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Exactly What Is That Featured Image in WordPress?

I have been asked this question so many times. When someone installs WordPress and goes into their editor window, down on the right hand side they find this.

featured image wordpress

So what does is exactly do? Well, I wish it was as simple as that. Your featured image can play several roles. And it can be dependent on your theme or even a plugin.

Let’s look at the Twenty Twelve theme. If we add a featured image and no images in the post itself, the image shows up above the post name.

featured image twenty twelve

But if we add a photo at the top of the post like this:

featured image two

Now we get a post with two images. So for this theme if you wanted the image above the title, you would use the featured image. But if you want it below the title, you would insert it directly into the post.

featured image front end

Now let’s look at another theme. Here we are using the Genesis child theme Prose. The featured image works totally different here. If you have both a featured image and an image in your post, on y0ur blog page, it pulls the featured image in as the thumbnail.

feauterd image prose

And when you view the full post, you do not see the featured image, just the image inside the post. What this does it gives you the option to have a different image for your blog page thumbnail.

featured image front prose

And if you do not add a featured image to the post, it will pull the image that is placed inside the post as the thumbnail.

featured image prose 3

Now if we look at a widget that comes with the Genesis framework, you will see that one of the settings is specifically for the featured image.

featured image widget

Where does this leave you? As you can guess, it all depends on your theme. So if you haven’t explored how the feature image integrates with your theme, maybe it’s time to. You just might be surprised.

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Bob Dunn
I'm BobWP, educator and blogger. I have taught thousands of people how to set up their WordPress sites and grow them out. Having used WordPress since 2007, I bring those years of experience now to our online courses and helping people in a friendly, non-geeky sort of way.

60 comments on “Exactly What Is That Featured Image in WordPress?

    1. Hey Cesar, thanks. Another one of those WordPress surprises. And no worries on the link, I use a plugin that is called CommentLuv that let’s you link back to one of your posts, sometimes it does it automatically and no need for to to relate to the post here. Just my way of saying thanks for leaving a comment!

  1. Very helpful tips on featured images, Bob. Thanks. One thing I make it a habit of doing is maintaining a document where I record information on how my custom theme works with such elements as featured images, custom fields, etc. I could never remember it all.

    1. Steve, thanks, and yes, great idea on the documentation. I’m the same way, I cannot tell you how many times I have revisited a post or video tutorial of mine because of that simple fact 😉

  2. Hey Bob,
    thank you very much for this information!
    I’m going to test it with the scrollider-theme I’m using.

    Greetings from the “Ruhr-Area” in Germany,

  3. Thanks very helpful and solved one of my issues. I’ll share it just in case:

    I’m using WordPress for iOS in order to maintain my photoblog and since WP updated their app, they added this “featured image” on the main screen. At first, I thought that was a nice addition to make things faster (i.e. less clicks) to update a story.

    However, I did notice something very bad when using this feature: people visiting my photoblog with the mobile version mode, they couldn’t see my pictures… annoying for a photoblog!

    That means that I need to edit all my latest entries and “add a media”, not “featured image”.

    Thanks again!

    1. Mmmm, good question. I remember a while back someone I know was trying to use it with Suffusion. The thing is that the option is there on posts and pages, but cannot remember if we were able to get it to work, or if Suffusion supports the featured image. Are there any insights on their forum?

  4. If I don’t use a featured image, my blog posts page will only show article headings, and no thumbnails. When I add the featured to my blog page, it shows like I want it to, but it also adds the featured image above my blog post title, and I don’t want the two images. Is there any way to fix that problem?

    1. Hey Lea, I have actually seen that happen with some sites, and it’s usually theme specific… and I know, it can be a pain. What I have had to do in the past is contact the theme dev or support and ask how to resolve it. Typically it requires putting some custom code in that they will give you. Or if you are really lucky, it might be a simpler solution. Wish I had the perfect answer for you!

  5. Hey Bob,

    I’m trying to find out if there is a plugin or way to see when an image was last used as a featured image, or many some way to see how many times an image was used as part of the featured image selection process.

    I know the proprietary Netitor CMS has this functionality for the college sports teams, but I can’t find it for WP.

    Any ideas?

    We have a pretty large image archive, and just want to keep our image choice fresh.

    1. I am not a SEO expert, but I can imagine the the name of the file and the alt title are just as important in any image. Words that are descriptive and and keyword friendly.

    1. Yeah, one of those things that are on the page, and is easily overlooked, or just makes you wonder, what the heck is that for. Love WordPress but not always the most intuitive… glad to hear this was helpful!

  6. Bob, I’ve connected with you on Twitter before, and you’re always generous with your help. Today when I googled, “WordPress featured image” this helpful post popped up.
    I’m now going to get your emails.
    As always, thank you!

  7. Hi, very helpful post, thank you. Do you know of any windows-based blogging software that allows you to update the Featured Image as part of the blog post? I can’t work out how to do this anywhere except in the back end of WordPress. Thank you very much.

  8. Thanks for writing. My problem right now is that the first image in the post is not showing up as the featured image. Is there a code to make this the case? Or do I have to manually make every first image the featured image? Thanks so much for any help (I’m not a “coder”)…. :)

    1. Yeah, unfortunately each theme has a mind of its own when it comes to using the featured image. I am guessing that yes, inserting it into the post is your option. I wish there was a method to the madness, but we just have to work with how the theme decides to use it. :)

  9. I’ve been researching this topic for months now ‘coz I really want to know the real essence of the featured image. Now I know that different themes have different presentations.

