Stock Photography Could Be Hurting Your Website

By Brian Watkins

Don’t get me wrong, sites like Pixabay are super useful in a pinch when you’re writing blog content and need a good image to accompany your content. Most people aren’t photographers and don’t have a library of their own material to draw from, particularly for the pace some people publish.

When it comes to the site’s design, however, what you choose to include says a lot about you. Nothing is more blase to new visitors than an obvious stock photo of two people shaking hands, sitting in a meeting, or of someone presenting a chart with squiggly lines.

It feels like a place holder that never got updated.

Using stock people instead of images of your actual team, office, or products damages rapport.

You want to build a connection with that reader, but already you’ve communicated that you aren’t willing to let them see who you really are. Breaking the trust barrier involves being a little vulnerable and straightforward. In this case, stock photos as a substitute for your actual business denies the reader a major way to glean understanding about who you are and what sort of business you run.

If you’re a solo act, it’s all the more important to be human here since essentially all you’re selling is yourself. If you don’t even let people see YOU, they can’t buy into you.

There’s inherently anything wrong with subcontracting or outsourcing as a larger business. But if you’re trying to be seen as a local solution with a local team, stock photography in place of shots of your team may make people wonder if you actually have a team. There’s truly something to being able to see the actual office and the actual staff or reception team — the folks that as a visitor you’re likely to see afterward as you head into the office.

If this weren’t the case, photos wouldn’t be such a major component of Google Local listings.

Stock design sends a mixed message.

Common verbiage on websites involves talking about commitment to quality, learning, and top-notch service. What you’re ultimately conveying when you say things like that is that you are meticulous and that you go the extra mile.

Except that an excessively stock design communicates that you threw something functional together quickly and haven’t looked back.

It’s a bit like being a doctor and working in a dirty office. Your profession exudes cleanliness and sterility, yet your place of business undoes that message.

So what’s the answer?

Yes, this is a photography website talking about the importance of genuine photos, but the takeaway here isn’t as one-dimensional as it may seem.

If you don’t have the budget to hire professionals, it’s not to say that you have no choice but to rely on stock images. Obviously we’d recommend having some professional office photos taken, but you can still benefit from some well-placed shots from your smartphone if it’s a relatively new one.

If your lighting is good, the autofocus will do enough of the heavy lifting to likely get you some usable shots of your team. And if you sell products, a good closeup shot of each one goes a long way toward building credibility on your website.

My experience from years in the web design arena has taught me this: If you can get some professional-looking authentic shots of your business, perfect. But if you have to choose between “perfect” or authentic, choose authentic every time. As a consumer, I’d much rather engage with a website full of photos of real people that actually exist in my town — even if the photos were clearly taken with someone’s iPhone. The human element of the website is a crucial piece of branding, and is simple enough to get right that there’s rarely a good reason not to.

Hope that helps in your own marketing efforts.