The Idiot Proof Guide to Making the Perfect Featured Image

The Idiot Proof Guide to Making the Perfect Featured Image

An awesome attention grabbing featured image is a must for any blog post. It’s a known fact that content with relevant images gets 94% more views than content without relevant images (source).

But web designers are not the ones that usually create content. Internet marketers, bloggers and site owners create content, and they don’t necessarily have design skills. For them, it’s a real pain to create a featured image.

Budget and time constraints make it impossible for these professionals to outsource every task to web designers, and they end up doing the job themselves, and doing it poorly, a lot of the times.

Unfortunately, I also fall into this category of “design idiots”. My writing speed is quite fast paced, right until the moment when I need to create and insert the image for my post. Every time I had to create these images, it would take me a long time, and afterwards I wasn’t completely happy with the result.

I love to write, and creating images was a big frustration for me, also because I’m a huge fan of great and professional looking design. Making these images was taking some of the fun out of writing.

Throughout this last year I have tried to search for tools to help me design better. I call them “idiot proof design tools”, meaning even design ignoramuses like myself could use them to create beautiful designs.

An “idiot proof tool” is what I call a tool that any person can use, without any knowledge requirements, and that produces a beautiful result. I ran into one such tool, meant for sketching purposes, a few years ago. It was a primitive version of this online sketch tool. By using one of the brushes, no matter what I drew, the ending result was beautiful. This type of tool is what I was looking for in the web design world.

A sketch made better by using a painter tool
A sketch made better by using a painter tool

In this post I describe the process & tools I now use to create my idiot proof featured images. I have to warn you that I do get into very minute detail, but following through every small step will help you in the long run.

To make it easier, you can navigate to one of the three related pains on this subject:

  1. Choosing the right image for your post
  2. Editing the image
  3. Adding text to the image
  4. Adding the finished piece to the post

So here is the complete process I use to create a featured image for a post.

1. Choosing the right image for your post

lemon

It used to be really hard to find beautiful free stock photos, but this has changed. Many sites now offer what you call “do whatever you want” licenced photos, or Creative Commons Zero (CC0). These are photos you can do what you want with: copy, modify, distribute and use them for free, without asking permission from or providing attribution to the photographer.

The most popular resource for CC0 photos is undoubtedly unsplash.com, where every image looks as if was taken by a real professional photographer.

Forbes recently published a list of 33 sites that offer free stock photos, but to tell you the truth, I found the list not very practical, since the sites were not categorised. Was I supposed to sift through 33 sites?

So… I decided to categorize them myself. See, there are various needs you could have for images you’re looking for. Maybe you want a unique image, that has not been reused by every content marketer out there, or perhaps you need a series of images that fit an entire project.

Here are the CC0 sites according to the need you might have.

Sites with a wide array of images

When you need a wide variety of photos. These are sites that aggregate CC0 photos, and make it easy for users to sort through many images. Pexels, Stock Up, Pixabay

When you need original photos. It’s a bummer to publish a blog post with a beautiful image you chose, only to find out a week later that someone used the same image in another post. Here are some sites that are a bit less known, so there’s a lesser chance of them being reused. Barn Images, ISO Republic, Kaboompics, Cupcake, Photo Collections, Snapwire Snaps, Tookapic

When you need a set of photos that will remain consistent. Sometimes you don’t only need one image, but a set of images that fit together, like when you want images to run throughout the entire site. The Pic Pac

Sites with images for a specific category

Some sites offer photos in a specific subject matter.

Sites with images that include specific features

These sites are great for when you have a specific idea as to how your image should look, but you don’t know where to find it:

  • Mostly close ups: Epicantus, MMT
  • Filter by where the text will be: Negative Space (This is great for when you don’t want to deal with cropping)
  • High impact graphically designed images: Gratisography (This is my favorite site of them all!)
  • Mockups & Demo images: Placeit
  • Testing cropped images: Photype
Deciding which image to look for

When trying to decide on the right image there are two main considerations I take into account: how the image will fit previous blog post images, and what image will be the most relevant for this specific article and subject matter.

If you are crafting your first blog posts for the site, you might also think of the right layout you will use for featured images in the future. Here are the popular types of featured images to choose from:

1. Illustrations. These are common for tech, development, design and marketing blogs.
Site using these types of images: SmartPassiveIncome

2. Text with background colors or unrelated images. The advantage for this type of image is that it is easy to create.
Site using these types of images: buffer

3. Images with no text. This option is mostly used for news sites and magazines.
Site using these types of images: Inc., Neil Patel

4. No images at all. The easiest option, right? This is actually no longer an option for most of us as we do have to have at least one image in the post so we can share it and get the proper attention in social media.
Site using these types of images: Seth Godin

5. Images with a mix of fonts. Another differentiation between images is whether they have one plain font or if they play with the fonts.
Site using these types of images: SmartPassiveIncome

It doesn’t really matter which one you choose, as long as you stay consistent. I think that, especially for non-designers, sticking to one image layout is important.

For my post “How to Create a Child Theme in WordPress” I chose an image of a child I found on Unsplash.

child2

2. Editing the image

Now we have the image we want, but we need to edit it. We do this in order to allow us to add text, to make the image more unique and to make it fit our blog better.

