Stock images can be quite useful when it comes to content marketing. They provide companies with a convenient and often cost-effective alternative to constantly generating original visuals. There is a general consensus that images are a necessary part of good content – but should you be using stock images in place of professional illustrations and photography? As is the case with many aspects of content marketing, the answer is simple: it depends.
When you shouldn’t use stock images
One place that you should never use stock photos is when you’re talking about your company’s team members. Customers like to know who they’re doing business with – and this is even more so in the age of relationship marketing. You’re going to get a better response using actual professional photos of your employees than you would using stock images.
If you have a physical location, you’ll want to use professional images of that as well. Nothing can be more off-putting as a customer than going into a location that looks nothing like it did online.
Finally, you’ll want to ensure that any photos of your products are actual photos and not stock images. Product photos set up your customers’ expectations, so transparency is essential. You’d probably feel a bit lied to if you went to a restaurant that had photos on their website of foods they don’t even serve.
Hiring a photographer
If you don’t think you can produce professional-quality photos yourself, then hiring a photographer is a must. You’ll want to look for someone who has business photography and product photography experience. You might even need to use a different photographer for products than you do for your employee portraits.
If cost is an issue (and it often is when we’re talking about using stock images in lieu of professional photography on a website), consider hiring a talented startup photographer or a photography student looking to build his or her portfolio. You can check with your local civic arts programs for recommendations.
When you can (and should) use stock photos
Stock photos have their place. If you need something to accompany a blog piece, a well-selected stock image can really pack a punch. Many businesses don’t have professional photographers as resources, and including an image with content is a good practice for readability. When it’s time to use stock photos, here are some tips.
Steer clear of overused photos
You may be able to conjure up a few images in your head that you’ve seen everywhere — on a coaching website, on a freelancing website, on a tech website. Unless for whatever reason you don’t want your content to stand out (and we’re pretty sure you do want to set yourself apart), you probably shouldn’t use those images.
One way to avoid overused stock photos is to browse the offerings on a paid stock image site. Since many people use free sites, the images from paid sites are often not as widespread.
Make stock images your own
You don’t have to be a professional photo editor to crop an image or change it to black and white. Rather than using the stock photo as it is, consider using editing software to prep it for your own content. This can help your images stand out and appear more original.
Choose stock photos that match your content
It can be pretty awkward to stumble upon content with an image that feels out of place. When you’re using stock photos, be sure that they complement your content and your brand. Otherwise, they can detract from what you’re trying to say and do.
Don’t forget to add alt-text to stock photos
One aspect of web images (both stock and original) that often goes overlooked is alt-text. Alt-text, or alternative text, is a text description of an image that becomes part of a webpage’s code. If the webpage can’t load an image, its alt-text will appear in its place. This is also the text that is read by screen readers for the visually impaired.
Not only does alt-text improve your website’s accessibility, it can also affect your SEO since it is crawled by search engines. Needless to say, it’s to everyone’s benefit to ensure that your stock images have adequate alt-text before adding them to your website.
Less is more
Stock images should be used in your content like seasoning — to complement the main dish. In fact, every photo in your marketing efforts needs to have a purpose. If you’re using images just because you have them on hand, you may need to rethink your approach. EVGMedia can help you develop an effective content strategy to suit your project’s specific needs.
Be sure you have the rights to the photo
Perhaps most importantly, make sure that you have the rights to use photos before publishing them. There have been lawsuits over images that were used without the proper rights. Be sure you also follow any individual rules for specific photos when it comes to proper attribution.
The verdict on using stock photos
Stock photos can be a useful tool for companies — if they’re used correctly. Avoid using stock photos when talking about your business, employees, and products. If you do decide to utilize stock images, be sure that they’re appropriate for the content you’re creating and used with purpose.