Why Stock Photos Are Ruining Your Website UX

By Tony Dicks       Aug 1, 2017       Website, Conversion Rate Optimization

Remember the last time your coworker cracked a joke during a conference call and the entire room erupted in hysterics? How about the time your team successfully completed a project, and one member turned slightly to the left, giving a big smile and thumbs up to some unseen entity?

When was the last time your tablet screen suddenly regurgitated a holographic of marketing buzzwords?

These scenarios sound like something out of a fever dream, right? Yet we encounter them daily in the form of stock photography online.

And they’re ruining your visitors’ user experience (UX).

These staged, sterile, and stale images are meant to serve as easily-accessible visual aides for websites. But if none of the described situations are ringing a bell for you, they probably won’t for your customers. Which can be a BIG problem for industries that value personal connections – like legal and medical practices, travel agencies, and car dealerships.

There are myriad reasons why stock photos should be high on the “things not to do” website checklist, but here are three of the most compelling:

Using Stock Images Is Lazy

The reason stock images have become so commonplace is because they’re easy to acquire. You’re of course familiar with some of the paid services like Shutterstock and Twenty20 – and if you’re a bit more savvy you’re already using free sites like Pixabay, Pexels, and Unsplash.

All of these examples provide a great service by allowing those with limited resources or photography experience to make use of professionally-shot photos.

But they’re easily identifiable to regular internet users. Maybe the setting of the photo doesn’t match up. Maybe they’ve seen the subjects in the image elsewhere online. Or maybe your designer mistakenly included a line-up of Dodge vehicles on the local Kia dealership’s hero image. The bottom line is, you’re not being entirely upfront about your business.

Between smartphones, social media, and associated apps, it has become easier than ever before to snap and upload real photos that could rival those taken by a camera with a 4-figure price tag. Snapping some pics of who and what your customers will experience when they arrive at your doorstep makes for a great first impression, and goes a long way toward fostering trust.

Electing not to do that, is lazy at best; and deceitful at worst.

Stock Photos Aren’t “Real”

While the absurdity of some of these images has already been pointed out, there’s a deeper reason why we don’t recommend them – they’re whitewashed.

In more than one way.

The lighting in many of the more popular environments – specifically homes and offices – is almost unnaturally bright. True, the photo’s subjects stand out well, but it would be impossible to replicate the shot anywhere other than a Hollywood soundstage. You don’t want to appear too “perfect.”

Furthermore, the lack of diversity in many stock photos is painfully apparent. The world has continued to shrink, meaning not all of your customers are fit, stylish, middle-aged white men and women.

In fact, it may be more accurate to admit that demographic is only a small fraction of your actual consumer base. 

One of the most important aspects of UX is authenticity.

Your customers will find it easier to relate to your business when you reflect who you serve on a daily basis. An online user experience which closely mimics the offline one not only gives visitors an idea of whether or not your business is right for them; it also helps you stand out among your competitors who are still image searching “Susie Homemaker” for their client testimonial page.

Stock Photos Are A Bad Investment

As a business owner, you’re always on the lookout for ways to maximize everyone’s favorite letters: “R,” “O,” and “I.” This means you may believe that, in the grand scheme of things, paying a couple hundred bucks a year for a subscription to a stock photography site is a worthwhile investment.

However, those fees add up over months and years. Even with free access sites, you still need to factor in the time it takes for a paid employee to search through the thousands of available images. Not to mention, if you own a particularly image-heavy site, or are using these for social media posts, the pool of options becomes surprisingly small surprisingly quickly.

And of course, there’s no guarantee you’ll find exactly the image you need.

On the other hand, a local professional photographer is a one or two-time expense, and allows you complete control over how you want to show off your company. Set up shots of your location(s), services, employees, and even take a page out of the stock image sites’ book, and stage some common (and real) scenarios.

This is your business – doesn’t it deserve the investment required to portray it as accurately and professionally as possible?

Don’t come off to customers as lazy or fake – and don’t waste your precious budget. Just say “NO” to stock photography!

Of course, your site’s images are only one part of overall UX. There are plenty of other design and usability elements that are just as important to consider. Click here to download our full UX primer now!

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Tony Dicks
Tony Dicks

I help businesses looking to improve their ability to promote and sell online. If you face challenges with generating traffic and leads, proving ROI of marketing activities, identifying the right technology for your needs or training your team, I can help.

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