How to Create Free Cover Images for Your Blog Even if You Are Not a Designer
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There was a time when you could build a big traffic blog without any images.
I call that the ‘Pre Buzzfeed Era’.
Buzzfeed dominate the internet and it does so by creating an astonishing variety of visual content.
You will be hard pressed to find a single Buzzfeed article that isn’t an image loaded list. Like it or not, it brings in results (200M monthly visitors and counting!).
If you are a savvy blogger, you probably realize the importance of custom images for your blog.
You’ve already seen everyone from Pat Flynn to us at AuthorityHacker use such images to get shares and grow traffic.
The problem is, you have zero skills with Photoshop and no design bone in your body.
This is where we come in – I will teach you everything you need to know about finding and editing image and infographics for your blog.
This will be an insanely insightful post loaded with actionable tips on every aspect of custom blog graphics.
What you will learn in this post
- Why you need to use custom blog images if you want to stand out.
- How to find free images for your blog.
- What the Different image licenses are, and how they work.
- How to edit images with free tools, even if you know nothing about design.
- How to create infographics that earn shares & links for you.
Why Your Blog Needs More Images
More shares, more traffic, better aesthetics, higher readability…
…I can give you a dozen reasons why your posts need more graphics, but the only real reason can be encapsulated in two words: “human psychology”.
Without going all nerdy on you, you need to understand that humans have an almost primal response to images.
We are, after all, visual creatures. For all the importance words have in our society, we still absorb information mostly through visuals.
According to science, the brain processes visuals 60,000x faster than text. It also takes in nearly 90% of all information through visuals.
The brain processes visual 60,000x FASTER than Text: Start creating blog images!
This means that if you want to get your point across, you better make it through images, not text.
But that’s so much for science. In practice, there are three very real reasons for including images in your blog:
1. Images increase click throughs
According to a survey, 60% of consumers are more likely to contact a business if its images show up in search results.
2. Images increase conversions
When it comes to selling online, high quality images have the single biggest impact on conversions (67%), even more than long descriptions (54%) and reviews (53%).
3. Images increase social engagement
Posts with images get more engagement and shares than posts without. On Facebook alone, image posts get 53% more likes than plain text posts.
Beyond these, I find that images also make my blog easier to read and look better – crucial if you are building an authority site and want to stand out.
Actually, by using a mix of fresh images and design to one of our blog posts, we managed to increase it's traffic by 9275%.
I guess that in itself is proof design & images matter.
With that out of the way, let’s jump right in and start creating our blog images.
How to Find Free Images for Your Blog
Selling images online is a big business. So big that the leader in this space, ShutterStock, has a market cap of $2.4 billion.
Its nearest rival, Getty Images, was sold to Carlyle Group for $3.3 billion.
For most bloggers, however, these stock image marketplaces are way too expensive. A month’s subscription to ShutterStock costs $299.
A single royalty free image from Getty, on the other hand, might cost as much as your monthly rent.
Clearly, not something your average blogger can afford.
Fortunately, there are hundreds of resources for finding free stock images online.
Unfortunately, few of these resources have high quality images that haven’t been used by thousands of your competitors.
Below, I’ll show you my personal favorite resources for finding high quality, but underused images.
But first, a quick lesson on image copyrights.
Understanding Image Licenses
When you create something – a poem, a photograph, a font – you become the owner of its copyright.
This copyright gives you the authority to decide who gets to use your work and how.
You can sell this right to others for a fee, ‘lease’ it and earn regular royalties, or just give it away for free – it’s all up to you.
This is a gross oversimplification, of course. Copyright laws are notoriously difficult to follow.
You have as much chance of understanding them without a law degree as I have of beating Usain Bolt in a foot race.
For now, all you need to know is that nearly all images found online have an attached license. This license dictates how and where you can use the image.
Public Domain and Creative Commons Images
Copyright to a creative work is not granted indefinitely. In most countries, it is fixed at 75-100 years.
