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Theory and Best Practices

How to Pick the Perfect Stock Photo

The best image to go with your post is one taken or created specifically for it. But a lot of small businesses and individuals don’t have the time, skills, or resources to create (or pay someone to create) an image specifically for every post. Luckily, the second best image to go with your post is a well-chosen stock photo.

Woman in a plaid shirt and denim jacket holding a professional camera

Stock photos are so generic, though – how do you choose a good one? You’ll need a little bit of creativity, a little bit of instinct, and a lot of willingness to sort through stock photo sites!

Consider your tone and subject

The tone and subject of your post will affect what kind of image will go best with it. Is it serious, no-nonsense, or covering a heavy subject? Choose an image that’s down-to-earth and practical and that uses darker colors. Is it light, upbeat, or covering something fun or happy? Go wild on the bold colors or abstract elements.

Be relevant …

Your image should relate to your post in some way. A picture of someone walking their dog probably wouldn’t fit in a post about airplane technology, and a picture of an airplane probably wouldn’t go with a post about a dog-walking service. The image should enhance the post, not make people wonder how it relates.

… But get creative

That’s not to say your only image choice is one that completely matches the topic of your post. Something that’s related but not necessarily your topic can also work. For example, if you’re writing a post about a routine to put you in control of your email inbox, you could use an image of a person at the controls of an airplane to emphasize the “in control” aspect of your post. Or you can use an image that illustrates a story you told in the post.

Use people

People prefer to look at images of other people. If your post’s subject can be illustrated by an image with a person in it, try to choose one with a person!

Get an idea before you search

You can lose hours looking through all the photos on a stock photo site. To cut down on the time you spend searching and browsing, try to get an idea of what you want the subject to be before you start looking. Plus, knowing what subject you want your image to have lets you search and find relevant ones a lot easier.

Go with your gut

It may take some searching through several stock photo sites, or you may find the perfect image on page one of the first site you go to. But in general, you’ll know the right image for your post when  you see it, so try not to overthink it.

Make sure you can legally use the image

Few things are worse than finding the perfect image and then getting sued for copyright infringement. Make sure you can legally use the image before you add it to your post!

Admin and Organization

The Basics of Image Copyright

So you’ve found the perfect image for your post. Are you legally allowed to use it?

We know, thinking about legal stuff isn’t fun. But it’s definitely not fun to get sued for copyright infringement. So let’s take some time to talk about image copyrights, how they work, and how you can find good images for your posts without breaking any laws.

Image of a retro-style camera sitting on a wooden table with a pair of glasses beside it

(Disclaimer: We are not lawyers and this post isn’t legal advice. It doesn’t cover all the intricacies of copyright law, but is a basic overview of how it works for images on the internet.)

Copyright

The technical term for copyright is “intellectual property law.” Copyright provides the creator of something artistic (such as a piece of writing or art, a photograph, a performance, or even an architectural work) the exclusive right to use, reproduce, create derivatives of, publish, and sell their work. They are also able to give this right to others.

Unlike a trademark or a patent, a copyright isn’t something you have to file with the government (although you can if you want extra legal protection). You automatically own the copyright to anything artistic you create.

Copyright and the Internet

The point of copyright is to prevent one person from taking the work of another and profiting from it without the creator’s permission or giving something back to the creator in exchange. This is pretty hard to enforce on the internet. Google Image Search will give you any image on the internet, regardless of its copyright restrictions, and it’s easy to save an image to your device and upload it to your post. And most creators on the internet are small and don’t have the resources to sue you for copyright infringement.

That doesn’t mean you should risk it, though. Just because it doesn’t happen often doesn’t mean you’re completely safe from being sued. And even if you don’t get sued, a lot of artists and photographers on the internet have pretty big audiences, and they can cause major problems for your business if they tell their audience you stole their images. You don’t want your business to get a reputation for stealing other people’s work.

Creative Commons

There is good news – not all images on the internet are off-limits! Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that provides copyright licenses that let people share their work for free. There are different types of licenses that have different restrictions (some require you to credit the original artist, some are not allowed to be used for commercial purposes), but all images are free to use provided you follow the license restrictions.

Public Domain and CC0

Public domain images are images that are no longer covered by copyright (usually because the copyright has expired). Creative Commons also has a restriction-free license called CC0, where all works with a CC0 license are treated like they’re in the public domain. Public domain and CC0 images are free to use, modify, and use commercially without attribution.

Still need to find the perfect image? We’ve assembled a list of places to find free, CC0-licensed images.

Gallery wall displaying pictures
Resources and Tools

Where to Get Free Stock Images

The best images are those specifically taken for your blog or social media post. But let’s face it, most business don’t have the time, skill, or resources to do that. The second-best option is a carefully-chosen stock photo. Most stock image sites require you to pay, either a subscription or per picture. But we’ve collected a list of 17 sites that offer stock photos for free, so you can get your post’s picture fix without shelling out your hard-earned cash.

