SEO blogging can get kind of, well dry at times. If you are like me, I read as many as 20 or more posts per week about SEO. Some of them are spectacularly written with references, illustrations, charts and other images.
Today I’d like to talk a bit about screenshots, and what you can do do make them look a little bit nicer when embedding them on a blog online. As SEO’s, we take a ton of screenshots. I probably take 50 screenshots per day. Quite often I add screenshots to this blog and in the end am not very pleased with the way they look.
Taking screenshots: a review
Ok this may sound a little basic, but I’ve surprised even the savviest of savvy users with this tool. The Windows Snipping tool is a screenshot tool that takes the work out of creating a screenshot. I keep mine pinned to the bottom of my desktop. Just click the icon and select the area you want to screenshot, then save and you are good to go.
Prepping your precious screenshots
Once you’ve grabbed a screenshot you want to upload to the interwebs, you need to make sure it is perfect. You need to love it, care for it like a pet. Trim off any area that you don’t need by cropping it. Make sure that the content is centered within the image and there are is no unnecessary content obstructing the main view. For instance if you are doing a screenshot of your analytics, do you really need to include your browser, tabs and other areas of your desktop in the screenshot?
I like to add a transparent border to all of my screenshots. Adding a transparent layer under your image and a border around it allows you to:
- add padding to your image so that the surrounding text does not run into it. Yes, you can do the same with HTML/CSS but sometimes this is beyond your control.
- set up your image so you can add effects such as shadows, borders, and backgrounds.
Within Photoshop your image will look something like this:
Sometimes I just do 3-5px, other times I use 20px – 30px if I am adding effects to the image or a background.
Screenshot glamorization for fun and profit
Lets start with a very basic screenshot of a SERP. When it is dropped onto a blog post with a white or white-ish background, it kind of blends in with the text of the blog post. This doesn’t do wonders for readability let alone UX and can cause all of the text on the page to jumble together.
One quick and easy solution is to add a background to your screenshot. This not only will make your screenshot “pop out” but will separate your image from the rest of your content and make your blog much easier to read.
Of course the pinkish background is a bit loud, feel free to use whatever color you’d like. Bonus points for using your brand color scheme. If you want to take this a step further, add a subtle shadow to your image.
In another example lets say you want to display a screenshot of an email on your blog.
There is one particular section of the email that you want to stand out. One easy way to accomplish this is to add a layer on top of the area you want to stand out, and reduce the opacity down to say 20%. More bonus points for using your brands colors.
It looks great, but it still looks awfully flat against our blogs white background. Why not add a subtle texture behind the image to spice things up a bit? Adding a shadow underneath the image really helps it stick out, almost as if it is sitting on top of the wood background. My only suggestion if you are to do this is to not overdo the shadows and if you are going to upload multiple images make sure you use the same shadow settings across the board.
In other circumstances you might need to highlight one particular screenshot on your blog. There are a lot of cool things you can do. One of my favorites is to set it inside a monitor or another device which adds a really cool effect.
Now, I wouldn’t recommend doing this to 10 images in a row, or even 2 images in a row. That would look really tacky and kind of lame. I would really only use this method if you really need to highlight one piece of data within a page.
There are a ton of other cool things you can do to spice up your screenshots. One of my favorite tricks is to add arrows or other notations to your screenshots. Avoiding the “what am I looking at” factor is key to the overall success of your blog.
Take this screenshot for example. If I placed this screenshot here without adding any notations, it might be unclear what the screenshot is referring to. By adding an arrow or caption it can help clear this up.
If arrows and other symbols aren’t your thing, highlighting the area has worked very well for me in the past.
Again, adding a background to the image can help the screenshot stick out on the page and keep it separate from the rest of the text. This time I used a crafty little pattern taken from Photoshop’s default pattern library.
If you feel like getting crazy, add a geometric pattern to your image but for god’s sake – don’t overdo it! :)
A word on animated GIF screenshots
(Note: you can see an example of an animated GIF screenshot at the top of the blog, the first image)
Using an animated GIF to illustrate a multi-step point is a great way to help your users and add value to your blog. Do not abuse animated GIF’s on your website. They can get extremely large in size and bog down your site really quick, and look confusing as hell when you have 2 or more GIF’s playing at the same time.
Her is my general rule of thumb for using an animated GIF screenshot on your blog:
Use animated GIF screenshots sparingly, and only when you need to illustrate a process that is too short or simple to be illustrated in a video. In my opinion, they should never go beyond 10 seconds and should always be easy to understand. Remember, there is no audio in GIFs so your users better be able to understand what they are looking at right away or you might lose them.
My method for taking animated GIF screenshots is to first grab an AVI movie using CamStudio. I’ve been using CamStudio since like 1956 so it is good, trust me. Once I’ve grabbed a video I simply “import as layers” into Photoshop, then save-as GIF and presto! You can mess with the settings if you want. I always try to reduce the quality as low as it will go while still being able to render a clear picture. I recently did a 10 second clip in under 100kb which is way less than most images on the web these days.
Yes, a lot of this can be accomplished with HTML/CSS but for a lot of people they would just rather edit the image than the code. It is really a matter of preference.
Remember the more layers and effects you add to your images the more bulky they are going to be in size. Also remember to size your images appropriately. Bigger is not always better. Remember that most sites serve a large percentage of their pages to mobile devices, so keep that in mind.
If I have to stress one thing it is to use all of these tricks in moderation. If any of these backgrounds or annotations are distracting your visitors from the content itself, you are doing it wrong. Effects are meant to compliment the image, not take away from it.