Do you include lots of photos on your blog? I do. I get mine from Adobe Stock Unsplash and Pixabay. Adobe Stock is a paid service but Unsplash and Pixabay are free.
But why am I even using stock photos on my blog? If I feel I must, am I using them to my best advantage? Why don’t I just take my own photos instead of using other people’s?
Which Type Of Blog Do You Have?
When it comes to photographic content on a blog, there are definitely two categories of blog out there. Your blog will fit into one of these two categories.
Niches With Original Photo Content
Some blog niches enjoy plentiful, self-sustaining image content. The reason for this is, their subject matter is literally made of photo opportunities. The blogger is frequently able to snap original photos that are pertinent to their written content. Examples of this type of niche are:
- Photos of the dishes prepared, the shops and restaurants visited.
- Photos of beaches, cities, hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions
- Bird Watching
- Photos of the birds, hideouts, wildlife, lakes, sanctuaries.
- Photos that document the progress of planting projects, trips to arboretums and formal gardens and parks, close-ups of plants and insects.
- Photos of the blogger wearing different clothes, shoes, handbags, scarves and accessories. Lifestyle photos of fashionista cafes and events.
In these niches, and other similar niches, bloggers have no difficulty in taking huge numbers of photos that add real value to their writing.
Niches With No Photo Content
But some niches have little or no natural photo content, let alone abundant photo content. Don’t forget we are talking about photographs, not images of graphs, diagrams or tables of data.
Most of the following blog niches are photo poor, and blogging about these topics is often more about ideas, concepts, processes and explanations than action or imagery.
Of course these non-photo rich niches do offer the chance to do graphs, illustrations and maybe tables of data and even video, but not many actual, original and relevant photos.
- Mental Health
Bloggers in the above types of niche may be tempted to use stock photos to avoid acres of featureless text.
Use HTML Tags Purposefully
Lengthy, text-based content may seem overwhelming. But longer articles are very good for search engines and ultimately bring in more visitors. As long as text is broken up by plenty of sub-headings, it can also be easy on the eye for your visitors.
People don’t have time to invest in long form content unless they get a sense in advance, that it’ll be worth their while. Meaningful sub-headings help your readers understand the scope of your article without having to read it all.
If you include useful subheadings, readers can scan the page, and based on the sub-headings gain an overall understanding of the content. They can quickly decide if the article is worth reading, in full.
Further, breaking text up with plenty of H2 and H3 headings means the search engines will analyse the content more accurately. This means it should get served up in search more frequently.
HTML tags impart a semantic meaning to your text that search engines can understand. It is worth your while to learn these tags and use them in your content.
More Ways To Add Life To Text
You can add customised stock photos to the beginning of your posts, and colour, to items like titles, quote and bullets to brighten the page. But you should not add random, uncustomized stock images to your content.
What’s The Problem With Stock Images
Why should we avoid stock imagery? Many stock photos are stereotypical. Take for example, this group of smiling workers in a brightly lit office, all with perfect teeth. They’re looking intently at a screen. You know the sort of photo I mean.
Readers appreciate imagery that add value, or visual interest. Stock photos generally don’t, because they look like stock photos. They don’t entertain, or add insight.
Bloggers who routinely use uncustomized stock photos look desperate. It gives an impression of low quality content. This suggests that the written content is also likely to be low quality, even if it isn’t.
Because stock photos emit the wrong signals, my advice is to use them only if they’ve been customised. This doesn’t mean you have to change them drastically, but does mean you have give them intent.
Stock Image Credit Clutter
Another consideration when using stock images, is that you may have to credit the original author of the image. This does depend on where you buy stock images, as rules vary.
For example, I use Adobe Stock and their license terms state you need to credit the author if the stock image is used out of the box, i.e is unedited.
This isn’t the case if you use images from sites like Unsplash, where all images are free and no acknowledgement is required.
However, Unsplash do strongly request that you attribute the author out of goodwill. In reality all photographers (of course), want recognition. But do you want links to stock photo creators all over your website? I’d prefer not to in general, especially if I’ve paid to use the image.
What About Stock Images And Image SEO?
Although no-one knows for sure if stock images hurt Google search engine rankings, it’s a good idea to avoid placing unedited stock images in your content. I’ll explain why I think this is.
Potentially, every stock image you place on your website, has already been deployed on hundreds of other websites, and Google can definitely tell if an image has been used elsewhere.
However Google states that they don’t count overused images as a quality signal, when calculating how well a page will rank.
But we all know they could if they wanted to. I would, if I were designing a search engine. So, instead of thinking about what Google may or may not be doing, let’s examine stock image use logically.
