We live in a world that teaches us to look over our shoulder each time we use / cite / quote / link out to another person's work.
It's especially true when it comes down to finding great free images to add more visual appeal and enrich our blog posts.
Do images help to increase website traffic? Definitely.
- Images make your blog posts more readable, i.e. keep your readers engaged with your content.
- Images make your blog posts more shareable. Everyone loves to share an insightful/funny/one-of-a-kind image! (see how I use quotes from SEO experts as images to make my guite long SEO Traffic 2014: Your One-Stop Reference Guide for Non-SEOs much more engaging.)
- Images make your blog posts more linkable.
- The more readers share your readable, shareable, linkable content via social media, mentions on their blog, etc. – yes, you got it – the more web traffic your posts will get as a result.
Back to free blog images, here's a trick: the common thinking of “If I give them credit for the image, I am actually doing them a favor by spreading out the word about their work” simply doesn't work.
“Free Blog Images Are NOT Free”
A fre months ago, I created a killer Slideshare presentation on how to get more Facebook fans based on James Bond movies: 10 Killer Ways to Get More Facebook Fans James Bond Style.
This is what it used to look like:
It was awesome, edgy, and landed over 100,000 views on Slideshare.
Well, lo and behold, I get a notice from Slideshare:
We received a DMCA complaint from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. and Danjaq LLC regarding your file and the use of 007 property claiming that it infringed on their intellectual property and rights.
Apparently, my little insignificant Slideshare presentation pissed of some people in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios!
Never occurred to me that mentioning James Bond will get me into trouble; PLUS, I thought I was using Creative Commons free images.
Thankfully, Slideshare was very willing to work with me on this one, and my Bond-free Slideshare presentation was restored to its original URL with all the views, embeds, etc. intact.
This is what it looks like now:
Not so edgy any more, but the message is still the same.
“Attribution Doesn't Make it Right”
That's right, just because you give appropriate attribution to the image creator, it doesn't mean you can use it in your blog post.
“Taking another person’s image or graphic and giving them a “shout out,” linkback, or any other type of attribution does not negate copyright infringement.
Common sense may say that an artist wants exposure for their work, but we’re talking about the law here and common sense doesn’t always parallel.
Copyright law gives the copyright holder the right to decide where their work is published and maybe they don’t want their work on your site, in your book, included in your newsletter or distributed to your social media network. It’s not for us to question why they wouldn’t want exposure.”
“Their Photo, Their Rules”
Here's an example of when I thought I did everything right: found Creative Commons licensed photos, gave attribution, and yet still got a comment from one of the photo owners on this Slideshare presentation:
The comment said:
Mind you, Creative Commons licensing doesn't require ME to include attribution ON the image itself, but in the end, it's his photo, his rules.
Bottom line: when using other people's images in your blog posts, you'd better be aware of image licensing requirements, plus be ready to fix things if and when trouble comes – even if you think you've done everything right.
If you don’t think it’s a big deal, here are just some examples of why you might want to reconsider.
♨ This agency got sued $8,000 for using an image on a blog post that got less than 100 visitors. They called it their “most costly mistake since starting the business”.
♨ Likewise, this agency got sued $4,000 for an image that would have originally cost $10.
♨ This company was republishing newspaper content under a CC licence for others to use. However they didn’t have a licence from the original creators of the content to do that, so they got sued.
♨ Persephone Magazine used an image with a Creative Commons licence and were later sued for $1,500 for using it. It turned out the photo did not belong to the person who uploaded it with a CC licence, which led to 73 companies being sued who used it.
♨ GoodReads faced one of the biggest copyright cases ever, when they were sued $150,000 for an image someone uploaded of a boy band member.
(hat tip to Why Your Blog Images Are A Ticking Time Bomb at for these examples – you can find several more in that post)
So no more of this please:
Additional resources on image licensing
Creative Commons Licenses Explained In Plain English – – Sara Hawkins at sarafhawkins.com
About The Licenses – at creativecommons.org
Creative Commons on Flickr – Creative Commons explanation at flickr.com
How to Use Reverse Image Lookup
When looking for free images to use as a base for your blog post image designs, it never hurts to do a reverse image search to see if you can track down the original sources. That way, you can do your best to make sure the image doesn’t originate from a copyrighted source.
TinEye.com is the best free tool for the job.
From TinEye.com home page, enter the URL of an image you are interested it and the search results will return all instances of this particular image found online.
Make sure to avoid any images that even smell of copyright.
