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Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

None of us want to admit it. Not your postal worker, not the cook at your local restaurant and not those of us in Design and Marketing. But, the truth is appearance is everything. We are always asking should I use professional or stock images on my website? The answer can be tricky, you can use one or the other or both. More on that later.

We as human beings, for the most part, have one thing in common. We are visual creatures and what other’s see has a direct impact on how successful we are. An image can speak to a native Chines speaker and a native English speaker. Images transcend language, can give someone an understanding even when the words mean nothing to them. It’s possible for humans to follow a slideshow and get at least the basic understanding without ever understanding a single word.

Let’s Get Into The Question About Professional Or Stock Images

I plan on talking about the reasons human beings are image based and how you can use this to your advantage. I will talk a little bit about what makes a well-designed website. And the last thing I want to talk about is staying away from the same overused stock images of your city. In this case, I will be using examples of the St. Louis Arch and other “canned” images that most local websites will use  (I will be putting these images throughout the Post).

Human beings form first impressions within seconds of meeting new people, seeing a new car and viewing your website. This is because most of the information we consume is visual. If you are using quality design your site and your companies brand will stay with the user. They will judge within seconds if your company is professional and credible. Looking at the image below. How many sites have you seen it on? If you landed on a site with this as the main image, would you hit the back button just because you thought you were on another site? It’s a great picture, but it doesn’t set you apart from other sites in St. Louis.

Matchbox Design Group does not like stock photos and this blog will help you understand why.

What Makes Human Beings So Image Based?

Whether we like to admit it, we as humans have very similarly wired brains. This means that our minds react differently to visual stimuli than to words, letters etc. The human brain can decipher images instantly. Language is harder to decode as it happens in a more linear, sequential manner. This sounds more difficult because it is and it takes our brain more time to process. How long did it take you to figure out what the below image is?

Should you use stock photos or original photos?

There have been studies done that tell us that 90% of the information transmitted to the brain is visual. The same studies also tell us that visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text.

“Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speakā€ (Berger, Ways of Seeing, 1972).

It’s kind of like when you are watching TV and pretending to listen to someone. If that someone next to you isn’t speaking their thoughts or concepts out onto an image in front of you. You guessed it their words are falling on deaf ear, or going in one ear and out the other.

How Can We As Marketers Benefit From This?

We don't like using stock images if we can avoid it as original photography is much more personal.

If you know anything about a website, the more professional and even modern it looks, the faster the trust is built. This immediate trust can lead to a user taking some sort of action. Do you remember the last time you found yourself on a new site and decided to read the copy word for painstaking word? The fact is that images stay with users longer and have a greater chance of giving you a return on your content investment.

When designing a website we have to have the user in mind. This is significant because it directly affects how long it takes a user to locate what they are looking for. If we make website navigation difficult, a user might get frustrated and leave. This is a lost opportunity for you. On the other hand, if you have a good design, your users will know how to use the navigation, making it easier for these potential customers to find what they are looking for. This moves the user one step closer to making a purchase or at least contacting you.

What Makes A Good Design A Good Design?

You will know you have a good design when you see it because you have a great eye. Just kidding, it’s just not that easy. Great design will convey a message, tell the user a story and allow anyone that arrives on your site to understand what it is your site is trying to tell them. If you want a good user experience you are going to need consistency throughout your site. This means using the same color palette, similar images, and simplicity.

What Makes A Good Design Become Bad?

Let us tell you why you shouldn't use stock photos

This is when your site has everything we discussed above. You have kept the navigation simple, used a good color palette and even kept your images similar. But, the reason your site has gone bad is because you decided to use the same stock photos that everyone else in the city has used. On top of the things previously discussed, you also need to remain unique. Not every single site in the city of St. Louis can have a background image of the Skyline showing the Arch or an image of Busch Stadium. We know these things are great, but they aren’t great for hundreds of thousands of sites in the same city.

