Everyone says, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Well, people still do, and the same goes for featured images on your WordPress website.Of all photos on your site, none are more important than this one. When paired with an engaging title, the right featured image grabs people’s attention and gets them excited to view your content. On page load, it's one of the first things your visitors see, and signals whether your hard work is worth a reader’s time.
Needless to say, it’s important to get your featured image right. A warped, blurry, poorly-formatted, or disproportionately-sized featured image suggests you haven’t put enough work into what comes after it. How can your content be valuable if you can’t even nail the first photo?
In this guide, I’ll explain how to adjust the size of your featured images to best suit your pages and posts. But first, let’s discuss the purpose of featured images, how to add them to your WordPress site.
What is a WordPress featured image?
A featured image visually represents a post or page on your WordPress website. Featured images usually appear on your website at top of posts. They also appear when you share your posts outside of your WordPress site, like on social media or news websites. The purpose of the featured image is to draw readers to your content and signal what your posts are about and reinforce your site’s tone and branding.
In most cases, your active WordPress theme determines if and how featured images will be displayed on your site. Since featured images are so important, most reputable WordPress themes have them enabled.
Still, there’s a good chance your featured images will look different across themes in terms of sizing and placement. It’s important to ensure the files you intend to use as featured images are optimized.
Where a featured image might appear on your site depends on your specific WordPress theme, but you can typically expect to see your image appear in at least these three places:
- Anywhere on your website that links to the blog post associated with the featured image, such as your homepage, a search results page, or a recommended articles module. In this context, the image serves as the “thumbnail” for the piece.
- At or near the top of your posts or pages (for example, the top of this blog post). The exact positioning will vary by theme.
- When you share your posts on other online channels, namely social media sites like Twitter or LinkedIn. If you set a featured image, these platforms will make it the thumbnail by default.
Here’s a basic example of featured images on a WordPress homepage using the Fortune theme:
How to Set a Featured Image in WordPress
To add a featured image to a post or page on your WordPress site:
1. Open the editor for the post or page.
2. Click the gear icon in the top right corner to open the settings panel.
3. In the settings panel under the Document tab, select Featured image > Set featured image.
4. Upload your featured image from your device, or select one from your media library.
5. In the Alt Text field, add alternative text that describes your featured image. Informative, accurate alt text is a key step to optimizing your WordPress site’s SEO.
6. Add a Title, Caption, and/or Description if desired.
7. Click Set featured image.
8. Back in the editor, click Preview to see your featured image in action.
You can replace or remove your featured image in settings under Document > Featured image.
WordPress Featured Image Size
The best size for your WordPress featured images will vary based on your theme layout and your own personal preference. Your theme’s specific layout might default to WordPress’ featured image dimensions, or have their own dimensions. In most cases, it’s possible to change your featured image size to your liking.
How to Change Featured Image Size in WordPress
Altering the look of your featured images is a major change to the appearance of your site, so let’s take the process set-by-step. We also recommend testing these modifications on a WordPress staging site to hide any formatting errors from the public until you take your changes live.
1. Understand WordPress Image Sizes
In order to change the size of featured images on pages and posts, it’s important to first get a handle on WordPress default image sizing.
When you add an image to your WordPress library, WordPress automatically makes three copies of the original image in its three default dimensions:
- Thumbnail size, cropped to 150x150 pixels.
- Medium size, with a maximum width/height of 300 pixels.
- Large size, with a maximum width/height of 1024 pixels.
These copies are created so that the image can be placed in different sections of your website without the need to resize the original image each time, as this would decrease page performance and increase bandwidth used.
Imagine uploading a 2000 x 1200 pixel image as a featured image. This relatively high resolution makes sense when placing the image full-width on the top of a post. However, it would be impractical to squeeze this large image into a smaller area, like an image gallery. That's why WordPress makes smaller versions of the same file.
While WordPress’ image resizing is often helpful, the default sizes won’t work perfectly for featured images on every WordPress site. For instance, your WordPress theme might require larger or smaller dimensions for your featured images in different places on your site. In this case, the theme might automatically overwrite the default WordPress image sizes.
Alternatively, you might want to adjust these dimensions yourself. This is easy to do in WordPress.
2. Change Your Featured Image Dimensions
To change the sizes of your featured image, the first place you should look is your theme. Many themes add their own featured image dimensions to be used in place of the WordPress defaults. Check the options under the Appearance tab in the left side panel, and look for options to toggle the featured image size within your specific theme.
If no option exists in your theme settings, you can change the default featured image size in your WordPress settings.
To change the default images sizes in WordPress:
1. From the WordPress dashboard, select Settings > Media.
2. In the number fields next to Thumbnail size, input the desired dimensions for your featured images. (WordPress uses the terms “thumbnail” and “featured image” interchangeably.)
3. Click Save Changes.
3. Reformat Your Old Featured Images
Default image sizes are only applied when you upload images to WordPress, so the new dimensions will only apply to images uploaded after you change these settings. To resize your old images to the new specifications, reupload them manually or use the Regenerate Thumbnails WordPress plugin to handle this for you.
When uploading new featured images from now on, size them at least as large as the featured image dimensions you’ve set to avoid blurry or warped photos.
Also, consider cropping featured images to the WordPress thumbnail dimensions before uploading to avoid issues with auto-cropping. Some experimentation will probably be necessary here.
How to Optimize WordPress Featured Images for Search
You’ve got your featured image sizing sorted out, but we’re not done just yet. Featured images have the potential to attract not only readers, but search engines too. You just need the right alternative text and title.
Alt text serves two purposes:
- It describes the image to those who might not be able to view it clearly, including readers with visual impairments and readers with slow internet connections.
- It helps search engines like Google list websites in results pages.
By adding clear alt text containing your relevant keywords, search engines might rank your content higher in search results.
For example, the alternative text in this blog post is “two people sitting on a couch and using a computer to adjust WordPress featured image size”. This description (1) tells the reader the contents of the image, and (2) includes important keywords for this article that signal its relevance to Google.
Similarly, putting relevant keywords in the featured image title also helps search engines index your pages. I’ve titled the featured image of this article “wordpress-featured-image-size” for this purpose.
Note that all non-decorative images on your website should have alternative text and descriptive titles, not just your featured images. To learn more about images and SEO, see our Marketer's Guide to Optimizing Images for Google Search.
Do Your Featured Images Size Up?
For most WordPress websites, featured images are a no-brainer. They engage and inform your visitors, unify your brand, provide a professional look, boost SEO, and increase the overall value of your website for your leads and customers.
It might sound nit-picky, but the look, layout, and meta-details your featured images matter a lot. Don’t skimp on the details and fudge your pages from the get-go — it’s your featured image, after all, so treat it like one.
Originally published Jul 14, 2020 7:00:00 AM, updated July 14 2020