As well written as your article may be and as much as you need to appeal to spiders when writing online content, your words still rely on a strong visual image to first catch someone's attention.
When it comes to news feeds, there's a lot of competition out there, even within a single feed or site. A person scanning a news feed glances images and headlines. As a result, the ones that stand out are the ones most likely to be read. Those which are read are also those which receive some sort of interaction in the form of comments, likes, shares, etc. Interactions can dramatically help organically make an article more popular. But in order for any of that to happen, your article first needs to be noticed. This is where a strong image can help your content stand out from the crowd.
Choosing an Image for Your Online Content
Sometimes selecting or finding the proper image for your content can be challenging. You may notice a trend these days in that many articles use images that hold no real relevance to the "associated" text and are shocking merely for the sake of standing out from the crowd. Although the best practice is to pick an image that's truly relevant to your content, the fact is that one of the easiest ways to catch someone's eye is with a sexy or shocking unrelated image.
As underhanded as this approach may seem, it actually does work for a certain type of viewer. But before you go this route, consider that lots of sketchy links and sites use shocking or outlandish images simply to get you to click on their stories. Solid news content isn't known for this practice and consumers in the know might avoid your content all together. Those who do click through and read your article will likely be left with an unsatisfying experience if the image that initially attracted them was simply click bait and held no real significance.
Keep in mind that people who practice this tactic aren't concerned with your moral judgement – what they're really concerned with is simply driving more traffic to their site. In that regard and to some degree, this method works. The mass of traffic they "force" equates to placing a significant number of ads on their site. This results in generating some form of revenue, however small that final ratio may be. It's all in the numbers -- the more traffic you drive, the more clicks you receive, the more revenue you generate.
But if your content is legitimate or your organization has an image to uphold, it's always best to take the time to find a good, strong, relevant image which clearly relates to what you're writing about. A proper image will pique the interest of the reader and make them want to know more. If it's not immediately clear how the image relates to your content, it should be by the time the reader is well into your article. At some point, the reader should have an "A-HA!" moment where the connection between the content and the image makes sense.
Clarity and Sizing Your Image
Your image should be large, bold, and easy to read or at least intriguing at a glance. This is especially important when you consider that, as of this writing, more than half of all online traffic comes from mobile devices with small screens. Making this fact even more important is that overall mobile traffic numbers will continue to increase. Just remember, if your image is small or hard to read on a desktop, then it's going to be even smaller on a phone, so let's keep it large.
Once you've identified an image, you'll want to ensure that it's sized appropriately. If you need to make the image larger or smaller within the layout, you shouldn't simply scale it to any size using your website software. This method will either result in bitmapping when scaling a small image to a larger size, or burden the users download time -- caused by you using a very large image and then scaling it down within your web design. Images properly used on the web will be optimized at 72dpi (dots per inch) when viewed at 100%. 72dpi is the resolution of monitors. For fastest loads times and best quality, you should scale your images to 72 dpi at 100% of the size you'll import the image into your website layout.
If your image was 72dpi when you first located it and then you enlarged it within your page, you'll start to realize the limitations of your file. When you overscale your image upwards, the quality starts to visually degrade -- this is known as bitmapping. For example, a 72 dpi image saved at 20 pixels wide by 25 pixels high should never be enlarged to say 200 pixels wide by 250 pixels high. Doing so will result in severe bitmapping and cheapen the look of the image and your content. Make sure to import your images at no larger than 100%. This means finding images that are large enough to use without scaling them up in your web application.
Conversely, if your image is 5,000 pixels wide and you're scaling it down to only 150 pixels wide within your post, then you should first resize it using an image editor like Photoshop before uploading it to your server. Simply sizing the image down within your website software doesn't drop actually any of the additional and unnecessary information stored within the file. This only causes it to take longer than necessary to download that image when a user visits your page. Your visitors may get frustrated waiting for the download and opt out before they ever see your article. Pages can get bogged down while loading if there are lots of images with excessive file sizes.
Once you've resized and re-saved the image properly, you can upload the smaller version to your server and then re-import it at the new size. Doing this will reduce the storage size of the file on your server and allow for a quicker download whenever someone vistis your page
With regards to cheapening the look of your image, the same thing can be said about constraining proportions when you scale the image. There's nothing worse than an image that's obviously been scaled disproportionately (i.e. 130% wide but still 100% high). When you scale your images, do it proportionally using the constrain feature in order to maintain the correct aspect ratio.
Images and SEO
Most people think of SEO and instantly their minds gravitate towards text. With regards to SEO and images, a lot of people miss the opportunity to name their images properly.
Uploading your image with the title "image_528491.jpg" creates no SEO value whatsoever. Simply renaming your image "Red_Widget_Model_No_476A.jpg" uses very specific words that someone might search for on Google or Bing and which relate to the subject matter. This is a hidden SEO opportunity that many people miss when creating content. Imagine the enhanced SEO your website can receive just from renaming all of your images with appropriate keywords!
Following these basic image rules can dramatically increase your organic reach. Your well written content will stand a much better chance of being seen and read by people interested in what you have to say. After all, what does it matter if you've written a perfect piece? If no one is able to find it, then no one is able to read it.