Writing a great blog post is a lot of work. There’s the planning, the headline, the writing, the rewriting, the rewriting, the rewriting.
As the cliché goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. So why not let your images do some of that writing for you?
When you’re trying to get the biggest bang out of a blog post (while putting in the least amount of work), it’s smart to let strong imagery do some of your heavy lifting. But what’s the difference between an image that works hard and one that just looks good with your blog theme?
Images are steroids for your headline
You may remember the immortal advice of copywriting genius Joe Sugarman: the job of the headline is to get the reader to read the first line of your ad. (And the job of the first line is to get the reader to read the second line of your ad.)
Let’s face it, writing great headlines is hard. (Worth the effort, but still. Hard.) A great image can give your headline a big boost. The image might be beautiful, odd, heartwarming, instructive or just curiosity-provoking, as long as it makes the reader want to read that first line of your post.
Set an emotional tone
A powerful image zaps right into the primal bits of your readers’ brains and gets them in the emotional state you want. In an instant, a terrific image can create an emotional reaction you might otherwise slave for hours to craft with words.
Images of puppies and cute little children will set one tone for your blog. Gritty street scenes will say something very different. I use a lot of images of apes and monkeys over on Remarkable Communication, in part to convey the primate emotional drivers that shape our communication, and in part because, hey, everybody likes monkeys.
In fact, “lighten up” is a major Remarkable Communication theme, and that’s consistently reflected in the images I choose.
Some images just make people feel good. And associating yourself with feeling good is a smart move if you’re trying to persuade. While a steady diet of kittens and rainbows gets cloying, it can be a good move to choose a photo just because it makes you smile.
What’s the personality of your blog? Funny? Combative? Compassionate? Goofy? Imagery can set the emotional tone of a single post or for your whole blog.
Lazy Blogger Tip: If you can’t find a good, relevant match for your post’s main idea, look for an image that conveys the emotional content of your blog as a whole.
Just like making a ridiculous comparison can intrigue the reader and get her to keep reading, a striking image can work in the same way. The image can either create a seeming paradox with the headline, or just amplify the headline in a surprising way.
(The most notorious example to date on Copyblogger was probably on my own Feel Great Naked post.)
A feeling of “What is this doing here?” can move the reader forward and right into your terrific post. The effect shouldn’t be too jarring, but a little unexpected juxtaposition can be just the ticket.
Where lazy bloggers go to find great images
There are free sources for stock photography out there, but in my opinion it takes more time and energy than it’s worth to dig around and find what you need.
I use two sources for nearly all images I use. The first is iStockphoto, which has a wide selection of stock photography at very good prices. For a blog post, you can use their smallest size image, which will run you a little over $1 depending on how many credits you buy at a time.
The great thing about iStockphoto is that it’s cheap and efficient. You use their search tool to find a couple of options, click, click, click, and you can get back to scrolling through the latest LOLCats.
The second source I like is the Flickr Creative Commons. I shied away from this for a long time, thinking the licensing issues would be too complicated. Skellie set me straight on that with this useful, comprehensive post. Just search for images under the Attribution license and you’re set. The only thing that’s required is a credit, which is satisfied by a pleasingly effortless link back to the photographer.
Other Creative Commons licenses have limitations on whether you can modify a photo (such as cropping it) or use it in a commercial context (which could be a factor if you’re monetizing your blog). Stick to the Attribution license and you won’t have to give any of it a second thought. Trust me, there’s virtually no limit to the fantastic Attribution images to choose from.
The quality you can find on Flickr Creative Commons is as good or better than what you’ll get for iStockphoto, but each has different strengths. Flickr has terrific macro, landscape and botanical photography, and you can find great (and unusual) images of people. iStockphoto often does better than Flickr for animals and machinery, and offers high-quality shots of any object you can think of isolated against a white background.
More lazy fun you can have with images
Flickr isn’t just a great resource for images, it’s a magnificent way to waste hours and hours of your time. Try doing some searches on your major themes from time to time, and mark your favorites for later posts. Instead of “procrastinating,” you get to call it “building your image library.” You can do the same on iStockphoto, building extensive lightboxes of subjects you tend to use again and again.
As a lazy rule of thumb, the more iStockphoto imagery you use, the more professional your blog will feel. Using more Flickr images will create an artier, quirkier flavor.
Try letting your images do a little more of the work in your blog. Your posts will be more effective, and you’ll save precious energy you could be using to play Rock Band.