Now onto the meat of the post.
Free Blog Images: Where and How to Find the Best Ones
There are plenty of sites that aggregate Creative Commons licensed images (that's what bloggers usually mean when they say “free images“).
This post is not about listing them all (they come and go, as most things online these days), but to show you the ones I found to be the most useful in my free image searches.
1. My Favorite Free Image Aggregators
When I need to find free blog images, here are my top to-go sites:
If I am just looking for great free images without any specific topic in mind, I often navigate to Pixabay.com Editor's Choice section for inspiration.
This is another of my favorites.
Once on MorgueFile home page, make sure to click on “Free Photos” to start your search.
PhotoPin.com is just a great collection of free quality images.
How I use them:
I start my search by opening all three sites in separate tabs and do same searches on all three to make sure I find the best images for my needs.
If I don't see what I need (rarely, but happens), I move on to the following sources.
2. Google Image Search
Yes, Google Image Search is still the ultimate image aggregator.
It offers the BEST results when it comes down to variety and quality of images.
The problem is you can't really freely use the image you find there.
Here's a trick most people don't know about: sorting Google Image results by license.
How to find free images on Google Image Search:
From Google Image Search, click on Search Tools, then Usage Rights.
The resulting search will be more concise, and most likely, not as much fun, but at least you are much better off using these images.
How to find similar free images on Google Image Search:
Here's another tip: let's say you found a Creative Commons image that's almost right. Here's a way to to find image look-alikes or the same image in different sizes.
From Google Image Search, click on the camera icon in the search bar.
Step 2. Paste Image URL that you want to find variations of (or upload an image if you have it saved on your desktop) and click “Search by Image“.
Step 3. Voilà – Google Image Search will show you other available options.
3. Bing Image Search
Bing now allows you to search images by usage rights as well.
How to find free images on Bing Image Search
Step 1. Go to Bing Image Search.
Notice how Bing immediately gives you some eye candy by showing you trending images searches – great to find new potential niche markets or simply cool images to share with your social media followers, like I do on Google+ (follow me there to keep up with my updates).
Step 2. Type what you are looking for and choose your desired license in the drop-down menu.
3. Creative Commons
If you want to find Creative Commons images, it only makes sense to go to… Creative Commons!
This is what you'll see there:
Step 1. Enter your search query.
Step 2. Click one of the boxes if you'd like to use the image for commercial purposes or modify it in any way (leave blank if neither applies).
Step 3. Choose the site/type of media you are searching for (one site at a time).
Using Creative Commons kills two birds with one stone:
- Find free material you can use in your blog posts;
- Allows you to access different media – images, videos, clip art, etc.
Compfight aggregates Creative Commons images from Flickr.
What I like about Compfight:
- offers different image size options;
- gives you HTML code to copy and paste to your blog post for proper attribution.
What I don't like about Compfight:
- sometimes it's buggy;
- every once so often, it will divert you to a pop-up window with paid images. I am not against it – I understand that's how they make money, but it could get old pretty quickly.
Compfight WordPress Plugin
Compfight also offers a free WordPress plugin to help you to add images with proper attribution directly to your blog posts.
4. Flickr Commons
Truth is most creative commons image sites dip into Flickr Commons to find the free images to offer to their searcher.
Why not cut out the middle man and go straight to the source, right?
Once you are at Flickr Commons, scroll down a bit until you see the search box – your gateway to great free blog images on Flickr.
All-Free-Download.com is a great site to find free graphics as well as free images.
No catch; just find what you need, download, alter as you need to, and use them to your heart's content.
IClipArt is a aggregator of free clipart images.
This would be a great place to find miscellaneous clipart if you are planning on making your own images.
7. More Sites to Find Free Images
The sites above is all I use for my personal free blog post image search, for both Traffic Generation Café and my Slideshare presentations.
If you are into tools and lists, here are some additional resources to
keep you running in circles find the best free image sites.
11 Places to Get a Free and Legal Photo for Your Blog – Caitlin Muir at authormedia.com
30+ Websites For Stock Photos And Royalty Free Images – at hongkiat.com
I'd also suggest you try PhotoDropper – a free WP plugin that has over 62 million free images that blog owners can access and insert right from their WordPress dashboard.
I did test PhotoDropper at Traffic Generation Café and found it buggy, but it doesn't mean it won't work for you. Learn more about it here:
PhotoDropper: A Great WordPress Plugin For Fast, Easy And Free Images – Jennifer Ledbetter at marketingland.com
How to Properly Add an Image to Your Post
Since we are on the subject of adding images to blog posts, I can't help but mention a few things on how to properly add an image to your blog post.
