By Neil Patel published November 2, 2015

Visual Content Strategy: The New ‘Black’ for Content Marketers

visual-content-strategy-cover

Just a few years ago, you could get away with text-only social media posts and content marketing. But today? You don’t stand a chance unless your content is packed with visuals.

Visual content is the new black for content marketers. It’s crucial that we understand how to use visual content effectively, because the distribution of our content depends on it.

Listen to the numbers

I’ve loaded this article with specific techniques because that’s going to be the most helpful. But before we dive into technique, take a look at the numbers. How important, really, are images in content marketing?

Social media is saturated with images

Let’s take social media content for starters. A whopping 66% of all social media posts are or includes images. More than half of all Internet users have posted original video content or reposted visual content.

social-media-stats

Source

All the major social media platforms heavily incorporate visual content. When we think of a visual and a social media channel, Instagram or Pinterest often come to mind because they are primarily visual platforms.

But what about Twitter? It’s visual, too. Take this year’s VMA Twitter blowup, for example. As usual, celebs and their eagerly retweeting fans were releasing images and videos.

It’s not just Twitter. Take a look at Facebook. Facebook users upload 350 million photos every day, not counting Instagram uploads. Facebook is the largest photo sharing site on the web, having left Picasa, Flickr, and Photobucket in the dust years ago.

snapchat

Social media has careened in a visual content direction. Snapchat already rivals Facebook’s photo-crazy reach: 65% of Snapchat’s 100 million users reportedly share 350 million photos a day.

Don’t forget about Periscope and Meerkat. Both of the upstart video-sharing platforms are favorite social media trends. It’s obvious that people are eager to take the platforms for a spin.

periscope-meerkat-tweets

Source

A survey from Software Advice and Adobe discovered that images and photos are the most important social media tactic.

optimizing-social-media-tactics

Source

Even though social media is driving the growth of visual content, it’s not social media alone that calls for the use of images.

What about other content?

Content in general – your blog, your website, your articles – demands images, too. Content with images gets 94% more views than content sans images. It doesn’t matter what industry, topic, niche, or specialty, images matter.

visual-content-matters

Content with visual imagery also gets more social shares. If you write a blog post and add some images, your content will get 35% more re-shares.

My point is simple: Visual content matters.

It matters enough for me to insist that every marketer must be actively engaged in using visual content. Neglect it, and your content marketing is at risk of being ignored.

How to use visual content for maximum distribution

Now what? How do you do visual content distribution? I’ve discovered these techniques to be most effective.

Use a featured image at the beginning of every article

I add an image at the start of every article:

reduce-bounce-rate-increase-conversion

I also include the image in the snippet section on my blog’s main page:

snippet-section

Why? The image increases engagement. Plus, as Buffer has explained, it draws attention to the content.

My image spans the width of the post, but some people, like Derek Halpern, recommend adding an image on the right, like this:

adding-an-image

Adding a half-width image at the top reduces the number of text characters per line – making the text easier for people to read and comprehend.

Add one image for every 350 words

Generally speaking, you should use at least one image in your articles for every 350 words you write. If your article is 2,000 words, you should have six images or so. Add images at regular intervals so readers can “breathe” as they read.

one-image-every-350-words

A pattern of image-text-image-text will keep readers engaged and interested in your article.

Define a style

Create a style for your visual content, which becomes part of your branding repertoire. When people see your visual content, it should be easy for them to identify that as your style or visual flair.

Some of the world’s best brands do this effectively. Red Bull has defined its brand idea in a visual style. It creates advertisements that resonate with its user base and can be easily recognized because of their style.

define-a-style-redbullstratos

define-a-style-redbull-racing

define-a-style-redbull-speed-street

Each of these images has a style of speed, extremes, and action.

The great thing about visual content is that you get to define your style – complex, minimalist, artistic, shocking. This style becomes part of your identity as a brand, further enhancing your content distribution.

Use a variety of images

A successful blog article should include a wide range of images. I use these types of images most often in my blog posts:

  • Graphs and charts – It’s easier to communicate something on a graph or data in a chart than it is to craft explanatory text.
  • Stock images – It’s OK to use them sparingly because they are inexpensive, easy to edit, and quick to find.
  • Custom images – It’s ideal to create custom images because you can better communicate your brand style and your message.
  • Cartoons and comics – Who doesn’t like a good laugh?
  • Memes – An occasional one may be appropriate.
  • Screenshots – They’re a helpful method for tutorial or how-to driven posts.
  • Embedded information – Instagram photos and tweets enhance the content visually.

