A Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Beautiful Blog Images

Andrea Fryrear on Content Marketing

For most content marketers, the writing process runs pretty smoothly.

Over hundreds of hours and hundreds of thousands of words, we’ve managed to create a system that lets us produce high quality content efficiently.

But then come the images.

For many of us they’re an afterthought, something we frantically throw into our content right before the deadline because it doesn’t occur to us to do it before then, or because we’re hoping they’ll somehow magically appear in our article.

Spoiler alert: they never do.

But content without images isn’t performing up to its full potential. There’s just too much competition out there to neglect visual content marketing.

It’s time to dig in, take the time, and start making really beautiful images that do justice to all the hard work we’re putting into writing our content.

Why Blog Images Matter

We’ll go ahead and get the big stat out of the way first: according to a 2011 study by Skyword, articles with images get an average of 94% more views than those without images.

Yep. Images give you a chance at almost doubling your page views. That’s a solid incentive to at least give them a shot.

But wait, there’s more!

Images also give you better engagement on social media, which will extend the reach of each and every single piece of content that you create.

According to the Pew Research Center, 42% of internet users had shared someone else’s image online back in 2013. With the explosion of Instagram and Pinterest, the numbers can only be climbing.

pew research on content with images

Buffer reports that they see 150% more retweets when they use images, and when you consider that 63% of social media is made up of images, this makes total sense.

The web is going more and more visual, and if we want to compete we’ve got to get serious about images.

Fortunately if you’re already making a unique piece of internet art to accompany all of your articles, you have social media image fodder ready and waiting to be shared.

Why GOOD Blog Images Matter

Clearly, we’re talking big returns on the time you invest in creating images, but you’re not going to approach these awesome numbers by just throwing cheesy stock photos around.

Rand Paul’s presidential campaign learned this the hard way when they featured stock images on a page calling for endorsements of the candidate. While they never explicitly stated, “These people have endorsed Rand Paul,” the implication was clear.

rand paul website using stock photos

Once it got out that this smiling folks were not actual endorsers of Rand Paul but instead subjects of a German photographer, they got yanked from the website ASAP.

Readers can tell when you’re not giving your images your all, and it impacts the perceived value of your entire site.

If all they see in your header image is a creepy, standard stock photo, how likely will they be scroll down and read anything else on the page? Not very likely.

We’ve covered the very real dangers of stock photos before, so if you’re tempted down this path take a look at the research first.

For those short on time, I’ll summarize: stock photos hurt your credibility and your website traffic. Don’t use them.

Ok, so we need images in all our content, and we can’t just grab whatever comes up in a Google image search for “SEO.” What’s a harried marketer to do?

not great seo stock image

Work smarter on your visuals, not harder.

Get a template and a style guide in place so you can breeze through image creation faster than you can snap a cheesy photo of your co-workers high fiving.

Step 1: Find Out Your Blog Image Style

Not all blogs have the same tone, style, or design, which means they shouldn’t all have the same type of images.

And not all writers have the same level of commitment to their images in terms of time to invest, money to spend, or quality they’re willing to accept.

So that’s the first step: do some self examination and determine your level of image commitment.

Consider carefully:

  • Time: The amount of time you can realistically spend on making images every day/week. If you’re already scrambling to get articles out the door on time, it’s not feasible to add 3 hours of image creation for each article to your publication schedule.
  • Cost: What your budget is for a month’s worth of images, and how that breaks down per image you’ll need. So here at MarketerGizmo we publish about 12 times a month and we try not to spend more than $25 total on our images. That means I get about $2 per image.
  • Quality: Good images can help your content get shared; great images can propel you from average resource to industry leader. But maybe “good” is good enough for your current goals. Take a long look at what you want to achieve with your content, then decide how high the quality of your images needs to be to get you there.
  • Resources: Do you already have access to an image database? This could be through another department or a photobug friend. Is there a closet designer lurking on your marketing team who would love to make images for you? Find them and bribe them!
  • Size and Location: Will you do a full width header image across the top of the page, or a smaller right-aligned image? Do you want readers to have to scroll to see written content, or should your first paragraph be above the fold?

Based on the results of your introspection, it’s time to choose your blog image style.

3 Types of Blog Images

The first thing you have to decide is whether you’ll be using photos, icons, or a mix of both.

Icons are easy to come by, and you run a much lower risk of them being the same image that people have seen in a dozen other places.

The hard part about using icons is that you can rarely get away with using just one. If you do, your image may look empty and boring, like this:

example of boring icon

But the more elements you add, the easier it is to go astray in your design. Icons are often best as part of a design rather than the whole thing, but if you commit to using only icons and text you can create a distinctive style, like CMI’s Joseph Kalinowski:

good example of icon use

CMI’s designer has created a distinctive style for their blog images.

