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To achieve content creation scale, stock photos are almost always required. That said, if used incorrectly, they can significantly impact the perception of your brand in a negative way.

In this post, we break down the ways you can use stock photos to success, and think outside the box to create a higher quality aesthetic for your content marketing strategy.

Video Transcription

Hey everyone, I’m Ross, and today I’m going to talk to you about effectively using stock photos for content marketing.

So stock photos by nature have a bad name, they suck on average, but they can still be effective and scalable for a content marketing campaign when you can’t really go out and take a ton of photos effectively or cheaply. And that’s why people use them.

We get that, but I think there’s a lot of misuse of them that creates a low quality experience that you can actually overcome with the right thinking.

So the first part is to really never in my recommendation, use a straight up stock photo that is supplied to you. There should always be a variant off of it that you can leverage, even a small tweak to that photo, to allow it to create a specific brand experience that is unique to you.

And maybe not never, I shouldn’t say that exclusively, but maybe 95% of the time, rarely will you find a photo that doesn’t require some kind of minor modification. And I think if you apply minor modifications to this, you can create that whatever that modification is, to become your brand style that will allow it to transform this photo from low quality to a very high quality experience.

So there are a few ways to do that. One is to use elements of stock photos and combine illustrations into it. PolicyGenius does a good job of this.

If you check out their blog, you can see they will occasionally just pull in stock photos and also add illustrative elements around it, to kind of combine the look of what feels like a brand experience that requires stock or real photography in order to make sense for their serious subject matter but also give it a very PG feel, which I think is really high quality and looks great.

And also they mix it up, I think there is a component of that as well as you can use stock, but just don’t overuse it. You can see it in their blog index, a few of the blogs specifically, have stock photos only without that illustrative effect, or maybe some of them are illustrative. But you can still tell there is some uniform feel here that they leverage.

Additional things you can tell Policy Genius is thinking about, is they are tinting or leveraging photos specifically that use their orange hue.

So they’re specifically being smart about either using photos that have that orange tint that matches their logo or manually changing those photos to make them orange to create a higher quality experience. You can see how that minor change in some of these photos creates something that feels higher quality.

That standard on almost all of these photos is present where really one of those primary PG colors is present on the stock photo, which is why it creates a higher quality experience for them, as compared to just dropping in a photo that has no specific skew available to it.

Additionally, elements around the stock photo can be leveraged as well. So in this FTD example we actually will apply a border around a photo and you can see, it creates a nice high quality aesthetic that levels up the stock photo in a way that is subtle, but noticeable as compared to simply just putting in that stock photo without any modification at all.

It is these minor tweaks that help level up that content and also differentiate content that is potentially harmful from a duplicative content standpoint and just for users, you’re not going to feel great about FTD or any site, if you’re just getting that dropped in stock photo that you see.

Other things you can do and we’ve seen frequently as we touched on with Policy Genius is you could put a photo wide tint on it. If your design color is orange, you could make it slightly orange or maybe put it behind a background to make it shaded.

That will create a different feel that makes it uniformly or uniquely you, that will differentiate it from the many other stock photo experiences that exist. So all of those can be leveraged for sure.

Additionally, another thing you can do with stock photos to make them not as painfully terrible to look at is make them shorter. So Student Loan Hero and NerdWallet I think are both great examples of this. What they do is they, instead of using really tall photos, they use shorter ones that communicate the meaning of the post but they don’t overwhelm the story.

It’s an instructive color part of that narrative, but it’s not the narrative. Instead, their design and pops of color around that stock photo, allow them to not need significantly more stock photos around it, but they still leverage it in a way that it’s not overwhelming or too much, as opposed to some people will put these massive stock photos that just don’t create a good impression because they are so large in size.

Another thing you can do that we like to leverage in the lifestyle space is using collages.

So this actually has a nice link building component for roundup type queries, ideas or other searches like that, where you can find different stock or blogger photos and put them into a nicely designed collage where you’re adding unique elements around those photos in order to create a unique feel.

But adding those collage elements will create a unique thing to stand out and make it linkable because bloggers, when you pitch any content that just has a list of photos, they’re not going to want to link to that, but if you give them a unique shareable element, as we describe it, a sharable asset, you lower the friction to them linking to that asset and it will be more successful overall.

One thing just generally with either blog or photos or stock photos when you’re leveraging them and pitching them, is you need to reach out and ask for permission before using it. You’re either paying for that photo or you’re asking for it.

Because increasingly these bloggers, especially the well established ones with great photos, will be mad that brands are using their photos and not giving them any credit or not paying them generally because it’s hard to make a buck out there, so they don’t want you to do to make a buck off of them functionally without any credit.

So a lot of them will say no to you. There are definitely noted experiences where bloggers have gotten pissed and either sued or did take down requests to brands because they did this.

So make sure you reach out and ask for permission, and also be ethical. Set up your blogs such that you actually push traffic to these bloggers and have success overall with your technique.

And additionally once it’s live, you can use a new tool from Nick Eubanks, which I think is worth checking out, Linkbuildr for WordPress. Functionally, once the wants the content is live, this will automatically automate sending emails to all those people and saying, “Hey, this is live. Wanted to let you know that we included a link to your asset. Check it out.”

You would obviously want to modify that because you’ve already asked for permission from them. But in this case or in any case like that, Nick’s tool might be a good one to to leverage.

And finally I do think generally stock photos are a fine thing, they make more sense in business verticals just by the nature of the beast. And there are some smart ways that you can think about using stock that adds value and lowers the overall economic variable of your business.

So if you’re thinking about your brand identity, the NerdWallet setups, the Student Loan Hero setups, they look nice from a UI, UX standpoint and they leverage one stock photo, and because of that they’re not using crazy illustrations in every single place.

This allows them to be more effective at scale and that’s definitely something we should consider on the positive side about stock photo, as compared to I think, an Intercom or some of these other blogs which we’ll show you.

They look amazing with their highly illustrative headers and things like that. But note that this is time intensive and not easy to scale out, and that can be an issue for them, but it can also help them stand out from that memorable standpoint that’s so important in 2020.

So we’d love to hear what tactics you have to use stock photos effectively. Thanks for watching this. If you like it, give it a thumbs up, subscribe and let us to know what you thought!

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