Should I use Stock Photos for my business marketing?

The benefits of “Real Photography” vs Stock Photography

Within the world of photography and business, there exists two types of images we generally use – real photos and stock photos. The differences between the two are night and day, but many businesses don’t actually stop to think about it too much which can be to their detriment!

Let’s take a look at the differences between stock photography and real photography.

What is Stock Photography?

Stock photos are special images, which many use for digital marketing, websites and businesses. They’re generic photos taken of different scenes, situations or people performing various tasks and in various settings.

The thing about stock photos is they’re designed to be used by anyone. They’re not specific to any given situation, but as more general categories. Stock photography might be someone in a workplace, a person on the phone, a mountain landscape or spending time with family. It can be that diverse.

Should I use Stock Photos for my business marketing?

The positives of Stock Photography

Probably the biggest benefits of stock photo usage is it’s cost-effective and easy to get hold of. There are websites with countless stock photos covering nearly every type of activity and industry you can think of.

They can be used when you want to put images into blogs or marketing campaigns when you don’t already have any images to reinforce your written copy. They’re also quicker than trying to track down a decent photographer to create specific images for you.

Quality – Many stock photo providers will curate the images for quality to ensure there are plenty of usable images available. It’s not always possible to take high-quality DIY photos yourself, especially when it needs to stand up to magnification and is resized to fit your website’s aesthetics. 

If you’re going to have an image displayed on the front of your site, then it does need to be the best quality possible if you want to attract your ideal clients.

A Quick Warning

Like any kind of image, stock photos are protected by copyright. The company or photographer that took the images will own the rights to them, so you can’t go around downloading and using them commercially for whatever you want.

You should try and look for royalty-free images because these can be used by anybody, but otherwise, you may have to pay for using these kinds of stock photos.

Where can I find Stock Photos?

Finding stock photos can be both free and paid but also easy and difficult! 

There are plenty of reputable sources for tracking down stock photography for commercial purposes. For example;

  • Shutterstock
  • Pixabay
  • iStockphoto
  • Canva
  • Adobe Express

The difficult part is the “rabbit hole” of then searching through these databases for something suitable. It’s the paradox of choice or choice overload – You can’t decide on what you want because there is too much choice and it’s not specific to your brand – Further eating into your valuable time!

What is Real Photography

Real photography or original photography is where the photo has been taken specifically for your needs. This could be something you do for yourself (DIY Photography) or it could be where you use a professional photographer like myself. In either case, It’s the “real” version and thought of as authentic

For business, original photography is considered on-brand and it would have been planned and photographed with a goal in mind – i.e. to present a consistent and genuine brand to their audience. 

It’s purpose-driven photography!

Why use Original Photography?

You might be asking why you shouldn’t bother using original images at all. If stock photos are so freely available, and they cover the industry you’re in, why pay for a photographer?

There are several key differences in why this is the case:

  • Stock photography is generic, they don’t help with your brand. They don’t look authentic or genuine, so you and your brand are not properly represented.
  • Stock photos are often outperformed by genuine photos – studies have shown original photos can generate 35% more interactions than stock photography.
  • You know! – I’ll bet when you land on a website you know when it’s a stock photo or not – Do you want potential clients landing on your website to feel the same?
  • Consistency – Real photography is brand specific and if regularly seen will create more familiarity – The Mere Exposure Effect.
Have your own personal branded version of Stock Photography
Have your own personal branded version of Stock Photography

Duplicate Content - Google

It’s commonly known Google isn’t a fan of duplicate content and they have been known to penalise websites in SERP (Search Engine Results Pages) for having duplicate written copy.

In other words, your website may have a lower position than your competition if you’re using the same content from somewhere else.

Now I’m not saying this is the same for duplicate images on websites, although many do say it does; however, I have seen a few issues raised in some marketing forums about people having their google business profile posts rejected by Google.