Stock Images Fail Everyone, Twice
While Google may not judge your page for its reliance on stock images, Google certainly does rank images. So any stock image placed on your blog could be ranked on the first page of Google for your keywords.
A stock image could rank for its alt attribute, or close synonyms of its alt attribute.That is, if you remember to give it an alt attribute. Most sites don’t use alt attributes on images, which is another reason why you should.
Alt attributes (sometimes, erroneously known as alt tags) are important for SEO, but also important for visually impaired visitors.
Visually impaired people rely on alt attributes to understand images. Screen readers literally read the alt values out in an attempt to describe what an image depicts.
Think about that.
Typical Use of Stock Photos
Say I write an article, about stock images and SEO. Then, painfully aware that my page has nothing to draw the eye, to add some visual interest, I include a stock photo of a suited businesswoman raising her arms.
I’ve imagined the woman is pleased with herself because she has just discovered a new SEO technique.
The problem is, the topic of the article, and the content of the image, are not related.
But in order to assist my SEO, and to fit in with my article, I give the stock image an alt value of “Do stock images harm SEO”. If I’m lucky, the image may rank for that term.
But what happens on a Google image search for “do stock images harm SEO”? If my image ranks in the search results, the searcher will see a photo of a woman in a suit, with her arms up in the air.
But because the image has nothing to do with the search query, the searcher will be unlikely to click the image thumbnail. It will look irrelevant. What does that suggest about the content? It suggests my content will also be irrelevant and a waste of the searcher’s time.
SEO And Accessibility
So how did describing the image badly, in the alt tag, improve my search engine optimisation? If the point of adding alt attributes is to increase traffic through SEO and improve accessibility by helping visually impaired people “see” images, we have failed spectacularly on both counts.
The Power Of Unique Images
But if your image is,
- relevant to your content, and
- well described in the alt attribute and the image filename,
it stands a better chance of being found in image search. Next, the image, being visually relevant, is more likely to accurately represent your written content and the search query. It is therefore more likely to be clicked.
Even better, anyone clicking on your image is taken to the web page where the image is embedded. This wasn’t the case in the past.
This means the image SEO is worth doing. Which brings us to the next question. If relevant images are a good idea then …
How Can We Use Stock Images Effectively?
In niches where you have no original and relevant photos, you really are quite stuck.
For example, this site, WordStamped, has no content related photos that I can include. Not unless you’d be happy to see endless snaps of my desk. Here’s one.
I like to decorate my desk with fairy lights as it reminds me of being a kid. I grew up near a well-known Essex seaside resort where colorful lights lit the seafront. Fairy lights are consequently very important to me.
Customise Stock Images To Create Unique Hero Images
I’ve used a mixture of stock photos and my own photos as decorative headers and pinnable images for my content.
The decorative headers are part of my theme’s design and are known as hero images. As hero images, they provide look, feel and interest, without trying to inform or count as content.
In order to give them some sort of unifying look, I’ve removed the colour from the photo and used my theme to add promotional text intended to make each article sound interesting, on top.
I’ve also used my theme to add a color wash over the right hand side of each hero image. This allowed me to add my brand colour to each hero image easily without doing any messing around in Photoshop.
By the way, I was able to set up hero images on this site as my WordPress theme happens to use the featured image as a hero image for each post or page.
Your WordPress theme may not have this facility. But if it does, you can use it to lift the page and provide some visual interest, without making the image part of your SEO or your actual content.
But What If Your Theme Has No Hero Image Facility?
You Could Use A Different Theme
One option would be to use a different theme that does provide for hero images. We’ve created a Genesis child theme that we used on this site. You can purchase it from us but in order to set it up you would have to be prepared to write your own CSS to style it.
The theme is called the WordStamped Blogger Theme, and it’s a Genesis child theme.
If you go for this option, you’ll also need the Genesis framework.
Add A Decorative Introductory Image
If your theme doesn’t support the use of hero images, and you don’t want to change to a WordPress theme that does, then you can simply add a customised stock image to beginning of each post.
However, due to its position inside the post, this image will form part of your content. As such it must be customised and marked up to become highly relevant to your content.
Stock Image Customisation Example
Instead of using the hero image facility in my theme, say I want to add a decorative intro image instead. I’ll try to create one that would also be good enough to pin in Pinterest – a great source of traffic for bloggers.
I’ll with this stock image, for this post.
It’s a photo of a photographer, on moorland, using a camera. Let’s face it. This image has very little to do with this article.
