In a recent tweet someone asked Google’s John Mueller if using stock images affects rankings. The person related that a friend has the opinion that using non-original content such as stock photography can indeed affect rankings.
“It doesn’t matter for web-search directly.”
Some might find that answer a little vague. But it accurately communicates that stock images don’t matter for regular web search.
The search results are full of top ranked sites that use stock images. Many of Search Engine Journal’s featured images are stock photography and they rank perfectly fine.
There’s a longstanding SEO idea that non-original content is a negative thing that can affect rankings. Obviously there is some truth to non-original content being unable to rank.
But there’s a certain point where that truth can get stretched and used in a different context it’s not meant to apply to.
Stock photography is non-original content. But if Google took off marks for the use of those, half the Internet would never rank.
Mueller’s answer continued:
“For image search, if it’s the same image as used in many places, it’ll be harder. (There’s also the potential impact on users, after search happens, eg: does it affect conversions if your team photo is obvious stock photography?)”
How to Use Stock Photography for SEO
There are probably many opinions on the best use of stock photography.
It’s probably a good idea to first stop and consider how it is appropriate for your situation.
Does the Image Accurately Represent the Topic?
Sometimes images are used metaphorically and that’s not always the best choice.
For example, it is arguably a lost opportunity to use images of race cars in an article about the “race to succeed.”
That’s an instance of using an image that takes the word “race” in a context that’s different from the topic.
And really, that image does’t advance your goals for converting a site visitor to use a product, click a link or whatever action you want.
It’s not necessarily a bad choice but there could be a better choice.
A better choice could be an aspirational image, one that shows the success that can result from using the product.
That can be a successful holiday meal, a person graduating from college, whatever the outcome from the use of the product is can be a conversion-oriented image.
Perhaps the important consideration is that the audience can see themselves in the image or can relate to it.
That’s a strategic use of an image to help a page convert a visitor into a consumer or whatever the goal of the webpage is.
Would the Image Work Well In a Featured Snippet?
This is a good test of how relevant an image is to the topic. Studying the images used in featured snippets is a good way to improve your understanding of what it means for an image to be relevant to the topic of a web page.
Will a strategic use of a stock image help it rank in a featured snippet? That’s debatable.
I find that images with close ties to the topic, that can communicate an answer tend to work well for me. That means using original images or updating and improving on stock images.
Does the Image Help Conversions?
I’m consulting for an organization that was using stock images showing a mix of people who typically use their product.
It turns out that most of the clients are a specific gender. And the people making purchases are largely from a home office type situation.
My suggestion was to increase the use of images featuring that gender and to use images with settings that represent the typical users of their product. That way the potential consumer can see themselves into the picture and understand how much better their lives would be if they made the purchase.
Stock Images and SEO
Using stock photography won’t ruin your SEO. However the strategic use of stock images can help a page be more relevant for the topic that it’s about.
Read the full Twitter discussion here:
It doesn't matter for web-search directly. For image search, if it's the same image as used in many places, it'll be harder. (There's also the potential impact on users, after search happens, eg: does it affect conversions if your team photo is obvious stock photography?)
— 🦇 johnmu: cats are not people 🦇 (@JohnMu) June 27, 2020