Images breathe life into content of a website and have the power to tip the success scale in your court. Marketers, bloggers, influencers, and website designers all know the value of images and leverage them fully to boost web traffic and conversion rates. However, when it comes to adding images, there’s a never-ending debate between stock photos and original pictures and which is the best.

But the looming question that worries every online brand is its ranking on search engines. With new algorithms introduced daily, marketers are always racing to bring their content to the top.

It’s no new knowledge that non-original or rephrased content doesn’t fare well on SEO, but could the same be said about images? The possibility that stock photos might not be good for SEO concerns many digital marketers, which brings us to the question: how much truth is there to this statement?

To know whether stock images affect your SEO or not, keep reading!


Google’s Take on Stock Photos and SEO

As the leading search engine, it’s important to consider Google’s perspective regarding stock images and their impact on SEO. A Twitter user asked Google’s search advocate, John Mueller, about the impact of using stock photos on website rankings. He added that one of his friends thinks that using non-original content on the website, such as stock photos, might affect the rankings.

The conversation that takes place between Twitterati and Google’s John Mueller is as follows:


Mueller’s reply didn’t satisfy many marketers as they felt the answer was vague. However, if one is to break it down, the meaning is that Google’s web search results don’t depend on whether images are unique or non-unique. The green signal is an indication that you can use stock photos on your site without worrying about the SEO element.

A few years back, Google’s former webmaster, Matt Cutt, said in a video that “there is no positive or negative impact on your organic web ranking if you use stock imagery versus original imagery.

The above statements are enough to bring peace to concerned people, as using original photos for everything is daunting. Many of the articles that rank in the top three feature stock photos, and if Google starts to penalize the content, half of the websites would never make it to the list.


Stock Photos and Google Image Search 

However, if it’s an image search that we’re talking about, the plot is changed. In order for your site to rank high on Google image search, you better use original photos as they would be exclusive, authentic, and unique. The algorithm behind image search is different from conventional organic Google search. If  your website is about your unique artwork and photography its very important to put “alt tags” into the html coding of all your photos so they will have a better chance to be found on Google. In the context of website photography, images play a vital role in conveying information and capturing users’ attention. Alt tags are a valuable SEO technique as they provide descriptive text that search engines can read and interpret. By utilizing alt tags, websites can enhance their visibility and improve the accessibility of their visual content to both users and search engines.

When you enter the photo in an image search, Google will show you many similar ones. The top-ranking site that is hosting the image will be displayed first.

The above picture depicts how image search works. The left side picture is from the stock photo site “Freepik .” Upon placing this picture in the image search, hundreds of results came up using this photograph. However, the one that is on top is the original site.

Therefore, if you’re using stock photos on your site, the chances of you appearing in the image search engine is slim to none, as the original stock photos site would take the lead.

To ensure that your images rank higher in the image search, use original photos to seal the deal. Moreover, hiring a professional photographer would also help, as they know all tips and tricks for curating high-resolution photos.

On the other hand, if you are planning to purchase stock photos, take help from tools like Canva, Adobe Photoshop, and many others to help you create unique, compelling visuals.

Stock Photos Vs. Original Photos 

There is no doubt about the benefits of using original photos, and you should use them if you can, as all the effort is worthwhile.

However, at times many factors come into play, such as time and money constraints, which might call for a different alternative than adding no photos at all.

Acquiring low cost photos from reliable sources is the savior in situations like these, as they are readily available. These stock photos are professionally shot, are high quality and will increase engagement while visually enlivening your website. They add the necessary color, which helps to grab the customer’s attention, ultimately boosting conversion rates.

Cymax Media understands the importance of photography in website design because we view hundreds of photos every week while building websites. We also offer professional photography services including: corporate photos, product photos, architectural photos or drone photography of your facility in Colorado. Among other clients we have been providing photography for AAA Colorado for the last 5 years.


How to Use Stock Photos for Better Website Performance? 

  • Always use relevant images where needed. Make sure that the image is adding value to the content.
  • Edit your images with online photo editing tools or software and tweak them according to your brand’s needs.
  • Compress the photos using a plugin to reduce the loading time of webpages on desktop and mobile.
  • Add “Alt Tags” (a text that describes the image) to improve the accessibility of the picture.
  • Add short, descriptive file names. Avoid using generic names like “001”, and instead name your file as “cute black hat.’
  • Optimize the placement. Select the picture you think relates best, and use it near the top of the page.

However, some nuances usually occur with stock photos, and it’s best to keep them in mind to ensure a great user experience.

Common Issues with Using Stock Photos 

Stock photos are cheap, feasible, and convenient, but throw in the issues like legality, authenticity, and user experience; one begs to differ whether the potential benefits outweigh the drawbacks. Below we have discussed a few common issues that usually occur with stock photos.


One of the primary challenges associated with utilizing stock photos is the issue of licensing rights. Although numerous images are available for free use in the public domain, which does not require any attribution, it is important to note that there are also several stock photo sites where the images come at a cost.

Many people don’t understand the complexities of licensing and, at times, knowingly or unknowingly use copyrighted images in their content. In recent years, Getty Images have gone after many website owners for using stock images to which they don’t possess rights.

The hassle of getting caught and an impending lawsuit threat is enough to distress any brand. Therefore, it’s advisable to ensure you avail usage rights to an image and have adequate proof to state your claim before using the stock photo.

True Story: Using Photos off of a Google Image Search

Years ago Cymax Media had a client who provided us images he took off a Google image search and told us to use them for his website. We warned him NOT to do this but he ignored us and insisted we use them. A few years later that same client called us and told us that he had to pay a $4000 fee or face a lawsuit for copyright infringement for that mistake. Our client could have simply paid about $30 in licensing fees (in the beginning) and avoided this terrible situation.  Since the invention of Google Reverse Image Search there are law firms who specialize in hunting down image thieves – companies who have failed to pay relevant license fees. Bottom line…pay those license fees for stock photos or risk “paying” for them later at a much higher price.

Lack of authenticity 

Suppose you need to add a picture of team members on your social page.

You’re scouring a stock photo site and landing on a picture you liked. The photo is perfect, with people in crisp, clean dresses, smiling, and looking flawless in the picture. You decided to go within the moment of pure temptation and uploaded the image on your social page.

We know it’s a little dramatic, but you get the drill. It’s easy to spot a stock photo because they are always perfect. While it’s good to have such professional images on your site, many other people would also be using them to attract customers.

Stock photos lack authenticity as they are non-original. We live in a world where uniqueness is valued. The audience wants raw, organic content and something they can relate to. Therefore, using original visuals is challenging and takes more work but is worthwhile as it adds value to your site. It shows your customers that you go above and beyond for them and delivers a great user experience.