Do Stock Images Affect Trust?

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We have a running joke in our offices about clip art and stock photo. One in particular image continues to populate sites all across the Internet so much that each time she pops up on a site Instant Messages with links to her start flying internally. Kind of a running spoof of the “There’s that News Van Again” ad, which was a staple commercial in the Philadelphia region in 1993 from Eyewitness News.

I ran across her fanatical customer service smile, white blouse and professional headset probably three years ago and have taken notice ever since. To be quite honest, the first time I saw her I indeed did use a few stock photo credits for her rights to be displayed on a site I was developing for a client.

Over the years, to me, she has now become a staple of haunting distrust. To me, she projects a web sites stale use of graphical web design to show visitors that they can expect a smile and great service when they call.

This time, when I came across her again, I decided it was time look deeper into her existence. I began searching manually with just a few industry queries (which became an interesting exercise on how quickly and easily visitors can find a sites contact page). Considering a visitor within a comparison-shopping state of mind just seeking out quotes this becomes important, as you need to have your visitors know where to navigate.

This soon became an exhaustive task and I switched over to image search on Google and searched by image by uploading a picture of my favorite friendly customer service representative and was returned with only 823 results. Really, only 823? I have been haunted by an image with this low a result? This was really quite a lower number then I had expected.

Regardless, through my research (not stalking) I was able to determine her name is Wendy Jan.  Wait, really?  She even has her own Google+ profile page.  Later I realized I had been fooled when I uncovered she had a Twitter account and her true identity was Reyes Mc keish.  Considering the amount of coverage she got online I was then saddened to see how low her engagement was within the social graph.

But What Does This Say About Your Company’s Trust?

Being intrigued by “search by image”, I ran a few more photos of some of our own company graphics, logos and more. Luckily I didn’t uncover anything too out of the ordinary that infringed upon our copyrights or placed us in unruly circumstances. But what a great, and quick, way to check to see your brand “image” within SERPs.

In addition, what an excellent tool to use in choosing your stock photos for not only contact pages but assets for your site to make certain your selection is not saturated within the Internet. For me, every time I see this stock photo I am immediately turned down on the trust level as she has become so recognizable in my searches. My assumption is many others have similar experiences with other stock photos.

Considering a large emphasis on the Trust Factor moving forward within SEO I am intrigued by the thought of Google, having this in depth of image recognition capabilities, devaluing a sites trust marks due to the use of over-saturated clip art and stock images. Would Google penalize a site based on the use of photos and graphics that bring back numerous results on certain pages? Probably not, consider staple graphics such as VISA/MasterCard, McAfee and others.

Still, I’m reminded of a story I was told at a recent holiday party where a friend of mine told me she visited a web site for a spa and was enticed by the beautiful facilities in the photographs on the site only to arrive at a reception desk and be navigated through a clothing manufacturing facility, as she described a sweatshop, to arrive at a facility less than as advertised.

I’ve spent too much time already on this graphic to truly do a full case study and research to see if this in fact a determining element but I will continue to explore this theory. I am glad to say that, after this review, I have exercised some demons and I am now able to move forward with a positive outlook when I come upon Wendy Jan Reyes Mc keish in the future.

There’s more to designing a good contact page than adding a contact form and slapping on a graphic of a smiling face, although I will admit this is still a good practice compared to many of the sites I have seen while searching. Consider using internal resources, photos of staff and social badges as well segmenting departments to make it easier for your visitor to get in touch with whom they are seeking. Web users are creatures of their own personalized behavior and always consider your own experiences when developing sites that will convert better and allow your site to be as trustworthy as you can.

Todd Bailey

Todd Bailey

Founder /Editor at pushStar Digital
Todd Bailey is the Founder/Editor of pushStar Digital. He works as Director of Search for Gen3 Marketing as well.
Todd Bailey
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  • Anthony D. Nelson

    I have no problem trusting any of these sites 😉

  • Drew

    I had this exact conversation with a client 2 weeks ago and fully agree. It’s better doing customer reviews without images unless they are all really the customers photos, IMO. Otherwise, I know from some market research and polls that people tend to spot stock pics vs. real customers, but are so used to seeing stock photos used that the wording & message becomes more important if text accompanies the images. A business does run the chance of destroying credibility if they decided to use images to represent them that do not reflect them in real life. So, it’s a crap shoot – go for the well lit, beautiful stock images, giving a more professional look, or look amateur with bad lighting, average looking pics that may not get the point across you fully wish too. A conundrum for sure. Great article.

  • Brennan

    The use of a stock image immediately raises an alarm for me. If I am not already familiar with the company using the image, I probably never will be. I usually am off that website in the next few seconds. Same goes for print ads.

    If I am familiar with the company, I lose a little respect for the company.

  • Sabine

    I imagine you would get a kick out of (the now stale)

  • Alexandra Mas

    There are so many artists out there with photos ready to be used that have never been seen before other than their portfolio. I understand buying a photo from a professional for a communication purpose but I do not like stok photos. They are indeed a statement of superficial communication, there for I do not trust sites that use them.
    It might be more expensive but a good communication image is priceless

  • Anthony Pensabene

    Stock photos are Truman-Show-ish. I think stock photos are just one of those elements lingering from traditional advertising. I feel like somewhere in the 1950s or so, marketers thought combining a smiling person with the product/service would create positive associations, which is a part of branding, but its too outdated and sterile in today’s marketing world. Good write up.

  • Quentin Aisbett

    Loved this one Todd! I actually clicked on Wendy’s Google+ profile to check it out…No idea why.

    Anyway, i’m glad you have put this out there. I am forever telling clients that stock images are going to hurt. In particular I find businesses that are in professional services using stock images such as Wendy, which I couldn’t think of a worse example.

    Not sure if you’ve noticed but some of the images also do not even fit in with the target demographic (if that makes sense).

  • Luke

    I think in a perfect world we wouldn’t use stock photo’s but my agency designs websites for SME’s, and they simply don’t have the budget to spend on creating images that are website quality.

    I fundamentally disagree with the spa story – this is true misrepresentation, and goes beyond using stock images.

    However I think there is a middle ground that need to be agreed upon by web designers. Not all websites belong to cash flush companies.