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.
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.
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) July 21, 2015
— Taffy Minaj (@NickiMPasties) July 21, 2015
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.
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.
A survey from Software Advice and Adobe discovered that images and photos are the most important social media tactic.
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.
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:
I also include the image in the snippet section on my blog’s main page:
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 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.
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.
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.
The image serves a variety of purposes. It engages readers at the start of the article and enhances the image in social media postings:
— Content Marketing (@CMIContent) July 23, 2015
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.
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:
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.
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 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.
It also has one of the most instant and real-time impacts on brands – 75% of all photo comments are posted within 48 hours.
Pinterest – Increase your sales and 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.
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.
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What are your favorite strategies for improving the distribution of your visual content?
Find more best practices and rules of engagement for working with today’s top social media platforms. Read our Content Marketer’s Guide to Social Media Survival: 50+ Tips.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute