7 Guidelines For Visual Content Marketing With Free Images

How You Can Find, Use and Make Free Images Unique For Your Brand

Seeing beyond the steps-Visual Content Marketing With Free ImagesVisual content are reader magnets. They jump off of the page or social media stream and suck us in without needing to process more complex information.

This should be no surprise since rapidly consuming visual information is a natural instinct that keeps us alive.

As a result, visual content including photographs, illustrations and other visuals like infographics, are a core element of any content marketing mix. They improve your content readership. Don’t take my word for it:

  • Content that contains compelling images attract 94% more total views on average than content without images according to MDG Advertising research.

BTW: Here are 5 facts that prove visual content is a winner.

But for many content marketers, attractive photographs and graphics that stand out enough to attract potential readers can be expensive and time consuming to create, especially if their organization is budget constrained.

Free images to the rescue!

If you’re like me, you scour the web for the optimal image that’s legally available for your usage needs, gussie it up to appear on your owned and/or social media, and then, bam! 2 days later someone else in your niche uses the exact same image to showcase their content.

Download your content marketing checklist


7 Guidelines for visual content marketing with free images

So what can you do to make cool free or low cost images pull prospective readers into your amazing, quality content?Seeing beyond the steps-Visual Content Marketing With Free Images

Guidelines for Visual Content Marketing With Free Images1. Set guidelines for the type of images used in your content marketing and social media.

I don’t mean to make this sound like you have to create a big, must-read visual content manual.

Since visual content is a core element of your content marketing, ensure it’s aligned with your content and brand. Compile a list of easy-to-follow visual content principles so everyone knows what’s needed. This includes employees, customers, fans, social media followers, and related organizations (e.g. ad agencies).

Create a one pager of visual content standards encompassing the following elements based on your brand and marketing standards.

  • Types of images used. Do you allow photographs, illustrations, charts, cartoons and other types of visual content?
  • Image subject. Do your images have to be PG rated? Who can appear in your images? Do you allow employees, customers, models, children, products, animals, etc?
  • Image ownership. Who’s images can you use?

Actionable Marketing Tips:

  • Post your visual content guidelines where your employees and visitors can find them. Include them with the rest of your fine print related to your website, blog and social media.
  • Include your visual content principles wherever you ask for employee or customer input.
  • Add your visual content guidelines to your branding or other marketing manual or document.

2. Determine the relationship between the image and the rest of your content.

While photographs increase social media consumption and shareability, you must bear your higher goal in mind. Namely, your want prospects to consume the rest of your content.

Consider the role you want your photograph to play in your content marketing. Among the 3 key options are:

  1. Tell a story. It stands alone and your audience will know what it means. For many products, this translates to putting your product in context for your customer.
  2. Illustrate a single point. The photograph shows the detail of one specific element of your content. These images are often associated with the keyword phrase your content is focused on.
  3. Is part of a larger content journey. In this case use a consistent set of images to lead your reader from one piece of content to another. The image acts as a guide to ensure that your reader stays on track.

Actionable Marketing Tips:

  • Plan your visual content in advance to maintain consistency. Don’t just slap any image on a piece of content.
  • Continue to use the same image across multiple platforms. Extend your content reach via reuse.

3. Tap into company photo options.

Many businesses have a treasure trove of photographs and images internally. The challenge for content marketers is that they’re often not in digital form or don’t have related metadata that enables you to easily find them. This problem is easy to fix, audit your internal content, digitize it where appropriate, and make it easy to find.

Encourage your employees, customers and social media followers to share their personal photographs and images. Where appropriate, ask for photographs that feature customers and employees for your content marketing. Don’t forget to get their permission.

Here are 3 tips to make your photographs more memorable (They’re based on research!!!)

Actionable Marketing Tips:

  • Extend other marketing efforts. If you’re creating other forms of photographs such as product catalogs and advertisements, use this opportunity to create fun images you can use in your content marketing. Don’t forget to include the legal releases needed.
  • Snap photographs of your customers in action. This is useful if you have a retail store or experiential product. Knitty City, one of my favorite yarns stores in NYC, takes photographs of its customers showing off their finished knitted works.
  • Take photographs at events. Everyone loves getting into the picture. I’m a sucker for the photograph machines. Get permission for image use in advance.
  • Use your camera or smartphone to capture your own images. Don’t underestimate your own photographs.

