When it comes to creating custom photos most marketers don’t have the design skill or time to create them along with their weekly content, whether in the form of social media promotion or blog posts. Utilizing public domain photos is a great way to circumvent the lack of design proficiency or time to shoot, but it reaches a point where thousands of other users are using the exact same photos for their content.

This blog hasn’t been the exception to that rule and I’ve used stock photos from Pixabay and Pexels to serve as copyright and attribution-free featured images for my posts. Within the past few weeks I realized that I needed to spend more time creating unique photos as I not only saw other bloggers using the same photos as I was, but my engagement was lacking on image-centric social media platforms like Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter.

As a best practice in the automotive industry, General Motors encourages dealerships to create their own custom assets instead of using OEM photos that are distributed to every dealership in the country. By doing this, it makes that dealership stand out from the competition with its own photos, designs and competitive pricing. Even if these custom assets aren’t created entirely from scratch, GM allows its dealers to utilize OEM photos with overlays that feature the dealership’s branding and competitive offers for their inventory.

Taking note of this best practice, even if I didn’t have the means or time to produce my own original photos, I could still utilize stock photos and add a custom overlay that would increase engagement and effectively represent my branding. There are two easy ways to create an overlay for images: Canva and Adobe Indesign/Illustrator.



Using Canva is the easier platform to use for those who aren’t proficient with design, as it’s a drag and drop platform that’s free to use in comparison to the monthly subscription for Adobe Creative Suite. If you want an actual photo background Canva allows you to upload your own photos or choose from a wide selection of images directly on the platform. Canva also offers preset designs that can also be tweaked with text, color and illustrations. The sky is the limit when it comes to the functionality Canva offers when creating custom photos; just make sure that you select the correct size dimensions for the photo before designing, as different social media platforms and blog posts have different sizing requirements for uploads.

Canva is a great way to create custom photos for anyone who isn't skilled with graphic design software.


Adobe Indesign/Illustrator

When it comes to producing creative, I learned how to use Adobe Indesign/Illustrator before I was introduced to Canva nearly a year later. These programs have a much steeper learning curve, but offer offers unparalleled functionality compared to any other design software that isn’t part of the Creative Suite.

While I have the design skills to produce my own simple custom photos or infographics for my posts, time is the greatest limiting factor for implementing this best practice. It’s a lot easier to find a stock photo that matches the overall topic of my post and then overlay text in a transparent box with my brand colors. I would love to create my own custom assets from scratch, but there are only so many hours in the day so I have to prioritize between content creation, updating the site, social media engagement and promotion.

How I create custom photos in Adobe Illustrator


Results of Using Custom Photos

Despite prioritizing and only overlaying my own text on stock photos, I’ve witnessed a significant jump in engagement, especially in click-throughs to the site, although the importance of using hashtags shouldn’t be overlooked. This jump can be attributed to a different strategy regarding hashtags and messaging in my captions offering a direct call-to-action, but uploading custom photos with a link in the caption has produced more web traffic compared to uploading a thumbnail and meta-description.

It seems strange, especially because another best practice is to drive viewers to the content they’re looking for in as few clicks as possible. This is somewhat mitigated with offering that direct call-to-action to click the link that’s included in the post caption on social media, but I didn’t expect to see such a dramatic increase in engagement considering the custom photo isn’t directly linked to anything, requiring readers to click that link in the caption.

My posts have experienced double the engagement in the form of likes, comments and click-through’s on social media; we’ll see if this lasts in the long-term, but creating custom photos is a best practice that I’ll continue implementing in my digital strategy for 2018. With so much image-recognition technology on the horizon, the kinds of photos that users will show in their newsfeeds will be sure to change, especially on Instagram and the various updates to its algorithm.