  1. Pixabay – one of our personal favorites, with a wide variety that includes both pictures and illustrations.
  2. Gratisography – if you want quirky pictures, this is the place.
  3. IM Free – some of the photos require you to attribute them to the creator, but the photos themselves are great.
  4. Burst – great photos sorted into categories and all free for commercial use.
  5. Picjumbo – over 600 high-resolution images.
  6. Unsplash – they add 10 new photos every 10 days, and are great if you want soft, artsy images.
  7. Negative Space – a great selection, and you can even search by color.
  8. Kaboompics – bright, modern photos.
  9. FancyCrave – they aim to provide “stunning, emotionally-driven” photos.
  10. RawPixel – has images, vectors, and .psd mockups.
  11. StockSnap – beautiful photos on a wide variety of subjects.
  12. Startup Stock Photos – if you want business-related photos, this is your place.
  13. Splitshire – includes images and videos, all stunning.
  14. ISO Republic – thousands of great pictures sorted into categories for easy browsing.
  15. New Old Stock – a great place to get vintage-style pictures.
  16. Pexels – curates stock images from some of the other sites on this list, so it’s a great one-stop stop to search.
  17. Life of Vids – these are actually videos and not pictures, but they’re free to use.
Image of someone sitting in front of a laptop - their hands are holding a tablet with Pinterest open on it
Theory and Best Practices

Why Images are Essential (For Everything)

In case you couldn’t tell from the title of this post, images are important in your digital marketing. They’re important for blog posts, they’re important for social media posts, they’re important for website pages and all marketing materials. In this post, we’re going to talk about why.

Images draw attention

Eye-tracking studies have found that people pay closer attention to information presented in images than information presented in text. Using an image says “this is important” – it’s probably why infographics got so popular.

Images process faster

The human brain can process an entire image in as little as 13 milliseconds. Since most people skim posts instead of actually reading them, adding images can help you get your message across.

Images are memorable

Humans have better memory for things they’ve seen than things they’ve read. Adding an image to your content makes it easier for people to remember.

Images are viewable

Content with images gets 94% more views than content without. And you want people to see your stuff, right?

Images are shareable

Some social media networks (like Instagram and Pinterest) are completely image-based. But even among those networks that let you post just plain text, posts with images get more engagement and more shares.

Caveat: You also need content

An image isn’t all you need to get views, likes, and shares – you also need to have good content. Bad content with a good image is still not going to do as well as excellent content with a mediocre image, but an excellent image can make mediocre content more memorable and engaging.

Image of a person writing SEO terms in front of them
SEO

How to Start Link Building for SEO

Links (to your site from other sites) are hugely important in SEO. These links tell search engines that your website is credible and valuable – after all, these other sites found it useful enough to link to it – and the number of links to your site tells the search engine how popular your site is (and therefore how interested searchers will be in it). Overall, the more links there are to your site, the higher it’s going to rank in the search engines.

Link building sounds really difficult to a lot of people – and it is harder than on-page SEO and site structure optimization. And it does take some time. But here are a few different kinds of links you can get and tactics to start getting them.

Natural links

You have no control over these. Natural links happen when someone reads your post or page, thinks it has really good information, and links to it somewhere on their site. These are great for SEO, but pretty hard to get without already ranking pretty high in the search engines. The best way you can work towards these is to produce fantastic content and do other SEO work on it.

Outreach links

This strategy involves finding other sites that have relevant content that could link to you and reaching out to the owner of the site requesting they link to you. This usually includes a value proposition explaining why it’s a good thing for them and their readers to link to you. This type of link building has to be done manually and has a very low success rate.

Link trading

Some people will trade links with other sites – they link to a few of that site’s pages on their site, and that site links to a few of their pages. This can be very effective as long as the links are relevant. Search engines are smart, and a link to your clothing brand’s site on an organic food store’s site will actually hurt you more than help you.

Self-created

Self-created links are links that you create by interacting with other sites – they can be forum signatures, links from guest posting, or from comments on other sites’ posts. They offer the lowest value, but can be a good place to start, and can actually be really valuable if you get enough of them out there. (Don’t spam random sites with comments to get them, though!)

Image of a hierarchy of website pages, with Homepage at the top, and About, Products, and Contacts as sub-pages beneath that
SEO, Websites

Site Structure for SEO

Site structure is a very important but often-overlooked element of search engine optimization. It’s also one of the least understood. In this post, we’re going to demystify the basics of site structure. If you don’t manage your own website, you may want to send this post to your webmaster, but even if you’re not up on the whole HTML thing, it isn’t hard to grasp the basics of site structure.

