How to Create Optimized Social Media Images Like A Boss

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Everyone is doing visual content these days. Follow these image creation tips and leave them in the dust.

Smart bloggers, social media stars and marketers alike have caught on to the visual content trend. Have you?

It’s clear that visual content allows you to grab more eyeballs, yields more engagement and performs better long-term for your digital marketing efforts. But the longer this trend is around, the harder it will become to stand out.

And for most bloggers and social media pros, creating images or social media graphics is time consuming and tedious work.

With this post, I hope to help you create a workflow and give you some tips to help you create and optimize your social media images.

You can almost call this a minimum viable workflow for social media images. And I’m telling you first-hand, it works!

featured image for Create Optimized Images

Step 1: Choose Your Tools

Every good artist or craftsman needs to have good tools. And there are different tools for different jobs. Furthermore, there are different tools for different people for different jobs.

You may not feel as comfortable with some tools, but thrive with others. That’s okay. The key is to find the tools that work best for you.

For the sake of time, I’m going to stick to the three tools that I believe are the most effective for different reasons and use cases.

  • Simplest to use.
  • Canva: Moderate ease of use, moderate control.
  • Photoshop: Hardest to use (if you’re not experienced), maximum control.

For more tools take a look at my list of desktop tools and mobile tools for image creation.

The above-mentioned tools will work for the majority of people’s needs, so I recommend giving them all a try and seeing which one you feel most comfortable with.

Step 2: Decide the Content

yoda saying choose wisely you must

What are you going to put on the social media image? Will it be quote? Will it be the title of a blog post?

Or in other words, what is the message you’re trying to get across?

You need to know what your content is going to be first and foremost because the point of a good visual, above all else, is to communicate a message.

But knowing the content isn’t the only thing you should have in mind. You also want to know and understand the emotional tone behind it.

Understanding the emotional tone will help you sort more quickly through some of the elements that will go into creating the visual such as:

  • Typography: Certain fonts will communicate different emotional tones
  • Color: Colors communicate to our brain and can instantly put the viewer in an emotional state
  • Imagery: The photos or dominant graphic(s) you use can have a significant effect on the tone

Know your message, know the tone you want to set, and then proceed to the next step.

Step 3: Source the Images

If you are going to add imagery as a background or visual accompaniment to the message, you will want to have a handful of go-to resources to find and discover images.

You can of course use one of my top sites to find free images post. I also recommend using your browser’s Favorites or Bookmarks feature to save your preferred places to sources images.

A few tips to keep in mind when sourcing your images:

  • Remember the tone of your message (as I said above) and make sure the image you use connects in some way.
  • Always make sure the image you’re using is legal to use— don’t just use any old image you find on Google search.
  • Make sure the image you source is a minimum of 2000px wide and 1080px tall. More on this later.

It’s really easy to find yourself spending an hour just looking for the “perfect” image. This can be a huge time-suck. And the next time you need to create an image, you’ll dread it because you’ll remember how time-consuming this part can be.

So set that time limit (10 minutes) and decide that you will find an image in that amount of time.

Step 4: Put it Together

animated bibbidi bobbidi boo gif

Using the basic rules of visual content creation, it’s time to make your graphic piece. This is where the real work begins.

To get the most bang for your buck (so-to-speak) you need to create a minimum of 3 sizes for this image:

  • Landscape (1200×630)
  • Portrait (1080×1350)
  • Square (1080×1080)

But if you have the extra time and energy, I also recommend making a 1920×1080 version. This is the perfect 16:9 ratio image that has the most universal visual appeal. The only places it can’t be used are as a Facebook Open Graph image and on Instagram. Everywhere else online, it works like a charm.

Now, it also helps if you have already gotten your hands on some social media image templates to make this process more streamlined. While 2/3 of the tools I will talk about below will have templates for you, it’s still good to have your needed sizes in mind.

Using dashboard is the newest visual content creation tool on the market. It offers the simplest (and fastest) process for creating images. However, it also offers the least amount of control over the creation process.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. gives you access to a huge library of professionally made design templates. You browse through the feed, select the design you like, and then you can customize the content. You can customize:

Once you’ve done that, you can instantly have the app crank out 3-5 different sizes made to cover all your bases in social media. That is where this tool really shines. editor

By automatically taking care of the primary design elements and resizing for each network for you, you save a ton of time.