How Do We Set Ourselves Apart While Showing City Pride?

Brent and Cullen the owners of Matchbox Design Group in a professional picture taken for the website.

You can still use images of your favorite places in St. Louis, but put your employees in these images. Showing your teams face is very beneficial. For one, your site doesn’t look like everyone else with the same boring stock photos. I might actually hit the back button by accident because I thought your site was one that I had already visited. We don’t want that. If you show your teams faces, your users will actually start to form an emotional investment or a relationship with your business. If they can see the face behind the phone or behind the computer and they know who they are talking to or working with the bond is built much faster.

Think about all of the times you have called your cable company or your phone company and had to go through about 500 prompts and if you’re lucky you might get to talk with someone. That doesn’t build relationships. As a matter of fact, it usually leaves you angry with the company. If your team is pictured on your site and if there is even a bio that goes along with those faces a sense of trust is built. People will start to think there is someone on the other end of this, phone or email, and they are a person just like me. Using your team throughout your website helps make your business an all around more personable business. You see those 2 in the above picture? They are the owners of Matchbox Design Group. Seeing them in an image on our site does exactly what I was just saying. It definitely helps to build a personality for your business and a relationship with our customers.

Going Pro With Your Photographs

Matchbox Design Group employees being silly during a professional photoshoot for the Matchbox website.

The more professional your images are, the more authentic your company is going to look and feel. Potential customers will see what you offer and in some cases actually lead to a customer acting. Most users in today’s world are not on your website to simply browse around, they actually want to experience it. Whether it’s behind the scene photos of your team around the office or silly pics of your employees with a toy stormtrooper. The picture is professional and gives potential customers an idea about the culture of our company. For example in a restaurant, if the images are custom quality real pictures of your food, they might just make the user on your site head over or call you up for an order.

Read more about why food photography is important in the restaurant industry.

What people get from your company is that you like building relationships and want to make your customers comfortable. This personal touch shows that you take the time to add to your images, so you will probably take time on important work as well. This will give your potential customers the feeling that you take pride in what you do and it speaks volumes to the quality of your product.

It really comes down to the more professional your photos are, the more compelling they will be. Compelling photos lead to more business and that’s good for your businesses bottom line. This doesn’t mean go out and find or take a bunch of “pretty” pictures. You can keep it simple and visualize information that speaks to your client. The photography you choose to use of your employees and possibly your products or services will help a larger group of people identify with you. If your images are good enough, they might even get shared. A shared image is nothing, but free advertising and when those images being shared are done professionally they help your users understand your business better. I mean when you see a business owner like Brent below, you know he enjoys his job, enjoys his life and is ready to attack projects. But, if you never put your employees face on your site, it will feel like a cold canned fake place.

Brent Feldman, one of the owners of Matchbox Design Group acting silly and showing personality.

What If I Have To Use Stock Photography?

Using stock photography is always tricky, but the hardest part can be the time you put into finding just one image. One of the biggest keys to stock photography is searching for both unique and compelling images and making sure those images are relevant to your message, your brand and at the same time don’t look cheesy. The below image is a stock photo, but it’s not one that I have seen on 50 St. Louis websites. Using something like this can set you apart from your competition. Especially since Kiener Plaza no longer exists.

Why you shouldn't use stock photos in every post

Again, I would recommend professional photography if you can afford it, however, stock photos can be perfectly fine if they are used right. Remember you can always do a mixture of the 2 as long as you are able to make them naturally fit together.

Contact Matchbox Design Group Today!

If your website could use a refresh or you’re looking to drive more traffic to your site, fill out the form below and we’ll contact you to learn more about your digital needs.

About the Author

James McMinn

Senior Digital Strategist

James is a savvy digital marketing specialist with a Masters of Science in Internet Marketing. For the past fourteen years, he has been specializing in SEO, PPC & Marketing Strategy. He has a super sharp analytical mind and a finely tuned creative eye for marketing initiatives that optimize brands.

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