Businesses, ad agencies, Web design firms and online publications have increasingly turned to low-cost microstock images to fill up real estate on their websites.
These images are cheap — but do they really offer the best value for photography clients?
Eye-tracking studies by Jakob Nielsen, a Web site consultant and author of books on design and user interface, indicate that generic stock images may be worth even less to buyers than they cost.
What the Research Shows
Nielsen’s research shows that Web users ignore decorative stock images used to “jazz up” Web pages. Such images often simply add clutter to the design and do not help from a business standpoint.
But customers do pay attention to pictures that give them useful information about a product or service being offered, Nielsen’s studies show.
They also respond to pictures of real people who work at a company, or of actual company facilities, while ignoring stock images of smiling businesspeople and generic work settings.
As Nielsen puts it:
The commonality across all of these examples … is that users pay attention to information-carrying images that show content that’s relevant to the task at hand. And users ignore purely decorative images that don’t add real content to the page. So much fluff — of which there’s too much already on the Web.
In other words, Web users want to see photos that contain specific information. Not generic stock images, but images that help them learn more about a product or company.
For this reason, Nielsen advises companies with a strategic online presence to “invest in good photo shoots: a great photographer can add a fortune to your Web site’s business value.”
A Selling Tool
Be assured, Nielsen’s study won’t slow the flood of cheap stock images on the Web anytime soon.
In fact, many Web design firms have a vested interest in ignoring Nielsen’s research. It’s so much easier to just pull images off the Web and plug them into a design than to coordinate a photo shoot. And the additional cost of hiring a photographer can cut into the design firm’s margins when their client has a limited budget.
But photographers can still use Nielsen’s research as a selling tool to convince corporate clients that paying for a professional photo shoot is an investment that’s worth the price.