Soulless, dead-eyed figures staring mindlessly at the camera … no, we're not talking about the latest episode of The Walking Dead. We're referring to those cringy stock photos that dominate the web. Okay, so the models from these highly staged shots might not actually be zombies from the cult TV show, but with their often blank, vacant expressions you'd be forgiven for thinking otherwise!
All joking aside, stock photos have become a staple of website design over the years, with their low cost and widespread availability making them the preferred choice for many. But while stock imagery certainly has a place in online design, as this post explains, it may be better to use your own (less zombie-looking!) photos where possible.
The benefits of using your own photos
We all know that “a picture is worth a thousand words”, so it's vital that the images on your website conjure up the right words for your accountancy practice. As stock photos aren't tailor-made for your firm, it can be difficult to find an image that conveys your chosen message perfectly. That's why many firms are turning to professional photographers to capture customised images for their website.
Unless you're a dab-hand with the camera yourself (or have a friend that is), there's no getting away from the fact that hiring a professional photographer will result in a higher cost at the outset. However, the benefits usually far outweigh the additional expense in the long term, and here's why:
Original images help to build trust
As an accountancy practice dealing with confidential financial matters, trust is essential to building a good working relationship with clients. In our experience, accountancy websites that display original, genuine images of the firm and its people are likely to be deemed more trustworthy than sites that use blatant stock images that are obviously fake.
This is particularly important when it comes to showing images of people. If you're looking to add photos of people to the website, it's usually better to use images of your actual employees rather than a generic stock man/woman who clearly doesn't work at the practice. Yes, the model might be very attractive, immaculately dressed and have an impeccable smile, but they don't exactly scream “I'm a real person in the real world”, do they?
Think about it from the user's perspective. Prospective clients are more likely to trust and have confidence in your firm if they can see the people they'll be dealing with, rather than a cliched stock image that's been used on thousands of other websites (unless they're avid zombie fans, that is!) A good example of this can be seen on Whitehead & Aldrich's website, where images of the firm's staff are used throughout the site to help create a more genuine, friendly feel.
Who would you trust to look after your finances?
Your images can support location-focused SEO
If you're aiming to attract clients from the local area, it can be helpful to use relevant location-based images on your website. While the images alone may not bring in new business, they do support location-focused SEO (search engine optimisation). They're also a great way for potential clients to familiarise themselves with your company and its location.
Many of our customers choose to display pictures of the local area on their website. Windsor Accountancy, for example, feature a large image of Windsor castle on their home page.
While location-based images such as this tend to work well, they can be difficult to find on some of the free or cheaper stock photo sites. This is another reason why it's often a good idea to hire a professional photographer. Failing this, it might be worth looking at premium stock photography sites such as www.istockphoto.com and www.shutterstock.com, which usually include more location-based images.
Gain more control over your brand and messaging
One of the benefits of custom photography is that you won't need to scour the web trying to find the “perfect” image, only to eventually settle on one that's “good enough”. Instead, you'll be able to choose from a selection of bespoke, tailored images that convey your brand, tone and messaging perfectly.
With custom photography, you're in control of the type of images people see and the thoughts and feelings that these images evoke. Don't forget, stock images represent someone else's vision and interpretation of a particular theme or concept, so it's unlikely that they'll convey your chosen idea exactly as you intend.
Other points to consider
If you do intend to provide your own images or hire a photographer, it's worth thinking about how and where you'd like these images to be used. For instance, if you intend to use your own photo as the home page banner or behind an inner page title, the image really needs to be a panoramic/landscape style shot. Team photos, however, tend to be square or portrait and so may not be suitable for certain sections of the site.
Does that mean stock photos are bad?
No, it just means that you should use them wisely.
In some cases, for example if your own photos are of low quality, it's actually better to use stock photographs. With websites becoming more polished and professional, it's no longer possible to get away with using sub-standard pictures.
If you do want or need to include stock images on your website, it's best to avoid ones that are too cliché or cheesy. Steer clear of overly staged and highly edited images that look unnatural and instead source more candid shots where possible.
Opting for close-up, cropped images can be a good option, while photos that use natural lighting will be more believable than those taken in a studio setting. Alternatively, you may want to download a stock photo and then edit it using photo-editing software such as Photoshop.
When sourcing visual elements for your website, it's important to reinforce the user experience by choosing relevant images. You certainly don't want to make it difficult for visitors to understand the concept. And remember, image-focused design isn't for every page, so use your images appropriately, for example on the home page and overview pages.
Where can I source images from?
There are many stock photography sites on the web. Some of these provide free for commercial use images, while the more premium sites charge a fee to download your chosen image.
Here's a selection of some of the most popular sites:
- Unsplash (free) – contains over one million high-resolution stock photographs which can be downloaded for free
- Pixabay (free) – another popular online library of more than one million free for commercial use stock images
- Pexels (free) – access thousands of free, easily searchable stock photographs with no attribution required
- Freepik (free and paid for) – helps users find high-quality photos, vector images, illustrations and PSD files. Includes both free and premium (paid for) images
- iStock photo (paid for) – provides millions of royalty-free stock photos, illustrations and videos, with various pricing plans available
- Shutterstock (paid for) – offers a huge selection of high-quality, royalty-free stock images, photos, vectors, illustrations and more. Various pricing plans are available and they often offer a free one-month introductory trial.
If you're unsure about the type of images that work best, please feel free to contact us and we'll be happy to advise you.
Looking for something a bit different?
If you're striving for a website that has a more unique look, you might want to opt for an illustrative design style.
We've seen a rise in the popularity of vector-based website designs over recent years – www.parkercavendish.co.uk is just one example that we've worked on. If you'd like to create an illustrative-style website then you can either hire a digital illustrator or use a free for commercial stock photo service such as Freepik.
A wealth of design knowledge at your fingertips
With over 15 years' experience building and designing websites specifically for accountants, we know what works well and what doesn't.
Whether you choose to use your own photographs or would prefer to source stock images, we can help you to create an attractive and responsive website that meets your needs – and without a zombie in sight!
To find out more about our accWEBSITE offering, click here.