Colorful frames

Translated by Núria Adell

Nowadays we tend to forget about the power of images. Because it’s been shown that images are capable of affecting our behavior, we’re constantly bombarded by them. When we go shopping, watch TV, and of course, when we navigate on the Internet.

No matter how new you are to WordPress, I’m sure you know of featured images. What you should be asking yourself though is whether you’re using them correctly in WordPress. Today, we’re first going to look at the purpose of featured images, then I’ll give you some advice you can use (if you’re not already doing so), and finally I’ll talk about some related plugins you should know about.

What are featured images for in WordPress?

I’m sure that when you visit a bookstore you look at book covers much more than at their titles. Well, the same thing happens when visitors enter your website. The featured images in WordPress serve to make your visitors get a quick idea of what they’re going to find on your site.

In addition, if you have an online store the images become even more important as they will be in charge of showing your products to your potential customers. If they love what they see, the chances of them buying will increase. The worst thing you can do is to have high-quality content in your WordPress accompanied with ugly images. Or use images that have nothing to do with your content.

Screenshot showing the dialog where to select a featured image in WordPress.
Screenshot showing the dialog in which you can select a featured image in WordPress.

So you know, there’s a lot at stake when it comes to the featured images in your WordPress. And also outside of it, since these images are the ones that you’ll share on your social networks when you promote your content, as well as in your RSS feeds.

You never know where your content will appear, but it’s clear that it’ll be accompanied by the featured images you’ve chosen, so make sure you choose the right ones. The importance of the featured images in your WordPress is greater than you think.

4 basic tips to correctly use featured images in WordPress

Now that you know the importance of the featured images on your website, let’s look at four things you have to keep in mind so that you don’t have any problems with them. Don’t worry, these tips are very simple to understand and apply.

Use high-quality featured images; you’ll notice the difference

I’m sure you visit websites daily and come across images that are atrocious. You’ll find anything you want: low resolution, pixelation everywhere, and even blurry images. Or images that include unreadable text due to poor color matching.

I know, generating high-quality images is complicated for most (including myself). But luckily, today there are a multitude of banks of free images that you can use for your site without a problem. And best of all is that these images are of high quality, created by people with great talent in design and photography. So, why not using them?

In Nelio we’ve been using featured images taken from Unsplash for a while, and the final quality we achieve is great. It’s as easy as typing the keywords in their search engine and choosing the image that you like the most and best suits the content you’re editing. As an example, the featured image that accompanies this article shows a lot of colorful frames. I think it fits quite well with the subject we’re dealing with, right?

The size of your featured images matters (dimensions and weight)

Even if this is obvious, it’s still important to remember that images are often one of the bottlenecks of your website. Surely you’ve entered sites whose images take forever to load. Choosing high-quality images is crucial, but reducing their weight and dimensions to reasonable levels is even more important.

In Nelio we’re very aware of this issue, so we’ve even put a limit to the maximum weight allowed when uploading images to the media library of our WordPress. This way we avoid the human error of uploading an image without having reduced it before.

The process I follow to upload a featured image is as follows. First I download the image I like the most from Unsplash, which usually occupies several megs, since the resolution tends to exceed the 3,000 pixels. Then I reduce the dimensions of the image to 1,200 pixels, which in turn reduces the weight. Lastly, I pass the image through a compressor to further reduce the final weight, usually achieving weights of less than 100 kilobytes. For this last step, I usually use the website, mainly because it lets me modify the degree of compression while comparing the result with the original image.

The original image has more than 4Mb. By reducing its dimensions, we have an image of almost 400kb that we end up reducing to about 100kb by compressing it. All this, without noticing quality losses.
The original image has more than 4Mb. By reducing its dimensions, we have an image of almost 400kb that we end up reducing to about 100kb by compressing it. All of this, without noticing quality losses.

So, if you can have the same image with less than 100kb and without losing quality, why are you uploading it when it occupies several megabytes? The current options of image compression will amaze you. See it for yourself.

