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Does Stock Photography Impact your Website’s SEO?

July 15, 2020

Ali Soudi - Head of Digital Marketing

Ali Soudi

Head of Digital Marketing
Search Engine Optimization

Article Overview

10min read

Recently, someone on Twitter asked Google’s Senior Webmaster, John Mueller, whether the use of stock photos has an impact on website rankings. He asked this question in response to his friend’s opinion that using non-original content such as stock photography can indeed affect rankings. To this, Mueller answered that, “It (stock photography) doesn’t matter for web-search directly.”

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What is Stock Photography?

Stock photography or inventory pictures are existing photos or images – already created- that are licensed under a paid or royalty-free type of license. Using these professional photographs means that an organization had licensed the images and paid the photographer and/or agency who produced the photo allowing them to use the image openly – while the owner of the image retains the copyright of their work. One will acquire the right to use the image legally in different ways, once they give credit and use the image within the limitations of the license. 

Being a cost-effective method for designers to obtain professional photos and images without the costs of hiring a photographer directly, many digital marketers widely use these inventory images in their content as a featured snippet and also use them in (what they think as) the right context.  

Do Stock Photos Affect Rankings?

There is a common belief that stock images or non-original images have a negative impact on search rankings. From Mueller’s answer to stock image’s impact on rankings, many were of the opinion that the reply was kind of indirect and for some, it accurately communicates that the inventory images are not a ranking related issue. This may be partly true because not every website has designers to design photos for every topic. Many top-ranking websites make use of stock images to portray their content better.

So, then what’s the deal? The answer lies in using them smartly.

How to Use Stock Photography for SEO smartly?

The best use of non-original images for SEO or ranking is when there’s a smart plan behind the use. Some of them are:

1. Images Should Accurately Represent The Topic

It’s not about using non-original images on a page; it is about how to use them properly and in the right context. Context is the key to using a stock image. Sometimes images are used symbolically and that’s not always the best choice.

For instance, if a blog post or an article talks about finding success in life but has an image of a pile of money, it would defeat the context. Since the blog/article focuses on success as an outcome and not necessarily monetary success, it’s safe to assume that the conversion rate won’t top the charts. Here it’s better to use a motivational image – a conversion-oriented image-, one that shows the success that can result from using the product or service.

With proper strategic use of a stock image would help a page convert its visitor into a consumer.

2. Tie Images to Conversions

When choosing stock images for your page, look for those that are likely to have a higher conversion rate.

For example, if you’re selling a product for kids, it’s a good idea to find out which gender and age group are your biggest buyers. You can then use images of these demographics for your web page rather than focusing on a more generalized one. This lets potential customers to imagine themselves using your product and understand how much better their lives would be if they made the purchase.

Along with these two strategies, a debatable question arises on the use of stock images in a Featured Snippet: Would the images work well within a Featured Snippet? Well, the answer to this question is contentious. 

It is believed that studying the images used in featured snippets would be an effective approach to enhance your understanding of what it means for a picture to be relevant to the topic of a web page. Some find that a stock image that relates to the topic communicates well with their audiences. It also points out that using original images or updating and improving inventory images would work better in rankings.

Use Quality Original Images When Possible

Originality is key to drive traffic to your website.

For instance, if you’re planning to use a team photo, use one of your actual team. A high quality, the high-resolution original image will stand out more than a great quality stock photograph. This is because original images are new, real, and not found anywhere on the web. Users don’t want to see the same image over and over again across various websites. They prefer authenticity.

Continuing his response to the question, John Mueller notes that: “For image search, if it’s the same image as used in many places, it’ll be harder. (There’s also the potential impact on users, after search happens, e.g.: does it affect conversions if your team photo is obvious stock photography?)”

Another advantage of using original images is the elimination of copyright issues. While site owners will get permission to use stock photos, mistakes can be made. Instead of risking getting saddled with lawsuits, it’s a lot simpler and cheaper to use original images.

The bottom line is, stock photos are not necessarily a bad thing, if they’re used the right way. In fact, the same can be said of the original photos. As long as both are used in the right context, top quality, and are geared towards pushing conversion rates, they can work in your favor. Just keep in mind that the ultimate goal should be enhancing your website’s search engine rankings through engaging and impactful photos and content.

Ali Soudi

Ali Soudi

Head of Digital Marketing

Ali Soudi is a Google Certified Digital Marketer with 10+ years of industry experience. He is a prolific writer on business-related topics, regularly contributing articles to leading digital marketing and business websites.

Ali Soudi

Ali Soudi

Head of Digital Marketing
Search Engine Optimization
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