How to Select the Perfect Image for Your Next Blog Post: An Exhaustive Guide

Believe it or not, when it comes to blog content, there‘s a science to image selection. The right image can make the difference between a post that falls flat and one that goes viral.

Research shows that articles with an image once every 75-100 words received double the social media shares as articles with fewer images.^1 And according to Jeff Bullas, articles with images get 94% more total views than articles without.^2

But not just any image will do. Choosing perfect, impactful blog post images is both an art and a science. Follow this guide to select images that will take your blog content to the next level.

Start with Sourcing Fantastic (and Legal) Images

Before diving into the qualities of a perfect blog post image, let‘s cover where to find great images in the first place.

You have a few main options for sourcing blog post images:

  1. Take your own photos
  2. Use user-generated content (with permission)
  3. Use stock photos
  4. Create custom graphics/illustrations
  5. Hire a photographer

If you go the stock photo route, you‘ll need to choose between free and paid stock photo sites.

Free stock photo sites like Unsplash, Pexels, and Pixabay offer access to thousands of high-quality photos you can use without attribution.

The downside of free stock photo sites is that the selection is more limited and the most popular images get used a lot around the web. Your blog post images may not feel unique.

With paid stock photo sites like Shutterstock or iStock, you get a much wider selection of high-quality, professionally shot images. The usage rights are also more clearly defined. Of course, you have to pay for the images, either on-demand or via a monthly subscription.

Whichever route you choose, always double-check the licensing to confirm you have permission to use the image on your blog. Using copyrighted images without a license is illegal and unethical.

To be safe, look for images that fall under the Creative Commons CC0 license. This means the images are free for personal and commercial use with no attribution required.

The Anatomy of a Perfect Blog Post Image

Now that you know where to source images, how do you narrow down your choices to select the perfect image? A high-performing blog post image should check the following boxes:

1. Relevant to the Content

First and foremost, your blog post image should be clearly relevant to the subject matter of the post. It should support and enhance your content, not distract from or contradict it.

Let‘s say you‘re writing a post about email list building strategies. An image of someone working on a laptop or an illustration related to email would make sense. An image of a cat wearing sunglasses would be confusing and off-topic (even though it would probably get attention).

One trick for choosing relevant images is to look for opportunities to incorporate a related keyword in the post title itself. So instead of a generic post title like "10 Tips for Growing Your Email List," you could use something more specific like "10 Proven Tactics to Skyrocket Email Signups."

Now a photo of an actual rocket ship blasting off could be a relevant, memorable visual metaphor to tie in your title keyword.

2. Eye-Catching and Attention-Grabbing

The web is a crowded, noisy place. Millions of new blog posts are published every day. If you want your content to stand out in a sea of search results and social media feeds, you need scroll-stopping images.

Look for images that are bright, colorful, and emotionally compelling. Close-up photos tend to work well, especially images where the subject is making eye contact with the viewer. This helps create an instant personal connection.

Some other attention-grabbing elements to look for:

  • Vivid colors and high contrast
  • Interesting textures and patterns
  • Unique angles or compositions
  • Smiling or laughing faces
  • Aspirational images that depict an ideal end result

Of course, being eye-catching isn‘t everything. Your image still needs to be relevant to the topic and align with your brand. An image of a cat wearing sunglasses might be arresting, but unless you‘re writing about feline eye care, it‘s probably not the right choice.

3. High Quality and Professional

The bar for website design standards is high these days. Internet users expect a polished, professional presentation. Using low-quality, pixelated, or poorly composed images makes your content (and by extension, your brand) look amateurish.

When sourcing stock photos or graphics, choose the highest resolution version available. You can always scale down a large image for web use, but you can‘t scale up a small image without losing quality.

Aim for images that are at least 1200 pixels wide. For hero images or full-width header images, go even bigger – at least 2000px wide.

Be ruthless in rejecting low-quality images, no matter how relevant they are. It‘s better to keep looking than to settle for a less than sharp, clear, professional-looking photo or graphic.

4. Optimized for Fast Page Load Speed

While you want to use the highest quality images, you also need to keep page load time in mind. Images are usually the heaviest elements on a web page, and large image files can significantly slow down page load speed.

According to HTTP Archive, images make up on average 21% of a total webpage‘s weight.^3 And nearly 73% of the web‘s traffic is images, taking up more bandwidth than any other part of a website.^4

Slow loading pages create a poor user experience and negatively impact your search engine rankings. Google‘s latest Core Web Vitals report shows that the average page load time for a mobile site is 4.6 seconds^5 – nearly a full 2 seconds longer than their recommended best practice.

So how do you find the balance between quality and speed? The key is in file size optimization. You want to use the smallest file size possible without sacrificing visual quality.

Some tips for keeping blog post image file sizes in check:

  • Resize images to the dimensions you need for display. Don‘t upload a 3000px wide image if your content area is only 800px wide.
  • Crop out unnecessary parts of the image to keep the focus on what‘s important.
  • Use JPEG format for photographs (PNG for graphics).
  • Compress images with a tool like TinyPNG or Kraken.
  • Use a content delivery network (CDN) to serve images.

