Cheesy Stock Photography: 5 Ways it’s Costing You Customers

There is one thing that just about every website has in common…images. Yet not all images are created equal, and not all produce results – highly engaged website visitors who convert into customers.

With 65% of the population describing themselves as visual learners and 67% of online shoppers rating high-quality images as being “very important” to their purchase decision, the images you choose when considering your website design becomes critical.

Using unique and relevant photos will:

  • Build quicker trust with potential customers
  • Set you apart from the competition
  • Create a positive customer experience

Ultimately meaning that the number of website visitors who turn into a lead and then a customer is dramatically increased. That’s right, getting more customers from your website can be as simple as using the right imagery.

So why do people insist on using stock photography?!

Yes, we get it. Budgets for developing a website can be tight, so royalty-free and copyright-free images can be helpful for web designers when you just need an image that represents your industry.

However, this short-term saving could be costing you big bucks in the long-term:

  • Your website visitors will not feel connected to you or your brand, so they’re more likely to leave your site and make decisions based on price rather than value
  • Your company will become part of the noise rather than standing out from it, so you’ll have to work harder to get a sale
  • Stock images are not share-worthy on social networking platforms, so you’re missing out on valuable opportunities to create more traffic to your website for free

Here are five reasons why you should not use stock images on websites:

stock photo example  

1. Stock images are clichéd

Stock images on websites almost always portray the same scene with different people and contexts, typically depicting a racially diverse group of people dressed in business suits and shaking hands with each other. Such images say nothing about the company and convey stereotypical views that people have of businesspeople, meaning they will pass those stereotypical views onto you and your company.

You can instead take pictures of your own employees and post them on your website. This not only makes your website more fun, but it also allows customers and web visitors to see the faces behind your brand and create a greater connection with it.


2. Stock images do not reflect your brand

The biggest mistake you can make is to use stock images on your website that have nothing to do with your brand or do not fit with the overall values of your brand.
For example, if your business is lively and casual with a youthful workforce and no dress codes, why place a stock image of business people in suits shaking hands formally on the website. This is in complete contrast to your brand identity and will confuse your site visitors – confused people don’t buy.

Show off your people, products, work environment and business aesthetics with images on your website. You can hire a photographer or even find a photographer in-house to take relevant pictures for your brand. In fact, some companies are eliminating images all together and using stunning illustrations and graphics. Many websites are replacing large, high-pixel images with fun illustrations and animations.

Remember, always make decisions regarding which imagery to use for your website based on your brand and your unique identity.

team photo


3. Stock images are not unique

As mentioned before, stock images are used by so many websites that they get overused. People may have seen the same stock images on your website (or very similar variations) on so many others, that they can even become annoying.

Take the case of Jennifer Anderson (no, not her…read the name again) for example, who posed for stock photos in 1996. Within a few years, Anderson became the face of college girls in what seemed to be every marketing campaign. So frequently was her photo used, she was dubbed “Everywhere Girl”, even developing online communities dedicated to her sighting.

The most notorious faux pas was in 2004 when competitors Dell and Gateway attracted a lot of negative attention by using photos from the same photoshoot in their “Back to School” promotional material.


4. Real images may convert at a higher rate

More and more, businesses are seeking to connect, build trust and form relationships with their customers. How are your customers supposed to trust you if they are looking at a generic image of a lady with a headset on, or a man posing awkwardly.

When testing a real photo of their client vs their top-performing stock image, Marketing Experiments found that when a visitor saw the real image, they were 35% more likely to sign up to the offer.

real vs stock


5. Stock photos can create negative customer experiences

A big problem with stock photos is what’s called the ‘picture superiority effect’ in which concepts are more likely remembered if presented as pictures rather than words.

When a visitor lands on your website for the first time, everything they see is processed to make a judgement of your business in milliseconds. If you are using stock photos that seem too similar to another website which created a negative experience, then they subconsciously project that experience onto your photos and your brand.

customer experience


Now, not all stock photographs are bad…

…just the designers who use them.

So, when it comes to implementing visual elements on your site, the overwhelming consensus is do it. Basically, if you can get your hands on original photos do that. However, this isn’t always a viable option. So if you can’t get an original photo, when choosing stock images, seek out those that have:

  • Saturated colours without obvious “filters” applied
  • Elements that humanise the photo’s subjects so that they seem more than just models (food/drink, phones, clothing choices, relaxed poses, more genuine smiles)
  • Natural light, or indoor lighting that looks like it would be present in a typical example of the situation. If everyone is perfectly lit in a bright and sunny environment with a halo around their heads, your viewer will scroll by because it isn’t believable

Depending on the subject matter and style you’re looking for, some of these guidelines could change, but they are a good baseline to consider when you’re limited to choosing from stock photos, and should engage visitors more heavily in your content.


Make stock images your own

Once you have found a suitable stock image, don’t just publish it and be done with it – edit it to make it unique.

Through creative type overlay, background or colour manipulations, or the right cropping, a photo that was ‘boring’ or ‘generic’ stock…



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If you must use stock photography on your website, make sure:

  • It’s on-brand
  • It’s not been grossly overused
  • You do what you can to make it your own

Basic and advanced photo-manipulation tactics can transform stock photos into completely unique pieces; they just take a little more time to create, but the benefits gained can be exponential.

And don’t be afraid to take your own photos. It’s amazing how much quality is packed into smartphones and other less-expensive camera options. With a little planning and some basic knowledge on how lighting and composition work, you can take unique, high-quality photographs which better represent your brand, to use in your next website design project.

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