The Secret to Increasing Engagement by 40%: Use Images

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You hear us say over and over that images are the best content format to help you connect with people online. "Cool. I'm a writer. I don't know anything about pictures." Well, you're in luck because today I'll give you a few tips on where to score some righteous pics (sorry - had a 90's flashback there for a second).

 

I'm not a photographer!

Obviously the best thing to do is to create your own original/unique images. You don't have to be a professional to get nice photos that people will enjoy. I don't read photography publications and I've never taken a photography class. I just like to play with the camera and experiment. It's fun, and for me it's a hobby. And yes, I did take the photo for this blog post and had fun doing it.

The great thing for hacks like me is that digital cameras are getting exponentially better while also getting cheaper. My iPhone 5 takes fantastic pictures for what it is. I just have to keep in mind what the limitations are - like not trying to get good pictures when there is not much light. And flash is bad! M'kay?

If you're serious about blogging and you can afford it, why not invest in a tool that can help you generate more content? You don't have to go all-in and get a professional DSLR. We spent $350 on a Canon EOS M, which I really like. And it shoots great HD video too! There are lots of nice mirrorless/compact system options under $800 which will get you close to DSLR quality images without breaking the bank.
  

 
The camera has always been a guide, and it’s allowed me to see things and focus on things that maybe an average person wouldn’t even notice.
— Don Chadwick
 

As a semi-creative person, I do find that even though I don't know what I'm really doing, using the camera does get my creative juices flowing, which can help fuel my primary craft. My problems is making sure I don't get too caught up in taking pictures when I should be working...

 

Stock Photo Websites

If you want to step up your game image-wise, I highly recommend taking advantage of the virtual cornucopia of stock photo websites which offer millions and millions of images by professional photographers and graphic designers from all over the world. The good ones cost a little: $15 or so per image, or less (per image) if you pay for a subscription. To me that cost is well worth it as it relates to my time and the quality of images I can quickly and easily find on these sites. It's especially a bargain compared to hiring a professional photographer to create a custom image for you!

Keep in mind that "royalty free" does not mean "completely free to download and use". It's still a good deal, it just doesn't mean that you get to use the image without paying anything.

My favorite paid stock photo service is Shutterstock.com. Their website is easy to navigate, they don't nickel and dime you for higher resolution images, and they have nice "lightboxes" where you can create collections of images to choose from and go back to, and even share them with others. Signing up to browse and create lightboxes is free - you just pay when you find images you want to download. They also have a really cool iPad app which I really enjoy using. You can also find promo codes for 10% discount or more from various Podcast sponsorships they do, so keep an eye out for those.

I'd also like to point out that if you do create your own images as we discussed in the previous section, you can sign up for a contributor account, upload your photos, and make a few bucks when people buy your photos.

 

Finding Free Images

If your budget is tight, please don't just do a Google Image search and grab whatever image you find. Just like you work hard at your craft and would be pissed if someone plagiarized or stole your work, these photographers and graphic designers deserve to be compensated or at least credited for their hard work. Don't steal.

That said, there are a handful of good free stock photo sites, where amateur and semi-pro photographers are kind enough to post their photos for others to download and use for zero money. Many don't require giving them credit, but I always like to add an "image courtesy of Joe Photographer" link at the bottom of my post or under the image itself. Some require this along with contacting the photographer to let them know you are using it, so make sure you follow the terms of use that the particular image shows.

Here are my favorite two free stock photo websites: 

I will point out that I don't always use these free sites since their selection isn't anywhere close to as good as the paid sites,  their search function is not as effective, the websites are clunky to navigate (sxc.hu has paid image links to iStockPhoto above and below the free images - so pay attention what you click on), and the images are simply not as good overall. Bottom line is that I can find higher quality images more quickly at Shutterstock.com.

But if you can't justify spending $15 on a blog image and don't have the option to create your own images, these free sites are a valuable resource for content to help you engage your audience.

 

To be continued... 

Once you find your image, please do not insert the massively large unedited image file directly into your blog post since it will cause your web pages will take forever to load. But this is a larger subject for another time, so stay tuned for a post from me on formatting your images for your website and social media.

I'll also let you know what I used to take and edit the picture for this post...

  

Do you have trouble finding good visual content for your website and social media? Do you have a camera and enjoy snapping photos? What kind of images inspire you? How do you use images to grab people's attention and stand out from the noise online? We want to hear from you, so please comment below or on Facebook. And don't forget to share this post if it was helpful!

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