Why Tiger Woods Should Never Show Up in Your Featured Images

The job of featured images is to give readers a visual cue as to what your content is about. So why leave any of that up to chance?
Tiger Woods in Delaware
Found this in my Google News feed this a.m.

Before I get out of bed each morning, I open my Google news app and take a look at what’s happening around the world, the nation, and my own little local bubble here in Delaware. Needless to say, I was shocked as I looked through the local news feed and found Tiger Woods’ mug shot there. My first thought was, “Uh, did he just go and get himself arrested in Delaware, too?” Then I realized it was the same mug shot from his May DUI arrest.

So, here’s what I’m wondering:

How the heck did Tiger Woods’ mug shot get paired up alongside a headline that reads “University of Delaware senior named Miss Delaware” from Delmarva Now?

Whenever you run into something like this online there are a few possibilities to consider:

  • The source article had too many featured images associated with the post, and the person who shared it chose one that was inappropriate. Perhaps this was because they weren’t paying attention or maybe they didn’t realize there were other options besides the first one that appeared.
  • The source article had no featured image, and the person who shared it chose an image at random so their post would be more likely to get clicks.
  • The news aggregator screwed up.

Considering the news aggregator I use is Google, I’d like to think that it couldn’t have been them that screwed up. Google understands the Internet game better than anyone else, which means the source of the issue had to be the news outlet.

So, how did a publication like Delmarva Now, owned by USA Today, who in turn is owned by Gannett, let a totally incorrect featured image get associated with their article on the new Miss Delaware?

Featured Images: It’s the Little Things That Count

One of my biggest pet peeves about online news sites is how poorly structured they are. I briefly touched on it in a piece I wrote for WPMU DEV called “Why Consistency is the Most Powerful Force in Web Design“, but chose not to elaborate since I realistically could’ve covered the topic in its own article (which I guess is what I’m doing right now).

New York Times disorganization
If you’re involved in web design, development, or building your own company’s site, there’s a good lesson to learn here.

This is why I prefer to get my news from aggregator apps like Google News. They cut out the clutter and the lack of white space you have to contend with on news sites and just give you what you need. Except when a featured image stops you dead in your tracks and leaves you wondering how the heck Tiger Woods ended up in Newark, DE.

I mean, I guess the featured image was sort of successful in its mission here. It piqued my interest enough to where I stopped because I wanted to know what the article was about. That’s why we attach featured images to our content in the first place. But they’re supposed to be engaging for the right reasons; in other words, they should be relevant and directly complement whatever the piece is about. That was not the case with Mr. Woods this morning.

So, here we are. A poorly matched featured image gets paired up with an article about my alma mater, and now I need to know what happened. If you’re curious too, then follow me on this quick journey through “University of Delaware senior named Miss Delaware” to see if we can figure out what went wrong.

Here is what the top of that page looks like as of writing this:

Delmarva Miss Delaware - above the fold
This is the above the fold content. But why?

At first, I thought maybe that video player was the content. After all, it’s the only thing that appears above the fold, soooooo… the story about Miss Delaware should be there, right? Nope. I pressed play and it showed an ad for Lincoln Financial before going into the first news clip about the Delaware beaches. Okay, not what I was looking for. So I pressed the right-arrow on the edge of the video player and that’s when Tiger Woods came up. See his mug shot down below?

For whatever reason, Delmarva Now put a completely unrelated video news roll at the top of this blog post. Why would they do that? Obviously, readers like myself don’t click on their articles so we can watch entertainment videos. We don’t have time for that. News should be quick and succinct and delivered efficiently. To say that I’m completely annoyed by this UX would be an understatement.

Anger and annoyance aside, we at least now know how Tiger Woods’ photo snuck into the featured images for a news aggregation service. But is it good enough to say, “Oh, it’s wonky design choices that caused the confusion”? No, it’s not, and I’ll show you why.

Here is what this article looks like when you scroll down to where the blog post actually begins:

Delmarva Miss Delaware - scroll 1
So there were definitely photos of Miss Delaware…

There are actual photos of Chelsea Bruce down here! Beautiful photos that would’ve looked great when cut down to size and used as a featured image.

Then I scrolled down one more time and found this:

Delmarva Miss Delaware - scroll 2
Still not sure what happened and how these photos weren’t what greeted me as I read the news this morning.

There are 32 more photos of Miss Delaware!

Why, Delmarva Now, did you not take the time to clean up your article’s metadata and attach a high-quality and relevant featured image to the post? How long would that have taken? Maybe a couple minutes?

Let This Be a Lesson: Never Forget About Your Featured Images

In total, there were 34 images of Chelsea Bruce included in that blog post… and yet somehow the featured image that showed up on Google ended up being Tiger Woods’ mug shot. In my mind, that’s a major failure on the part of whoever is responsible for managing and publishing the content for this news site. Granted, the design of their page that prioritizes an unrelated video news feed above the fold is a huge thumbs-down, but they still could have taken control over the feature images associated with the article.

Using BuiltWith, I took a look into the content management system (CMS) Delmarva Now used to create this page. It looks like rather than use a trusted CMS like WordPress that would help keep their site in order and give them tools to remind them, “Hey, uh, you should probably give this article a nice featured image”, they’re using some sort of proprietary CMS from Gannett. Now, I don’t have access to that CMS so I have no idea what the editing interface looks like, but I’m shocked that such a major player in news wouldn’t have something built into the backend to ensure that every post comes with a high-quality featured image.

Regardless of what happened with the creators of this article or whatever the heck is going on with their CMS, I think this is a good lesson for anyone who’s creating and sharing content on the web. You write a blog post in WordPress (or whatever CMS you use). Then you preview the post and all looks good, so you publish. But did you take care of the little details, like the featured image and the metadata? Did you test out the post on other devices aside from the one you composed it on? Did you follow up with your post’s promotion on social media to make sure the share previews look okay?

When it comes to content marketing, you really can’t leave anything up to chance. That’s why I always recommend that my clients use WordPress and load up on plugins that will ensure they’ve checked off all the necessary boxes before publishing a new post. It’s also important to do your own due diligence and check your post from every angle. If left in the hands of online users who don’t know how featured images work or news aggregators who automate the process of sharing your content, you could risk people missing out on a really great read simply because your featured image sucked.

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