4. Leverage free stock photograph sites.

There is an ever-expanding universe of websites that offer permission-free images. These sites are a godsend for those with limited budgets since most free stock images are trite and generic. Who wants to see another fake business scene where actors look like busy executives?

Remember the reason you’re using photographs and other images is to make your content prominent. If you’re using the same image as everyone else, it becomes wallpaper or worse, a cliché.

If they’re really good, the chances are that other content creators think so too. I’ve had that challenge myself.

Among my favorite sites for free images are:

Actionable Marketing Tips:

  • Check whether the image you’ve selected is being used by others. Here’s where the TinEye tool is handy.
  • Enhance the photograph to make it your own. Make changes where appropriate. 

5. Check the visual content fine print.

Don’t use an image or photograph without checking that you can do so legally. If you’re part of an organization that has an in-house counsel, check with them.

CAVEAT: NOT every photograph or image found on the Internet IS free to use without permission. You must check the fine print carefully.

Unless an image is in the public domain, assume it’s copyrighted content. This means you must get permission to use or republish it even if there’s no one identified as the owner. Copyright law protections aren’t waved if the copyright notice is omitted.

You can get permission to use the image in advance from the rights owner or via a public license such as those provided by Creative Commons. Creative Commons licenses require you provide a photo credit or similar attribution when you use an image or illustration as well as other restrictions on repurposing the content.

Actionable Marketing Tips:

  • Always check an image’s rights. You don’t want to tread on someone else’s rights.
  • Give credit where credit is due. Even if attribution isn’t needed, let readers know who create the image. Personally, I note the photo source on the image and at the end of the text.
  • Provide links as requested. Some companies and photograph sources request that you link to a specific site. Comply with their request.
  • Use TinEye’s reverse image search tool to determine the image’s past usage online.

6. Add your branding to visual content.

Visual cues are a key component of your 360° brand. This is important to bear in mind when you use photographs, especially those taken with other goals in mind or from third party sites.

When selecting an image and modifying it for content marketing use, ensure that the image will retain at least one element that signals your brand since it may be shared out of context.

This is a critical step. Where possible use more than just your logo. Remember adding new images are at the core of curated content.

Remember that your visual content’s goal is to attract readers and to send them to your website, blog or social media to see more.

Among the branding elements to use consistently are:

  • Image contents. Use of your products and employees are a great way to support your offering.
  • Style of the image. Whether it’s color, retro or cartoon, make it consistent with your brand.
  • Text fonts and colors. Don’t forget to make the text legible if it’s overlayed on an image. Consider the voice of the text incorporated into the image.

Here are 5 tips for using images to re-imagine your brand.

Actionable Marketing Tips:

  • Frame your images with your brand color. Be consistent in your use and placement of images.
  • Augment your photographs and other visual content with your logo and/or URL.

7. Optimize your images for results.

Consider how to make your image render well regardless of the type of device used to view your content. Remember most consumers check social media via their mobile devices, smartphone and tablets. 

Share your images across owned and social media. Make your photos shine to attract the maximum readership and shares. Include social sharing for your images. For help, check out Constant Contact’s 2015 Social Media Image Cheat Sheet.

Determine image size including aspect ratio. Is your photograph going to be square, landscape or portrait? The goal is to make your images consistent when they appear on social media sites.

Where appropriate, provide different size images so your readers can share them across different social media platforms.

Incorporate additional functionality into each photograph. At a minimum, make it clickable to a relevant landing page, article or product page.

Add search friendly tags to your images. Otherwise, you’re missing an opportunity to make your images findable. Don’t just fill them with keywords. Consider that this information is important to people with low vision. 

Actionable Marketing Tips:

  • Compress your photographs so that they don’t hinder your site’s load speed. BTW, Compressor.io is useful for accomplishing this task. (Hat tip to Donna Moritz for point it out.)
  • Include a call-to-action. Don’t assume that viewers will act without being prompted.
  • Measure the results from your visual content.

Download your content marketing checklist


The bottom line is that visual content is a critical element of your content marketing strategy. It’s useful to tap into free images, especially if you have a limited budget.

To maximize your visual content marketing results, use these 7 guidelines to make your content consistent across platforms and to keep your brand integrated in the images.

Before you dive into creating image and video content, check out the 10 plagues of visual content marketing.

Alternatively, if you’re seeing to create a visual content promotion, here are some great tips.

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen

P.S. Check out this week’s free book draw featuring Arnie Kuenn’s, Content Marketing Works.



Photo Credit: http://mrg.bz/T4wM9E

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