3 Ways to Create Better Images for Your Blog Posts

A version of this post was originally published on the NMX blog. It is reposted here with permission.

Without a doubt, creating images for blog posts ranks pretty low on my list of favorite tasks. Yet, I’ve found that having compelling images, not just stock photography, is important for getting social shares and keeping my readers interested, especially with longer posts. Pinterest shares (pins) are especially dependent on having a good image. (Check out other Pinterest miskakes here.)

I’m not a very good photographer, though. It certainly isn’t a passion of mine, and I don’t own a DSLR (yet!). However, I’ve still come up with a few ways to add compelling images to my blog posts. Here are my three best methods:

1. The Title Image

One of my favorite types of images to create is what I call the “title image.” I like this type of image for my blog posts because they look professional and are readily shared on Facebook and Pinterest. They’re also easy to make using stock photography. Here’s how to make a title image:

  • STEP ONE: Find some stock photography with licensing that allows you to edit it.

The image should be related to your post, but since you’re going to be adding text, the relationship can be looser than if you were only going to use the image. It’s very important that you look not just for Creative Commons images, but also images where the owner stated that it’s okay to alter, because you will be adding text to it. For this example, I’m going to use a picture my sister took during a visit to Disney World:

disney example pic

It’s great if you can find an image, like this one, that has a big blank spot. If you can’t, however, not to worry! Focus on finding a nice shot that fits your post topic rather than an image that is so-so image with a blank spot. I’ll show you in the next step what to do if there’s not a big blank spot.

  • STEP TWO: In your favorite photo-editing program, add your title.

I’m going to show you using PicMonkey, which is free and easy to use (I’m an affiliate, but would recommend them even if I wasn’t). You don’t even have to download anything; it’s an online editing program and the basic version is free. You could also use Photoshop or whatever other program you have that allows you to add text.

Select a font you like and add the text. It usually works to either center the text, adding breaks so it fits nicely, or to justify the text left or right depending where it is located on the image. Let’s go with centering the text for now:

Disney Example 4

 

This is a nice font for our silly made-up title, but the clouds in the background are a little distracting. So, a bolder font would probably work better. I’m also going to add a shadow in a contrasting white color to make the words really pop:

Disney Example 3

That looks pretty nice, and it only took me a few minutes. You can also play around with using different fonts and sizes to make certain words stand out. Remember to create something that represents your brand and your niche well. Here’s an example of a more playful look:

Disney example 5

This one took a little longer, but gives you a completely different look. There’s no formula for choosing the right font, size, and colors; you just have to play around with it until you get a look that you like.

But let’s say that your image didn’t have a nice open spot like this picture of Cinderella’s Castle. Let’s say instead you have this picture of the Tree of Life:

Disney Example 7

In this case, any place you add the text, the busy background will distract you and make it hard to read. So, I suggestion added a faded block of color behind the text. I usually use either black or white and fade to between 30% and 50% depending on how distracting the background is. Here’s how that looks:

Disney Example 6

This technique works best if your text fits on one line. If you’re using a more advanced program, like Photoshop, you can also use type layers to add a more pronounced drop shadow, highlights, or stroke (outline) to make the words stand out even if the background is busy.

2. The Collage

Another option you have if you want to make a highly-sharable image is to do a collage. I most commonly add the title of my post to these as well, but how you use a college is really up to you. This method is great for list posts or when you’re talking about several tips/products/etc. throughout the course of your post. It allows you to highly several images at once this way.

  • STEP ONE: Find images to illustrate all of your points.

In this case, I’m going to create a collage of my boyfriend wearing silly hats on vacation (this is my life…). As always, remember to use images under the Creative Commons license where the owner allows you to alter if you don’t have your own pictures.

  • STEP TWO: Open PicMonkey in collage mode.

Again, you can definitely use other image editing programs as well, but PicMonkey is hands down my favorite tool in this case because it has a mode specifically for collages.

  • STEP THREE: Choose a layout that will allow you to highlight your text (if you want) and add images.

