How to add external featured images in WordPress

Learn how to add external featured images to your WordPress posts.


1. Get an image URL

Before going to WordPress, we must get an image URL, which is nothing more than an image address on the Internet. In the example, I used Vampixel to generate my image and after that I clicked on "Generate link". Vampixel stored my image on the Internet and returned the image's address. This address/link is the URL that I will use in WordPress. But if you don't use Vampixel, just right-click on any image on the Internet and select the option "Copy image address" or "Copy image location" depending on the browser you use.

2. Install FIFU plugin

By default WordPress does not allow an external image to be used as featured image, so we need a plugin that adds this feature for us. So go to your WordPress site and you will see the "Plugins" option in the left side menu. Click on "Add New" and search for "FIFU". The Featured Image from URL (FIFU) plugin will appear. Click on "Install Now".

3. Activate FIFU plugin

In a few seconds the plugin will be installed, since FIFU does not occupy more than 500KB in disk and an average of 90KB in memory. Another advantage of this plugin is that it usually receives small weekly updates instead of drastic changes once or twice a year. FIFU is compatible with the latest versions of WordPress and PHP and the most popular themes and plugins. Click on "Activate" to start using it.

4. Take a look at FIFU settings

Once activated, some FIFU options will appear in the left side menu. And although the plugin has a lot of features and configurations, it comes ready for its basic use, which is to define an external image as the featured image of a WordPress post. At another time, we will possibly explore everything that FIFU has to offer, but for now we will not touch anything. Let's create our post.

5. Create a new post

Access "Posts" in the side menu and the posts created previously will be displayed. Note that FIFU has added a column for viewing the featured image, either internal or external. In my case I have a post with an internal featured image and that's why FIFU put a red border on it. Click on "Add New" to start creating your post.

6. Add the image URL

In the post editor I added the title "How to add external featured images in WordPress" and expanded the two "Featured image" boxes, the first being added by WordPress (for internal images) and the second one added by FIFU (for external images). It's possible to use the first or second box, but not both at the same time. In this example we will use the box provided by the plugin. So paste your image URL in the "Image URL or Keywords" field and click on the "Preview" button. If the address is correct, the image will appear.

7. External featured image

The image was uploaded directly from its Internet address, to be more exact it is hosted on Google Cloud Platform. In other words, the image is not and will not be saved in your media library. The only thing that FIFU saves is the URL. This represents a saving in storage, but mainly in processing time. It would probably take a few days for your site to process and save hundreds of thousands of images while FIFU would only take a few minutes to store all the URLs. And while there are a few drawbacks to using external images, FIFU has features to overcome them all. But let's leave that discussion for another day.

8. Publish

To remove an external featured image, simply click on the "remove external featured image" link below the image URL field. Obviously this will only remove the link that our post has with the external image. The image will not be removed from the Internet, wherever it is hosted. Having made that clear, it's time to publish the post. Click on the "Publish" button and then on "View Post" to see the final result.

9. Check the result

And here is our post published with its external featured image. Every time a visitor accesses this post, your website will return an HTML tag (containing the image URL) to the user's browser. The browser will then use the URL to request the image from the server where it is hosted. The server will return the image and it will be displayed in the visitor's browser, all without going through your website's infrastructure. That is, the display of the image depends exclusively on the server where it is hosted and does not depend on your website. If the image is removed from the server, it can no longer be displayed on the website. On the other hand, if your site is offline, the image will remain available for access. Just copy and paste the URL into your browser's address field.