They say a picture paints a thousand words, and I’d have to say I agree. One look at the image below of an overly excitable fan of pizza conjures up many words in my mind, however none of them are positive (or suitable to publish).
Source: Thinkstock – It’s a resounding thumbs-up for this pepperoni pizza.
Bad stock photography plagues the internet, increasing bounce rates and potentially affecting the credibility of well-written content (as well as the reputation of the brand in question), which we covered last year.
But there’s more to it than just a poor user experience and a negative impact on brand perception, as our Director of Search, Stephen Kenwright, explains:
“Google can’t understand images very well but it can understand that they are similar to some other images and find other sites hosting the same images. If we host an image that originally belonged to someone else (which all stock imagery does), we must credit it with a link to recognise the original source, and therefore give away some of our authority unnecessarily.
“From a user perspective, stock photography is easily spottable and can increase bounce rates, which in turn can affect a site’s organic performance.”
So, link back every time you use an image that doesn’t belong to you, and make sure it’s good. As far as Google is concerned, you need to link even when you’ve bought the image or the source says it’s not necessary.
So, what’s the solution to bad stock photography?
OK, you’re ready to link to your source, you just need to find an image that isn’t going to hurt your bounce rate.
Fortunately, you’re not stuck with cheesy pizza and even cheesier grins. There are plenty of great alternatives to generic stock photography that are inexpensive or completely free. Having a shoestring marketing budget doesn’t mean you have to make do with uninspiring visuals.
Source: Thinkstock – Looking for some brilliant stock photos? I’m your man!
While there’s no denying how awkward some stock photography can look, there are times when good stock photos can come in handy – if you have a deadline to hit or need something very specific that’s hard to source elsewhere.
Rather than resorting to generic stock sites and turning off your users, with a bit of digging you can find some stunning free imagery online. Obviously, there’s a good chance the images you choose will be used elsewhere, but at least you’ll be using photos that add value, appeal to users and reduce the risk of click-backs. Just don’t forget to link back to the source.
If you want to see where else your chosen image has been used, just drag and drop it into Google’s image search facility.
There are dozens of these sites, which cover every topic you can imagine. Just make sure you check the licence of each image you use to ensure it is free to use for the purpose intended.
Here’s an example of the kind of wording you should look out for:
‘’All images and videos on our site are released free of copyrights under Creative Commons. You may download, modify, distribute, and use them royalty free for anything you like, even for commercial purposes. Attribution is not required.’’
Here are five of our favourite sites:
- New Old Stock
Source: New Old Stock – You don’t need to go to the moon for out of this world imagery (but it definitely helps).
While this site is very niche, if you’re looking for some stunning vintage photography, New Old Stock may just have the answer. Taken from public archives that have no known copyright restrictions*, you can find some incredible images of everything from The Beatles in concert to Buzz Aldrin on the moon.
*New Old Stock curates its content from Flickr, and it recommends you check the rights statement of the image by clicking through to the original posting, which you will need to link back to in your post.
Source: Unsplash – Quality stock photography doesn’t have to be deer… this one didn’t cost a penny.
Specialising in nature and architecture, Unsplash frequently posts high-quality images of everything from snowy mountain ranges to decaying warehouses and wild animals. Subscription is free and allows you to receive 10 high-res photos in your inbox every 10 days.
Source: Pixabay – Inspire users with a lightbulb moment.
Boasting over 820,000 free photos and illustrations, Pixabay is one of the most diverse image sites you’ll find, with countless topics covered spanning all four corners of the globe.
Source: PicJumbo – A bit of peacocking can get your brand noticed for all the right reasons.
Another great site that covers a broad range of topics is PicJumbo. It has some excellent shots of everything from gadgets and tech to Christmas markets, all subscription free.
Source: SplitShire – Capture the imagination of your audience with memorable imagery.
Featuring cool concert photos, retro tech, sport and just about every other topic under the sun, SplitShire is another stock photo godsend. All images are completely free and can be used for commercial purposes.
Replacements for stock photography
There are other bounce rate friendly options if you want to dodge stock photography entirely, or you haven’t been able to find what you’re looking for.
- Do a bit of DIY
Source: Thinkstock – DIY photography can save your audience from overdone, sexist clichés.
Of course, you can always take your own photos. This puts you in the driving seat to ensure all the images you use are good, on brand, and won’t have been seen somewhere else by users or Google when you publish them. And you won’t need to link.
Purchasing a digital camera and attending a photography course could work out to be a sound investment and doesn’t have to cost the earth – you can pick up a decent point-and-shoot for less than £200.
If you happen to be on a micro-budget, your smartphone could have a decent built-in camera. You might even be able to buy add-ons to improve what it can do. Like if you purchase a nifty waterproof body glove with interchangeable lenses, you can transform your phone into a waterproof action camera.
If you’re prone to somehow getting your thumb in every shot, you can always hire a freelancer to take some professional snaps for you; you can search for one in your area with Bark.
- Get creative
Source: Thinkstock – Being creative is really, really fun, especially when you have lots of paintbrushes.
Another route is to use Photoshop or Illustrator. That way you can produce corking composite images and graphics without resorting to stock. If you’re not familiar with these tools, working with a designer will cost a little but should give you one-of-a-kind, professional-grade results.
Not only can they retouch your own photos, but they can create graphics and cartoons which can be used for blog posts, infographics and social media. And, in cases where you do need to purchase stock photos, they may be able to manipulate them (check the licence first) to make them more unique.
Of course, you can teach yourself the skills if you’re keeping costs down. Just bear in mind it will take some time, as they are both quite tricky to master.
This YouTube video is designed to help Photoshop beginners learn the basics, and this 19-part course for Illustrator breaks learning the program down into bitesize chunks.
If you don’t have time for that, or don’t really need such an advanced program, you can always download a decent photo-editing suite to your laptop or smartphone. MOLDIV is an excellent free option if you have an iPhone, while Cymera is a popular choice for Android users.
- Use video instead
Source: Thinkstock – Isn’t video just great?
With Cisco predicting video content will account for 69% of all consumer search traffic by 2017, now is a great time to consider it as an alternative to still imagery. If you do, it’s likely you’ll need to commission something original to avoid the typical stock pitfalls, and efficiently offer users another way to engage with your brand.
Despite humble beginnings, no staff and a microscopic micro-budget, DollarShaveClub managed to attract 12,000 customers in just two days by posting the witty video below featuring comedian and co-founder Michael Dubin. Today it has over 20 employees, and after raising just under 8.5m in financing it is on its way to becoming a worthy rival to the likes of Gillette and Wilkinson Sword.
It goes to prove, you don’t have to spend a tonne to get effective videos that also work as a great alternative to stock photos.
So now you know to always link back when you use images you don’t own, and our eight tips mean you can get images that appeal to your users so you don’t hurt your bounce rate. Hopefully you now feel suitably empowered to ditch the dullness of generic stock shots and try our alternative sources for a bigger slice of that SEO pizza pie.