Add your logo to custom images

Your business logo is a powerful resource. If you create custom images, original data, or an infographic, put your logo on it.

Once you create the image, you own it, provided you’ve purchased and implemented the correct license. If others use the image in their articles, it will contain your brand logo.

Content Marketing Institute uses this technique well. Most blog posts are introduced with a custom image featuring the article title, author’s name, and CMI logo.

custom-logo

The image serves a variety of purposes. It engages readers at the start of the article and enhances the image in social media postings:

Put an alt tag on all your images

Whenever you add an image to your blog post, add an alt tag.

An alt tag is a simple bit of HTML coding that names your image. The “alt” attribute describes the image for search engines and browsers. Users often can see your alt tags if they scroll over the image.

This screenshot shows an image displayed with the alt tag – image seo marketing.

image-seo-marketing

Search engines use alt tags to index and return images in search results. If your images are properly tagged, they will be more likely to display in the search results:

alt-tag-optimization

Google features images in the main search results page, not just on the images page. The better optimized and properly tagged your images are, the higher they will rank.

google-search-images

Increase your visual output on social media

We discussed the central role that social media plays in visual content distribution. Now, I want to be more specific with how to capitalize on visual impact on three social media platforms that provide the greatest level of visual content distribution.

SlideShare – Increase your visual impact as a thought leader

Owned by LinkedIn, SlideShare is a thoroughly visual platform. Millions of brands are using it to easily share data and spread knowledge. It’s a powerful tool, not only because it’s visual but because communicating in slide form is a fixture for many businesses.

slideshare-increases-visual-impact

SlideShare also is becoming even more important as a lead-generation tool.

Instagram – Increase your ability as a visual advertiser

With Instagram, it’s possible to create a visual style, maintain an output, and define your brand. It has the highest level of brand engagement (4.21%) compared with all other social platforms.

instagram-visual-advertiser

It also has one of the most instant and real-time impacts on brands – 75% of all photo comments are posted within 48 hours.

top-brands-long-life

Source

Pinterest – Increase your sales and revenue

With the rollout of the Buy it pin, Pinterest is a revenue-driving force for e-commerce retailers.

pinterest-increase-sales-revenue

Pinterest is the perfect way to organize your visual approach and increase the likelihood that customers will put your products on their wish lists.

Conclusion

Visual content is today’s marketing milieu to get in front of your users in powerful, interactive, and meaningful ways. There’s a huge upside to all of this. You’ll build brand signals, grow your business reputation, and create passionate fans of your brand.

If you’re ready for more engagement, higher revenue, and killer marketing, follow the path to visual content success.

What are your favorite strategies for improving the distribution of your visual content?

Looking to improve the performance of your SlideShare presentations? Check out CMI’s latest e-book, How to Get More From SlideShare: Super-Simple Tips for Content Marketing.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Neil Patel

Neil Patel is the co-founder of Crazy Egg, Hello Bar, and KISSmetrics. He helps companies like Amazon, NBC, GM, HP and Viacom grow their revenue. The Wall Street Journal calls him a top influencer on the web, and Entrepreneur Magazine says he has created one of the 100 most brilliant companies in the world. You can connect with him on Twitter @neilpatel.

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  • http://www.visiblelogic.com/ Emily Brackett

    Great and thorough article! I’m glad that you included “Define a Style.” Just adding a quickly-chosen, royalty-free image that doesn’t add anything to your message and doesn’t match with brand really doesn’t help.

    • http://neilpatel.com Neil Patel

      Emily, glad you found it helpful.

      Your images should provide contextual value and really captivate a person just glancing at your post. It should make them want to click — thanks for sharing.

  • mattrsullivan

    All great tips, Neil! I specifically like the tip on ratio of text to images/video. The visual content gives you a great way to increase user engagement by supporting difficult text with graphics.

    • http://neilpatel.com Neil Patel

      Matt, glad you found the tips helpful. I think ratios matter much more than people think. Ideally you want to provide just enough unique content/imagery to keep people interested but not too much or else readers will not get as much value from the text based content.

  • http://www.bigskywords.com/ Greg Strandberg

    Visual content, hm, you mean half-assing it and the expecting people not to notice?