Image of a hierarchy of website pages, with Homepage at the top, and About, Products, and Contacts as sub-pages beneath that

Why site structure is important

Good site structure help’s Google’s “spiders” – tiny bots that index websites and tell Google which pages are relevant for which keywords – find all your pages and posts and figure out which ones are the most important. It also prevents you from competing with yourself for search engine rankings – if you have multiple pages or posts about similar topics, good site structure will help search engines index them properly so your pages aren’t competing with each other for rankings (and therefore making both lower than they should be).

Site structure isn’t just important for SEO, though. Good site structure also provides a better user experience. When everything is properly structured and organized, it’s easier for visitors to your site to find the information they’re looking for and navigate the site in general.

Elements of good site structure

A balanced pyramid

A good site’s structure is pyramid-shaped. Your site is at the top; beneath that are your main pages (between 3-7 of them) like About, Products, and Contact. Beneath each of those are sub-pages (e.g. for About, the sub-pages may be Our Story, Our Mission, and Our Team). The best pyramid structure is balanced – if you have three sub-pages in your About category, aim to have 2-4 (but ideally 3) sub-pages for each of your main pages, as well.

URL structure

Try to have your pages’ URL structure mimic your site’s pyramid structure. Using the example from above, the URL for the Our Story page (which is under the About page) should be something like http://www.yoursite.com/about/our-story; similarly, the Seasonal Products page that’s a sub-page of your Products page should have a URL something like http://www.yoursite.com/products/seasonal-products.

Main menu

Your site probably already has a main menu at the top that links to different pages. The best main menu has links to each of your main pages, with dropdowns that link to each page’s sub-pages when the link is moused over or clicked on.

Internal links

Internal links basically means your pages link to each other. A good rule of thumb is to try to have a (relevant) link to at least one other page on each page. Often, people find it easiest to link to a page’s sub-pages or to its parent page (the page that it is a sub-page of).

Simplicity

Don’t overcomplicate it! Simplicity makes it easier for search engines to index your site and know how to rank it. And the more complicated your site’s structure is, the harder it will be for visitors to find things, which leads to frustrated visitors, a high bounce rate, and low sales for you.

Picture of a laptop with Google open for keyword research
SEO

Keyword Research: The Basics

When you’re doing on-page SEO, keywords are hugely important. They are one of the cornerstones of good SEO – you’re not going to rank in the search engines if the search engines don’t know what you should be ranking for! Sometimes it seems obvious what the keyword for your page or post should be, other times it’s more difficult. But either way, when selecting keywords, it’s good to do a little keyword research to make sure you’ve made the best choice.

Consider your site and audience

You can pick the best keyword in the world, but if it’s not relevant to your site and your audience, it’s going to be useless. Luckily, this consideration isn’t hard. If your business is a pet food company, “dog tooth care” is going to be a better keyword than “pizza restaurants in Dallas.” And if your audience is in their 20s and 30s, “how to care for a cat when you’re elderly” isn’t going to be relevant to them at all.

Short vs. long-tail

Short keywords – like “dog food” – have a very high search volume (number of searches per month). They also have thousands of other websites trying to rank for them and it’s going to be nearly impossible for you to rank. The best keywords are long-tail keywords, which are often phrases or entire sentences (such as “how to teach a cat tricks”). You want to strike a balance here – don’t get so long and specific that nobody searches for that exact keyword, but don’t go so short that you’re competing with thousands of other websites.

Google your keywords

Once you’ve decided on a keyword that you think will work, it’s time to start the real keyword research. The first step is to type your keyword into Google (or your search engine of choice) and see what comes up. How relevant are the results to your keyword? What kind of sites come up? How many ads are there (you’ll have to turn off your ad blocker if you use one)? If none of the results are really relevant to your keyword, that may indicate that your keyword has too low of a search volume to be useful. If there are ads, that means the keyword is a valuable one.

Use a keyword tool

Find a keyword tool to get a more in-depth analysis of your chosen keyword. I love Moz’s Keyword Explorer for this. A free account lets you examine 10 keywords per month, and it gives you a very in-depth report. You can see the search volume, how difficult they think it will be to rank for that keyword, the estimated click-through rate for sites ranking for that keyword, and more. Google AdWords Keyword Planner also has great tools – they try to help you set up a paid search marketing campaign, but you can also just use their keyword tools.

Repeat

Don’t just analyze one keyword and call it a day! Sometimes the first keyword you pick turns out to be not very good. Sometimes after four pretty good keywords, you find the perfect combination of high volume and low competition. Do keyword research on at least five keywords – that will give you the best chance of finding the keyword that’s going to help your website rank in the search engines.