I know, I get it. Stock photographs are a super easy way to add visual interest to your website and social media platforms. After all, we’ve all heard the stats about visual imagery being so much better for social media engagement and information retention than websites or posts that just use text. Stock photographs absolutely have a time and a place, but this article is designed to explain some of the reasons why they shouldn’t be your main source of imagery for your business.
Stock photographs are the easy option. And because of that, they’re used by every man and their dog wanting to add free or cheap imagery to their website. I did a quick search on Pexels to find a nice picture of a laptop and I chose this as the image that I was most drawn to.
I then did a reverse image search on Google, which allows you to look for all the instances where your image is being used elsewhere on the internet. Clearly a lot of other people were drawn to this image too, as there were more than 8000 hits for this exact same image being used online since it was uploaded to Pexels less than three years ago.
‘90% of consumers say authenticity is important when deciding which brands they like and support (up from 86% in 2017).’ (Stackla, 2019) When a prospective buyer visits your website, they want to understand the reality of what it’s like to work with you or to buy your products. The problem with stock photography is that you’re not showing them your reality, you’re showing them someone else’s.
And to prove I’m not just on a mission to sell you professional photography, the same Stackla report found that User Generated Content (UGC) is the most authentic of all visual content, with consumers believing UGC to be more than 19 times more authentic than stock photography.
They’re not actually adding any value
The brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than text and so compelling visual content is essential to grabbing your viewers’ attention. But an eye-tracking study by the NN Group found that stock photographs of people were completely ignored, whereas images of actual team members gained significantly more attention than the corresponding text. (NN Group, 2010)
‘What stock photos make up for in abundance and availability, they cost marketers in conversions. They usually perform less well than any other type of [visual] asset.’ (CMI, 2020) An experiment pitted a stock image of a rather pretty, but very generic, call-centre lady against the photograph of the CEO of a company as the main visual element on the company’s home page and found the familiar face of the CEO increased conversions by 35%. (Marketing Experiments, 2011).
Say one of the first steps in your customer journey is to book in a free consultation over coffee. Which of these two images below do you think is more likely to entice people to book?
Ultimately, if you’ve been using stock photographs just to make your site look pretty, then all you may be doing is unnecessarily slowing down your website’s loading speed.
They do nothing for your credibility
It only takes 0.05 seconds for someone to form an opinion on your website. (CXL, 2019) So, bearing that in mind, take two websites that represent two businesses from the same industry: one has professional photographs, that show on-brand images of the business and the people who actually work there, and the other which uses generic stock photographs that tell you little to nothing about that business and what they stand for. Which one would stand out to you as the most credible?
Think about it: doesn’t every big, successful business that you know have professional photographs of their business? By using easily-recognisable stock photographs, you’re just allowing yourself to blend into the crowd, rather than making the choice to stand out from your competitors. You’re losing the competitive edge that you’d gain through authentic, on-brand visuals that stop users in their tracks from the offset.
‘Right off the bat, having professional and personalized photography presents you with the opportunity to gain an advantage over your competitors. Clear and creative photo designs demonstrate the credibility of your company and will result in customers trusting your brand as authentic and one they want to support.’ (Small Business BC, 2019)
They could actually damage your reputation
When someone visits your website, their brain trawls through their short term memory to see if they recognise any of the content. And if they’ve had a bad experience in the past with a site using the same images, they’ll subconsciously associate that negative experience with your brand.
I bet you’re thinking that it’s unlikely that they’ll have seen that exact photograph before – but that doesn’t matter. ‘If the stock photo you’re using is at all similar to another website that created a negative experience for the visitor, they subconsciously project their negative experiences onto your stock photos, reducing trust and adding friction to the process.’ (CXL, 2020)
OK, I get it.. So what should I do?
Now you know some of the key reasons why you shouldn’t be relying on stock photography for your visual content. So what are the alternatives?
Use more User Generated Content. If you’ve got a loyal fanbase, encourage them to share photographs of them using your products or enjoying your services, perhaps by way of a hashtag that’s unique to your business. Make sure you ask for their permission before using those images in your marketing.
Doing it for yourself. There’s no hiding the fact that camera phones are getting better and better all the time. Armed with the right knowledge, you could create great, original images for your business. Download my free guide to taking photos for your business here.
Hire a professional. For the zero hassle route, hire a photographer that knows the ins and outs of creating authentic and compelling images and can do that for you in a single session. Or, even better, set aside just four days per year and stand out from the crowd with professional photographs for all the seasons! If this sounds like a bit of you, then book your no-obligation consultation today to see if you and I would be a good fit for each other.