The increasing number of images required for use on the web has fueled the expansion of online stock image libraries and while these images are often cheap and certainly convenient for web developers they are not always the best solution from the website owners’ perspective. It is important that any business owner considers all the implications of this important decision which can affect their sales potential and reflect upon their brand image, however it seems that many web development companies use library images by default – perhaps because they are familiar with it and are put off commissioning because they do not understand the process.

First there is the risk of deja vu, like the insurance company who launched a hugely expensive new website only to discover that the homepage image of the receptionist was the same as their biggest competitor’s website. Or how about expending the time and effort required to write a novel only to find your publisher had used a royalty free image for your cover, meaning that another author (or even several others) can use it as well. Given the nature of publishing budgets this seems like a false economy and a well conceived brief for some bespoke photography need not be as expensive as an author might fear.

Secondly the nasty generic look which is becoming the scourge of websites, you know the type of thing, like the happy folk wearing immaculate navy blue suits in the mystical white boardroom, which is rife on the home page banners of so many financial services and business coaching websites. This is available in web sized files for as little as 15 pence and, while the price may seem tempting, the question of best value rather than best price has to be considered – a well conceived and beautifully executed image that speaks directly to your market and says the right things about your business is a far better investment.

Third is the damage this can do to sales – the increasing volume of media we all consume daily has made viewers more sophisticated and far more able to detect this difference, albeit often subconsciously, and the effect of trying to promote your company while using an obviously imaginary illustration seriously undermines trust and the likelihood of converting a website visit to an enquiry or a sale. Next time you look at a website with employee images ask yourself – “do I believe that one of the people in this image might answer the phone if I called the company?”

Finally the missed opportunity because images also provide unique opportunities to weave strong messages of regional relevance into your content whereas the use of a library stock shot taken in Iowa will be unlikely to do this if you trade in Belfast. Commercial photography that you commission specifically for your business pays for itself in better sales performance by selling your product to your market. Failure to get this right means you are missing an important opportunity.

There is some science to confirm this from a scientist called Jakob Neilsen who uses eye tracking technology to measure the length of time people spend looking at various parts of a webpage , basically he has found that ‘Users pay close attention to photos and other images that contain relevant information but ignore fluffy pictures used to “jazz up” web pages.’


Thanks for reading,

Stephen Potts

Belfast photographer and filmmaker

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