Why Should You Never Use Stock Photography Websites

choosing real photo over stock photos

Are you underestimating the power of pictures? A company in the financial services niche snagged a 35% increase in online sign-ups when they replaced a picture from stock photography websites with the founder’s real picture.

Nike’s ads got a 300% higher click-through rate when they used pictures that showed real customers wearing or using the product than with stock photos.

Nike tests UGC

The ad with the UGC photo got 3X the conversions than the ad with the stock image.

A Nielsen study shows that people spend 10% more time looking at the faces of people on a site than anything else.

The thing is– pictures you show on your site matter. More than you give them credit for. If you knew that, you wouldn’t be using free stock photos on your site.

According to a SurveyMonkey report, 66% of adults in the US say that trust is one of the biggest factors when it comes to decision making online.

It’s the same idea that people in Canada and the UK hold onto and pretty much the whole world.

People are more likely to buy from and recommend products from companies they trust.

Across all age groups, trust is a relatively big player. The verdict is clear. Want your site to generate sales? Build trust.

What Causes Consumers To Lose Trust (hint stock photos)

A poor experience with the product is cited as the number one reason behind broken trust. The same report quoted earlier says 81% of respondents in the US and 73% in the UK and another 71% in Canada, whether they stay loyal a company depends on product experience. That’s the key to loyalty.

IMG ALT: What impacts purchase decision?

Poor product experience makes anyone lose trust. A lot of poor product experiences stem from the product not working as intended.

But here’s something else you should know. When you think of product experience, you imagine a customer. He’s carefully opening the box unwrapping the package to touch and use the product he waited so many days for.

That’s partly true but doesn’t give the entire picture.

When browsing through the listings on an eCommerce site he’s already made up his mind. He’s imagining himself wearing those shoes or glasses.

Product experience begins on the eCommerce site itself.

The description, copy, together with everything else matter but product photos have a big say in delivering a good experience. Would you buy a product without knowing what it looks like?

Photos are the first brush a person has with the product.

So much so that a lot of returns are a direct result of product photos not matching the actual product. With the photos, you display your goal should be to help the user picture what the product would be like in real life.

Stock photography websites effectively kill trust. Real photos build trust. 

How Does Trust Matter To You As A Brand?

When you gain a customer’s trust the benefits are huge. It helps the customer choose you over competing brands. These customers are also likely to stay loyal to the brand.

Trust and brand experience

Trust is clearly linked to loyalty. Would you recommend a brand to someone with which you had a poor experience? Not unless you want the other person to go through a similar situation.

To sum things up, trust is the foundation of long-lasting relationships. This is why you want to establish trust with a client. No trust equals zero customer loyalty. That means that a lot of the company’s revenue too goes out of the window.

How Does Free Stock Photography Destroy Trust

To better explain what I mean by this, here’s an example:

The picture below shows a friendly leader of the company. You see similar photos from time to time on career sections and website homepages. The idea is to assure potential clients that the leadership is confident and can deliver the goods.

Meeting in place stock photo

The handshake, confident composure, and eye contact have made it a favorite. Except, there are a million other sites that use the same photo to convey trust, confidence, and composure.

Just see how many times the stock photo has been repeated online below.

The popularity of stock photos

These and more such overused photos is the stinking reality behind stock photos online

So much so that you can’t see almost every other site has pictures like this.

Premium sites don’t make the scenario any better.

Free stock photos have no personality, they’re overused and leave a bad taste in your mouth.

  • Stock photos are vague

Stock photography websites accept stock photos that are shot with the motivation of gathering a wider appeal spanning across demographics. This maximizes the photographer’s income but has the unhappy result of vague shots. These photos are a please-all, with vagueness written all over them.

The background, message, and pointers all mean nothing. They’re just props in a drama shared by every website.

  • They Lack Originality

Visuals are one of the most noticeable things on a website. Pictures are often the first thing visitors see and it’s a powerful way of getting people to take an interest in your site.

These pictures lack originality and by extension authenticity.