Choose a featured image that’s related to the content

The worst thing you can do when choosing which featured image will accompany your content is choosing one that has nothing to do with what you talk about there. If your featured images are unrelated your content, you’ll confuse your visitors. And you don’t want to have confused visitors because they won’t return.

Another issue to avoid is clickbait, that’s become very popular lately. I’m sure you’re familiar with it: you see a suggestive image and you click to access the content behind it, but once you get there you realize you’ve been ripped. The image doesn’t correspond to the content or the content doesn’t meet the expectations generated by the image. I’m telling you, clickbait is very common in digital media nowadays to earn a handful of clicks, but don’t do it. If you abuse clickbait, the image this will leave in your visitors’ mind will be devastating.

Color frames, by Jessica Ruscello
Color frames, by Jessica Ruscello. That’s the featured image of this post.

If you’re talking about animals, show that to me in your featured image. If you discuss some news, accompany the content with an image that tells me about those news. Yes, sometimes it’s difficult to choose an image that’s related to abstract content, but in those cases pull from more evocative images such as a landscape or neutral images like a background color. You’ll see how little by little you’ll get used to choosing images that properly accompany your content.

Don’t forget the SEO of your featured images in WordPress

The images also have an important role in the SEO of your website. Search engines (like Google) index them and you may get extra visitors if you tag your images correctly. Many people use the integrated images section of search engines and end up visiting the site behind the images.

Don't forget to fill in the attachment details of your images with useful content for both search engines and screen readers (used by visually impaired people).
Don’t forget to fill in the attachment details of your images with useful content for both search engines and screen readers (used by visually impaired people).

To do this properly, you should fill in all the fields that WordPress asks for when uploading an image in the media library. In addition, if you do this, you’ll automatically be able to have a site that’s more accessible to those visitors with visual problems who need screen readers.

5 plugins to help you with featured images in WordPress

You’ll find plenty of plugins to manage images in WordPress, but the ones discussed here are those that I consider most useful for common situations I’ve been encountered as a WordPress user. They’re the following:

  • Regenerate Thumbnails (download): Every time you change the theme of your WordPress it’s possible that the thumbnails (the small images that WordPress creates by default to display with different sizes depending on the device or place where the image is displayed) have to be recalculated because the sizes have changed. To do this, you can use this plugin that easily erases old thumbnails and generates new ones. Indispensable!
  • Auto Post Thumbnail (download): If you didn’t use featured images before and after reading this article you’ve been convinced to start using them but you find it a hassle to go article by article to select the featured image of each one, keep calm. The solution is to use this plugin that will take the first image that appears in each article and automatically put it as the featured image. Not recommended, but it can be useful to quickly obtain featured images.
  • Add From Server  (download): If you’ve changed servers and uploaded images but these don’t appear in your media library, this plugin will allow you to select them (it displays the directory tree of your server) and make them visible from WordPress itself. It never hurts to know about it for situations where a migration didn’t go as well as we hoped for.
  • Enhanced Media Library (download): Although it has many different functions, the one I like most is the possibility of classifying the images of the media library by categories. Surely this is something you’ve needed at some point, when you’ve remembered you uploaded an image that you now want to recover but you’re unable to find it with a simple search.
  • Nelio Content (download): Many people are unaware of it, but our plugin adds the feature of setting an external image as a featured image through its URL. This way you don’t have to upload the image to the WordPress media library.

Many of them have saved me in situations where I needed extended features for images that WordPress doesn’t provide by default. I encourage you to try them and let me know if they were useful to you.

Final summary

I won’t get tired of repeating this: nowadays featured images play a fundamental role in WordPress. As time goes on, we’ve become much more visual, and we now refuse to read a text unless the images that accompany it catch our attention.

This is why you must remember to use featured images that have good quality and are related to the text, and not forget about the SEO and their weight. If you follow these simple tips I’m sure you’ll notice an improvement on your website.

In addition, you have at your disposal many plugins that help you better manage the featured images in WordPress. Don’t hesitate to use them if you need to. Remember that they’re at your service.

Featured image by Jessica Ruscello from Unsplash

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