Whether it sounds too basic or not, that’s not the question. The REAL question is do you DO IT on your blog. If not, you need to read this.
Tere are 3 main sections you need to pay attention to, plus 2 options, when uploading an image to your blog:
1. Image Name
Before you even upload your image, make sure it’s named properly and relevantly. That means that you shouldn’t name your image based on what it is about, but rather based on what your post it about.
I added this image to my Link Building: What’s Naughty, What’s Nice? post (an oldie, but a goodie).
I didn’t name it “half-dressed woman”, although that’s pretty much what the image is of.
Rather, I named it “link building”, since that’s what my post is about.
2. Image Title
After you upload your image, it’s time to add some relevant information about it.
Why is this important?
Because the search engines won’t see the pretty image you are adding, rather a string of code that tells the search engines that this is an image and this is what the image is all about.
Who adds that string of code? You do.
Thus, this is a great opportunity to enhance your on-page SEO by adding some relevant keywords to the title and alternative description of the image.
Let’s take a look at what it looks like in action:
As you can see, my title is keyword-based (but NOT keyword-stuffed!).
3. Add Alternative Text
That’s what is also referred to as an ALT tag (“alt” stands for alternative).
It acts like a description of the image and is another great way to add some keywords.
Note I didn’t say “stuff it with keywords”. Keyword stuffing hasn’t worked in ages and it can have a negative effect on your SEO.
Your description shouldn’t be the same as your title, although it can definitely use the same keywords. I (almost) always like to add words like “image”, “graph”, “picture”, etc. to my ALT tag to make sure it’s different from my title.
4. Image Caption
That one is strictly for your readers.
That’s where it’s good to tie your image to your post if the relation is not too clear.
You can also show off your wit here by adding a joke or sarcasm – both work equally well.
5. Link URL
I almost always leave this one blank.
Since search engine spiders follow each link they find on a given page, what’s the point of sending them to the one that leads to a dead end with no content?
There are 2 exceptions I make to the no-link rule: when I want my readers to be able to enlarge an image and when I want to link it to an external resource.
How to Rank on Google Image Search
Let me start this section with “Every niche is different“.
Can you get traffic to your site by ranking your images in Google Image Search? Sure you can.
Is it worth your time? It depends.
If someone is looking at pictures of apple pies, chances are they are looking for an apple pie recipe and will follow the image back to your site to see what you've got.
If you are like me and the only time you are looking at images is when you need one for a blog post or something similar, all you want to do is to get in and get out.
Do I get traffic from Google Images? Yes.
But it's generally low quality traffic that doesn't convert (i.e. doesn't subscribe to my free Bite-Size Traffic Hacks email series, which is my primary conversion goal at Traffic Generation Café) and has the lowest stats all around:
- fewer pages viewed;
- less time spent;
- higher bounce rate than the rest of my blog.
If you are interested in learning more about ranking on Google for images, I recommend reading:
The Ultimate Guide to Image SEO for Better Rankings – Joseph Adediji at bloggingtipstoday.com
Final Words on Free Blog Images
Images are great to have, but they have one great flaw – they significantly slow down your blog.
Two solutions here:
1. Add fewer images
I usually stick to one image per post unless I need to add more to give readers a visual explanation of the text (although I've been breaking that rule more and more these days).
2. Resize images before uploading them to your post
Easy to do.
If you are using software like Snagit, you can easily resize the image in the Edit panel.
Alternatively, you can use free tools like Image Optimizer.
Here's also a great Worpress tip on optimizing your images in WordPress settings – something very easy to do, yet an often overlooked step:
You can read more about it here:
This Often-Forgotten WP Media Setting Helps Boost Your Loading Times – Kim Castleberry at just-ask-kim.com
3. Use WP Smush.it Plugin
WP Smush.it is a free WP plugin that will automatically reduce your image files, thus improving your blog performance.
4. Get Faster Web Hosting
If you are just starting with your online career or your business is still fairly small, chances are your blog is hosted by HostGator or BlueHost – two most popular choices in web hosting.
And that's absolutely fine. Traffic Generation Café has been hosted at Hostgator for the first two years of its life – up until I got fed up with constant outages, restrictions, and slow loading times.
I am now with A2 Hosting and my uptime is 99.9%. Plus it really is lightning fast.
Happy free blog post image hunting!