A featured image, otherwise known as a post thumbnail is a feature popularized by WordPress that allows bloggers to highlight an image in their blog posts.
The featured image of a blog post can not only help your post look better but drive more visitors as well. A featured image is normally displayed on social networks such as Facebook and Google+ as a preview when you share the post.
Many bloggers use many different types of images for their blogs. Here are a few different types of featured images that bloggers and webmasters might use:
- custom graphics they have created
- custom photography
- author profile photo
- stock images
- 4-5 standard image types (news, sports, local, etc)
Developing a Featured Image Standard
Like most aspects of website design and UX, it is important to develop standards for your blog so that you portray a consistent message.
Blogs that have a habit of using a mix of different types of featured images can give your users the wrong impression.
I’ve come up with a few key standards to go by for those looking to have a clean looking blog and standardize their featured images:
As a general rule of thumb, all featured images should relatively be the same size. The great thing about most professional WordPress themes is that they will resize your image for you. But be careful, resizing can cause blurry images particularly with images that are of a different aspect ratio.
I usually like to keep my featured images about the same width of the column that the blog post is in.
While this is simply my personal preference, it is one that I’ve picked up as a result of decades of web browsing and blogging.
This not only helps “complete” and overall symmetrical look for your website but gives visitors a nice preview of the blog post to come.
If you are going to be using a custom image (not a photo) my general rule of thumb is to stick with the colors of your brand.
This also helps retain brand integrity as well as keeps a really consistent look across your entire website.
Again, this is just a suggestion but one that I have noticed on a lot of big brand websites.
Feel free to ignore this if the purpose of your website is to display your own photography.
If you are simply using random photography from around the web or photos that you’ve casually snapped, you should stick with some general guidelines.
For instance, some bloggers keep all of their photography black and white. Others use a sepia or some other filter.
Whatever the case may be, consistency is the name of the game. As I stated above, by keeping the overall look and feel of your featured images the same you will retain brand integrity across your blog.
Author profile photo as a featured image
Blogs that are lucky enough to have multiple authors publishing on a regular basis might want to use the authors profile photo as the featured image.
This is a great way to showcase the authors that contribute to your blog, and let your readers know that many people contribute to your blog, not just one or two people.
But like all featured image types, there should be standards. Keep all images roughly the same size and shape.
One popular shape blogs are using right now for author profile pics is the circle.
Text within the featured image
This is one example that I had all wrong for quite a while. What I was doing, was inserting the headline / title of the article within the image itself. While this isn’t necessarily a “bad” thing it was extremely repetitive and gave our blog kind of a bad look.
If you are going to use text within your featured image, I would recommend using either a sub-headline or an alternative headline.
Borders, effects, and stuff
If you are going to use a border, use a border on all featured images.
Same goes with any type of “effects.” All or nothing.
There are certain cases where you might have a “special edition” type of post and want it to stand out amongst the rest. In that case it is fine but try to keep all of your images styled the same way.
This not only helps keep your featured images consistent across all posts but will help your visitors identify your posts at a quick glance.
Sans Featured Image
If you are a blogger in the traditional sense and want to have a strong focus on readability and typography, it is perfectly fine to not have a featured image.
If you do choose to have a “text only” blog you are definitely going to make sure that you write some crafty headlines.
There are a number of popular SEO blogs and other blogs that don’t utilize the featured image such as the Moz blog and many others.
Update 5/2014: If you are big into sharing posts on social media, particularly in Google+ you might want to considering following this advice for getting your posts to show up correctly on Google+. I am still seeing a lot of people sharing posts that are showing up with small thumbnail previews.