You’ve heard that saying at least a gazillion times before, and unfortunately people don’t take any notice. They’re judging you like I was judging the font choice in my birthday cards last year (some of those were terrible, how did they even get to production?). The very same can be said for imagery. For now, I’m going to focus on stock imagery, and in particular bad stock imagery (the worst kind of stock imagery).
Where do I start? The term bad stock imagery can define a few different options really. Very rarely is a stock image poor in terms of composition, exposure or aperture, simply put, the photographer knows how to use the camera. Bad stock imagery can be down to your choice of image in relation to your business. If you’re using stock imagery that doesn’t relate to your content, your website users are going to get confused, and the information may become misleading.
Relating to content is one thing, but relating to your business sees the focus shift to your business and brand image. Does your stock imagery fit with your brand image and what your users expect? You don’t want to use an image that is associated with another genre or even worse, another business. If it doesn’t follow your brand guidelines (you have brand guidelines, right?) then you really shouldn’t be using it. Written content may be of a different style, but a user has to read it to know that. However, if you use a stock image of a different style, all a user has to do is see it for doubt to creep in. Send mixed messages about your business and brand and you’ll potentially confuse your customers and deter them away from your site, which we really don’t want.
Very similar to an image being suited to your business, and I touched on this earlier, if you’re using stock imagery, it needs to relate to the written content it is accompanying, and help users visualise it. The link between the two needs to be clear. It’s no good writing an amazing article about the quality of your wool jumpers if the photo with it is a stock image of sheep in a field. Sure, there is a link, but it isn’t what a user wants to see. So, there is another thing which a bad stock image could be: unhelpful. Let’s stick to the woollen jumper analogy. If I’m looking to buy one, I want to see photos of the product before buying. You can bet your life that your competitor is showing the customer what they want.
Awww… look at this cutie. Not helpful. Baaaaaaad.
Now this. This is useful.
Sticking with the sheep, this ties in rather nicely with the title of my article. Bad stock imagery or a poor choice of stock image is going to stop a user continuing with a read or purchase. Give the customer what they need to see in order for you to make the sale. Showing the wrong image could see a user stop dead in their tracks and look elsewhere. In fact, if we’re talking eCommerce, you shouldn’t be using stock imagery at all, it isn’t true to your product. I couldn’t tell you the legal repercussions involved with that.
The general style of good stock imagery (yes, despite my negativity it does exist) has changed over the years. It used to be very literal and now it is viewed as cheesy. Not just a hint of cheese, a whole wheel of the stuff. I mean, who doesn’t love being greeted by someone on a phone on a contact page. Stock images like the following have no place in today’s world.
I’m fed up of seeing images like these. Do you really expect me to believe that she works for your business? There are loads of photos like these on contact pages all over the internet. Show me a real photo, a believable photo.
That’s exactly what I’m asking you. Why use stock imagery? You could be using bespoke images, unique to your business. Your own photos (or even a hired photographer’s) help create your brand image and gives you assets to use in future business material. Bespoke, custom photography provides site users with visuals they will never have seen before, they have to process the image for the first time. This further helps establish your identity and portray the brand image you want to build or be recognised as having. On another note, it also shows that you care about your business’s appearance to the wider world. It’s that extra bit of effort and care that could make you stand out from your competitor.
Now I get that if you want to get professionally taken and edited photographs, you are going to have to part with some of your savings, but it is worth it. What you’ll spend on great photos, you’ll more than regain from an increase in conversions. Why settle for stock imagery? More importantly, don’t settle for free stock imagery, you’ll be very restricted. So, you might save some money, but as I mentioned earlier in reference to bad imagery, it won’t be right for your business. You have the power to achieve the exact image you want, don’t settle for someone else’s that is close to your vision. The perfect image is better than “good enough” or “that’ll do” (“That’ll do Donkey, that’ll do”, please excuse my Shrek quote). When it comes to imagery on your website, and being used by your business in general, never settle for second best.
Our clients theearthtrip.com took onboard our advice, and you can see the difference between their own photography and stock imagery from their industry. Their image is unique. You’ve seen the stock image hundreds of times before. It’s also pretty boring, but you’ll struggle to find a free stock image matching what the client desired.
Hopefully, by reading this you’ve got a pretty good idea of how bad stock imagery impacts your conversion rate (negatively! as that heading suggests). Unrealistic imagery, so general stock imagery, can be misleading and confusing, there is no personal touch. Customers like that. Customers want that. I can guarantee that at least one of your competitors has real, credible photos on their website. This immediately puts them ahead of you in terms of a relationship with the customer, they’ve seen the face of someone at the business and trust that they’re genuine.
Bad stock imagery, so:
all affect the user experience and user journey. They’ve added distractions that cast doubt in a user’s mind, which can be easily avoided. If bad stock imagery is affecting user experience, it is therefore also affecting your conversion rate. A distracting or deterring stock image could be what stops a user from submitting an enquiry, getting in touch or adding that product to their basket.
Ok, so I don’t hate stock imagery, but Bad stock imagery I hate with a passion. There are a few free generic images out there on sites like pexels.com and unpslash.com that do actually work and are usable, but they’re free, so you won’t be the only one who has them. Only if you’re desperate should you consider using stock imagery and you can ensure it isn’t ‘bad’ by questioning how it reflects your business and how a user will interpret it.