Are Stock Images Making Your Brand Forgettable?

Custom artwork isn’t an indulgence anymore — it’s a business strategy

Change things up with your images and arouse their curiosity again. Image by author, Jessica Barnaby.

Aaagh, no! Please, say it’s not so!! It takes long enough to write a business blog without having to faff about with images too.

Wait. Hear me out, it’s easier than you think.

You already know there’s so much blog competition these days that even Google’s pushing for more richer and longer content in your posts.

Quicksprout did some A/B testing and showed long-form copy doesn’t just boost your conversions, it increases your rankings too.

But although blog posts are getting longer, coming in at around 1150 words now as opposed to 800 words a few years ago, the average reader spends only around 16 seconds reading them (Hosting Tribunal).

That’s 16 seconds to read what you’ve spent so many hours writing. That’s not even skimming. It’s speed-skimming.

It’s okay! Read on to see how to work with this.

A cartoony infographic is easy on the eye, skimmable, and shareable. Image source: GrowingSocialBiz

Writing for Skim-Readers Keeps Them Coming Back

Skim-readers skim for many reasons:

  • There’s not enough time to read everything.
  • They’re suspicious you’re not going to give them what you promised in your headline.
  • It’s like buying a self-help book that you stick on your bookshelf and never read — the sheer comfort of owning it (skimming the page) satisfies.
  • They’re on their mobile and scrolling fast is a habit.
  • They’re trying to finish the page before your pop-up chases them away.

Everyone’s reason is personal to them and doesn’t really matter to you.

Here’s what matters to your business:

✅ Catching the eye of the people that need your information.

✅ Having these people enjoy your work so much that they’ll find a way to look you up in the future.

✅ Understanding *everyone” is a skimmer — even you.

Images increase your authority

When you hear information, you’re likely to remember only 10% of that information three days later. But if a relevant image is paired with that same information, you retain 65% of the information three days later.

The right images help file things away in our memories. Choose a unique image that goes with your words and your readers think of you when the subject comes up.

Stock images are a quick and easy way to illustrate your content — but they come with risks.

Did you almost scroll by thinking this was a banner ad? Stock images from Shutterstock.

Stock photos are available for free and to purchase, and everyone’s using them… and therein lies the problem. So many blog posts and articles carry the same tired images that readers have become blind to them.

Let’s leave over-used stock photographs to your competitors.

Are images the whole secret to successful blogging?

No, images aren’t everything. Your content has to be good too. Your tone matters. Relevance matters.

A good image is like a seasoning that lifts a meal and adds emotion to your words, making them more engaging and shareable.

Think of images, and layout in general, like wearing a suit to an interview. The suit won’t guarantee you get the job, but it gets you through the door, giving you the chance to layer in a second impression.

Guide skim-readers into seeing your message. Image by author, Jessica Barnaby

The Right Images Slow Down the Skim-Readers

A wall of text is hard to manage when you’re skim-reading. You know this — you’re a skimmer too. Help readers out by giving them ledges to rest on as they’re scrolling down the page.

Ledges are things like:

  1. Subheadings
  2. Lists (like this one)
  3. Images

Subheadings and lists are easy enough, but images take a little bit more work. Especially as most people would rather run a marathon than be forced to do anything “creative.”

This is precisely why the stock photo market is so huge. The latest statistics say there are 350 million stock photos out there and the industry growth rate is 5% annually.

Choose stock photos that fit your business personality and style. Photo by Alice Dietrich on Unsplash.

Stock Photography Best Practices

While it’s hard to stand out using the same tired stock imagery as everyone else, sometimes only a stock image will do, like if:

  • You’re running a non-commercial blog with limited resources.
  • You’re testing the water with a hobby site.
  • You’re under time constraints.
  • Your commercial page needs professional industry-appropriate images.
  • You need a free and joyful spirit splashing water around in ecstasy as she leaps and does yoga while touching the sky (Really? Do you really?).

With the huge number of stock photography sites out there, you can find something that stands out from the crowd while fitting in with your article.

I’ve certainly been guilty of settling for the low-hanging fruit, especially when it’s for a personal written piece and not something for a client. Don’t be me.

In fact, when either of us is choosing a stock photograph, let’s make this basic pact:

  • We’ll stay away from generic, suited individuals — they hardly ever look authentic on a small business or freelancer blog post.
  • We’ll choose something from one of the deeper pages in the search results
  • We’ll try and crop it to make it more relevant to our needs (and therefore different to how everyone else is using it).

How to Get Custom Artwork for Your Business

Custom artwork isn’t an indulgence anymore. It’s a business strategy.

Custom artwork sounds expensive, but it can be as cheap as doing it yourself. Here are several ways to find your own brand-appropriate images.

Commission your own artwork

On Wednesday Genius, I create custom graphics and “looks” for brands to use across their websites, blogs, brochures, and products. Finding an artist to work with is the way to go if you’re looking for a consistent look and feel across your business.

Limited-edition digital downloads

Some artists offer digital downloads for commercial use. It’s an excellent compromise between affordability and originality.

  • Digital downloads are hi-res and scale well for business cards, brochures, and products.
  • Individual artists have their own terms as to what you can and can’t do with the image, so check before buying.

Graphs and charts

Many topics lends themselves well to pie-charts, column-graphs and tables. If you have any data you can display in a graphical format, you can knock up something in PowerPoint or Excel and then take a screenshot and save in .jpg format.

Create an infographic

Canva has a wide range of free infographic templates to choose from. Pick out the important elements from your article and display them in the infographic. You can make them small like the one earlier in this article, or longer, like this one about listening.

Draw it yourself

If you have any artistic desire, no matter how latent, try branding yourself with your own style of art. Here are two examples of businesses who use their own artwork as branding:

  • Kopywriting Kourse — Neville’s a copywriter and his fun stick people are recognizable across the internet. They’re practically his signature.
  • — Sean’s a marketer and creates images full of warmth and personality. His work even inspired me to dabble more in watercolor.

But Jessica, Leo Babauta has 2,000,000 breath-taking readers and he doesn’t have a single image on his site.

You think of ZenHabits and you feel the simplicity because simplicity is the brand. No blurring of energy with other sites. No images, no fuss.

Would it work for you?

It depends on what you’re selling and how consistent you can be. ZenHabits is a carefully constructed dish with no added flavors or preservatives. But a clean diet isn’t for everyone. You and your readers might prefer things spiced up a bit.

As a writer and a businessperson, you want people to resonate with your work. Use other sites as inspiration but don’t copy them.

Know that stock photography is generic and that you choose from what’s in the pool. You have your own voice and your own style, give yourself the space to find a style of imagery that builds your presence and sets you apart.

Choose your images carefully, because that’s how they see you online.

Written by

Writer | Artist | Business Strategist 🍒 Asking questions, finding answers ✔

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