Stock photos. They’re everywhere. The opening image of this blog post is a stock photo. It’s a good image! But it’s not one we would recommend for one of our clients really looking to make their personal business website the best it can possibly be.
Why? That’s going to take a little bit of explaining.
When someone visits your website for the first time, they’re going to evaluate everything they see – the font, the colours, the images – in an instant, before they even look at your content, your prices, or your reviews. If you believe some studies, this can take just 50 milliseconds.
When you’ve got less than a blink of an eye to win someone over, using the best possible photos for your business is essential. It also means that you’re best off using bespoke, or custom, photographs for your business rather than stock photos.
Why? Well, for one thing, people remember images more vividly than text alone. That’s science.
This also means that if you have any images on your website that people have seen before, they’re more likely to remember that image than, say, a piece of informational content. If they’ve ever seen an image before, there are a few different responses they can have.
At best the novelty of your business is going to be diminished. That’s not ideal, but it’s possibly not going to deter them entirely.
At worst, they’re going to see an image that’s reminded them of a bad experience, which is going to bring their enthusiasm for your business down to zero. Imagine that you’re using the same image as a business that’s doesn’t fulfil orders after taking payment. 88% of online consumers won’t return to a website after a bad experience, and your visitors are going to unconsciously associate your business with one that has been a source of frustration already. Not a good look.
Excellent images aren’t just great for engaging with users and providing them with incentives to stay on your website. They also help to tell a story about your brand. High-quality, unique images can sell your business to a new potential customer or lead as well (or better) than even the finest copywriting.
Are you telling your own story if you’re using an image that’s been used hundreds – or thousands – of times before? Not really.
Think of stock photos as placeholders. They’re a great way to make sure that you have something in place when designing or creating your website that looks good, fits in well with your overall aesthetic, and (in a pinch) can serve as a suitable holding option until you can get a better custom photo to replace it with.
That’s really the whole point of stock photography – it gets the job done. For many small businesses, especially those starting out online for the first time, that’s exactly what’s required at first.
But remember, when it comes to websites, 94% of the factors that help visitors form their first impressions are design-related. Does your website work? Is it easily navigated? Can your customers get in touch with you and book services or buy products? Then why are you dampening their enthusiasm with stock photos?
The short answer, as you may have guessed, is: whenever possible. Even as far back as 2011, web-based businesses have seen that replacing stock photos with photos of actual employees increased engagement with their services by 35%.
That doesn’t mean that a decent stock photo is a worse option than a bad original though. If all you’ve got are blurry, pixelated, out-of-focus or otherwise unappealing photos, it’s probably better to stick with stock photography in the meantime. But you should absolutely be thinking about your stock photos as something that should be replaced, not something that will sit on your website forever.
Not sure what makes a great photograph, or want to get better at taking your own photos without having to rely on an expensive professional photographer?
Another possible option, as we’ve shown above, is editing the photos that you have to provide a stronger impact than the initial photo would provide. Artist Jim Cooke did this quite a bit when it came to working with G/O Media, and The Ringer does this quite a bit on their sports articles, but it can be a great way to make your ‘similar’ image stand out from the crowd.
There are some rules around what you can do in regards to editing stock photos (you’ll want to check the license that the photo comes with, and you definitely don’t want to edit it to be obscene or pornographic), so make sure to do your research and always tread carefully.
Of course, there are no restrictions on editing your own photographs, so this has to be considered another win for custom photography.