How To Choose Images for Your Website or Blog

examples of stock imagesImages can help convey your brand story and catch people’s attention on the Web. Images include photos, illustrations, diagrams, and combined visuals like this infographic I created on How WordPress Works. When used thoughtfully, images can also help people quickly understand the contents of a page or post and they often show up as thumbnails in blog archive pages and website search results.

Most small businesses don’t have the time or budget to regularly create images for their content, and licensing royalty free stock images offers a great solution. Licensing an image means that you have the right to use it but you don’t own it. If the image is “royalty free,” you don’t have to pay royalties each time you use it. The first half of this Smashing Magazine article, Understanding Copyright and Licenses explains copyright, licensing, and other relevant legal concepts involved with using images. Remember that in most cases you need some type of permission (a license) to use any image created by someone else. You’ll find a list of websites that license stock images at the end of this post.

When choosing images for a website page or blog post make sure that they relate to the text. Effective images can be straightforward representations of a topic or suggest a more conceptual interpretation. For example in this blog post on WordPress, I use the WordPress logo for the image. However in this blog post on story and marketing, Jo used an image that conveys the idea of sharing stories by showing 2 kids reading a book together. Remember that too much of a good thing is usually not so good for your goals. Don’t distract your reader with too many images, you’ll find 1-2 per page or post is generally sufficient.

Images of People on Business Websites

Businesses who sell services like consulting, coaching, and speaking often choose images of people for their websites. In that case, it’s a good idea to use images that authentically reflect the business and their clients. For example, if a company provides workplace training in an urban area, it might be a good idea to use images of diverse groups on their website to represent the people they train. Diversity is not just about gender, race, and ethnicity—when it comes to images you should also consider age, size, and the norms of attractiveness. Your goal should be for clients and potential clients to identify with your vision of them, and let’s face it—not everyone is young, beautiful, or skinny. Using images that represent a broader slice of the public comes across as more realistic and authentic in many cases, so build on those subtle cues as part of your marketing plan.

When you select images of people, it’s also important to avoid having everyone dressed in clothing with muted colors. You may not always be able to fine a variety of models and dress in stock photos, but do your best to vary colors when you can. It’s also a good idea to make sure that images you choose have appropriate backgrounds and look realistic.

I find that is the best place to find the types of peopled images that I’ve been describing. Even though it’s a paid service, it’s well worth the money to find a variety of models. Over the past year istockphoto significantly increased the number of plus-sized and middle-aged people in their stock images as well.

Keeping Your Look Unique (Sort of)

Stock images exist to be licensed to many people, so you’ll want to avoid the some of the most popular images to give your website a special look. Many photo sites show you the number of times an image has already been downloaded to help you make more informed decisions. Depending on the terms of the image license, you might be able to crop the image or apply a photo filter (like Sepia, for example) to further alter the look of the image.

Finding Images for Your Website

There are many websites that license royalty-free stock images created by both professionals and amateurs. Professionals are more likely to charge for licenses than amateurs, and the image quality often demonstrates why. I’ve found that images of people are often better and more diverse from paid services since photographing people well appears to be a skill that few amateurs have mastered.

Finally, before you download an image make sure you know and adhere to the licensing terms. Free images often require some type of attribution and may be only be available for personal use.

Free Image Licenses for Your Website is a search engine for free images that includes these popular sites:

Paid Image Licenses for Your Website