There’s no one right way to do this. You could, for example, choose to have a large box for the text (to add later) or you could create a college where you’ll later add the text over top of the images, like with the title slide.

Here’s the image without text:

jeffrey silly hats

Here’s a version with the text in a larger box:

silly hats example 1

Here’s a version with the text layered over the images:

silly hats example 2

3. The Quote Image

Lastly, a really easy type of image that is usually shared a lot is what I call the quote image. I’m taking a page from print design for this one! When you’re reading a story, especially in a magazine, there are often pull quotes – quotes from the actual text that have been pulled out and made into larger images because they are interesting or important.

This is so easy I’m not even going to break it down into steps for you. All you do is paste a line from your post into a photo editing program. You can use an image or texture for a background or use a simple colored background that coordinates with your blog’s theme.

Here’s an example of a quote I used for an image in a post featuring Walk Disney, to go with the theme of the other samples I used:

Walt Disney quote

Even better, you can connect an image like that to Click to Tweet and tell your readers via the caption to click on the quote to share it. A good quote is irresistible to share!

So there you have it, my three favorite ways to create images for my blog posts even though I’m not a photographer and don’t know much about editing images. How do you add images to your blog posts? If you have a great method to share or have tried any of the above methods, leave a comment!

Free Blog Content: 15 Places to Find Free Blog Posts

This post was originally published on the NMX blog. It is reposted here with permission.

As a small business owner, keeping a blog going can be extremely difficult. Blogs are only useful if they are updated regularly, but devoting time to a blog isn’t always possible, especially if you don’t have the resources to hire a blogger. But what if I told you there were some places to find free blog content? If you could find free blog posts, would you update more regularly?

The reality is that a blog can’t run on just the blog content ideas listed below. However, these free blog content ideas can help you keep things going, supplementing your editorial calendar so your blog is always updated and fresh. Check out these 15 placed to find free blog posts the next time you’re scrambling to come up with content:

1. Text interviews with experts

Who knows a lot about your industry? Contact that person and ask for an interview. People love to be interviewed, and this is one of my favorite sources of free blog content. It strokes the ego when someone thinks you know enough about a topic to be interviewed. Personally, I always jump at the chance to be interviewed! And, as I recently noted, interviews are also a great way to earn links.

Text interviews require the least amount of time because you just send off a handful of questions and the person answer them. Think about who in your industry could be really beneficial to your potential customers. For example, if you own a lawn care business, is there a florist in your community who could talk about the best flowers for different soil types? Or if you run a bakery is there a dietician in your area who could talk about how to add desserts into a healthy diet?

2. Audio/video interviews with experts

If you’re willing to put in a little more time, audio or video interviews with experts can also be extremely effective for the same reasons. People love to hear from experts.

Audio or video interviews can also be cut so you’re presenting little snippets over time, which allows you to stretch the free blog content even farther. With a text interview, a single paragraph answering a question probably doesn’t warrant a stand-alone blog post. But if someone talks for a minute about a specific topic, that can be a very effective stand-alone video. In fact, some data suggests that shorter videos perform better.

So, don’t feel like you have to produce an hour-long video to be effective. Record that long interview, then cut it up to use it for several blog posts (and at the end, share the entire thing uncut as well).

3. YouTube, Vimeo, and other video sites

If you don’t have the time, talent, or interest in recording videos, either with experts or on your own, no problem. YouTube, Vimeo and other video sharing sites are filled with interested videos to use on your blog – and most people want you to take this content for your blog posts. That’s why they make embedding the videos an option.

Simply look for interesting content related to your niche, write a quick intro, and post it. Be careful, however, that you aren’t posting videos from your competitors. If you’re a mechanic and you post a video about changing your oil that then promotes a different shop in your community, you’re not doing yourself any favors, even if the content is interesting.

4. Flickr, Instagram, and other image sites

Just like video sharing sites, image sharing sites can be a great source for free blog content if you work in a very visual industry. For example, if you’re a wedding planner, you could find images on Flickr of cool bridal hair and post “100 unique ideas for wedding hair styles” or if you’re a travel agent, you could post “10 beautiful beaches you have to see to believe.” These posts require very little writing on your part.

