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5 Types of Stock Photography to Avoid in Your Content

It’s Monday. You’re still a little dazed from the weekend, you’re starting to get that springtime itch to get out of the office, the caffeine is taking forever to kick in…I get it. How about taking a little break to look at some corny stock photography for a light-hearted marketing lesson?

Sound good? Alright, here comes the lesson part: you spend ages creating valuable and informative marketing content, but how long do you spend choosing an image to accompany your work? As you’re probably aware, visuals can greatly enhance your content — drawing your audience in, commanding attention, and hinting at the topic to be addressed. But did you also know that choosing the wrong image will not only fail to add value, it can actually detract from the perceived value of your content? As a KISSmetrics article noted:

[Ineffective images] will distract your readers with their visual dominance, without the benefit of interesting your readers with their content. And very often they will convey the impression that you are incompetent, thoughtless about your page content, or just unable to come up with anything of real quality.

In short, “just because a stock photo is attractive doesn’t mean it will be effective.” So what does an ineffective image look like? We’re here to take a look at the worst of the worst — stock photos that are generic, outdated, corny, irrelevant, or downright confusing. And now, for the images!

The “Overly-Ecstatic-To-Be-In-A-Meeting Corporate Employees” Stock Photo

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When was the last time you gathered all your employees around a computer screen for a thumbs-up team photo? Ended a meeting with an all-in team cheer?

Probably the most common offender of the stock photos (aside from the infamous ‘headset hotties‘) is the overly-enthusiastic employees stock photo. The issue here is obvious: it’s unconvincing and not relatable. Consider including images of your own employees instead; not only is this more realistic, it also enables your readers to build a relationship with your brand. Wistia is a great example of a company that includes lots of great images and videos of employees in their content — five minutes on their site and you feel like you know the whole team.

Dead set on using some stock photos of ecstatic employees? At least use one with Vince Vaughn and Dave Franco — it’s bound to inspire some double takes.

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The “This-Way-to-Abstraction Street Sign” Stock Photo

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If I tell you that today you’ll be reading about the crossroads of proactive and reactive, what does that tell you? Does an image that says “success that-a-way” leave you thinking, “gosh this sounds like a specific and informative quick read that will help me with my issues”? No.

The biggest problem with the two images above (aside from being slightly tacky and virtual looking) is that they don’t tell you anything about the content they represent. And the bottom line is, if your images are vague and generic, it creates the impression that your content will be too.

Hint: Anything with 3-D Puzzle Pieces is Probably a Pass

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The same thing goes for 3-D puzzle pieces imagery — not only does it fail to convey value or a specific topic, it also (in my opinion, anyway) gives content an outdated feel. In fact, anytime I pull up an article that has an image like the two above, I find myself looking for the publish date. We live in a quickly evolving marketing world where strategies and advice have a short shelf life to begin with — don’t let images make your content seem outdated before its time.

(And as for the baby popping out of puzzle world, your guess is as good as mine).

The “This-Is-What-Technology-Looks-Like…Right?” Stock Photo

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I don’t know about you, but the images above don’t leave me thinking, “Well now there is a company that really gets technology.” Actually, it’s more along the lines of, “Huh. That company is still mystified by email.” (And the guy in image two, shading his eyes as he peers over his laptop…I’m not sure where he ranks on the tech-savvy scale). If you find yourself trying to express an abstract concept like email, try searching for more concrete terms, like ‘mailbox,’ ‘postman,’ or ‘envelope.’ Even if your image is simple, your readers will get the connection.

The “This-Woman-Woke-Up-Confused-In-Front-of-a-Blackboard” Stock Photo

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Ok, so not exactly a common category. But your image is intended to catch your reader’s eye and turn their attention to your content — not catch your reader’s eye and make them wonder, “now what is the story here?” If there’s a lot going on in your image, it’s going to distract from your content, and counteract the entire goal of including an image to begin with.

If you’re sitting there realizing that you’ve used variations of all of these stock images before, don’t feel bad. We’ve all been there: you’re looking for an image fast, you type in ‘success,’ ‘challenges,’ ‘teamwork’ — any of the generic search terms sure to pull in generic results — and use the first decent-looking image you see. We’re all guilty. But image quality does affect the perception of your content’s quality, so it’s time to start putting more thought into the images you use in your content — and avoiding corny stock photos like the plague.

Have some more examples of stock photography to avoid? Share them in our comments section!

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