We’ve all visited those websites before. The ones with generic-looking people, doing generic-looking things with huge smiles and blindingly white teeth. While these images may be cost effective and less time consuming than taking your own photographs, they may be doing more harm to your website than you realise.
Most small business owners will be guilty of using stock images at some stage, which can in some instances actually be useful. After all, a stock image is (usually) better than no image at all and selecting stock photos intelligently goes a long way. But using the genuine article is so much more effective for so many different reasons.
If you’re getting into the habit of using cheesy, unoriginal images every time you require a photograph, you run the risk of reducing the credibility and trustworthiness of your business, because they feel so fake and staged.
Alternatively, well shot, real photographs of your business and employees feel natural, give your website a warm feel and can help keep customers engaged with your content. Custom photography gives you control over what thoughts and emotions your website conveys, which is hugely beneficial from a marketing perspective.
When it comes to choosing images for your website, consider the five Cs - Character, Context, Credibility, Cost and Competition – before you immediately jump to using stock images.
1. Real Photos Add Character to Your Business
Contrary to popular belief, an image of a group of perfect looking professionals sitting around a boardroom table does not look authentic or genuine. Trust us, you’re not fooling anyone. Rather than looking professional, you’re more likely to give off the sense of being cold and detached.
No one likes to explore sterile and unengaging environments, so why make your website one?
Your potential customers are looking for something that catches their eye and connects them to your business, which is unlikely to occur with the use of stock images.
By using real, genuine photographs you are adding a human element to your business. This could give you a real edge against competitors, as customers are more likely to respond to a business they deem as having more character and authenticity. When people see a real picture, they can relate and feel as if they are interacting with an actual person, not a robot with fake dental work.
2. Real Photos Give your Website Context
They say that an “image speaks a thousand words”, but this isn’t always the case. When the image in question is a stock image, it often raises more questions for the customer and makes them even more confused about the services or products you provide.
For example, if you’re a mechanic who does call-outs to people’s houses, but use a stock image of a car parked in a mechanics garage, people may think they need to bring their car to you. If you’re a florist who delivers flowers and you select a stock image of a bouquet in a vase, your customer may think the vase is included in their purchase.
In this way, you can see that by using stock images, rather than clarifying any queries your client may have, can actually cause more confusion for them and, potentially, problems for you later down the track.
By using well-crafted photos, authentic photos of your business, staff or products, you are showing your customer the real thing. The customer can see exactly what they’re getting, where the service will take place and even who might be doing the job for them. You can’t get too much more personal than that!
3. Real Photos Give Your Business Credibility
Chances are, if your website is filled with stock images, your customers will start to catch on that these photos aren’t the real deal. This will not only make them disengage from your content, as all your images will likely lack interest, but will begin to make your business seem disingenuous and fake.
The overall goal of using images is to reflect you, your business, your brand and your character. If none of your images reflect this, your potential customers will begin to wonder who you really are, creating a sense of mistrust and doubt.
By not showing an accurate reflection of your business, you’re positioning customers to think that maybe your services aren’t good enough to show.
If you do go overboard on stock images when creating your website, you’ll be giving your customers the idea that you, and your services are not worth putting on display.
Alternatively, real photographs can accurately describe your business and what you offer. This shows people that you are open, honest and proud of the great products you offer!
4. The Cost Benefits
Stock images may seem like a money-saver in the short term, you may find they can actually cost you more in the long run.
Many small business owners may not be aware that there can be many indirect costs associated with stock images that go beyond the licensing fee, which can even be quite high depending on the image you choose. You also have the time associated with searching through thousands of stock images trying to find the “perfect one” to describe your business, which you’re unlikely to find anyway because it’s not a photo of your actual business.
Of course, a professional photographer may be completely out of your budget, in which case you can always ask a camera-handy friend or employee to take the photos for you – in which case, they could be free!
This will also help you establish a good library of photos that you can use wherever and whenever you want them, rather than having to scroll through monotonous stock images every time you need a picture.
5. Real Photos Help You Stand Out Against Your Competition
Chances are, if your customer is looking for a particular service in their area, they’ll be checking out the websites of your main competitors. This could mean bad news if your competitors have chosen to use the same or similar stock images as you.
Having the same photo on your website as your competition is not only awkward, it can be a huge turnoff to potential customers as it will potentially make you look untrustworthy.
Using your own photographs will help you stand out from the masses of websites using stock images, helping to spark your viewer’s attention and maintain their interest, which is ultimately what you want to achieve.
The reality is that stock images will never be able to represent you, your services you’re your products in the way that they should. While there can be times when a well-chosen and well-placed stock image can assist in conveying your message, nothing compares to the real thing.
Real photos not only humanise your website, they create authenticity around your brand, context around your services and help you stand out against the crowd.