The drawback is you have less control over modifying the size of text, spacing, positioning and other design elements. If you’re just looking to get the job done and not fiddle with tiny details, this is probably the best tool for you.

Using Canva

screenshot of canva editor

This is like the best of both worlds tool. Canva gives you all the tools you need to customize your image without being overwhelming.

You can start with one of their size templates and then chose from their professionally designed layouts. Once you pick a layout, you can customize pretty much everything about it.

Now, you don’t have as many fine-tuning design controls as you would with Photoshop, but that is both a strength and a weakness of the tool. Enough to do what you want, but not enough to suck you into a black hole of options exploring and tweaking.

However, unless you have Canva for Work, you will not have the ability to automatically resize images for all your social media needs. The free Canva user will need to create each size image separately.

This can be a lot more work. If you’re going to be creating a lot of images for social media, then Canva for Work is definitely worth the cost.

Using Photoshop

screenshot of photoshop editor window

If you’re using Photoshop, you have a full suite of design tools to fine-tune and customize your images to every last detail. It is the most popular design standard software used by professional designers for decades.

However, unless you have been using Photoshop for a while, you may get overwhelmed by how many options. The learning curve is quite steep and it could take you a year or so working with it to get comfortable and quick.

Now, using Photoshop there is a trick you can use when creating your social media images.

A while back I discovered the glorious world of Photoshop scripts. Basically, if you’re familiar with javascript you can create scripts that will automate certain things in Photoshop.

One particularly helpful script I discovered is called Duplicate to All and it allows you to select a layer and have it duplicated (pasted) to every open file.

So here’s how this workflow works:

  • Open 4 separate photoshop templates (mentioned above).
  • Create the image on the biggest template (1920×1080).
  • Once finished with that one, put all layers into a group and use the Duplicate to All script to place that group on all templates.
  • Tweak the layers on each file to make it line up correctly for each different template.
  • Save each template separately (JPEG and PSD versions).

This might actually seem like more work, but I’ve found it to be a much better workflow. You not only get better results, but you have a PSD for each version so you can always reopen if you need to make changes.

Step 5: Optimizing Images

There are two things that we need to talk about when optimizing your images. The first is pretty obvious to some, but the second may not be.

  • File size optimization
  • Search engine optimization

Both of these steps are a crucial part in making sure your images are giving you the greatest return on investment.

Image File Size Optimization

meme of fry for slow loading

Everyone knows that a slow loading page is not ideal for user experience. It’s also bad for SEO. So when adding images to a blog post or page, you want them to be as lightweight as possible without losing image quality.

Even if you’re only planning on sharing these images on social media, you still want to optimize them to be as lightweight as possible. Why?

When you upload an image to a social network, they are going to optimize it themselves. If your image file size is massive and unoptimized, the more the network will have to do in order to reduce its size and loading time. And you can’t always trust them to preserve the image quality that you’ve worked so hard on.

Facebook is especially brutal when it comes to image quality loss.

So do some of the work up front and you’ll save as much quality loss as possible.

Reducing File Size with Photoshop

screenshot of photoshop save for web menu

If you’re using Photoshop, you have a bit of control in reducing the file size when you “Save for Web and Devices”.

screenshot for photoshop save for web as png

Your first step is to choose between saving as a JPEG or PNG. Depending on the image, one may be better than the other. So first select PNG and take a look at how big the file size will be. Then switch to JPEG and see what the file size will be.

With JPEG selected you can also tweak the quality settings to reduce the file size further. I don’t recommend going below 70% or else you will likely see a visible degrading of quality.

After looking at these settings, choose the file type that has the lowest file size.

Other Tools to Reduce File Size

There are plenty of apps, plugins and web services that will help you reduce your file sizes even further. Here are some recommended tools:

Personally, I use JPEGmini and that’s all I need. If you’re not a Mac user though, this will not be an option for you.

Image Search Engine Optimization

Many people overlook this step because they simply aren’t aware of how powerful it can be. They also don’t realize just how big a problem it is to have poor image seo.

Trust me, optimizing your images for search can not only improve your overall search ranking, but can drive traffic as well.

This, of course, only applies if you’re loading them on your blog, but it’s a good habit nonetheless.

Optimize Your Filename

screenshot of examples of file names

First, be sure that your filename contains a descriptive keyword or phrase that summarizes the image. So if your image is a meme of Yoda, name it something like yoda-choose-meme.jpg.

Don’t make it super long, just enough to get the job done.

