Whether you run a business website or a blog, chances are you’re going to use photos. And in today’s visual world, we know that photos are a great way to capture interest, increase engagement and – let’s face it – sell stuff.
Then why are so many sites so dismally bad at using photos? Those quickly Instagrammed lunch photos on Facebook are often better than the ones I’ve seen on some websites that actually hope to do business.
Here are some of the more egregious photo mistakes I’ve seen, so if any of these sound like you, fix them now! It doesn’t take a lot but it can have a tremendous impact on your brand image, credibility and, yup, your ability to sell stuff.
1. Stock Photos That Are Boring, Generic And Ubiquitous
Repeat after me: I will never use a stock photo of a guy in a business suit or a smiling woman talking on the phone. Ever.
If you’ve seen one site with generic-white-guys-shaking-hands you’ve probably seen hundreds. It’s probably even the same photo.
Sometimes, if someone is feeling super multi-cultural, they’ll pick a generic-guys-at-business-meeting photo that is carefully composed of the white guy, the African-American guy, the Latin guy and the Asian. No racists doing business here, thanks!
So if you want your business to look tired, stuffy and corporate in the worst, most disinterested sense of the word, go right ahead and keep using those lifeless photos.
But if you’d rather look like a forward-thinking company that cares about its image – and consequently cares about its customers – then please spend more than five minutes at the nearest stock photo site and be a little creative about what you select to represent your business.
Try to come up with a few keywords to represent your business before you search. Write them down, including conceptual keywords like “trust”, “progress” or “tradition” – whichever suit your message. Write down literal words, too.
When you search, use the site’s related photo feature or click through some of the other keywords that pop up. It’s worth the extra few minutes to find the perfect photo instead of just “a photo”.
2. Photos That Are **Too** Creative
The opposite of using boring photos is using photos that are so edgy that, well, they sort of fall right over it.
It’s nice to use abstract or symbolic photos if they make sense. But before you get all artsy and metaphorical, it pays to run your ideas by an objective person to be sure your vision isn’t just in your head.
For example, one of my clients is a financial planner. When we worked on his site, we didn’t want generic photos of happy retired people in rowboats and hammocks and other such drivel, so we went for symbolism. His company represents tradition, strength and a solid financial foundation. So we selected somewhat architectural photos of bridges, pillars and other “strong” elements.
Some of our selections went off track – I recall seeing a boat in there somewhere – but we easily caught those by sharing the photo selections with a few different people to see if our vision translated into something meaningful for the company.
I see this problem a lot on blogs, too. Believe me, I know how challenging it can be to find photos for your blog, especially when you’re writing about an abstract concept! Sometimes it takes me five minutes to find a photo I like… sometimes it takes me a half hour of pulling my hair out and throwing things around the room.
But you know how distracting it can be to go to a blog and see a big photo of a chocolate cake and then read a post about email marketing… somewhere in that author’s head I’m sure there was a connection but I just ended up thinking about dessert.
Finding the sweet spot between boring and perplexing can be a challenge. But if you use the same tips for finding your photos that I mentioned above and add a feedback layer then you’ll know if your concepts are on target.
3. Photos With The Watermark
There’s not a lot to say about this except: don’t do it! It will not only make you look dumb but quite possibly like a thief because the only two reasons for a watermark on a photo are either laziness or stealing… er… “borrowing”.
If you’re using stock photography, buy it! These days the vast majority of decent stock photos are only a few dollars. Probably less than the price of your morning latte.
Plenty of people use comps while they build the site and buy the photos when they’re sure what they’ll want and need. That’s ok, but just remember that when you’re done building your site, you need to replace the comps with the real thing.
4. Photos That Are The Wrong Size
The first way to get this wrong is by using photos that are too big. Either the file size is too big or the dimensions of the photo are physically bigger than the space it’s in.
If your file size is too big, it’s going to take longer to download and slow your site down. A slow site may not render on older browsers or computers and can wreak havoc with your mobile site. A slow site can also hurt your search rankings.
Yes, Google does count site speed as a ranking factor! You can avoid a lot of speed issues by outputting your photos properly for the web.
As for the actual photo size, you may have a photo that’s 1000 pixels wide but have a space on your site that’s only 500 pixels wide. You can use the 1000 pixel photo and then resize it in your site page so that it looks smaller. But the problem is that looking smaller is not actually being smaller.
