What are Featured Images?

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posted on: January 3, 2018

Featured Images play a significant role in one’s website, especially depending on the theme and how one promotes individual blog posts on social media. Today’s post is going to explain how they work and go over some best practices for using Featured Images. Following these best practices for Featured Images can  transform your entire blog design.

What is a Featured Image?

A Featured Image is  WordPress theme feature that allows site owners to select a representative image for posts, pages, and custom post types like portfolio, downloads, and products.

Even though Featured Image is the official WordPress term, some functions and template tags use post thumbnail. The WordPress Codex is titled Post Thumbnails. When communicating instructions to my clients, I always refer to it as Featured Image, since that is what they will be seeing on their end!

Selecting a Featured Image

To upload a Featured Image, select “Set Featured Image” link under the Featured Image toggle in the Post Editor Screen. If you cannot find the “Set Featured Image” link, make sure that you have the toggled enabled under SCREEN OPTIONS in the top right of the Post Editor Screen.

Best Practices for Using Featured Images

Most people just select Featured Images at random, and this is probably the worst thing you can do. Archive and category templates often use Featured Images, so you want to follow these best practices:

  • Consistent Image Ratio: Each Featured Image should have the same width-height ratio. Most people use either a 2:3, 4:5 or 3:5 ratio for their Featured Images. The ratios are also Pinterest friendly. This consistency ensures that the images are cropped well within the different uses of the theme. Check out Green Valley Kitchen; Geraldine uses the same ratio for all of her images, and it gives her brand identity a strong, consistent presence.
  • Similar Point of View: Whether a food blog, fashion blog, or online store, a similar point of view with your images is very impactful. Jenn from Style Charade does this the best with her outfits. When viewing her categories, you can see the beautiful breadth of her content.

Media Settings

Under SETTINGS < MEDIA, you have the ability to customize your media settings. When you upload an image, WordPress saves the original images, and the also creates three other copies – thumbnail, medium, and large image sizes. Here is where image ratios come into play. The default settings follow a square ratio. WordPress will crop the images for the thumbnails to account for images that do not fit exactly into those dimensions. For the medium and large size images, WordPress uses the max width and height so that the images do not exceed the defined dimensions.

Thus, if all of your Featured Images follow a 2:3 ratio, you might consider changing your thumbnails to be that ratio as well, such as 100 px wide by 150 px tall or 200px wide by 300 px tall. Remember, thumbnails are small. Your RSS Feed and WordPress Popular Posts (see below) pull these specifications.

Fixing Blurry Thumbnail Images

Are your Featured Images looking distorted or blurry? This problem can occur when you install a new theme or plugin, but it is quick and easy to fix!

Install Regenerate Thumbnails. Once you’ve installed the plugin, go to TOOLS < REGENERATE THUMBNAILS. Select the button that says “Regenerate All Thumbnails”. It will take a few minutes to edit all of your thumbnails. I typically run this plugin overnight if a site has a lot of images.

Using Featured Images for Your Mailchimp RSS Feed

If your RSS Feed is abbreviated or you send out an email automatically with your latest post, then you likely need to include an image in that email. Most themes do not have a Featured Image incorporated in the RSS, that’s why a plugin like Featured Images in RSS with Size and Position is so valuable. Add it to your site, and then when you adjust your settings, make sure it is pulling the LARGE version of the image.

WordPress Popular Posts + Relevant Posts

Blog Shop Themes and my favorite popular post plugin – WordPress Popular Posts – use thumbnails to display posts automatically. It is very important when you use tools like these that you maintain the consistency of your Featured Image as in the example of A-Listed. If these images are looking blurry, run the Regenerate Thumbnail plugin!

Bulk Add Featured Images

Let’s say you have not added Featured Images to any of your posts. Instead of editing through each post, you can quickly add Featured Images to all of your posts using a plugin. When I do an install for a client, I typically run through Import External Images first. This plugin ensures that all the images live on the site. If the customer previously underwent a blog transfer, not all of the graphics make it through. Import External Images fixes all those loose ends. Then, I run Quick Featured Images. This plugin pulls the first image from each blog post that doesn’t have a Featured Image select. If the client wants to change out individual posts, they can, but, at least, this plugin adds an image to each post.

What If My Theme Looks Crazy with Featured Images

You might add featured images to your site, but it looks crazy when you do! I have had several customers run into this situation. It is not the death of your site, and it doesn’t mean you should redesign your site immediately (but you should add it to your list of things you want with your redesign). If you are running into this situation, I recommend that you first reach out to the developer of your theme and ask how you can turn it off. If you are having a hard time getting a hold of your designer, there are a few hacks you could use, but I would not recommend them. Instead, I would hold off on addressing the issue until you do a redesign, and make sure that the Featured Image is one of the items you want in your blog design!

Editor's Note

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