One of the keys to producing compelling online content is understanding that doing so is very different from writing a magazine article, or a book.
As an online content producer, you will be afforded very little time to convince people that your site is worthy of anything more than a fleeting visit. Producing compelling content alone is typically not enough. Although that may seem fickle, it is the reality in which we operate.
With that in mind, you must rely heavily upon visual elements in order to draw people into your content. That includes everything from your headline, to the way in which you format your text, to the graphical elements that you use (such as lists and tables).
Oh, and let's not forget the humble image - perhaps the most powerful weapon in your armoury.
You are no doubt familiar with the old adage that "a picture is worth a thousand words". Whilst that may not literally be the case, images can make all the difference between the success and failure of any particular piece of online content that you cast your eye over.
You only have to observe your own habits to understand this. Consider how you browse online content. Most people will glance at the headline, then at the accompanying image, and make a decision as to whether or not to read on. No one starts with the content itself, because you are likely get a quicker idea of whether any particular piece of content is worth your time by focusing on the immediately digestible elements.
So make no mistake - images are extremely important. And fortunately, sourcing and editing images need not be a difficult process. By referring to just a handful of free resources and applications, you will have all of the image sourcing and editing power that you need.
The often generic and unappealing style of stock photography is enough to turn many a visitor off. We can do better. Fortunately, there are an astonishing number of completely free images available for use, right at your fingertips. Thanks to the Creative Commons movement, all you need to do in order to use these images is properly attribute them to their authors.
With that said, let's take a look at four different image resources you can use.
Although you probably haven't heard of Compfight, you probably have heard of Flickr - the world's largest image sharing website. At peak times, 28 photos per second are uploaded. Which means you have rather a lot to choose from when it comes to sourcing images for your site.
Compfight is essentially a search engine for Flickr, with some basic filtering options available in the sidebar. The key option that matters to you is what license the image is offered under. In our case, we want commercial:
You are free to use any images found using that search filter - all you need to do is provide a link back to the Flickr profile of the image's author somewhere in your blog post.
There is also a Compfight plugin available for WordPress, but I prefer to use the website.
Like Flickr, Google offers an astonishing number of images. And like Compfight, Google Advanced Image Search allows you to filter images by license:
Once you have selected the relevant option, you are free to pick from whatever is returned in the search results (provided of course that properly attribute the image to its author). In my opinion, Google Advanced Image Search is not as good as Compfight, largely due to the fact that it typically returns a number of images that are irrelevant to your search term in its results. However, it is an excellent secondary option.
If you are specifically looking for an icon, Icon Finder should be your first port of call. It has everything from WordPress graphics:
To warning icons:
And everything in-between. Unlike the other two image resources mentioned above, Icon Finder has an additional filtering option for images that require no attribution. This can be rather handy when you want to include an image where providing an attribution might be inconvenient (such as in your sidebar).
Finally, if you are specifically looking for stock photography, you still don't have to pay for it. stock.xchng is a free online stock photography website, offering up nearly 400,000 high quality images at the time of writing. If you have scoured the above three image resources and have still not found what you are looking for, stock.xchng might be the answer. It is my occasional saviour.
For the uninitiated, image editing can seem rather an intimidating proposition. I say this from personal experience, as I am by no means blessed with any kind of graphical editing skills. However, there are just two simple (and free) applications that I use for basic image editing, and you are likely to need anything more involved.
Paint is provided free with Microsoft Windows, and Preview with Mac OSX. They are both basic image editing tools that include the basic functionality you will need - namely, image cropping and resizing.
Fortunately, both tools are so simplistic in functionality as to not be overwhelming. And if you do find yourself running into trouble, it only takes a quick Google search to figure out how to perform basic functions - for example:
In case you are curious, GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is an open source, advanced image editing application, in the same vein as Photoshop (but without the hefty price tag).
Although GIMP can be somewhat difficult to pick up, there is a comprehensive user manual, and tutorials are also available. Whilst you could happily produce post after post without using GIMP (I only ever use it for blurring out elements on images that I do not want to be seen), you can achieve most graphical effects with this free software.
Sourcing and editing images is a vital part of building a successful blog, but it need not be an intimidating process.
I never have to rely upon anything other than the six free resources and applications I have featured above. With hundreds of millions of images available, and all of the editing power you could possibly need, why would you have to?
Also a note to remember, make sure you have enough disk space on your WordPress Hosting account to use all these images, nothings worse than running out of space!
Creative Commons image courtesy of NASA Goddard Photo and Video