If you read the Google  Business Profile Posts Content Policy and under the section “Avoid Spam” there is a line about content NOT allowed for posts. The line is:

  • Duplicate photos, posts, videos, and logos

This gives the impression that Google considers duplicate photos, posts, videos, and logos as spam! Certainly when it comes to your Business Profiles/Google Maps anyway.

While the content policy doesn’t go into detail about what this exactly means, it has been suggested by some that using stock photography could be considered “duplicate” by Google AI which does appear to support what some people are seeing when their business profile posts are rejected.

Stock Photography website test

I tested the idea of duplicate images on a friend’s website. Using the main photograph on their current homepage and uploading it to a reverse search image tool.

The result was, the stock photo they were using for their signature image on their homepage was found on 400 Website URLs!  

None of which had anything to do with my friend’s business (relevance, referrals or backlinks). So you can imagine how they felt when I told them.

All I’m saying is. If you want your brand to stand out from everyone else then you may not want to be using an image for your website where 399 other websites have already used it!

  1.  It’s not going to be unique to your brand and;
  2. Google probably won’t reward you for it either.
  3. In any case, do you want to be using the same image as someone else?

How to Use Real vs Stock Photos Effectively

Where possible you should avoid using stock photography on your website or on any asset with any degree of permanency. For example, printed assets like business cards or banners. Remember your website is an evergreen asset and if you want your brand to be authentic your images and written copy needs to be genuine too.

But you’re a photographer, right?

You may be thinking, of course, you’re going to highlight the negative aspects of stock photos… You’re a photographer! And while I’ll admit to a certain degree of bias in this area, there are of course some situations where using stock photography may be useful.

Mix it up!

Using original photos wherever you can is the best way to do things. Even if it’s a photo you go outside and take yourself (DIY Photography), this is still better than using a stock photo because it is not duplicate content, and it is more authentic to your brand.

However, one other way of using Stock photos is to “Mix” your real photos with the stock photography images. For example, having your headshot put on a stock photo background (using something like Canva or Adobe Express) Keeps it in line with your brand and still maintains originality and authenticity.

Mixing Stock images with Real Images
Mixing Stock Photos with Real photos in this example a real headshot mixed with an image from Canva

Alternatively, you can mix it up for something fun like this composite I created for my family Christmas card!

Christmas Card Mixing Stock images with real images
Balance Your Usage
  • The best thing you can do is to balance your stock photography use. Stock photos can be useful for things like social media. However, even then usage should still only be considered as a short-term solution rather than part of your official content strategy.
  • It’s better to keep stock photo usage to a minimum on actual websites, although mixing it up can sometimes work to make the stock photos more genuine. 
  • If you are going to use stock photography, then only pick from reputable sources. You don’t want to be taken advantage of or get into trouble by using someone else’s images! If you use stock photography, make sure to double-check the usage license. You don’t want to get hit with a copyright claim or a grumpy photographer chasing you down!

The Final Verdict

While I’d never recommend exclusively using just stock photography for all your marketing content. It would be wrong to dismiss stock photos completely.

They can be useful in some situations, most notably if you’re strapped for resources and time and because you don’t have to make a committed investment (like when hiring a photographer). However, for long-term evergreen asset creation and developing your brand content strategy you should be using original content as much as possible if you want to be unique and stand out from your competition.

How I Can Help as a Commercial Photographer

As a professional photographer, I work with you to create your visual content library, built with your clients in mind and taking into consideration Search Engine Optimisation and what you want to be known for.

You can use your library to populate content for your website, create targeted ads, social media campaigns or even your brand-new headshot to put on your LinkedIn page

All are unique and specific to you and your business and none of the disadvantages of stock photography.

Whether you’re currently using Stock Photography or not. Schedule a no-obligation call with me and let’s see how we can create a visual content strategy to benefit your brand.

Click here to book your no-obligation phone consultation with me

Not ready for a call? Have more questions? Click here to get in touch via email

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