The second option is to stick completely with photos, as you’ll see on just about every food and fashion blog on the internet.

This strategy works best when you know you’ll be covering visually compelling topics (like food), but can veer quickly into cheesy stock photo territory for business blogs. Because how else do you illustrate things like sales and marketing?

If you’re going to be using exclusively photos, make sure you have a good handle on interesting fonts to go with them. The easiest and quickest way to take photos from boring to brilliant is with a creative text overlay.

If either of these options seem like a good fit for your visual style you should try to stick with that format exclusively. When your blog images are 98% photos and then you throw in one image that’s full of icons, it can be very jarring for readers.

But in reality the easiest solution may be to consistently use both photos and icons to create one-of-a-kind images that don’t tie you to one style or the other.

Then you can follow the lead of solo content creators like Neil Patel who combine stock photos, icons, and text in unique ways to make images that fit their content very well:

example blog image from neil patel

Neil Patel combines icons and photos to create a brand new image.

Step 2: Choose Your Image Creation Tool

The reason that this is Step 2 and not Step 1 is that the type of image you’re planning to create should inform your tool choice.

If you’re leaning toward using icons, I would suggest getting familiar with my good friend Piktochart. It has A LOT of icon options and more are added almost daily.

Just look at these cute little people!

piktochart people

You can also use their growing selection of photos for free, but the options aren’t currently as extensive as in some other tools.

We also use Canva very frequently on our team and love its flexible pricing approach. There are some images that are free to use, but any that aren’t cost you only a dollar. It’s hard to beat Canva’s huge assortment of pre-sized templates for everything from blog images to social media headers.

And, for those of us who need to promote our content across multiple channels, Canva’s Magic Resize feature (that’s really what it’s called) is invaluable. You make one design, and then push a button to have it automatically adjusted to fit the various social networks. Boom.

I’ve also seen Visme, Befunky and Pixlr suggested as good, cost-effective options, but I don’t have any personal experience using them. If you’ve tried them out I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Step 3: Design Your Image Template(s)

The benefits of choosing and sticking with a template are two-fold: it makes your image creation process more efficient and it helps generate brand awareness for your site.

Your goal is that when people see your blog images they know where they came from and that they are associated with top notch content.

Marianne over at DesignYourOwnBlog.com has a great tutorial on creating a template using Befunky, which can give you some step by step instructions if that’s what you need to get started.

She’s also pulled together some truly inspiring examples of how other content creators have made repeatable yet beautiful templates for their blogs, which I personally found enough to get the creative juices flowing:

example blog post images

another example of blog images

See even more here.

Step 4: Choose a Color Scheme

Even the most beautiful and well thought out template can become a hot mess if you’re using colors that don’t jive or wildly varying your colors.

Notice in all the examples above how there are just a handful of prominent colors, with the others fading into the background. In some cases there are only a few actual colors being used and the other colors are all shades of grey.

Not sure about what colors you should use? Try this extensive guide to the Psychology of Color.

Once you have a color or two selected, you can use Paletton to identify other colors that will work in harmony with your favorites.

Remember, you want people to associate your color choices with your brand and website very strongly, so you can’t choose too many colors.

Step 5: Make a Blog Image Style Guide

It’s going to be tempting to skip this step, particularly if you’re creating the majority of your blog images yourself.

But having a carefully written and highly detailed roadmap for your images is a great way to keep yourself honest when you want to stray from the formula, and if you’ve got others contributing images it’s really a non-negotiable final step.

A style guide should cover all the components that we’ve gone through in this article, as well as include specifics about your brand, the places where it’s acceptable to source images and/or icons, and the emotions you hope your blog images will evoke.

It can take some time to get the style guide just right, but it will save you hours and hours of back and forth with image creators in the future.

It’s Never Too Late For Better Images: Our Story

Here on MarketerGizmo we’ve gone through several phases of evolution with our images. In the early days, when I was cranking out content at a breakneck pace, my time commitment was so small that I would grab a stock photo that was fairly relevant and move on.

(Yes, I’m more than a little ashamed of this piece of my past.)

It became clear to me pretty quickly, however, that these kinds of slapdash images weren’t doing justice to the 2,000 word articles I was slaving to create day in and day out.

So I started experimenting with Piktochart and found that I could create a totally customized header image in less than an hour. Once I got more proficient with the software, this time went down even more.

This has been a solid interim solution, but the images have never progressed very far beyond what I’d call “good.” They’re better than a lot of sites out there, but not yet as good as they can be.

We’ll be continuing to evolve our visual content approach just as we do with our written content, so keep your eyes on our imagery and hopefully you’ll like what you see.

Do you have any killer tricks for consistently producing killer graphics? Clue us in with a comment!