Changing the size (width+height) of the image

One important factor when creating an image for your blog is consistency. All blog posts should include a consistent set of photo sizes, in order to look professional.

For each blog post, I use the same image sizes. After choosing and downloading the image, I use the pixlr editor (not the express) to change the image to the right size.

Let’s say I want a 1200X628 image, and the image I downloaded was 6000 x 4000. I upload the image to pixlr > image > image size, and change the image size to 1200. This will make the height 800, which is good because it is larger than the height I want of 628. This means I can successfully crop the image.

If the height I got was under 628, then I would change the height of the image to 628, and then get a width higher than 1200.

So I resize the image to 1200X628.

If the image has an empty space, and I want to make it broader, I can go to image > canvas size, and add width or height to the image.

I now go to image > crop, and crop the height to 628. For my image, I decided to crop the image so as to position the face of the child on the right, and thus leave space on the left for my headline.

Change brightness

I don’t want to create a featured image where the text is hidden. To prevent this option from occurring I’ll use pixlr adjustment > brightness & contrast and lower the brightness of the image.

Another way to reach the same effect is to load the image in Picmonkey, add another black layer and playing with its opacity.

Here is the finished cropped and altered image that followed the three changes I just did.

child3

3. Add text to the image

There are two tools worth mentioning:

Pablo. This is a really great tool by buffer because it is so simple and consistent. You don’t get a lot of options, and it is specifically made for creating featured images.

The images themselves fit the various social media outlets, which is also very important.

Another important tool is Canva. It’s very tempting in Canva to fall in love with the templates they show you on the left, but then all your posts won’t remain consistent. I recommend sketching a layout of how you want your featured images to look like and sticking to it.

Log into Canva, press the link “use custom dimensions”, and add the dimensions for your image (1200X628 in our example).

Next, upload the image, and add it to the editor. Now, click on Text > Add heading.

Adding two different fonts for the headline

I love using two fonts. It adds so much to the look. The best way for the non-designer to know which fonts to use is to copy the font usage of someone else’s image. Because you are not a designer, I wouldn’t base my decision, at least when you’re starting out, on your own choosing.

Here are the ten free fonts web designers prefer, according to Hongkiat‘s post:

  • Myriad Pro
  • League Gothic
  • Cabin
  • Corbel
  • Museo Slab
  • Bebas Neue
  • Ubuntu
  • Lobster
  • Franchise
  • PT Serif
Aligning the text just right

edit

What I love about Canva is that it shows you a purple grid line when the text you are adding is align to the center or to other texts you add.

The right alignment of text elements is one of the most important factors that influence if the image looks professional.

You should use three text boxes. The first box with font A, the second with font B, and the third box with font A again.

Unfortunately, the purple grid line does not measure whether the first box is situated with the same distance to the second box as the distance of the third box to the second.

To make sure these distances are the same, I add a rectangle to the image, and size it to fit neatly between the first and second box. I then move the rectangle to be under the second box and make sure the distance is the same.

4. Adding the finished piece to the post

By now you should have a great looking image to use for you post. It wasn’t too hard to make, right?

So now we need to add the final touches to the image and publish the post.

child-theme

Change the weight of the image

Handling blog images also has to do with using the right weight of the images, and not uploading to heavy images that make the whole page load slowly.

TinyPNG is a great tool to do just that. you can also use WordPress smush, that automatically reduces the images you upload to WordPress.

As a thumbrule, the image should not be larger than 500K.

Change the name of the file

For SEO purposes, the name of the image should be relevant to the post content. For the current post, I renamed the file “child-theme.jpg”.

Insert into post

I insert the image to the featured image area. I make sure this image appears both in the blogroll and in the post itself automatically.

Making do with only featured images

A lot of content marketers advocate using many images in posts. Two great bloggers, who had a great influence on me, Chris Lema and Seth Godin, publish many posts without even a single image. If you are unskilled in design, even screenshots will seem unprofessional. This is why I sometimes publish posts with only the featured image (which is a must since it appears in the blogroll).

Follow this blog for a future follow up guides on making other types of images like screenshots.

Conclusion

I hope I helped you get the confidence to make your own blog post images. Frequent blogging means you’ll need to create many such images, so perfecting this process can save you considerable time. In terms of timing I recommend creating the image after finishing to write the post.

Do you have any insights to add to the process I describe? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

4 Responses

  1. Stuart Miles Reply

    You are welcome to use the images at http://businessimagesfree.com for your posts. I have the copyright and allow free use on blogs with no attribution required.

  2. Umer Prince Reply

    Awesome and informative blog post POJO 😉

    Personally I love to use Canva for creating good “Featured Images” for my blogs.

    Its a great tool for all newbies and masters!

    • Ben Pines Reply

      Thanks! I appreciate it. I also love Canva. Here’s a free tip I recently found out. You can add a grid view to Canva, which is very useful for proper positioning. The problem is that when there is a background image, the grid becomes invisible. What I do is reduce the opacity of the background image, and then I can see and use the grid. When I finish positioning the elements, I turn the opacity of the background image back up.

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