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Best Practices for Using Images in Your Content

As a content creator, you’ve likely noticed the online world is increasingly heavy on the visuals. Think of the last time you saw an article or social media post that was text-only: pretty rare, right? These days, we’re sharing real-time snapshots on Snapchat, curating impressive images for Instagram, adding memes and emojis to our messages across channels… It’s no wonder content without graphics now feels lackluster or even incomplete.

And while you may be fully on board with the focus on photos, you may also feel there’s more you could do or learn when it comes to images. If so, this is your guide. Below, we cover all the best practices for leveraging graphics in your content: when to use them, how to choose them, where to find them, and a lot more. Enjoy!

Incorporating Images

Do you always need to add a photo? How much do things like resolution, aesthetic, relevance to the copy, and so on, matter? The answers to these questions depend a lot on your brand, but there are two basic factors you should generally consider in deciding on graphics: platform and purpose.

Different media platforms have different norms and expectations for imagery. While a tweet or Facebook post may work fine without an image, platforms like Instagram and Pinterest are all about the photos. And while of course you set the standard for pieces on your own site, your audience is reading elsewhere, too — and forming their own standards. Be sure to “read the room” and structure your posts accordingly.

It’s also helpful to think about the purpose you want the image to serve. Should it capture attention? Evoke an emotion? Complement the copy? Break up paragraphs of text? Deciding the role you want the photo to play upfront will help you choose the best pic for the piece.

Sourcing Images

Beyond getting the look and feel right, you’ll also need to be mindful of copyright laws (and just general courtesy) when seeking to use images that aren’t your own. And for affiliate purposes specifically, you should be up-to-speed on what is and is not allowed for product and promotional graphics. For the Associates program, these guidelines are detailed in the Operating Agreement, and there are a variety of options for obtaining relevant photos:
  • Build HTML within Associates Central: Search or browse for products in the Quick Links or Browse for Product sections of the Associates Central homepage, enter keywords or product numbers into the search box on the Product Links page, or use the search functions or Get Banner buttons on the Promotions pages to access link-building options that enable you to generate HTML-based images.
  • Use the SiteStripe tool: Grab image code right from product pages by clicking Image in the SiteStripe toolbar.
  • Install the Link Builder Plug-in for WordPress: This official plug-in allows WordPress users to source preview images (and much more) from Amazon, without having to leave the WordPress Editor.
  • Implement the Product Advertising API: The API is an advanced option offering programmatic access to, among several other things, image URLs.
As for your everyday content, there are several helpful resources for finding and formatting great, royalty-free photos. They fall into two main categories: stock photo websites and tools.

Stock Photo Websites

Stock images have come a long way! Today’s offerings are not the cheesy images of years past, and new sites are popping up every day with high-quality photo collections. A shortlist of our favorites:
Check out this solid list from HubSpot for many more.

Tools

Ever come across a clever meme or expertly edited photo from a fellow creator and marvel at their apparent skill and aptitude? How do they have the talent and time to go the extra mile with their visual content? Easy: they use tools. You should too. We recommend exploring the following:

Optimizing Images

Much like each channel has its own norms, the optimal dimensions and composition of photos varies across platforms too. That’s not to say you need to customize every image for every post — most systems will auto-format images anyway — but it’s good to keep context in mind. A beautiful, oversized feature image in your blog post may not translate well to the small photo box of a tweet, for example. In that case, just swap in a different pic with the same vibe for Twitter.

In addition to accounting for aesthetics, you’ll also need to optimize your graphics for search engines when you use them on your own site (aka onsite SEO). Top plugins and CMSs (like WordPress) will do some of the work for you, but it’s good to know the basics — you’ll often want to adjust the default inputs. Here’s what to check:
  • File name: A random combo of letters and numbers (e.g., DSC2984.jpg) means nothing to a search engine. Be sure to use descriptive names (e.g., new-years-sunrise-Tokyo) to ensure Google indexes your photos appropriately.
  • File size: Smaller files means faster load times (and faster loading means a better visitor experience). To reduce file size without compromising the quality of your images, it helps to use a good compression tool.
  • Alt text (or alt tags): In the event that your images can’t be displayed or your web visitor is using a screen reader, you’ll want to have good alt text in place. Alt text is what will display in place of the photo; essentially it's text that describes the image, and it's helpful to users and search engines. (Most experts say alt text is more important than title text, and that getting the former right will take care of the latter.
If you’d like to go deeper on onsite image SEO, this guide from Yoast and this one from Moz are more comprehensive resources.
One final layer of optimization is for photos you’re using (or could use) for affiliate purposes. All of the above applies, but it’s smart to also directly link up these images to relevant product/promotional pages. The Publisher Studio tool makes this easy for Amazon affiliate links — it even enables you to overlay a Shop Now button on the image.

Attributing Images

No discussion on image best practices would be complete without addressing attribution: the act of publicly crediting the source of a creative work. Depending on the photo you’ve selected and your own brand standards, you may or may not need to give credit. For example, the CC0 version of the Creative Commons license — which some free stock photos use — makes attribution optional.

Be sure to check the requirements for each of your chosen images, but note: it’s always a good idea to include attribution, required or not. It’s a respectful gesture to your fellow creators of course, but it’s also a means of mitigating usage/rights concerns.

There are a variety of ways to display photo credit, and again, it depends on both what’s required and what’s preferable — for you, for the source, and for the platform. Unfortunately, it’s all a bit of a gray area, due to the rapid change and expansion of digital media. It seems the safest bet is to let the copyright on each image be your guide. Do your best to meet the listed attribution requirements for each individual graphic, even if that means switching up your own preferred attribution style from piece to piece. (Note: this is not legal advice, and should not be interpreted as such. Always check and stay updated on attribution rules for any sources, sites, platforms, and channels you use or post to.)

For affiliate-related images obtained through the means listed above as part of the Associates program, using the provided links serves as attribution on your own site. For social media, you must additionally disclose you’re using an affiliate link.

There’s clearly a lot to know and keep up with when it comes to properly using graphics in your content. Luckily, much of it is common sense, or will at least quickly become second nature as you consistently follow image best practices. And of course, you can always come back to this article for reference!
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