Add the Alt Tag

The Alt tag is primarily used by screen readers for the visually impaired. This is is meant to describe the image in a useful way to someone (or something) that can’t actually see the image.

In WordPress it’s very easy to set an Alt tag when you upload an image. Do this every single time. No exceptions.

screenshot of wordpress alt and title tags

This is not only good for the visually imaired and search engines but if anyone happens to pin this image, that Alt tag is what Pinterest will automatically fill the Pin description with.

Keep your alt tag to 125 characters or less. This can be a bit more descriptive than the filename but not a full-on description.

If you’re not using WordPress, you can use HTML in your editor of choice, here’s what that would look like:

<img src="IMAGE URL" alt="YOUR ALT TAG HERE" />

And no, it should not be in all caps. I did that just so you can easily see where it goes.

Write Your Title tag

Just like the alt tag, the Title tag is easily overlooked. This is what will show up when someone hovers their mouse over your image and they get that little popover bubble.

Again, WordPress makes this very easy to add, but if you’re using something else or doing this manually through HTML, here’s what it would look like:


Your title tag should also be in title case— first letter of each word Capitalized, just like the title of a blog post. And also, just like a good blog post title, try to keep it to 60 characters or less.

For a more in-depth look at Alt tags and Title tags, Yoast has a fantastic article that I highly recommend.


meme of baby clenching fist in success

Getting your content to stand out in today’s dizzying overload of content doesn’t take much. You just need to have a little more insight and be willing to do a little more work than the next guy or gal.

Knowing these simple social media image optimization and workflow tips will help you begin cranking these things out with greater effectiveness and the highest possible efficiency.

As a recap, here’s what you need:

  • Pick the image creation tool that works for you
  • Decide on the content
  • Source the images or primary visual aids
  • Put it all together (using your tool of choice)
  • Optimize the file name
  • Optimize the file size
  • Upload the image
  • Add alt tag (if applicable)
  • Add title tag (if applicable)

Once you’ve done this a handful of times, it will be like second nature. Done consistently over time, this can be a highly impactful strategy for getting your content discovered by a much wider audience.

So which image creation tool is your favorite? Is there anything you read above that was completely new to you? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Dustin W. Stout Avatar

22 responses to “How to Create Optimized Social Media Images Like A Boss”

  1. David Avatar

    me too

  2. Tamara Pflug Avatar
    Tamara Pflug

    Thank you Dustin!!!! 🙂

  3. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    That’s exactly why the optimization is key. Getting that file size down to 300-600kb helps keep load time fast without losing image quality.

  4. Tamara Pflug Avatar
    Tamara Pflug

    Thank you for this!! 🙂

    I always wonder… adding many pictures with big sizes like the ones you’re talking about 1920×1080 for example, isn’t it going to be very heavy for our blog to load quickly?

  5. James Avatar

    Dustin, thanks for sharing these tips on visual content and how to optimize it! I was so happy when I saw that you mentioned alt tags, because a lot of bloggers and site owners forget about it or even have no idea this exists. I wrote how to use alt tags in SEO promotion here – I hope it’ll be useful for begginers.

  6. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    Thanks Vinay!

  7. Vinay Prajapati Avatar
    Vinay Prajapati

    I am being huge fan of your blog. It’s really helpful even for pro. Thanks.

  8. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    Awesome additions Erik! Hope you are well my friend!

  9. Erik Andersen Avatar
    Erik Andersen

    Great article Dustin… as usual. Just a couple additions that might help others. If you are a Mac user, a less expensive but powerful alternative to Photoshop is Pixelmator. It does pretty much the same things, is easier to learn and use and will take .PSD source files should you want to start from another source. Also, I personally use or to shrink images file sizes. Both URLs actually work for .PNG and .JPG files. Have fun!

  10. Nora Avatar

    A friend introduced me to them. From what I know he’s kind of trying to figure it all out on his own- like you. He does a great job, so I really hope he can make it work.

  11. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    I have not tried that Nora. Thanks for showing me something new! 😀

  12. Nora Avatar

    I’ve tried all of the above… Photoshop, Canva, Designfeed and I still get tired of trying to get it right. I found Imagefoo ( and I love them. Have you ever tried their service?

  13. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    Thanks Becky! Glad you found it useful. It sure is a lot to take in, but once you have it nailed down it’s not so bad.

  14. Becky Smith Avatar
    Becky Smith


    That is an amazing amount of helpful material.