The same problems apply here – unnecessarily large dimensions will increase the file size, slow your site down, make visitors and Google unhappy and probably crush all the rainbows and unicorns in its path.
Avoid this by cropping your photo to the dimensions you need and then outputting it for the web.
The second way to get this wrong is by using photos that are too small. If you have a 100 pixel photo and try to fit it into a 500 pixel space, you’re going to end up with a blurry mess. Worse, you may throw off the dimensions entirely and end up with a blurry, distorted mess.
A rule of thumb is always start with a photo larger than you need. Much larger is even better, because that will give you room to trim. Then crop and output for your needs.
Oh, and bonus size problem: having a “click to enlarge” function and when you click, a photo pops up either the exact same size or worse, smaller. Now that’s just dumb.
5. Photos That Are The Same As Your Competitors
If you’re going the generic stock photo route (or any stock photo route) and you haven’t done some homework to see what photos your competitors are using, then you might just show up to the party wearing the same dress.
I was doing some research recently for a client who’s an attorney. Every single one of her competitors has a banner at the top of their website with an American flag, a scroll of the Constitution and a gavel.
Guess what I’m not putting on my client’s site? Would you want to look like one of many, many more of the same? Me either.
6. Photos That You **Think** Are Free
True: just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s free.
Not the music, not the books, not even the photos. If you use Creative Commons, you can find free images but that doesn’t mean you can use them at whim. You’re required to give attribution to the source and some have other restrictions, so make sure to follow the rules.
And remember, just because you found a photo on a Google image search or on Pinterest, it doesn’t mean the photo is free to use. Someone else bought, borrowed, stole or took that photo with their own camera.
Here’s the one and only time that a photo is truly, 100% free: when you’ve taken it yourself! And don’t discount this option. These days, your average cell phone camera and some rudimentary photo editing can get you some great shots that are truly unique and meaningful.
7. Photos Are Linked… To Themselves
This is a pet peeve of mine that applies primarily to WordPress sites and blogs. When you upload an image, by default WordPress puts in a URL that links to the image itself. So when you click on the photo, you get… the photo! Not entirely useful, huh?
I’m a clicker. If my mouse turns into a little clicky-hand, I’m likely to click. And when I click on those photos and get a photo, then have to backtrack to your site, it makes me kind of cranky. That’s when rainbows really die.
So if only for my sanity, delete the link in the URL field so your photo can simply sit there and be a photo.
8. Photos Are Linked To Some Other Source Instead Of Uploaded To Your Site
Most times when I’ve seen this happen it’s because someone didn’t know any better and got copy/paste-happy.
Sometimes they copy from another website and sometimes they copy from a Word document.
What ends up happening is that the location of the photo is copied instead of the photo itself. So if the photo exists on www.someone-elses-site.com/photo.jpg then that’s where the photo will stay – until the day that someone else moves it, deletes it, archives it, changes a URL, etc. And you end up with a broken link.
A client once copied content from their old website into their new website. It seemed easy at the time – swipe a content page, paste it into WordPress and voila! Text and photos perfectly formatted with minimal data entry effort.
But guess what happened as soon as my client’s old site was taken down and replaced with their new site? Every photo was broken because the location of the photo – on the old site – no longer existed.
The easy fix is to upload photos to your site and make sure that you can access all of your photos from your domain. Never rely on a third party or you might find out the hard way that the third party wasn’t hanging around wondering what deleting or moving photos would do to your site.
9. Photos? What Photos?
Not every site needs to be a work of art. In fact, I spout a lot of advice about not turning your website into an art project.
But neglecting to use even a single photo, whether it’s of you as the business owner, your product, a sample of your work or even some abstract concept photos, can really diminish the visual appeal of your site. No visual appeal = bored visitors = more bouncing = less business for you.
And if your site is a blog, it’s even more important to have photos because blogs are for sharing, and when someone clicks that share button for LinkedIn, Google+ or Facebook, you want something other than a link.
Unless you’re especially creative with typography and graphics, photos are as close to a “must” on websites as you can get.
So next time you’re putting together a web page or blog, take a moment to think about how the photos you choose are representing your brand and your business. And instead of just doing it – do it right!
How about you? Got any other photo pet peeves or things that we should be looking out for? I want to hear your thoughts!