Hello inkheads! The fine folks at Mohawk are running an awesome article series about inbound marketing on the famous Makeready blog. I must say it does my heart good to see the growing interest in digital marketing from the print and paper community. *Shameless plug* My pulpy pals at Mohawk invited yours truly to contribute a quote to their must read article Ready, Set, BLOG! I’ll pause for a moment so you can finish reading their brief, actionable guide.
Needless to say, their enthusiasm inspired me to dust off my own posts about blogging for commercial printing companies. I’ve already written a basic overview as well as a post that shows you how to write killer headlines to increase your content’s visibility.
Pro headlines aka post titles will get you higher traffic, but words alone are only part of the picture. Visuals are a huge part of social media and content marketing, so you absolutely MUST incorporate visuals into your blogging strategy.
Right now some of you might be thinking, That’s easy for you to say Miss Designer Writer Person…and you’re right that this topic speaks to my passion for visual communication. While I firmly believe that design should be left to trained professionals, you don’t have to be a designer to add images to blog posts. Sure, a designer would be better suited to the task than a non-designer, especially with respect to custom graphics. To be clear, I don’t think it’s wise to mix your newly discovered creative side with your business. After all, your blog reflects your brand’s reputation—-you don’t want to give people the impression that you’re cheap or unprofessional. Don’t worry, I’ll show you how to choose the right images and share best practices for publishing pictures with your blog posts so no one looks down on your content.
Are you ready to supercharge your storytelling? Let’s dig in!
Why does my blog need images?
For the same reason it needs words.
No, I’m not being sarcastic. I consider images as vital to blog posts as copy.
You have something to say and you want to present your thoughts, tips, and info in a way that engages readers, right? Then you have to cater to all the different types of potential readers on the interwebs. Some of them might be visual learners, so they will have a hard time understanding your lengthy textual explanation of rich black vs plain black without a couple of pictures to demonstrate the point. Others are too busy to read your entire article; they want to quickly scan the text and get the main idea from your headings or images alone.
The above examples illustrate specific instances where visuals cater to the audience. In reality, we don’t have to get into esoteric reader psychology because literally everyone responds to images. Why do we love images so much? Here are 3 big reasons in no particular order.
- #1) Information processing – This one’s got solid science to behind the claim. Did you know the brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than text! Use this to your advantage by highlighting key points with photos, quote graphics, or visual summaries of main ideas.
- #2) Storytelling- We tend to remember stories or personal anecdotes as opposed to dry textbooks or instructional videos. For this reason, marketers like me recommend writing in a way that reveals your human side. An intimate tone will do wonders for your blog, yet plain text stories fail to capture the mood you’re setting. Images also serve a purpose in your layout. Pictures break up your paragraphs and create breathing room for people to digest your words. Let’s put it this way: reading a blog without pictures would be like listening to a politician deliver a long winded speech. Even the most loyal of supporters in the crowd would tune out after a while. Pictures grab reader’s attention immediately and help maintain their interest for longer periods of time.
- #3) Emotional connections- Pair your powerful words with expressive images and you’re guaranteed to make a lasting impact on your readers. Photos cut right to the core of our psyches. Leave them out and you miss your opportunity to create branded content that truly resonates with your customers.
If you’re not convinced that visuals will rock your content strategy, please stop reading here because I’m operating on the premise that we’re on the same page from now on. Speaking of which, let’s move on from the why to the actionable how to of blog images.
What kind of visuals should I share?
I’m glad you asked this question because it takes us down a slippery slope and into a trap I see inexperienced bloggers fall into frequently. I already explained that images help you tell stories; this means that the pictures you add to your blog posts should be directly related to your message. Irrelevant images distract readers, which diminishes your capacity to clearly convey your message. How’s that for a tongue twister!
I’m raising this issue because I don’t want you to be like the thousands of bloggers blathering on Google Plus posting pretty and sometimes downright ugly graphics that have absolutely nothing to do with the content they’re sharing. These misguided folks are trying to increase their visibility by capitalizing on popular social media graphic trends, such as sunset photos or LOLCats.
Before you succumb to the temptation to drive shares with unrelated images, ask yourself what you want your readers to remember about your brand in general as well as the particular post. Do you want them to think of your brand as a printing industry expert, a marketing partner, an awesome print design resource, or that page that posts the beautiful landscape photography?
I’m sure you would prefer the former, so keep your visual strategy in synch with this aspect of your brand messaging.
Do I have to design my own images?
Don’t get me wrong—-original images go a long way as far as branding is concerned. You want people to recognize your blog posts wherever they’re shared, regardless of who shares them. The easiest way to get that kind of recognition going on is through custom graphics.
If you don’t have the resources to put your designers to work on your daily or weekly blog posts, let them create simple templates for you along with a brand style guide. That way you’ll at least have a consistent look across platforms.
Don’t have any creatives on staff? I highly recommend seeking professional assistance with the aforementioned visual style guide before you integrate branded designs. Otherwise, you can get by sharing images from stock photo sites, creative commons, etc. Be aware that you must always abide by applicable copyright laws and please, give credit in the form of a link to the image source.
Where can I get photos for my blog?
Since you’re a printer, I’m going to assume that you’re already aware of the various stock photography websites for royalty-free photos. For a very large list of free images, check out this sweet post from the Buffer blog.
Will images help me with social media and content marketing?
