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Stock Photos in SEO Blogs and Their Use

August 27, 2020 | Category:

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The internet is full of websites that contain these strange, uncanny, yet well-edited images known as stock photos. Their characteristic lack of context and exaggerations allow them to fit into almost any setting, yet remain out of place at the same time. 

This begs the question: What are stock photos used for? Who makes them? 

What Are Stock Photos Used For? 

Stock photos are convenient, high-quality, royalty-free images used for commercial or non-commercial purposes. In blog writing, stock photos represent pre-made content that has been staged, shot, and edited. 

The content of stock images can range from very niche interests, to being very general. 

Either way, stock photos are an attractive resource since they do not require hiring a professional photographer, and are made available immediately upon downloading. 

Where Do Stock Photos Come From? 

people looking exhausted

Stock photos are produced by photographers, who, in turn, submit their work to agencies that collect libraries full of images. Prominent stock-agencies are Getty, Shutterstock, istock, and more. Some of the photos are free, while others are ‘royalty-free’ images that require a one-time payment to use. 

Any payment made is split between the agency that hosts the image and the photographer. 

Copyright and Stock Photo Use

While stock photos are known for being free, generic images used in web design, some of them are copyrighted. The three categories of use fall under are public domain, royalty-free, and rights-managed. All three have varying degrees of use, some of which require a purchase and continual monitoring to use. 

Public Domain

Public domain stock images are entirely free to use for commercial or personal reasons. There are no copyright protections enforced if you use these kinds of images. 


Royalty-free images are the most commonly found in stock agencies. They require a one-time payment for continuous use. For these images, providing the one amount removes most restrictions on an image. This includes multiple applications for commercial purposes. 


Rights-managed is the most restrictive copyright license belonging to a stock photo. Photos purchased under this kind of copyright have restrictions in place, limiting the use of the picture to one project. Additional applications of an image may require re-purchasing the license for the image. Other restrictions may apply, depending on the individual license agreement. 

Do Not Use Watermarked Images

blue rectangular stamp spelling the word 'original'

Using stock photos with a watermark can have legal consequences in the form of a DMCA takedown

Stock photos protected by copyright law will have a ‘watermark’ that distorts the image slightly. Stock agencies will use this as a deterrent to prevent people from stealing said images. Yet even posting a watermarked image with the company’s name on it is not a legal alternative. 

Using a watermarked image without the direct permission of the creator carries the same penalties as stealing it. These penalties come in the form of a DMCA takedown. It is defined as “When content is removed from a website at the request of the owner of the content or the owner of the copyright of the content.” (DMCA.com , 2019) 

Stock Photo Use in SEO Friendly Blogs

Two men shaking hands in an office setting. A woman is looking at the man on the left while smiling.

Stock photos look too detached from reality, which is why original content will be slightly better

The goal of SEO is to stand out from the crowd by offering good-quality, original content, which is why you should use as many original photos as possible. 

Stock photos are not necessarily detrimental to SEO ratings. However, they may not be the best, either. A driving force in SEO is creating an excellent customer experience and generating feelings of trustworthiness. A study done by Stanford University validates this statement, “In evaluating credibility, a person makes an assessment of both trustworthiness and expertise to arrive at an overall credibility assessment.” (Fogg et al, 80) 

The well-edited perfection of stock photos makes trust difficult to develop. The editing creates a Disney-like effect where the user knows that the image is ‘fake’ or ‘staged.’

If the image does not display authentic, real-life content, the user may not completely trust you. It is the principle of believing what you can feel and see. The same Stanford study would call this experienced credibility, “Refers to how much a person believes someone or something based on the first-hand experience.“(Fogg et al, 83)

This is why using original content is the recommended SEO strategy for image use. 

Furthermore, Matt Cutt’s statement in the linked video suggests that Google will prioritize original content over sites that re-use the same stock photos. On a larger scale, other sites will be using the same images. Using shared stock photos on your website will only make you blend in with the masses. 

Works Cited

Webmasters, Google. “Does Using Stock Photos on Your Pages Have a Negative Effect on Rankings?” Youtube.com, Google, 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=k15GpWfsxZU.

Fogg, B. J. and Hsiang Tseng. “The elements of computer credibility.” CHI ’99 (1999).


Published by
August 27, 2020 3:34 pm