Note: ALWAYS use images that are uploaded with a license that allows you to share and credit the work as the owner specifies. If you want to use an image from the general pool, get permission in writing first.

5. Comments

The comments section of my blog is one of my favorite places to find free blog posts. Often, members of my community will ask great questions that I can flip around so they become their own blog posts.

And if your blog isn’t getting a lot of comments? Ask for questions! Sometimes, readers just need a little prompting to actually leave a comment. Ask your readers what their biggest challenges are (relating to your industry) and answer each question you receive with a separate blog post.

6. Statements and questions on social media

Along the same lines, you can also find questions and statements from people via social media sites. You can even embed Tweets and Facebook statuses directly into your blog posts.

The bonus here is that not only are you finding free blog content, but you’re also interacting with potential customers. Make sure to share with these people the blog post you’ve written, and often they will promote your link, so you gain even more exposure.

7. Quotes from other bloggers

While content scrapers are the scum of the earth (in my humble opinion), it is perfectly okay to quote other bloggers. As you read interesting posts from others in your industry, think about how they can become blog posts of their own. You can take a single quote and run with it, voicing your own opinions about the topic, or you can create a post that’s filled with quotes from others, like I did with “25 Posts About Blogging that Will Change Your Life.”

Remember, always give credit to the person who originally said whatever you are quoting by linking back to their blog.

8. Links from other bloggers

Link resource pages are awesome for your readers and require little writing work on your end. You do have to spend the time to gather the links, but if you’re reading a lot about your industry anyway, this isn’t difficult. Pick a very defined topic and make sure you post is a go-to, all-encompassing look at that topic.

9. Infographic sharing sites

Visual information, especially in infographic form, is always extremely sharable. However, you don’t have to have graphic design skills to post this kind of blog content (though there are several sites to help you do this if you have the time and inclination). Often, if you see an infographic online it will be accompanied by embed code so you can share it on your own site.

You can also find free infographics to use by visiting sites like Visual.ly.

10. Guest bloggers

Guest blogging (i.e. writing blog posts on other people’s blogs) is a great way to get exposure for your own blog. So, others in your industry might be interested in providing some free blog content in exchange for a link.

Don’t just wait for people to come to you. Extend the invitation. Guest blogging today is different compared to guest blogging in the past, so often people wait to be invited instead of reaching out. Not everyone will say yes to you, but by having even a few guest bloggers a month can help you keep your blog fresh.

11. Guest contributors

When someone writes a great guest blog post for you, turn them into a regular contributor. All you have to do is ask. Not everyone will be interested, but some of your guest bloggers will happily provide high-quality, free content for you once or twice per month in exchange for a link.

Just be wary of guest posts and contributors who are in competition with you. If your blog links back to your competitors, you’re not drumming up business for yourself–you’re just sending them to someone else. Choose your guest contributors wisely.

12. Sponsors/Customers

Depending on your industry, sponsors might be a great source of free content for your blog. For example, let’s say you run a radio station. Maybe one of your restaurant advertisers could write about their top favorite songs to play during a romantic dinner.

Along the same lines, customers can also write content for you. Testimonials are always great, but they can also write education or entertaining content. For example, if you run a daycare, one of the parents could write “10 Things to Never Send to Daycare with Your Kids” or if you run a pet grooming service, one of your customers could write “How I Trained My Dog to Sit for the Groomer.”

13. Partners

Who works in an industry related to your own? If you have partnerships with other local businesses, these people make great guest contributors, even if they don’t have blogs of their own. For example, if you’re a hair salon owner, maybe the spa owner down the street will write something for you. By partnering with like businesses, everybody wins.

Like with guest posters and contributors, usually all you have to do is ask.