As I’ve said before on this blog, AB-SO-FREAKIN-LUTELY! Including related images with your links will get your blog post more views on basically every network…except for Facebook. Despite the fact that photos consistently get the highest engagement on Facebook, the book of faces will completely bury your update if you post a photo and include a link to your blog in the status/description.
The Facebook situation is a big bummer, but don’t throw in the towel just yet. Visuals are invaluable to your content marketing game plan because you’ll be able to share some of the best ones from your blog by themselves on social media!
As my friend expert designer Paul Bieddermann says, visuals allow you to break your blog posts down into snack sized servings. To explain what I mean, let’s revisit the earlier example about complex black ink issues. You’ll surely want to demonstrate the difference between plain and rich black in print with a graphic. Otherwise, it will be tough for people to grasp the impact CMYK values have on their finished artwork. After you publish your epic ink post, you can share this graphic again a few weeks later on your social media accounts with a bit of text reminding people about proper prepress prep! You can even include the blog post URL in said graphic to try generate direct traffic to your blog. (Note: direct traffic aka type in traffic is SEO speak for people who physically type your web address into a browser as opposed to clicking on a link from another source i.e. Google or your Facebook page).
Do images impact SEO?
Ooooh, you betcha.
Images contribute to search engine optimization directly and indirectly. The direct part comes in when users perform image searches through Google, primarily. Let’s say you write a blog post about die cut business card design inspiration or pro plastic business card design tips. With proper image optimization in place, which we’ll discuss momentarily, they might find one of your business card example images and click on the link to your blog for more.
The indirect SEO influence stems from social media. Posts with images get more clicks, comments, and shares from the people in your social communities. This activity sends low watt signals to search engines about your brand’s popularity as well as niche authority. Right now, Google Plus is the only network that
manipulates personalizes search results based on your activities and those of your contacts. At the same time, social shares build the type of buzz that attracts links naturally. In fact, great designs may attract links on their own in the form of image source attribution.
How do I optimize images on my printing blog?
All right, here’s where we’ll delve into a bit of technical SEO. There are really 6 steps to optimizing your blog pictures, although you might struggle with a few of these unless you have an SEO-friendly content management system in place i.e. WordPress. Check for SEO plugins or extensions on your platform provider’s website if you don’t see a way to add the metadata below. (Note: metadata is a fancy way of saying data you input for structural and user experience purposes).
Before you upload, do the following:
Step 1) Compression- Large files look amazing…and take forever to load. Users typically abandon slow sites within 3 seconds; compress your images so they have no reason to abandon ship without absorbing anything. Use the save for the web feature in Photoshop, Illustrator, or try a web based compression tool, such as Kraken.io. In general, you want to keep your images as small as possible while preserving their quality. Shoot for small files under 50 kbs.
Step 2) Naming- This one’s the most important as far as bringing you organic search traffic. In the business card blog post example, I mentioned a user finding your blog by searching for photos of sexy die cuts or something of that nature. This type of discovery is largely keyword driven in that Google matches photos to user queries mainly by the image names. So a photo named oval shaped die cut business card will appear in search results for a related query. An image that isn’t properly named (ex. Image1232ddfdf.jpg) can’t be identified semantically, which means it won’t show up in any queries. Just don’t go overboard trying to shove every relevant keyword into your image name because that screams Spammy McSpammerson!
After you upload, add these fields of metadata:
Step 1) Image title- This can be the same as your image name. And that’s the only time you’ll ever see me recommend repeating stuff on your website.
Step 2) Alt text- Alternate text is a feature that most users don’t realize exists because it doesn’t come into play unless you’re visually impaired. Search engines are visually impaired in the sense that they can’t interpret images without alt text. In a way, alt text functions as an image title for search engines. Alt text also works with screen reading software programs i.e. ZoomText that allow visually impaired users to navigate the web. The software literally reads alt text out loud to them when it encounters an image in your blog article. For this reason, you want to be extra careful not to abuse alt text with yucky keyword stuffing. Instead, choose 2 or 3 words that summarize the image.
Step 3) Image description- Much like meta descriptions entice users to click on your links in search results, image descriptions appear alongside your photos within image searches. When a user clicks on your photo in a Google image search, the description shows up along with a link to your website. Limit the text to a short sentence that tempts them to read more.
Step 4) Add a caption- This may sound hypocritical seeing as how I don’t include image captions on this blog. Confession time—I wish I could write captions for our images; however, the theme we have installed right now can’t handle captions without messing up my formatting. Anyway, I lament the lack of captions because users read them. A lot. Keep your captions brief, and lighthearted. Complement the image with additional info or a witty aside.
Continue the SEO education
And this concludes our discussion on blog images! If you made it this far, pat yourself on the back because you’re well on your way to blogging mastery. As a reward for reading this lengthy post, I’m going to let you in on an exciting new project I’m working on with my buddy Bill Michael from the Xerox Digital Printing Blog (@XeroxProduction). Bill and I will be hosting a special Twitter chat about SEO for the printing and mailing community called #InkSEO on July 10th at 1pm PST/4pm EST. I’ll be very sad if I don’t see you there, so mark your calendar.
Do you have any questions about visual content marketing for your printing company? Ask me in the comments below! Or tweet your questions and suggestions for the Twitter chat with the hashtag #InkSEO.
P.S. If you write a printing industry blog, feel free to drop me a link in the comments section for a little CMYK blog networking. I’ll leave your link and pay you a visit so long as I deem your site worthy.