After that, the copyright expires and the work enters the public domain.
Any work in the public domain is free to copy, publish and distribute.
This is why you don’t have to pay Shakespeare’s family every time you recite Hamlet in NYC’s Central Park, or get Tim Burton to adapt Alice in Wonderland.
Finding public domain images is the single best way to avoid all copyright hassles.
Your selection will be limited, but you will be completely free to use and modify the pictures as you see fit.
Creative Commons images
‘Creative Commons’ or CC is series of licenses for all creative work online.
It was originally created by Lawrence Lessig to empower creatives.
Instead of coming up with individual licenses for each image, photographers and artists can simply choose from different CC licenses and call it a day.
There are seven common Creative Commons licenses, though the only ones that matter for us are:
1. CC Attribution (CCBY): You can use, modify and redistribute the image freely as long as you give proper attribution to the original author. Such images are essentially free.
2. CC Attribution-NoDerivs (CCBY-ND)– This license grants the user redistribution rights with proper attribution. You cannot, however, modify the image in any form.
3. CC Attribution-ShareAlike (CCBY-SA) – The same rules as CC Attribution license, except you have to redistribute all modified images under the same license. WikiPedia uses this license extensively for its text and images.
4. CC0 – An image under the CC0 license is essentially under public domain. You can use, modify and redistribute it as you see fit.
Creative Commons makes our job as bloggers really easy.
If you see any image under one of the four licenses above, go ahead and use it without repercussions (as long as you give proper attribution, of course).
Most images on public repositories like Wikimedia or Flickr will have the license included with the image itself.
Where to Find Free Images For Your Blog
Now that you know how licenses work, it’s time to actually find free to use images.
These are some of my favorite resources:
Quality images with an easy to use interface. However, the selection can be limited for narrow search terms. All images under CC0 license.
High quality, high resolution pictures under the CC-ShareAlike license. Particularly good for animal and travel photography.
The world’s largest collection of free pictures (25M+). The picture quality varies a lot but you can’t beat the selection.
However, the search functionality isn’t particularly powerful. License can vary according to image, but most require you to share alike.
Pond5, a stock marketplace like Shutterstock, has a huge selection of public domain images (around 64,500 images).
Great for vintage and black & white pictures. Also has a powerful search feature. No need to attribute author.
Stunning, high resolution pictures. The photo quality is top notch, but there is no search functionality and some of the popular images tend to get overused.
A searchable index of public domain pictures. Photo quality varies a lot, though most pictures don’t require any attribution.
Boasts a vast selection of amateur-grade photography. The picture quality is average at best, but the search engine is quite capable and most images are under CC0 license.
Good resource if you want your pictures to have an amateur touch.
Get a hand curated selection of quality stock photos sent to your inbox each month.
No searchable index, but the quality of the images is outstanding.
Powerful Flickr search engine. You can search only for ‘Creative Commons’ images to narrow down your results.
Focus on CC-SA, CC0 and CC-Attribution license images.
Embed images from Getty directly inside your blog.
Not highly recommended since the images will have a link heading out to Getty. This will destroy your conversion rates.
How to give proper attribution
Unless you are using images in the public domain or under the CC0 license, you need to give proper attribution for every image.
This is usually not something that will get you in trouble, though it’s a good habit to get into.
It is better to be safe than to get sued, and proper sourcing and attribution will go a long way in preventing any frivolous lawsuits.
(And there are frivolous lawsuits – just Google for “Getty + blogger lawsuits”, then shudder in horror).
As per Creative Commons, the best way to give attribution is to create a link to the title of the image, its author and the associated license.
The CreativeCommons website has a pretty great example of how to do this.
I know this is a lot of work, but if you source images from Flickr, there is a tool that automates the process.
It’s called ImageCodr and it will automatically create HTML for proper attribution to the image.
Never use an image from Google Images unless you know exactly what kind of license it falls under. If you can’t be sure, stay away – you never know when you might get hit with a lawsuit
Editing images (even if you don't know Photoshop)
Stock images alone are BORING. We made the mistake of exclusively using them as we started Health Ambition (and we have a ton to fix still).
