Are you one of those bloggers who wants to bury your head in the sand on hearing how VISUAL the online world is these days — who wails inwardly, “But I’m a WRITER!”?
Does your knowledge of “adding visuals” stop at copying and pasting clip art?
Do you envy magazine-article and picture-book writers who can leave the whole task of finding visuals to the publisher?
I understand; I could answer “yes” to all the above. But let’s face it: you can’t be an entrepreneur and expect the market to make all the allowances for taste. So here’s a simple guide for word-brained writers to get to grips with creating visual media for their blog posts.
Wanted: Visual writers
Like it or not, the bloggers’ market today prefers its posts well-illustrated, if only because their customers — who read the blogs we create — want it that way.
Well-managed photos and infographics bring in new prospects and help keep the regulars loyal. On a page of search results or social media postings, it’s the boldest image that gets the first close look.
Plus, good visuals, tagged and captioned, are a major factor in the search engine optimization that gets a link to the top of the search results.
And visuals have other advantages:
- They give online shoppers a direct look at what they can expect—a major factor in purchase decisions.
- They put a human face on a business, especially when the images go beyond formal headshots. Photos of staff members going about their work get prospects thinking, “Hey, these look like nice everyday people to do business with.”
- They build rapport and teamwork among your clients’ own staff. Anyone photographed for a shot destined to go public will think, “The boss is proud of me, and I’m one of the gang.”
If that’s not enough motivation to learn visuals, just remember: your clients’ competitors (and yours!) are already doing it. If blog clients want to hold their own in the “get noticed” contest, and you can’t deliver the material needed, someone else will.
And don’t think you’ll escape the need for visuals because your niche is super-technical or guards clients’ privacy like Area 51. The competition isn’t making “that’s non-illustratable” excuses; it’s posting tutorial diagrams, cartoons, infographics, and non-classified photos of real people in real places.
Okay, but where do I start?
You probably have basic starter tools already at hand:
- the camera on your smartphone
- the graphics capabilities in your word-processing software
- the presentation and newsletter apps that come with basic software packages
Most of these are simple enough that you can teach yourself to use them; otherwise, computer stores and community centers offer classes free or at low cost.
Once you’ve learned the basics of making visuals, you — and, through consulting with you, your clients — are ready to plan ways that blog visuals can be used to increase positive attention and to further specific business goals.
Before we get started on that, here are a few vital points to remember with any visual:
- Keep the image relevant to the text. Don’t just drop something in because it’s “cute.”
- For maximum SEO value, think keywords and hashtags when writing captions.
- Avoid tagging images with “invisible” text which has no close counterpart on the visible page; searchers who find the site through those keywords will feel cheated.
- A sloppy image may be worse than none at all. Leave out any blurry or miscolored pictures, no matter how unique and perfect the subject is for your purposes.
- When using a picture-and-words image — especially with infographics — beware the tiny-print trap. Try to spare the viewer from having to choose between seeing the whole picture at once and having the text large enough to read. Not always easy, especially with tiny smartphone screens, but worth aiming for.
What kind(s) of visuals?
The days of Visuals = Clip Art Illustrations are long past; traditional clip drawing style now looks too “cheesy” for most purposes. Alternate types of visuals include:
- presentation slides
The question of illustrations vs. photos can be complicated. It’s so easy now to snap and upload a hundred pictures, many people hardly consider it worth the trouble to make a real drawing, let alone a complicated chart or infographic.
On the other hand, it’s at least occasionally necessary to illustrate the specific parts of a device, turn straight statistics into an interesting image, or present a series of facts or ideas as concisely as possible — any of which requires a words-and-visuals combination beyond straight photographs.
If you aren’t sure whether to use a photo, a photo-with-words, or an illustration, ask yourself:
- What’s the overall tone of the post or blog you’re working with? If it’s emphasizing something exotic or super-innovative, an illustration will underscore the implication “this isn’t your everyday stuff.” If the purpose is to emphasize a business’s human side or the post content’s applicability to the real world, photos are usually best.
