WordPress featured image

Your WordPress featured image is the image that appears on your blog post list page, and sometimes at the top of your individual blog posts.

Featured images are tucked away in the sidebar of the WordPress blog post editor, yet are a key option. You can assign a primary image for each post, both to act as a header and to represent it on archive and search pages. Adding and optimizing featured images is a vital task on just about any WordPress blog.

In this post, we’ll explain what featured images are in more detail and show you some examples. Then we’ll walk you through how to improve the way you use each WordPress featured image on your own site. Let’s get to work!

What featured images are (and why they matter)

The WordPress Block Editor enables you to add whatever text and media you like to your blog posts. Each new paragraph or piece of media is placed into its own block, and together they make up the content of the post itself.

However, you also have a number of page-wide options in the sidebar to the right of the editor. Some of these are settings we’ve discussed in the past, such as categories and tags. Though, one that’s particularly easy for newcomers to overlook is the Featured Image section:

The WordPress Featured Image section.

You can see the Featured Image section in the sidebar on the right

Here, you can add a single image to represents the post as a whole. Simply click on Set featured image, then, you’ll be able to either upload a new image or choose a file from your Media Library. You can also provide a caption, ‘alt’ text, and description like any other image.

When you’re done, hit Select, and a thumbnail of the image will appear in the Featured Image section:

The WordPress Featured Image section with a thumbnail image.

As a general rule, this image doesn’t appear within the body of the post itself, although how a WordPress featured image is displayed depends on your active theme. Still, most of the time it will appear in your post’s header, somewhere near the title:

An example of a post with a WordPress featured image.

This makes a WordPress featured image crucial, as it’s the first thing readers will see, and will set the tone for the entire post. What’s more, this isn’t the only place featured images appear. They’re also used to represent individual articles in lists of posts, such as on archive and search pages:

A list of blog posts with featured images.

If you run any type of site that publishes new content regularly, it’s vital to add a featured image to each one. Plus, since these images will do a lot to determine your site’s visual style (and even its performance), it pays to spend some time choosing and preparing them carefully.

Three tips for using featured images effectively on your WordPress site

You can use anything you like for your WordPress posts’ featured images. However, given how prominent they are, it’s best to be strategic about how you use them. Let’s look at a few of the best techniques for getting the most you can out of each WordPress featured image.

1. Use images licensed by Creative Commons

If you have a talented photographer or illustrator on your team, you can create original featured images for your blog. This is the ideal scenario, but is often hard to achieve. Not only do you need someone with both the required expertise and time – you’ll also have to create a lot of unique images, especially if you post regularly.

For most blogs, using third-party images is a better solution. Even here, you have a few options. You can pay for images from a stock site, or you can use Creative Commons-licensed media. While there’s nothing wrong with the first approach, the latter offers a number of benefits:

  • Creative Commons images are free, and you may even be able to use them on a monetized blog (depending on the specifics of the license).
  • You have a lot of options to choose from, and there are entire sites dedicated to collecting and sharing these images. Pixabay, Pixnio, and Flickr are just three of the many examples.
  • Again depending on the license, you should be able to modify the images. This means you can start from an existing photo, and add your own tweaks and branding.

To see the last point in action, you can take a look at our own featured images:

Featured images on the ThemeIsle blog.

We start with a basic image, then add various additional elements. This makes each WordPress featured image easier to create; yet the result still looks unique.

To create this image template, we use Canva. Here’s how to use Canva for blog images.

Finally, if you do use a Creative Commons featured image, don’t forget to credit the source! This is good practice, even if it’s not strictly required for every license. A simple line at the end of the post, such as “Featured image: John Smith”, will get the job done.

Creative Commons images aren’t the only free images, either. For example, the popular Unsplash site has its own license that lets you use images commercially for free.

2. Keep the style of your featured images consistent

Since every post has its own WordPress featured image (that may appear in multiple locations across your site), these images make up a large proportion of your site’s media. Therefore, it’s worth considering how they help to represent not just your individual content, but also your site as a whole.

While you can simply choose whatever image seems most appropriate for each article, a better strategy is to keep all your featured images consistent. For example, you can go with realistic images:

A realistic stock image.

Or, you can opt for a more abstract look:

An abstract stock image.

Either way, the style of image you lean towards should reflect your site’s branding and tone – for example, serious and professional, or fun and whimsical. You can even use certain colors, or focus on particular subjects.

However, make sure that if you have multiple authors writing posts, everyone is clear on the style for your featured images. Alternately, you could put one team member in charge of finding and editing a WordPress featured image for each new post. This makes it a lot easier to ensure they all look good when placed next to one another. To save time, you can create a template with Canva that you use for each post.

Finally, in the interests of consistency, you’ll also want to select a standardized size for each WordPress featured image. What this is will be entirely up to you, although we’d recommend choosing dimensions with a longer width than height (as this tends to look better, especially on mobile devices).

You also don’t want your featured images to be too large, as this can have a negative effect on your site. This brings us to our final tip.

3. Optimize each WordPress featured image

As we’ve already noted, featured images can eventually make up a big chunk of your site’s media library. This means they may ultimately have an effect on your site’s performance too.

We’ve discussed the importance of a speedy site in the past, as well as the effect of images on loading times, so we won’t repeat ourselves too much here. Long story short, it’s vital to keep your pages loading fast. What’s more, lots of large, high-quality images can slow your site down significantly.

The answer is to optimize each WordPress featured image, before uploading it to your site (or during the upload process). This will make it ‘lighter’, and less likely to drag down your page speeds. Plus, with the right tool, you can compress images without a noticeable reduction in their quality.

For instance, you can download the Optimole plugin and install it on your site:

This will connect you to the Optimole image optimization service, and enable you to compress all of your site’s images, both new and old. There’s even a free plan, which will let you optimize around 2,000 images – enough to last most blogs quite a while.

Conclusion

Featured images are a vital WordPress feature, one any blog owner can benefit from becoming familiar with. Adding a WordPress featured image to each post or article helps you visually represent the content for your readers. It can even be an essential part of your branding strategy.

Adding featured images in WordPress is simple. However, you’ll want to keep the following tips in mind:

  1. Use Creative Commons-licensed images or other free stock photos.
  2. Keep the style of your featured images consistent.
  3. Optimize each WordPress featured image, using a tool like Optimole.

Do you have any questions about the best way to use featured images on your blog or website? Ask in the comments section below!

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Image credits: Pxhere, Wikimedia Commons.