These images are a great base but you need to tweak them to make it great and memorable. Here's how to do that:
How to create your blog brand through images
If you look around this site, you will see that every image or graphic follows a very specific template.
This is not accidental.
We choose our images very carefully to reflect our brand. If you are a regular reader, you will recognize an AuthorityHacker post on any platform just by looking at the blog header image itself.
Branding is a vast topic and people much more smarter than me have written countless books about it.
All that is beyond the scope of this post. What I can tell you about branding can be compressed into two words: “BE CONSISTENT”.
Consistency is the single most important aspect of branding.
This is why all Coca-Cola marketing material bears that striking red, and why AuthorityHacker has the same illustration style on all its images.
For your blog brand, you need to choose a few select fonts, colors and image-stlyes. Use these in all your visuals.
You can get free fonts from Google Fonts. Some of my favorites are:
- Droid Sans
- Open Sans
- Source Sans Pro
- Playfair Display
For the overall aesthetic, you will have to come up with something unique to your blog, your niche, and of course, your own personality.
Steve Kamb of NerdFitness, for instance, uses a comic book style for all his graphics. This makes sense, given his audience.
For HealthAmbition, we chose plenty of whites and greens – colors you associate with health and purity.
All of CopyBlogger’s blog headers follow the same pattern – image offset by white text against black background.
Once again, pick a few colors/images/fonts and be consistent with their usage. Your readers will soon start identifying your brand through your visuals alone.
How to Edit Images
As you might have noticed, to build a unique brand, you will need to make some modifications to your images.
This used to be pretty hard until a few years ago. You had to buy Photoshop (an easy $700) and learn how to use it (a solid 2-3 months of effort).
Thankfully, there are now plenty of alternatives to help you edit images without ever touching Photoshop.
My personal favorite is Canva, which makes it dead simple to create stunning professional grade graphics.
Below, I’ll walk you through a step by step guide to creating a range of graphics for different purposes.
Step by Step Guide to Editing Images For Your Blog Using Canva
Let's imagine that I want to remodel the featured image for this post on Health Ambition.
I want the image to be inspiring, shareable on social networks and make people want to click.
Step 1: Start by choosing an image from any of the sources listed above.
For this example, I’m going to use this picture from UnSplash.com (you can also buy images directly on Canva if you feel like speeding things up):
Step 2: Create an account at Canva and log in. After you log in, click on the ‘More’ button at the top of the page.
Scroll down and click ‘Facebook ad’ from the options that pop-up.
Why Facebook ad?
Glad you asked.
The point of blog cover images is to improve the visibility of your social shares and make sure you get as many clicks as possible.
Which is why you want to use the standard social formats for your cover images (1200*627 for link images).
I'm not sure why the creators of Canva picked a different size for blog images but trust me on this one, you want your headers to be that size.
You should see a new window with a screen similar to the one below:
Step 3: On the left menu, click ‘Layouts’. You will see dozens of beautiful, editable templates you can use right away.
For this tutorial, we will use one of these pre-made templates, then add our own image.
Notice that it says ‘FREE’ at the bottom? Canva has both free and paid templates. Free templates can be identified by the ‘Free’ banner at the bottom.
However the paid part usually is the stock image in the background so if you replace it, all templates become "free"
When you click on the template, it will get added to your canvas.
We now want to ditch the default background and add our own image.
Step 4: Click on the background image on the canvas and hit the Delete key or the trash can icon.
The image will disappear.
Step 5: Click on ‘Uploads’ in the left menu and click on ‘Upload your own images’. Find and upload the image you recently downloaded. Click on it once it finishes uploading.
Your canvas should now look like this:
Drag the ends of the image until it fully occupies the entire canvas. Don’t worry if it stretches beyond the canvas.