    Thank you for taking the time to put it together–not to mention, being willing to share all your hard won knowledge.


  15. Robert Nissenbaum Avatar

    I would always recommend optimizing for SEO myself.

    – if your content isn’t found initially, you’re not likely to get images pinned.

    – my experience (please correct me if I’m wrong) is that many repin rather than pin direct from websites

    On the latter point, since I pin the image from my site, I can modify the description at that point to optimize it for Pinterest. Since I will share the same image to multiple boards over time, I can switch up the description – a sort of A/B testing.

    A another solution might be to create 2 images for your blog post

    – the featured image sized for social sharing to Facebook, G+ and LinkedIn and optimized for SEO.

    – a second optimized for Pinterest, which when using the Social Warfare plugin to set the image to be used when Pinned. (though I didn’t realize you could set the image description for Pinterest).

  16. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    That’s a great question Kristie! And, for me, it’s a super easy answer– follow best practices for alt text according to Google (with screen readers in mind), and use the Social Warfare plugin to customize the pin descriptions.

    Or, just use the image description/title for that purpose. Do not stuff your alt tags with sensational headline text.

    The reason Pinterest experts are saying to make energetic, long alt tags is because they want that to be pulled as the pin description when a user pins that one image. This, to me, is equivalent to taking a diet pill that gives you immediate visual results but is destroying your overall health. It’s a tactic that will hopefully work on a per-pin basis but each time you do it you’re communicating to Google “I’m a spammer stuffing my alt tags with disingenuous and super-long strings of content.” This destroys your site rank (health) one image at a time.

    As much as I love me some Pinterest traffic, I understand two things about the platform:

    • 1. They don’t have nearly the referral traffic power of Google.
    • 2. As they mature as a search engine, they will inevitably adopt many of the SEO best practices that Google has innovated in order to surface the best content.

    Hope that adds a bit of clarity. I know Pinterest experts who say to produce alt tags like this mean well, but it’s a telling indication that they’ve got a case of platform tunnel vision– and that can be really dangerous.

  17. Kristie Hill Avatar

    Okay. This is something that I probably have been over thinking for some while: Pinterest optimization in relation to SEO optimization.

    Most say that best practice for SEO alt text is like you mentioned, 150 characters and very descriptive of what the picture actually is.

    Pinterest experts say to make long, energetic, descriptions that encourage reader to call to action. Much like “Smart bloggers and social media marketers have caught on to the visual content trend. Use these image creation and optimization tips to leave them in the dust!” Most are putting this description in the ALT text. Which, is really not what the Big G is looking for.

    Pinterest pulls first from the image description/title and moves to the alt text if those aren’t present.

    So, how do should one balance SEO and Pinterest descriptions?

  18. Robert Nissenbaum Avatar

    LOL. Still amazing to me how many high profile sites still ignore them though! Pulled one image on content theft (won’t name the site) and the description pulled was “phone-in-butt.jpg’ to describe an iphone being stolen from a back pocket.

    Between the SEO and Pinterest value, I have been recommending to make sure both the alt tag and image description are done right. Not like it’s hard.

  19. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    Thanks Nicolas! I’ll definitely look into it! I know I’ve seen it before but can’t remember if I’ve ever given it a spin.

  20. Nicolas Richer Avatar

    Hey Dustin,

    I know I’m going to sound salesy but after recommending WP-Rocket, I think you should really try Imagify.

    Through the online app or directly as a WordPress plugin (plus, you’ll like the onboarding experience).

    Their free plan is enough for most “small” bloggers and you can choose between 3 levels of image optimization.

    It’s a really neat solution, directly in WordPress!


  21. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    Yep, I had to do a lot of research to find out the optimal lengths for alt tags– SEO is not my thing. Kris Howes dug that up when I was researching this article for Social Media Examiner last year.

    As for Pinterest, the official extension/buttons (from what I’ve seen and had Pinterest Pros tell me) is that it should be pulling from either the image description or alt tag. Many people lean towards the alt tag being the most important. Just tell a Pinterest expert that their image alt tags are missing and watch them freak out. lol

  22. Robert Nissenbaum Avatar


    Wasn’t aware of the 125 character or less ‘rule’ for the alt image tag. Most of mine are short by nature but sure I need to alter a few.

    I have found, depending on the browser extension, sharing plugin or other tool used, the pulled Pinterest description could be the image name or the full description. Am I missing something?


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