Updated with new resources on July 2015.
Why visual content matters
When we were kids we loved illustrated books, we grew up and images still attract us more than plain text.
There are scientific explainations for that, a comprehensive one comes from The SAGE Handbook of Political Communication (Holli A Semetko, Margaret Scammell – 2012).
Biologically, the visual system takes precedence over the language areas of the brain. […]
A substantial portion (roughly one-fifth) of the total area of the cerebral cortex is dedicated to the visual cortex and over 90% of the information that reaches the brain is visual (Gangwer, 2009). […]
The brain’s easier handling of visual information is also reflected in processing speed. The brain processes visual information roughly sixty thousand times faster than text (Gazzaniga, 1992; Newell, 1990).
The reason is that humain brains processe all picture details simultaneously whereas words, either spoken or written, must be processed serially (Messaris, 1994; Messaris and Abraham, 2001; Paivio, 1971; Van der Molen and Van der Voort, 2000).
Moreover, our attention span has been decreasing over the past decade. According to Tony Haile, CEO of Chartbeat, 55% of people spend fewer than 15 seconds on a web page.
Source: What You Think You Know About the Web Is Wrong | Time.com | March 9, 2014
Short attention spans have made lengthy explanations less effective, states Tom More, CEO and Founder of Slidely.
Source: The importance of visual content | The Next Web | May 21st, 2014
But, according to Trap.it blog, most visitors will scroll through an entire page with photo and video content.
Source: Do People Read Your Content? 6 Facts about Reading Online | Trap!t Blog | April 15th, 2014
I think we’re regressing to childhood and we just want books with pictures!
Joking aside, it’s clear that:
- blog posts are more appealing and readable if they have images; [Tweet this]
- visual content is engaging and performs better than other type of social updates; [Tweet this]
- thus, visual content is a central component of content marketing. [Tweet this]
GUIDES AND TUTORIALS
Now that you’re sold on the advantages of visual content, you should start thinking about a visual style guide to make your blog’s (or personal brand’s) web presence recognizable. I recommend you to read Regina’s post on How to create a style guide for your blog or brand, it’s easy and comprehensive. If you are branding or rebranding your blog, you must check Andrea Beltrami‘s awesome website The Branded Solopreneur! You’ll find everything you need about visual strategies.
If you’re not confident with graphic design and need a guide, or just want to brush up your skills, head over Canva Design School. There you’ll find tutorials and helpful inspiring blog posts.
Don’t forget to check Gregory Ciotti’s The Psychology of Color in Marketing and Branding to learn how colour relates to persuasion.
When crafting your images, take into consideration that every Social Network has different recommended image sizes. Check and bookmark Sprout Social’s Always Up-To-Date Social Media Image Sizes.
WANT THE BOOKMARKS? I GOT YOU COVERED!
In this post I list more than 50 links to guides, resources, free stock images sites, tools and apps. If you want to bookmark them all at once, just download the file I prepared for you and import it in your browser!
WHERE TO FIND IMAGES FOR YOUR BLOG AND SOCIAL POSTS
1.Shoot your own photos
If you’re good enough with your camera (or your phone camera), you can take some pics to illustrate your posts. They can be out of context, too, ‘cause you can use them as a background or edit them barely recognizable. Bear in mind that if you are a food blogger or you’re selling your products on your blog, you must take your own photos, and you’d better learn how to use a camera.
- How to Take Your Own Stock Photos for Your Blog
- Create your own stock photo library
- 15 AWESOME FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS
- 10 food photography tips from a blogger
- The Ultimate DIY Guide to Beautiful Product Photography
- Stunning Product Photography with an iPhone and a Desk Lamp
- Common Mistakes in Product Photography and How to Avoid them
2.Find free images online
There are a lot of websites where you can find good images, here’s my personal selection:
a.Backgrounds and patterns
c.Free stock images
Bonus item: Popular stock photography provider Shutterstock, offers new free images every week. Have a look at Free Images | Shutterstock
d.Beautiful hi-quality images
Bonus item: The Stocks aggregates and displays free hi-quality images from some of the sources listed above and others. Having all the pics in one place can certainly save you time. Stock Up instead allows you to search 22 high-quality, free stock photo websites in one place.
If you’re writing a post or a tutorial about an app you are using on your pc or smartphone, you can take some screenshots to illustrate it.
WHICH ONLINE TOOLS TO USE TO EDIT IMAGES
A freemium browser app which includes basic editing tools plus filters, frames, texts and effects. It was the first app I tried when I started moving to web-based tools, I like it but it didn’t evolve a lot since I began using it.
Canva (Web – iPad)
I met Canva on March 2014 and we never broke up. It’s an amazing tool and its developers keep improving it. You can design almost anything with ease: blog graphics, presentations, Facebook covers, flyers, invitations and more.
Pablo (Web) – I tried it on my iPhone, it’s usable but a bit uncomfortable
Pablo is the new kid on the block, launched by those great guys at Buffer. It’s a free no sign-up online tool to create engaging images. You choose an image as background (or upload your own), then add text on it and drag it around. The resulting image is 1024x512px (horizontal wide, with a 2:1 aspect ratio), which is the recommended size for Twitter pics, if you want to show the full image in the timeline, without opening the tweet.
There are several mobile apps to edit photos and add filters and text to them. One of the most recommended is Wordswag (iOS only), which I personally don’t use. When on Android I used Photofy (available for iOS too), maybe it’s not the best looking of the bunch, but it’s full featured and offers you freedom of customization. You can edit a single pic or make a collage, you can add effects, text, stickers and frames. Photofy is free and offers in-app purchases.
When I defined the visual style guide for this blog, I decided to stick with two fonts when adding text to my images. Unluckily those fonts aren’t available in Photofy, so I moved to Over (available for both iOS and Android) and Colorful Text (iOS only) which allows you to use custom fonts. To add your font, send the font file (ttf or otf) to your email (the one connected to Apple’s Mail app), open the email then tap on the attached file and finally select Over or Colorful Text from the app list. When you open the app, you’ll find the new font in the font list.
Bonus tip: consider using a relevant hashtag, when adding text to your pic.
Unlike still images, GIFs display an action and can convey a dynamic story.
There are many online tools to make them, in my opinion these are the simpler to use:
GIFLR – make GIFs out of still images or other GIFs
GIFFFFR – make GIFs out of online videos
Among plenty of GIF maker mobile apps, Cinemagram (ios and android) is worth a mention. It creates something slightly different from animated pics: with Cinemagram you can animate a small portion of your image making a hybrid between photo and video that you can then share as GIF or video.
I mainly use Piktochart to make my infographics, it’s easy to use and offer tons of shapes, icons, photos, frames, customizable maps and charts. You can embed video from YouTube and Vimeo too. Templates are of high design quality but most of them are not offered for free. The free plan doesn’t allow you to download a PDF version of the file or to remove Piktochart watermark. Piktochart is available as an iPad app too, it allows you to view your saved infographics, and share them via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest.
Bonus tip: Use Thinglink to make your images interactive, it’s a web and mobile (iOS and Android) app which offers free and paid plans. With ThingLink you can easily annotate image and video content with notes and rich media links.
I made the above image with Canva, using some icons I found on Iconfinder. Then I made it interactive with Thinglink.