Good visuals are essential to the success of your blog. According to research from Brain Rules: We are incredible at remembering pictures. Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65%.
It is very important to understand basic copyright rules for image and media use. I am not a copyright lawyer by any means so I can’t give anyone official legal advice on copyright issues, but I have learned some of the basic rules and some good ways to avoid copyright issues. Most importantly, here is the Golden Rule of using visuals and other media on your blog or website: If you don’t know if it’s copyright usable, don’t use it. Always ask for permission from the source and if you can’t, again, don’t use it.
The good news is that today, with the Creative Commons (CC) movement, finding good images and other quality media freely shared by content creators has never been easier. There are also many free or affordable apps available to help you create your own. So let’s get to it! Here are 10 ways you can add visual appeal to your blog on your own and through the CC copyright licenses.
1. Take your own photos
You don’t need a special camera or equipment, and your photos don’t need to be artistic. They just need to illustrate the words or points in your post and be of decent quality.
2. Ask, bribe, or barter with a photographer friend
If a friend snaps your pictures, give them/her/him credit in the caption. Photo by _________. This is especially important to do if your friend is budding-professional or semi-professional photographer.
3. Know the free sites for usable images and join them
Wikimedia Commons and Flickr have usable images under the Creative Commons license. Shopfiy has a list of 40 sites that offer free or some free images. You can also search for photos and illustrations offered on Flickr under a Creative Commons license, or search the Creative Commons site. Just put in your keywords and the results will show images that you can use on your site with proper attribution. (You have to check the license of each photo to make sure you’re following the attribution requirements. You should actually log in and set up an account so you’re downloading an image the legit way and not simply copying it (plus you’ll get better quality.)
4. Use Google Images — the Legit Way
Of course, our first stop when “shopping” for photos is Google images. This is a great resource, but you have to make sure you’re using a legit image. Here is how. When you’re on Google images, go to “Tools” and then “Usage Rights.” Search for Non-Commercial Use. You will often be directed to one of the sites listed on the Shopify article above or Wikimedia Commons.
Use legit Images but avoid super generic images (the business world is famous for these.) You are better off using an amusing gif than a photo that screams “stock!” Although there are some good photos in the WordPress photo library and other blogging platforms, they are pretty generic.
5. Create your own images
You can create simple but engaging visuals using a free design app like Canva, or even easier-to-use Pablo, where you can take images and add text to them to create quotes or to add informative or fun captions to otherwise generic images. You can also create data-driven visuals and infographics, which can be helpful for presenting data to B2B and B2C audiences. Here is Mala Deep’s article that presents Five Free Data Visualization Tools for Beginners. Canva has simple and free infographic templates and Venngage has free options too. You can also use PowerPoint and Google Slides to create infographics.
6. Use memes and gifs
Don’t go overboard but memes are a fun way to add visuals. GIPHY is good source for gifs and they’re easy to embed.
7. Embed social media content
Most social media sites provide embed code so you can recreate and link to social media content directly on your blog. Unless a user turns off the embed, you can copy the code for a YouTube, TikTok or Reel or capture an Instagram post and post it to your blog. This is copyright usable and you don’t need to attribute it because it’s clear where it’s from and there’s a link. The downside is that if a user deletes a video or post, it will also disappear from your site.
8. Use screenshots, but only in limited situations and with caution
You cannot simply screenshot copyrighted images from websites or social media and reuse them. If you’re discussing a brand, organization, restaurant, etc… for commentary and you include a screenshot of the website with a link, that is most likely safe and fair use. The same goes for a video game or movie scene screenshot. If you’re discussing or reviewing a game or a movie, that will usually fall under fair use. Always provide a link to the main site.
For social media, taking and using screenshots is more of a gray area. Screenshotting a tweet or post may be considered fair use, especially if the intent is to use it for commentary. But the trouble with fair use is that you might need to demonstrate it in court, and there are no fixed rules, so it’s open to interpretation. A screen capture of a whole tweet, with a link back to the source, is unlikely to cause you any problems, but embedding is the better option. If you are afraid someone might delete the tweet (because it goes viral for the wrong reasons) screenshotting it will retain it, but if the user’s intent is to delete it, technically you shouldn’t be using it; however, for journalistic purposes, this would probably not be an issue. (But you never know!)
9. Group or frame multiple photos
In WordPress, search in blocks for “image” and you will see options for framing/arranging them. Canva also has many frames that you can use for photos. Using a framing style is an easy way to give your blog a polished and cohesive look. You can see what they will look like if you click on Patterns next to Blocks.
10. Products, media covers and logos
If you are writing a post featuring a product or products, it’s generally considered fair use for editorial purposes to use the image but do include a link to the website or where to purchase on Amazon. (If you have affiliate links, be clear about that.) Album covers, book covers, game covers are all considered fair to use when discussing, reviewing or recommending products. Same with logos if you’re discussing a brand/company. Again, provide a link to the website,
I hope this post helps you understand some basics of avoiding a copyright problem on your blog. Need more inspiration? Buffer Social has 23 Tools and Resources to Create Images for Social Media. Many of these are not free, but most have affordable options. Good luck and let me know if you discover any free or affordable apps to create visuals for your blog.