance. In a test done for a Premier Digital Marketing Conference, a laptop image on their landing page was replaced with an image of people attending a conference. The increased relevance led to the second image beat the original by 40.18%. No surprise there!

It also reassures customers what your brand is about, and builds trust. For example, Harrington Movers improved conversions by 45.45% when they replaced their stock photos with a shot of their crew. And when Marketing Experiments tested a real photo of their client against their top-performing stock photo, visitors who saw the real customer were 35% more likely to sign up.

OK so now that you’re convinced being one of a kind can deliver one-of-a-kind results, what are a few feasible, easy-to-implement ways to create original blog images?

Discover 9 awesome original blog images sources

Here are some of my favorite original imagery ideas.

  1. The Library of Congress Photos: The library’s digital collections comprise millions of items including books, newspapers, manuscripts, prints and photos, maps, musical scores, films, sound recordings and more.
  2. The New York Public Library’s digital image collection: Capture those vintage vibes. More than 180,000 of the items in their Digital Collections are in the public domain.
  3. Canva: I like this one for its ease of use. Work from thousands of templates, and upload photos to mix and match together.
  4. Hire an artist: You’ll find editorial illustrators all over from Instagram to Dribble. One of my favorite Facebook Groups for finding talented artists is Freelancing Females.
  5. Hire a photographer: Create a list of themes that encompass most of the topics you cover, and get a professional to do a photoshoot to address them.
  6. Ugly sketch: Use Sketchpad to make original doodles.
  7. Build on stock photos: Find stock photos that you like from sourcing platforms such as Death to the Stock Photo, StockSnap, PicJumbo, and Gratisography. Use TinEye to ensure it hasn’t been used by a competitor. Then, add creative typographic pairings, do background manipulations, and the right use of cropping to make it your own, as CXL suggests.
  8. Use patterns: Access awesome backgrounds at The Pattern Library.
  9. Use diverse and inclusive libraries: Tap into TONL and Women of Color in Tech, or Vice’s gender spectrum library.

Optimize your original blog images for SEO

After all that work, don’t forget to maximize its impact. Make your original blog images SEO-friendly in a few simple steps:

1. Reduce the file size.

Since web page load times are important, resize the image to how you want it displayed. Reduce the file size of images by removing the EXIF data, using tools like ImageOptim or websites like JPEGmini.

2. Make sure it’s the best file type.

Be sure your images are responsive. Images should have the “srcset” attribute, which makes it possible to serve a different image per screen width — especially useful for mobile devices. In addition, Yoast recommends these files types based on your content:

  • choose JPEG for larger photos or illustrations for good results in terms of colors and clarity and a small file size.
  • use PNG if you want to preserve background transparency;
  • or, use WebP instead of JPEG and PNG. It will produce high-quality results with smaller file sizes.
  • use SVG for logos and icons. With the help of CSS or JavaScript you can resize them without losing quality.

3. Name the file.

Use the keyword in the file name. And add hyphens, not underscores, between words.

4. Write compelling alt text.

Use the keyword in the alt text, and accurately describe what’s in the image in detail to make it accessible for all.

5. Leverage page caching.

Because your blog images won’t change for years, cache them to ensure blog pages load quickly. Set these files to cache for a month or longer using an Expires Header.

6. Add structured data.

Use structured data to help search engines display your images as rich results. This can help your images stand out and garner more clicks. For example, if you have recipes on your site and you add structured data to your images Google can also add a badge to your images showing that this image belongs to a recipe. 

Create original blog images

Now you’re ready to bedazzle and delight readers with the best visuals. Up next, get the best content marketing tips.

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By Megan Mitzel

I'm the wearer of overalls behind the marketing advice website Marketing Overalls. I'm also a senior marketing director with more than ten years of experience leading acquisition and lifecycle marketing at successful startups. Before that, I got a business degree at UNC-Chapel Hill. Before that, I owned a seashell shop. And that's the tea on me.