Images have always been a valuable part of content marketing, and they’re becoming even more important due to the importance of shareability in your blog posts and social media updates. When your material is shared, you exponentially increase your potential audience, earn more backlinks, and get a boost in authority that can make it easier for you to rank in search engines. Since a visual element instantly makes content more shareable, images are a necessity for the savvy digital marketer.
Images can be used in a number of different ways. For example, most images in content marketing are used as accompaniments to a written blog (or similar piece of content), used to catch the eye and provide a visual anchor for use when sharing the link on social media. Other images become the content themselves, such as infographics that present statistics in an interactive, visual way.
No matter how you choose to use images in your content marketing strategy, you essentially have two options for finding them: locating and using free-to-use “public” images, or using unique images that you created or bought from an artist. Both options are reasonable and can enhance your content marketing strategy, but each has its own advantages and disadvantages.
The first question most people ask about public images is “where can I find them?” The prospect of free-to-use images is certainly appealing, but that means nothing to someone who doesn’t know where to look. Finding high quality public images can be challenging, but the extra effort you put into finding perfect specimens is typically worthwhile.
One of my personal favorite sources for free public images is Photo Pin, a search resource that scours Creative Commons photos from Flickr and similar image hosting sites. If you’re looking for something specific—like a penguin for your post about Google’s Penguin update—one search can give you dozens of options. However, when you find the image you need, make sure to check its licensing. Some images cannot be used commercially.
Some other sources for free public images include:
No matter where you find your public images, you’ll also have to give proper attribution to the original owner. Different sources have different requirements for the type of language you need to include, but in general, you’ll need to say something along the lines of “Image courtesy of ____,” calling out the name of the photographer or creator and including a link back to his/her original site. Some sources include a convenient code for you to copy and paste into your document, but if they do not, it’s still important to provide attribution. It is sometimes a legal requirement and always a polite gesture.
Unique images don’t require you to search through hundreds of pre-existing options, but they can be harder and more expensive to acquire. In order to make sure you’re using high-quality, aesthetically pleasing images, it’s a good idea to enlist the help of a photographer or a designer, whether you hire one in-house or outsource the work to one. You should take photos of non-branded objects and environments or draw your own images in order to create final products that are wholly unique. It’s also possible to pay for unique images through a stock image resource, but be aware that sometimes these images can be used by several purchasers simultaneously.
There are also a handful of downsides to using public images. You’ll have to spend extra time searching through hundreds of options to find an appropriate image for your post that also has a compliant licensing agreement. You also run the risk of using the same images as someone else. Still, they do offer some key strengths:
Obviously, if you can get something good for free, you might as well take it. Paying for stock photos regularly or paying a freelance photographer can get expensive over time, but if your strategy revolves around obtaining and using free images, you’ll have no major financial obstacle over the long term. The extra time it takes to find the perfect free image is often worth it, since spending 15 minutes is preferable to spending $50 (at least for most of us). Since most content marketing campaigns take months to years of effort, your savings become even more significant over time.
Once you develop a good rhythm with a handful of sources, you’ll find there are ample options for free images available. Instead of trying to come up with a specific and perfect-fit idea for a new image every time you post a blog, you can browse through the options you have and find one that stands out to you. In some ways, it simplifies the decision-making process, so if you don’t want or need to have the best images in your industry, you’ll save yourself a lot of stress by sticking with public images.
The biggest downside to unique images is the cost, but for some applications, unique images are the only option. For example, it’s easy to use public images to accompany a new blog post, but if you want a powerful infographic, your only choice is to start from scratch. Nevertheless, using unique images for any application has a number of advantages:
If you’re creating your own images, you can rest assured that nobody else in your industry will be using them. You’ll stand out in the crowd and people will pick up on your commitment to quality and individuality, even if it’s only on a subtle level. Some public images have become so common that they have become “white noise” to people, but unique images will always offer something new to the viewer. This is especially important if you’re trying to distinguish yourself as a leader in your industry.
Producing your own images gives you more control and creative direction in the image sourcing process. Rather than being forced to select an image from a common pool of options, you’ll be able to turn any vision you have into a reality. That means you’re guaranteed to have an image that perfectly fits the rest of your content, no matter what. This is especially true if your photographer or designer is working in house, or if you’re producing the images yourself.
The question of whether public images or unique images are the better strategic choice has no straightforward answer. There are clear advantages and disadvantages to each choice, and you might find use for both of them over the course of your content marketing campaign.
If you’re trying to make unique image-based content, such as an infographics, unique images are definitely your best choice. The same is true if you’re trying to present yourself as an unmatched leader in your industry. However, if your main focus is written content and you’relooking for a cheaper way to support your strategy with a visual element, public images are the way to go.
There’s room for both public images and unique images in your content marketing strategy. Use both to their fullest potential in order to get the best results for your brand.