    1. Glad you found it useful. It’s a little bugger …. and has a life of its own. I cannot tell you how many times someone has switched themes and, well, they wonder, now where did that featured image go “)

  10. Yeah thaks for this well-described post. Ive been struggling with Featured Images for a few days now because of some problems I’m having. Your post caused the penny to drop, and made me realise my problems are something entirely different.

  11. Hi bob. Im still a little confused :( I have changed each page to a featured image – but I still get the thumbnail that I do not want? If I put /services after the web address then that’s ok – but I don’t always want to do that. I have also downloaded Default Featured Image plugin – but that doesn’t appear to help me either? I am using Third Style Theme. The way I test it is to type the web address into my Facebook post and up pops the image – but the ‘wrong’ one! Any help you can offer?

    1. Hi Carol, unfortunately every theme works with the featured image differently, so it’s hard say offhand. Does the theme have documentation? If so, you may want to revisit it and see how the featured image works. As far as the plugin, if you aren’t using a Featured Image already it should work, but as with some plugins it may not be compatible with your theme or has an issue with another plugin :)

      With Facebook, that’s a crapshoot. Just when I think I know which image FB is suppose to pull in, it changes. I have yet to figure out a hard and fast rule with them. Typically it will always pull in the featured image first, but I’ve see that go wonky. Also, I have noticed with Facebook, when you put in your post and it pulls the wrong image in, going back to your post and changing things on that post doesn’t help. It appears once they have pulled it in it sticks… weird stuff.

      1. Thank Bob – that’s made me feel even worse now! I checked the theme and it hasn’t been updated for 2 years!! Im so sad – as it’s only a little site and Ive worked so hard – in fact not even knowing what I’m doing – and have managed to create something from nothing and now fear its going to fall apart…. oh no :( I have contacted the theme publishers to ask if they can help – not holding my breath! thanks anyway. Carol

        1. Sorry :( But yes, the fact that they haven’t updated it for 2 years, that could be part of the problem. I am guessing it was a free theme? Unfortunately it may come to the point that you will need to change themes. Also, you might try tweaky.com. They do little fixes and it might be all it needs.

  12. Great post! What happens if I have always used the featured image of the theme I bought and then I decide to change my theme? For instance, Genesis theme? What happens to the thumbnails?

    1. Hey Maria, great question. Typically if you have a featured image assigned to any posts or pages, it will stay there no matter what new theme you are using. Also, of course, they still exist in your media library as well. Now how your new theme uses them, that is all dependent on the theme. But in any case, they shouldn’t go away.

  13. Thanks for being so complete in your explanation (with pictures!). I was trying to find how to have the featured image not appear in the masthead but I subscribed, and will keep looking.

  14. Hi Bob,

    Thanks for the great article.
    Is it better to use Featured Image or just add the image in the post body? My theme allows me to do either one, so I’m asking for suggestions.

    1. The bugger here is that every theme works differently. A couple examples that might help you decide….

      1. If you post your link on FB, Google+ or somewhere like that is it pulling in the image from your post? If it’s not, then likely the featured image will work better.

      2. Or, on your blog index page, if you have thumbnails showing up there, or even a larger image, which one is it pulling in. Again, that can make a difference.

      Wish there was a hard and fast rule. I know that some people tend to go with the featured image because if they changes themes, then, they might have more control over the images that show up in different places, and not have to worry about that.

  15. I have a question about featured image. I’m using the Suburbia theme on WordPress dot com. Question — Is it possible to set the size and crop an image so that what you see is what you get when the post is Updated?

    When I load a featured image in a blog post the size and content never matches my image size and content settings. The published image is typically smaller, and the content cropped, excluding content that I wanted included.

  16. Great article. I’ve read a few posts about what a featured image is and could not understand them or they just weren’t explained properly.

    So glad I came across your’s as I’ve managed to go into my posts and I’m in the process of putting in the featured images rather than having them within the post.

    Thanks again :-)

  17. Hi there Bob

    Reading your info on featured images, I’m using Divi theme. I’ve displayed the 3 recent blogs on the home page but only require their excerpts and a small image. However, the featured image is displayed at different sizes on the home page and it just looks terrible. How do I control this featured image to where they can be the same size on our home page?
    Felicia Forbes

  18. Hi Bob

    Correct image size of featured image also lets social media shares to pick up the right image.

    I found a critical flaw in your website

    I was able to access both HTTP and HTTPS version and both showed me same content, it may cause duplicate content problem with search engines like Google.

    Solution to your problem

    Try the htaccess code, it will be properly redirected to SSL version

    Here is a guide that I wrote when we switched from HTTP to HTTPS https://www.techwibe.com/wordpress-http-to-https-ssl-guide/

    Hope you get it solved


    1. Thanks again for the heads up… actually found out that when I had to have it moved from a staging area to go live yesterday, the settings where changed. So we got that fixed up… cheers!

  19. Thanks for the explanation and visuals. I have two blogs and help my sister with hers. It was driving me crazy trying to figure out “featured image” until you pointed out it depends on your theme. Each site has a different theme, so “featured image” doesn’t work the same. Now to experiment a bit on each site and decide if I want to change themes.

    1. Glad that helped, and I’m with you there. Another issue is when you are using featured images, and you change your theme. I have had to figure out workaround when I have done this as suddenly the featured image is a wild animal all to itself :) Good luck on the other sites!

      1. So true. I’d really like to change themes just to freshen things up, but I have hundreds of featured images designated and they do crazy things in other themes I’ve previewed — most often creating duplicate images in every post. With several thousand posts to deal with, I’m just not sure I’m ready to deal with the grief.

  20. Awesome explanation, Bob.
    I find adding images in the blog posts really important.
    After all, a great picture is worth a thousand words, right?

    I usually add an image at the top of the post, and add it as featured one.

    Thanks for the post!

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