14. Affiliate programs

Are you an affiliate for any products or services? Ask if they have content you can post. Often, affiliate programs give you access to free blog content that you can simply tweak a bit and post on your own blog. As a bonus, this content is typically crafted to sell as much as possible, so you’ll make some extra money as well.

15. Other members of your team

Lastly, don’t rely on just YOU. If you’re having trouble blogging, ask your team for help. Not everyone will be a great writer, but some people will rise to the occasion. If you have four other people on your staff and they each write just once a month, that’s a post per week!

And don’t believe them when they say they have nothing to write about. What questions do they get asked most often from customer? What do they wish people knew? What’s the hardest part about their job? Help them come up with content ideas and before long, you’ll have a stable of writers working for you.

How to Design a Blog that Converts

This post was originally published on the NMX blog. It is reposted here with permission.

Do you like it when readers check out your post and leave, never to return again? Of course not! As bloggers, we have goals, and we use our posts to try to achieve those goals. Did you know you can design a blog that converts? Your posts are only half the battle!

It’s not just about what you say, though. At the end of your posts, you may have a strong call to action, but a poorly designed blog will work against you every time, no matter how well-written your posts may be. So here are a few tips to help you design a blog that sets you up for success instead of failure:

  • Be a pattern interrupt.

WordPress, Blogger, and other blogging platforms make it super easy to install a theme and get started writing. The problem is that these ready-to-go themes are boring. Hundreds or even thousands of bloggers out there are using them, and readers won’t remember you as being something different and special. Be a pattern interrupt instead. Take some time to design a blog theme rather than using one out of box. You don’t have to build a theme from scratch; simply modify it so that you stand out from the crowd.

  • Draw attention with bold colors.

You probably have certain colors associated with your blog. When you want a design element to stand out, use a bright, bold color that attracts readers and stands out from the rest of your content. This is why you see so many bloggers with big red arrows pointing to their sign-up forms. You don’t want your most important design elements to fade into the background.

  • Put your most important information “above the fold.”

The phrase “above the fold” is carried over from print publishing. Placing information above the fold originally meant it was found above where the newspaper was folded in half, since that is what people can see at the news stand. Space above the fold is limited, so you have to chose the information you want to put there wisely. Online, above the fold translates to mean information you can see without scrolling. Screen sizes vary so this changes a bit, but you can general tell what readers will be able to see right away. This is where your most important information to help you achieve your goals needs to go.

  • The top right-hand spot is important.

A trick I learned in a graphic arts 101 class is that people naturally look at a page in an S pattern. That means if you draw a giant S on your screen, that’s how the eye usually travels. As you can see, that S shape starts at the upper right, so this spot is extremely important. Don’t make the mistake of putting something that doesn’t really matter in this location, and if you sell advertising space, consider charging more for this spot. Think of this spot as the prime location for a visual call to action, so place a “buy” button, subscription box, or other strong visual there.

  • Don’t neglect the end of your post.

You may already understand how important it is to end your post with a strong call to action, telling readers what to do next. But did you also know that the end of your post needs to be designed well for maximizing that call to action. This might be as simple as including social media sharing buttons or having links to related posts. But don’t neglect this area when you’re designing a blog to be effective.

  • Do some A/B split testing.

People are weird. Sometimes what works on one blog doesn’t work on another and vice versa. So, do a little split testing. Make a design change (for example, adding social share buttons to the top of a post) and see how people react. If you have the technical know-how, set up your blog so that half of the traffic sees your new design change while the other half sees the old design. Which one converts better? If you don’t have the skills to set up split testing that way, simple try the new design for a week and compare your results to a week without the new design change (look at percentages, not raw numbers). Make only one change at a time so you can understand how the variable is affecting your readers’ actions.

A final thought: Don’t be afraid to change how you blog looks. When you initially design a blog, you set it up to achieve certain goals, but goals change over time. It’s true that you don’t want to introduce a completely new look to your readers every week, but don’t fall into the trap of never changing the design at all. Design needs to evolve with your content so they’re supporting one another as much as possible.

What design changes have you made to benefit your blog? Share your strategies with a comment below!