    Give me some ideas I can use, not dredged up nonsense that’s already made the rounds. Most of the time I just scroll right past these images. I’m sorry, did they have any relevance for me?

    This is a sloppy post. I bet the written work was done in a few minutes. There’s nothing but captions here.

    I’m sorry, Neil, why are you “the best?”

    • http://www.bigskywords.com/ Greg Strandberg

      I’m disappointed more than anything. I expect more, though I suppose I shouldn’t.

      Guess we shouldn’t expect replies.

      You tell us that content with images gets more views. Wow, I think that’s common knowledge.

      You tell us to add an image at the start of an article. Gosh, most of us have been doing that for some time.

      You tell us that All the major social media platforms heavily incorporate visual content. Again, we know this.

      If you want to put an image every 350 words I feel you’re using images to mask your lack of content, or at least your lack of good/original ideas. What’s the point of giving readers a chance to breath if there’s nothing for them to take into their lungs?

      You rely on images so much because your content is lacking, has been for some time. You’ve stretched yourself too thin with your belief that guest posts are helping you. I feel they’re hurting you now. You long ago lost the ability to keep up on your own. It shows.

      • http://neilpatel.com Neil Patel

        Greg, I am sorry you feel that way and are not getting value from my posts anymore. What do you suggest I provide? I make my posts as actionable as possible with real examples that are helpful for marketers at every level. Would love to hear some constructive tips? Thanks for the feedback.

        • http://www.bigskywords.com/ Greg Strandberg

          Less is more. How about a 500 word post? I’d like to see that, but you wouldn’t. It’s because you write for the search engines, not the user. That’s why you pump up your content, adding in subpoints and lots of ‘filler.’

          Try your hardest to make your next post as short as possible but still better then what the other sites are putting out.

          I don’t think you can.

          • Scott Aughtmon

            Greg – It’s obvious that you have a problem with Neil’s style and possibly him personally. But he still responded back to you very kindly considering how you attacked him. There’s no need for you to continue to attack him personally. That tone might fit other sites, but it’s not the way commenters speak to each other here.

          • http://www.bigskywords.com/ Greg Strandberg

            Thanks for that insight, Scott.

          • Scott Aughtmon

            You’re welcome, Greg. Take care!

  • http://www.limwriter.com/ Clement Lim

    Great article. Although I’m primarliy a writer, I’ve invested some time in learning how go find great images and customise them to illustrate my content.

    It’s often cited that visual images boost engagement on social media. However I’ve not found this to be necessarily true in my niche of B2B content marketing. Looking at my buffer account, my current tweet with the most clicks, 67 in total, has no image. My tweet with the second most clicks has an image and scored 25 clicks.

    As an experiment I retweeted the top scoring tweet about 4 days after the original tweet but this time with the featured image. This time it got only 3 clicks!

    Crazy, huh?

    • http://www.RobToth.com/ Rob TheGenie Toth

      On FB, my text only posts far outreach images. Possibly a pattern interrupt effect… FB feeds are loaded with photo and image. Plain text stands out.

      • http://neilpatel.com Neil Patel

        Rob, it varies from niche to niche — thanks for sharing your personal experience.

    • http://neilpatel.com Neil Patel

      Clement, that is super interesting. At the end of the day headlines still matter most. Images are just there to supplement the headline — if the headline is sticky that can be enough sometimes. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.RobToth.com/ Rob TheGenie Toth

    We’ve made Instagram the epicenter for several of our B2C Flood The Internet clients … and pushing a strong focus into Periscope (because… LIVE). While, on the B2B front, SlideShare is our big daddy. We dry hump its leg for every B2B offer.

    • http://neilpatel.com Neil Patel

      Rob, sounds like you are doing everything right lol. Keep up the great work and keep me posted on progress or any insights you glean from your campaign.

  • Gina Balarin

    Nice one, Neil. Full of helpful advice – and some really good tips here. A picture really is worth a thousand words.

    • http://neilpatel.com Neil Patel

      Gina, glad you found it helpful. Visual content always provides more value than only text based content.

  • http://neilpatel.com Neil Patel

    Robert, you do a great job of that consistently — and it really shows. That’s great that you’re achieving such great results. At the end of the day great content (when shared) will sell itself.

  • http://seosultan.p4o.net Sultan of SEO

    Interesting article!