But to overcome this, and employ the image more as an atmospheric backdrop to the ideas presented in this post, I’ll use only a portion of the original image, flip it horizontally, remove the colour, then overlay it with my brand colour and relevant text. That will make it unique and hopefully a bit more relevant.
The Finished Introductory Image
You should also make sure the introductory image is in the right proportions for Pinterest. Pinterest can be a big source of traffic. Many people who use Pinterest will pin your first image in order to bookmark your post. Some people like to bookmark visually.
Try to make the Pinterest graphic contain some extra text to invite viewers to seek out your website.
In this post, as I already have a hero image, I’ve placed an introductory image at the top of my sidebar.
The alt attribute for this image can now be set relevant to my content, without misleading anyone. This is in line with W3C’s Accessibility Guidelines for Alternative Text
When an image contains words that are important to understanding the content, the alt text should include those words. This will allow the alt text to play the same function on the page as the image. Note that it does not necessarily describe the visual characteristics of the image itself but must convey the same meaning as the image.W3C’s Guidelines for Alternative Text
Instead of describing the original stock image using words that do not coincide with any of my keywords, for example, “man dressed in hiking gear with long lens camera on a moor”, my alt tag could now legitimately say something like, “Stock images – do they harm SEO?”, as this is the overall messaging of the image.
While it allows visually impaired readers to “see” the text on the image via screen readers, it also adds real value and polish to your page for everyone.
Also, Google’s reverse image search could not identify this image as the same as the stock image on which it was originally based. Anyone finding it in search would consider the image in keeping with the content, relevant to the search terms used, and unique.
Create Social Media Images
Social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook are good for marketing each post you write. But you’ll need an image to represent your content.
You can use Adobe Spark or Canva to create Facebook and Twitter versions of your hero or introductory image. The image you choose to represent your post in social media should be branded and based on the same stock photo as your hero or introductory image.
This is so that when people click through from a social media platform, they’ll see continuity in the image that piqued their interest on social media reflected in the intro or hero image they meet on arrival at your site.
Different social media platforms work better with different sizes of image, which is why you may want to create one specifically for all the social media platforms you plan to use.
If you’re a Photoshop user you can also get creative with Photoshop Actions which do specific jobs automatically on base stock images.
Of course you should associate a social media image with each blog post you create so that when you post the blog post, the social media image automatically displays.
Memes And Quotes
Memes and quotations can be used directly in social media posts, and/or within content to break it up. To form a meme, take a stock image, style it as you like and then add a quote on top. Again you can use Adobe Spark or any other similar program to achieve this if Photoshop is not your forte.
Memes can also be placed in your content to draw attention to a point you’ve made. Notice this is also based on the same stock photo as before. I’ve simple zoomed in on the grass to form the background for this meme.
Call To Action Images
In this example we are not using the base stock image of the chap with a camera, but rather a different stock image to embellish an ad that will appear in the sidebar.
In this sidebar ad, I used an image of Christmas so that my ad looked Christmassy. Once Christmas is over I’ll replace the image with something else.
I believe it is attention to details like this that make your blog a good place for visitors to be and help build trust.
Try making all your sidebar calls to action have extra punch by creating a simple look and feel for your brand, and then having each stand out with the help of a stock image.
This is a good option if you have the type of information that lends itself to an infographic format.
So if you have say,
- a list of steps,
- a systematic process, or
- a series of related facts
then any of these can be perfect for an infographic.
For example, here is a relevant infographic, that might be a good addition for this post.
Video and Presentation Summaries
In order to promote your best posts, you can summarise them into a list of key points and then repurpose the key points as a slideshow and as a video. In fact, the video can simply be the slideshow formatted as an .mp4 file with a bit of background music.
I use Powtoon for videos like this. You can use Powerpoint or Google Slides for the slideshow version .
The background for each of the slides can be based on the stock image you’ve used on your post.
- Not all blog niches have the luxury of original photos. If your does not, avoid the use of virgin stock photos and use available tools, or your Photoshop skills, to make a stock image the basis of something original.
- You can deliberately use a theme that allows for easy placement of hero images on posts. Hero images provide continuity from social media platform to post and help with engagement..
- Don’t be afraid to allow text rich blogs to be what they are – heavy on text. You can break the text up sub-headings, quotes and memes, rather than meaningless or hackneyed stock images.
- Stock images don’t add value to a blog post unless they’re modified to suit content and purpose. Once modified they will help your SEO.`
- You will get more visitors if your images are found by searchers.
- Stock images can be used as the basis for hero images, intro images, social media images, calls to action, ads, memes, quotes and infographics.
- Infographics can be used to encourage pinning of your posts.