For many years it was thought that every post published on a blog had to feature a gratuitous image, some photograph that would lure people to click through and read the article. The myth perpetuated itself, which myths tend to do, and many still publish content with gratuitous imagery.
A gratuitous image is one that might complement the content but often has little to do with it. If the article is inspiring, an inspiring image would be chosen. If the author wished to motivate the reader, some motivating picture would be scrounged up. If the article’s purpose was to build a relationship with the reader, pet pictures, family photographs, and images of togetherness might be chosen. Or some sexy woman (or man) in a position believed by many to be sexy might be featured on the prime real estate and have nothing to do with the content at all.
There is nothing wrong with this method of hooking potential readers with a flash of flesh or inspired imagery. There is also nothing good about it. Let’s look at the reasons to use and not use gratuitous imagery.
If a reader is a fan already, they are there for a reason. Keep that reason going and let nothing get in their way.
If someone is searching for your content, is it the imagery or the content that drives them to your spot on the web? Search results do not currently show images unless someone is searching for images. If the content is found on social media channels, is it the words or the images that generate the click-throughs to your site?
Ask yourself why you are using such images. They take time to find, time that might be spent writing the next post or promoting yourself and your ideas across social media. How much of your time is spent finding these images? Is it really time well spent?
What’s the return on such time and imagery? Do you see a measurable difference in traffic between posts with gratuitous images, appropriate images, or no images? Have you thought to track it? If you are doing anything that takes time from your work and family, it better have a good return on its investment (ROI), so measure it.
Are the images to attract readers? Have you checked your stats? Since you started using gratuitous images, have your numbers increased? How many unique visitors (first time) are you attracting? How many are coming back for more (return readers)? Have the numbers changed?
Are you using the images because you think your website design is boring and needs some spicing up? If yes, ask yourself if your readers feel the same way. Are they there for the pictures or your message? Consider changing the site design and take away the gratuitous images and check their response.
Do you feel your content is lacking and needs pictures to make it look and feel important? Do I need to tell you how to check that and change your attitude as well as presentation of your material?
Not every article needs an image. Few of mine do. That’s not what motivates people to come to my site. They come because they wish to learn more about blogging, WordPress, web writing, and web publishing. The images are required to help them see the steps they are taking as they move through the processes. I use gratuitous imagery on Blog Your Passion as they serve the purpose of the site, which is to provide a gallery of our photography, not that of other photographers, and to present Zen blogging lessons to help people learn more about how to write and publish on the web. The images have little to do with the text, but people read the messages they wish to read into the photographs. It’s an experiment that is working, and fascinating to watch.
Your blog exercise is to look at your own reasons for using gratuitous images on your own site.
Again, it isn’t a matter of right or wrong. It’s about understanding the reasons, your justifications for doing so. If the ends justify the means, do so. Otherwise, try something else that generates a better return on your investment of time on your site.
Look at all the images on your site, in the posts, design, everywhere. Are any there for reasons that have nothing to do with satisfying the needs of your readers and fans? Give those your attention to look at why the images are really there.
Note: The above image was taken by my husband, Brent VanFossen, and myself (we can’t remember who took this one) of a young orangutan in the famous Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida. It is one of the best natural habitat facilities around the world. I decided a gratuitous sexy orangutan would be better than other choices. :D If you would like to see more of our gratuitous images, check out our Gallery on Taking Your Camera on the Road.
ALERT: In July I will be publishing a draft of these blog exercises so far in an ebook. Stay tuned for news!