Step 6: Canva, like most photo editing tools, works on layers. Since we want the text to appear on top of the image, we will send the image to the ‘back’ of the canvas.
To do this, click on the image to select it. Then click on ‘Back’.
You may have to do this a couple of times until you can see the text.
You can then tweak the image a bit using filters (Instagram style) to make the thing look more spectacular.
To do that, simply click on the image then filter and select a pre made filter or tweak the settings yourself.
Step 7: You can now edit the text and add your own. To do this, select the text, delete it, then enter your own title. You can change the font, its size and color.
For this example, I used a very simple layout and the 'Shadows into light' and 'Raleway' fonts to contrast hand written and more classic fonts.
You can also go to the ‘Text’ option in the menu and add your custom body, subheading or heading text.
Enter your text here...
Step 8: After you are done, click on ‘Download’ -> ‘As an Image’ in the top nav menu. Canva will prepare the image for download and save it to your computer.
You’ve now made your very own custom blog post header!
Because we've used the "Facebook ad" format rather than the generic "blog header" format, the post now looks perfect on social media when shared which in turn will help increase your traffic (and conversions?).
Here is what the post looks like when shared on Facebook now:
Did you notice the title is different than the title on the actual blog post? That's because I played with my social meta tags.
Creating graphics for different social networks
As you might have noticed, Canva has options to create social media content as well, including Facebook posts, Instagram pictures, Google Plus updates, etc.
The procedure for creating them is the same as above. The only thing that changes is the image dimension.
Use this handy guide to figure out the exact image dimensions for different social networks:
Optimizing images before publishing
All images you’ll find online or download from Canva will be quite large in size.
The picture I just created in the tutorial above, for instance, is 246kb in size. Not great for your server and site speed.
According to the download time calculator at Numion.com, this image will take nearly 5 seconds to download on a 512kbps connection.
This might sound trivial, but when you are competing with sites that load in under 2 seconds, you will be at a huge disadvantage.
Not ideal from a user experience point of view.
You should try to reduce the size of all images as much as possible before you hit publish. This will improve site speed, which has been known to improve both search engine rankings and revenue.
There are two ways of doing this:
There are a number of tools for compressing images online. My personal favorite is Kraken.io, which uses next generation compression technology to reduce image sizes by as much as 90%.
You can either use the online web interface to optimize images individually, or use the Kraken.io WordPress plugin to automate the process. You will need a Pro account if you want to optimize a lot of images.
Additionally, Kraken optimisation is a complementary feature of Thrive Themes so if you use them just go in:
Thrive Themes > Thrive Options > Performance and tick lossy compression
Another alternative is to use the EWWW Image Optimizer plugin for WordPress.
Offline, you can either open individual images in Photoshop and save them in optimize JPEG/PNG format (JPEG is smaller in size), or you can use a dedicated tool like RIOT Image Optimizer.
I prefer the latter option since it’s free, super easy to use, and does a splendid job of optimizing images.
For example, RIOT reduced the size of my image from 246kb to 53kb, while still maintaining 95% of the quality.
You can even optimize files in bulk for image heavy blog posts.
You can choose either the online or offline option, depending on how much time you have or money you are willing to pay.
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Your Turn: Create Images for Your Own Blog
You’ve learned a lot in this post, right from finding images to personalising them. Obviously, design is a huge subject and we’ve barely scratched the surface.
For most new bloggers, however, this is as good an introduction as any to creating custom graphics.
Your next step should be to put this information into action. Start by completing the following:
- Download an image from UnSplash.com or PixaBay.com
- Register for Canva and use the downloaded image to create a custom image
- Upload and use the image in your blog
When you’re done, share your blog post with me in the comments section below. I would love to see what you’ve built.
Always remember that doing is the only way to learning. I hope this post has given you enough material to take massive action and give your blog a serious boost with custom graphics.
Pro tip: Build yourself some templates like we did on Authority Hacker so you can spend a whole day figuring your templates and then just spend 5 minutes creating your images when you need them just tweaking a template ;).