Follow this cheat sheet to find the sweet spot for image sizes:

Page Location Optimal Width Optimal File Size
Blog header 2000px 200-500 KB
Blog post body 1200px 100-200 KB
Thumbnails 600px 50-100 KB

5. Works Well on Mobile Devices

Over 50% of web traffic now comes from mobile devices.^6 So when selecting blog images, it‘s crucial to consider how they will look not just on desktop, but on smaller mobile screens as well.

Avoid images that rely on small details or a lot of text, as these won‘t be easily discernible on phone screens. If you want to add text overlays to images, keep it big, bold and minimal.

Also think about how the image composition will crop on different devices. Many responsive websites will automatically crop images to fit different screen sizes. An image that looks great on desktop may be missing important elements when cropped for mobile.

Ideally, choose images that have the main subject or focal point in the center so it won‘t get cut off in different responsive views. Simple, uncluttered compositions tend to work best.

Square or slightly landscape-oriented images also tend to be the most mobile-friendly. Tall, skinny images often end up taking up too much vertical space on mobile, pushing the content down below the fold.

6. Includes Descriptive Alt Text

Alt text, or "alternative attribute text," is a word or phrase that describes an image on a web page. It displays when an image doesn‘t load properly or when a user is accessing the site with a screen reader.

Adding alt text to your blog images is a win-win. It makes your site more accessible to visually impaired users, and it gives search engines more context to understand your images.

Best practices for alt text:

  • Describe the image in plain language
  • Keep it relatively short (under 125 characters)
  • Use keywords sparingly and naturally

For example, let‘s say you‘re using an image of a person typing on a laptop in a blog post about freelance writing tips. Your alt text could be something like: "Freelance writer working on laptop at desk".

Where to Place Blog Post Images for Maximum Impact

In addition to the qualities of the images themselves, you also need to think strategically about where you place them within your blog posts.

Above the Fold

The term "above the fold" comes from the world of print newspapers, where the most important stories are placed on the top half of the front page – the area visible when papers are folded on newsstands.

In web design, "above the fold" refers to the portion of a web page that‘s visible without scrolling. Placing a compelling, relevant image above the fold can grab readers‘ attention and entice them to keep reading.

Tools like Browsersize can give you an idea of what percentage of visitors will see certain parts of your page without scrolling. A good rule of thumb is to keep your above the fold images around 600 pixels tall so they don‘t push too much content below the scroll line.

Every 200-300 Words

Studies show that people read only about 20-28% of the words on an average web page.^7 Breaking up long blocks of text with eye-catching images helps increase engagement and readability.

Aim to use an image every 200-300 words to keep things visually interesting. These can be a mix of photos, illustrations, charts, or other graphics.

Some bloggers even take it a step further and add an image every 75-100 words for maximum shareability on image-centric social platforms like Pinterest or Instagram.^8

At the End of the Post

Placing a post-specific Pinterest-optimized image at the end of each post can help boost shares and clickthroughs from that platform.^9

To create these images, you can use a tool like Canva to put together a taller image (at least 600px wide by 1260px high) with the post title and a compelling visual. Just make sure to keep any text concise since headings and subheadings often get cut off in feeds.

Adding a call-to-action (CTA) overlay to your end-of-post image can also drive more engagement and conversions. For example, if your post is promoting a free ebook, you could add a button overlay to the image that says something like "Download the Free Ebook Now".

Test, Measure and Optimize

Finally, don‘t forget to track the performance of your blog post images to see which ones resonate most with your audience.

Use Google Analytics to see which posts are getting the most traffic and engagement. Look at your top-performing posts to see if you can spot any visual trends or similarities.

For example, maybe you find that your blog posts with colorful illustrations in the header consistently get more social shares than posts with stock photos. Or maybe posts with charts and graphs tend to have a lower bounce rate.

Also look at your post-specific Pinterest images to see which ones are driving the most repins and clickthroughs. Notice what works and create more images in a similar style.

Testing different image elements can also help you fine-tune your blog‘s visual strategy over time. Try experimenting with things like:

  • Stock photos vs. illustrations vs. custom graphics
  • Photos with people vs. without
  • Different text overlay fonts and colors
  • Bright and bold colors vs. muted/minimalist palettes

The key is to always be tracking, analyzing and optimizing based on real data from your unique audience.

Go Forth and Create Knockout Blog Post Images

Images have the power to make or break your blog content. The perfect image captures attention, boosts engagement, and communicates your message at a glance.

But with great power comes great responsibility. Choosing blog post images that are relevant, eye-catching, fast-loading, and optimized for search and social media is both an art and a science.

By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can hone your image selection skills and consistently choose high-performing images that elevate your content.

Now it‘s your turn. Find a less-than-perfect image in one of your recent blog posts and see how you can level up your visuals using the tips in this guide.