Image representing Zemanta as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Regular visitors to The Soap Boxers have probably noticed  changes in the past week.  Yes, we’ve become more image conscious.  I’ve often wanted to add images to articles (because they give articles an extra bit of flair), but finding royalty-free images for every article seemed like an impossible undertaking, and using images without permission is a no-no.  What to do, then?

Enter Zemanta

Our friend Elizabeth West had a lot of her images get wiped out and needed to replace many of them.  Commenter Arlee Bird of Tossing It Out recommended the WordPress plug-in Zemanta.  Always intrigued by software with strange names, I decided to give it a short – I added Zemanta to my WordPress installation.

How does it work?

Welcome to Elizabeth, West Virginia

Welcome to Elizabeth, West Virginia (Photo credit: J. Stephen Conn)

Zemanta uses the text of the article to find images that might be appropriate.  Sometimes the choices are spot on.  Other times, you get images like the one you see on the right.  Sure, we mention Elizabeth in this article, but not that Elizabeth.

Don’t worry – if Zemanta doesn’t automatically find an image you like, you can change the search criteria and have it try again.  I can usually find something I like within a  minute or two.  Once you find an image, you can choose to justify it left, center, right and also choose the size (small, medium, large, or the custom option which allows you to specify the width.

Where do the images come from?

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 20:  Pitcher Yu Darvis...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Over time, you’ll probably notice that a lot of the images are from Wikipedia.  This is not by accident.  A basic rule of Wikipedia is that only royalty-free images can be used.  So when Zemanta plucks an image from Wikipedia, it knows that the images is OK to use.

If Zemanta was just pulling from Wikipedia, it’d be a time saver, but not a big deal.  But Zemanta doesn’t stop there.  It also finds images that can be used, but with certain restrictions.  The restriction that I’ve seen is that a small version of the image can be used, as long as there is a link back to the originating site.  I see this as a win-win.  Bloggers get access to some cool images they might not otherwise have access to – such as this cool image of new Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish.

There’s more

There’s more to Zemanta than just images.  You can use it to automatically find related articles, and Zemanta will also suggest “tags” to add to the article and in-text links to add.  There’s also some Amazon affiliate integration, although I haven’t figured out exactly how that works yet. 

No-cost

Image via Wikipedia

How much does it cost?

Like much software on the internet, Zemanta is free. 

Naturally, this begs the question of how they make any money.  I don’t know the internal workings of the organization, but I’ve spotted a couple of their profit-making opportunities.

You can opt to use Zemanta’s Amazon Associates account if you don’t have your own Amazon Associates account.  This allows Zemanta to get a commission on sales derived from your links.

Some of the ink-text links are marked as “promoted”.  Promoted simply means the site’s owner is paying Zemanta for suggesting their site as a link.  While I don’t use the in-text links myself, I really haven’t seen anything glaringly inappropriate.  The sites are always related to the actual topic, it’s just that by using the promoted link you might link to news site A instead of news site B.

It’s worth noting that it would be very difficult for an experienced WordPress user to accidentally activate any of these options.  You have to actually take an action to trigger them. 

Verdict 

At this point, I’m only using a subset of the features that Zemanta offers.  Nonetheless, I’d recommend Zemanta just on what I’ve seem so far.  It’s free, and it’s easy to use.  While it sometimes doesn’t pre-populate exactly what you’re looking for, it has a pretty good initial success rate.

Am I going to go back and Zemantafy every article on the site.  Good lord, no.  There are more than 1000 articles.  I did take a bit of time to update the most popular articles and also add images to many of the articles from the last week.

Hopefully, this will make the articles look more attractive and will result in repeat business for The Soap Boxers.

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Kosmo is the founder of The Soap Boxers and writes on a variety of topics. Many of his short stories have been collected into Kindle books.

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