Should you use stock photos on your website?

Stock photos are commonplace on the internet, but if you're using them on your website, you could be turning away potential clients.

Stock photos are images available online, often cheaply or freely, and with varying licensing restrictions.

There are certainly some quality images out there, but others are pretty cheesy. Unfortunately, it's the cheesy ones that can have a big, and often unwanted, impact.

You know the ones. Attractive men and women in suits, suitably multicultural, working collaboratively around a desk or computer. They look calm, highly engaged, and with slightly psychopathic smiles.

 Just a typical day in the office

Just a typical day in the office

So while the old saying, "a picture is worth a thousand words" may be true, poorly implemented stock photography on your website could actually be doing you damage.

Stock photos make you anonymous

Behind every website is a real person.

Your clients are real people. You and your staff are real people.

 Who are these people, and why are they on your website?

Who are these people, and why are they on your website?

Regardless of how unphotogenic you think you are, or how awkward you feel about your corporate headshot, using a real image is infinitely better than a stock photo.

A business like financial planning is built on and relies upon strong relationships and trust. Showing the faces of the people behind the business on your website, immediately gives you a head-start on engaging with and forming relationships with new clients, because you are no longer completely anonymous to them.

 Team meeting. Tony Robbins style.

Team meeting. Tony Robbins style.

Put yourself in the shoes of a prospective client, choosing between two advice practices. All else being equal, who are they going to choose? The business that uses photos of people who don't work in the business, or the one that has large, clear photos of all the staff and offices? It's a no-brainer.

And let's face it, despite the copious fake smiles, stock photography can feel pretty sterile. And that's not going to present your business in the best light.

Stock photos create visual noise

When a stock photo is used purely as filler on your website, visitors simply ignore it. It is a little like being blind to the constant bombardment of ads, both online and offline. Can you remember any ads from a site you visit regularly, such as news.com.au?

The more you clutter your website with images that add no value, the easier it is for the important information to get lost in the visual noise. Showing people how you can help solve their problems, and encouraging them to take the next step (your call to action), will have far more impact to your bottom line than any attempt to make something look pretty by using a stock photo.

 Just say “no” to piggy bank pictures.

Just say “no” to piggy bank pictures.

However when relevant photos are used, in context, and of  "real" people, they can have a positive impact to your website.

Ideas for using your own photos

The awesome thing about technology, is that most of us are carrying around a pretty decent camera in our pocket. That's right — your mobile phone.

You don't need to get professional photography for your website (although you may find that a professional is not as expensive as you think). Some well thought out, purposeful photos, can be done in-house.

 Oh yeah. It’s Friday.

Oh yeah. It’s Friday.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Staff

Photos of all your staff really are a "must have" for your website. They need to be large enough and clear enough to see the whites of the subject's eyes. Try a natural background setting if you are a relaxed type of business, or something a little more formal if that is your style.

They don't have to be typical headshots. You may find some naturally posed action shots, such as a conversation between staff, can help add some personality to your site.

Here's a sneaky tip. Place your staff photos on your website so the subjects' eyes are looking towards the text or important information, rather than off the screen. People tend to follow the eye direction of the person in the photo, so sometimes flipping a photo can help better engage your audience with the message. Simple changes can really make the image work harder for you.

 Someone’s not paying attention.

Someone’s not paying attention.

Clients

Photos of clients showing how they are enjoying the benefits of the services you provide may be a little harder to get, but really emphasise the relationship and results aspects of your business.

And you don't have to take the photos yourself. Why not ask your clients to send in their own photos, demonstrating the financial, emotional and lifestyle results they have achieved? For example, maybe a retired couple on holiday; a young family standing outside their first home or playing with their children; or a small business owner outside their office or branded vehicle.

It may all sound a bit cliched, but "real" is good. And when you accompany those photos with testimonials and client stories, the trust-building effect is magnified.

Office

As long as you have a well-maintained office, showing images of the outside and inside can help potential clients know what to expect. It is reassuring to know what the building and signage look like before an appointment; whether there's a relaxing reception area; if your meeting room is big and grand or small and intimate; if there are coffee and biscuits to be enjoyed; or a place for the kids to play.

Including shots of your staff in these settings can also add a human element and help put the image in context.

 There is no message or analogy that can be enhanced by this image. None.

There is no message or analogy that can be enhanced by this image. None.

Remember this. Prospective clients don't buy from people they don't know, don't like and don't trust. Rather than take the easy stock photo path, why not invest some thought and time (and perhaps a little money) into making effective use of quality, relevant, real photography on your website.

What do you think about stock photography? Do you have any good or bad examples? Please share them in the comments below.