Your company is original. By associating it with unoriginal pictures, you’re sending the message that the company isn’t original.

Stock pictures additionally exude artificiality. This doesn’t make them ideal for any campaign

What Can You Do Instead?

Let’s look at the overarching trends that define which kind of images you should use.

If you’re going with stock images, you’re swimming against the current of mainstream photography trends. 

With smartphones in everybody’s hands and the corresponding growth in social media channels like Instagram and Facebook, billions of people can create photos. Trillions of photos were taken in 2014.

Millions of photos are posted on Instagram and Facebook every day.

Millions of people post their selfies on social media channels. These photos provide us context and background on what people taking them are doing. They could be using a product bought online or having a cuppa at Starbucks.

With the rise of use in social media, people feel a constant need to tell the world what they’re up to. This spelled the birth of brand UGC revolving around brands, products, and experiences.

UGC is a trend. People aren’t forced to create UGC. They feel compelled to. User-generated photos are available at scale. They are an authentic representation of your brand and its products and will certainly beat stock photos in their game.

Capitalize On Changing Perceptions

When someone wants to purchase a product from a brand, today the brand’s image factors in. 

People are buying into product identities.

There are lots of brands that rely on showcasing supply chain transparency in a bid to get more people to like and trust the brand. Imagine if these companies relied on stock photos of garment mills or workers. Would they have enjoyed any success?

Would they have been able to truthfully forward the idea that they’re disrupting manufacturing with environmentally friendly attitudes? I doubt that.

Stock photography websites don’t lift your marketing efforts. They breed distrust. The conversion rates from such free photos are an all-time low.

In this scenario, encouraging UGC and curating your site with UGC should be something to consider.

With UGC, you’re not limited to posting content to social media channels. That’s a myth. UGC can be easily repurposed into email campaigns and creative advertising

Stock photography websites have been witnessing a slow death for many years now.

With so many user-generated images flooding social media, the process is only further accelerated.

Try as much as they can, stock photography sites cannot match the appeal of authentic photos.

Each photo is unique and thus generates trust. The very nature of stock photography websites goes against the grain of authenticity.

People need to see real people doing real things in real environments.

Such pictures convey real emotions and real body language. This resonates with visitors.

Brands need not pay for photos that mimic UGC. The same is available for free. UGC is easy to generate. It’s still easier to scale.

You can get UGC at scale. Here’s how to do it:

You could tie UGC generation to your loyalty program. Ask customers to upload photos of them using your product in exchange for loyalty points.

Or you could turn this into a contest. Just like Gemelli Cafe did. They asked customers to upload photos of their meals with Gemelli to for a chance to win a free meal.

There are many more marketing ideas you can use to get UGC at scale.

Gemelli Cafe UGC

Other than that, you could also create custom illustrations. For example, this post on productivity apps uses a custom illustration as the header image. 

Custom illustrations for blog

The image centers on the ideas of tools for improving productivity.

Most blogs would have been happy to pull a stock photo instead.

Across the breadth and width of the blogging landscape, seeing illustrations is out of the norm and generally is always capable of garnering attention.

You can use illustrations, animation, and cartoons to convey your point across.

It’s easy to make such visuals or illustrations with basic photoshop skills. Lack of time? Hire someone to do this for you on a regular basis.

Concluding thoughts

So now that you have seen how pictures can influence what visitors think of you and your brand are you motivated to dump stock photos?

The market for online stock photography is dying and hasn’t experienced any real growth for a long time. The pie is shrinking with the top 3 players tearing at the edges.

We talked about how UGC can work wonders for your brand. And how user-generated photos have much better odds at nailing conversions than stock photos.

What do you think?

Author’s bio: George is a freelance writer who’s worked with brands like CrazyEgg and other SaaS brands. You can check his work on his blog

Image 1 by MarketingExperiments

Image 2 by Marketing Experiments

Image 3 by Tomer Dean at Medium

Image 4 by Globalnewswire

Image 5 by Business2Community

Image 6 by Pixabay

Image 7 by Candybar

Image 8 by Chanty