- How many “sub-images” does this call for? An image depicting “one big scene” or “a few real people” looks good in a photograph; conversely, a photo is hard to arrange for emphasis on separate aspects or small details. (Infographics with multiple small images have special need to be plainer and crisper than can be photographed from real life.)
- Is this an image that needs backing up with words? A few written words can be superimposed on a photograph; but when clarifications go beyond one short sentence per comment, or 3–5 comments per image, an illustration nearly always works better.
Your visuals are moving!
Of course, the question of combining visuals with words leads to the question of audiovisual media, especially now that videos are easy to make with mobile devices.
Many blog publishers have opted to forego text entirely and turn their blogs into vlogs (posts consisting entirely of video clips), in which case the freelance blogger would become a scriptwriter and perhaps a final critiquer.
If you’re consulting with a client who wants an all-video blog, my advice is: if you aren’t already interested in video editing, and you can’t talk the client out of the idea, suggest they hire someone else.
Videos are easy enough to make, but tricky for a words person to edit well. And if your client’s target audience is the all-videos type while you wouldn’t follow anything that can’t be literally read, you’re probably not a great fit for each other anyway.
Still, even a text blog benefits from the occasional video clip, especially if your client has something to actively demonstrate. If photos help the reader relate to a businessperson as one human to another, actually hearing someone talking and seeing them in motion is all the better. To decide when to recommend a video in place of the usual written post, consider:
- Is this a topic that should let the audience “see ’em in action”? A post that emphasizes the results of a project doesn’t need moving video; one that walks the audience through a “you can do this yourself” process might.
- Does it showcase something that actually happened? If your client has recently filmed an interesting event (or caught a funny one) that fits the blog focus perfectly, there’s no sense letting good footage go to waste.
- Is it important to convey the real-person aspect of those involved, yet impossible to illustrate the situation with a single image? In that case, video is probably the way to go.
- Just how long is the video? If the blog’s regular followers are used to reading posts in five minutes, it’s risky to drop a 30-minute clip in a “post spot.” Chances are that for every one person who raves about the video, ten will be disgusted that they got something so different from what they’d come to expect.
- If you must use a video longer than the usual reading time, warn people in the introductory text (you always need a written introduction) and explain why you think this is worth so much more of their time. Better yet, write a normal post on some closely related topic, and turn the video into a “recommended resources” link.
To go the extra mile, include a full transcript with any video you use; the I-want-to-navigate-this-at-my-own-speed crowd will be grateful.
It’s a bit different, but I like it
The question of when and how to use video clips in a mostly-text blog invites the question of how much visual variation can be allowed from post to post without alienating your client’s regular readers. Any regular blog follower expects a strong level of consistency; still, the most ardent fan may eventually go away complaining if “all those posts are the same.”
By all means, experiment with a variety of visual options from post to post — as long as they all reinforce the tone, topic focus, and style of the blog as a long-term whole.
This is a good point to research and learn from the experts; follow the top blogs in your niche and catch the feel of how much they vary their visuals and how often. For example, these three posts at Boost Blog Traffic each use different image styles and quantities, but all lead with a similar “funny headshot” photograph.
Speaking of experts, you’re bound to someday run up against a client who wants to hire an experienced graphic designer or professional photographer, or at least use expensive stock images. That may be a good idea for a long-term image such as might be put on a website’s home page; but for a blog post? Not necessarily.
See, a blog post will be displaced from the front of the archives next week, so a photo taken by everyday means or an illustration designed with basic graphic software is usually adequate. The primary exception is when an image is to serve a purpose beyond the immediate blog—when it’s to be archived as an advertising image, for example. In that case, you’ll score extra points with a client if you have a graphic designer or two in your contacts book, ready to recommend.
And understanding the basics of visuals will score you extra points with any client. Yes, visuals are tough for a words person to understand. But with a little practice and a willingness to learn, they needn’t be your worst nightmare.
In fact, they can make you the dream of every “words person” client. 🙂
Let’s get a discussion going! Do you have any tips to share about blog visuals? What tools do you use, and what are the things you found hardest to learn?