Using Stock Images on the Blog: Doing it the Right Way

Using Stock Images on the Blog: Doing it the Right Way

Last Updated on by Michael Brockbank

Images are an important part of any blog post. In fact, stock images can increase how often content is shared on social media while improving audience retention. But is there a right and wrong way to use stock images on a website?

From a design perspective, absolutely!

Although Google isn’t the best at deciphering what an image actually represents, visitors do. And it’s your audience you want to please in this manner.[adrotate banner=”8″]

Why Do Images on a Blog Matter?

According to interviews, bloggers are more likely to attest to having “stronger results” the more images they use. In fact, 75% will state that using 10 or more images produces better results.

However, the effectiveness of the images also depends on the type of content. I mean, you wouldn’t want to put 10 images on a post that is only 500 words long.

The bottom line, though, is that imagery improves audience engagement and retention. This means people are spending more time on your site and reading more of the content.

Then again, it’s also dependent on your target audience. Some people prefer a more simplistic flow of content without flashy graphics or images. It all really depends on who visits your site and what they want.

If you’re curious, run a few tests. Find a piece of content and either add or take away images. Then, track the results in platforms like Google Analytics. See if you can determine if your visitors want images or not by watching the “On Page Time” and “Bounce Rate.”

What are Stock Images?

Not everyone has access to quality images or has the ability to take pictures themselves for one reason or another. That’s when stock images come into play. These images are basic photos and designs that you can alter if you wish to accentuate the content.

Stock images are great for those who lack the time or expertise to create amazing photos. There’s really nothing wrong with that, to an extent.

A lot of people will simply purchase stock photos and add them to the website without really putting in customization.

One of the problems with stock images is that anyone can use them. This means they’re not unique and can show up literally anywhere on the Internet. In fact, I’ve seen stock images my clients use in a variety of places online.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s often an ideal way to get imagines you might desperately need for a website. Especially if you’re not a graphic designer or photographer.

But, the message loses a bit of its luster if the photo is the same smiling blonde sitting behind a computer monitor with a shopping cart icon next to her that’s been used on thousands of sites.

How to Use Stock Images Correctly

When it comes to using stock images, there is definitely a right and wrong way. This is especially true if you’re trying to engage your audience.

The last thing you want to do is simply slap something up because you “need” an image in your blog post. Doing it the wrong way can cause a disconnect with the reader and possibly discredit yourself as a professional.

1. Match the Context

Which Blog Image
Which Looks More Like Blogging to You?

If a picture truly is a thousand words, then it needs to tell some kind of story. It’s far more effective if this story fits the actual context of the topic.

And I’m not just talking about making sure your “alt” tags reflect keywords. From a visual perspective, it needs to make sense to the human reader.

For instance, what if you need an image to show “blogging.” Would you use a picture of Scrabble letters spelling out “BLOG?” Or would you rather show someone actually using a computer to blog themselves?

Personally, I prefer the latter because it shows an action behind the topic. Using letters to spell out something or an image showing the words written on a sticky note is what I call, “lazy imagery.”

One question I ask myself anytime I choose stock images is, “What does this image have to do with _____ ?” In this case, it’s Scrabble letters with blogging.

When choosing stock images, relate the photo to the content. It needs to accentuate what you write, not cause confusion or a disconnect. This is why I hate using letters, pictures of sticky notes and other lazy photos.

2. Don’t Always Just Copy and Paste

I know some images out there will fit your content perfectly. In fact, I have a lot of stock images on this website that didn’t need adjustment at all as it helped guide the text.

You might not have time to make cool adjustments or be creative with a photo. I know I don’t always have the time to pump into graphic design…I wish I did, though.

My point here is you don’t always want to simply copy an image over to make a visual.

It’s always a good idea to add some kind of personal flair or adjustment to graphics you download and use. It’s a good way to make the image stand out more while making it appear unique.

Keep in mind that if you’re using a stock photo, there is a good chance many others are as well. And if visitors see the same image over and over, it loses a bit of its power.

3. Don’t Overfill Your Content

So, there are a lot of studies out there that show using a lot of images in a blog post amplifies its sharability and engagement rate on social media. It also improves audience retention on the blog itself.

However, this is also a bit of a double-edged sword. There is such a thing as saturating your content to the point where images become a distraction.

Pay attention to your Google Analytics. If you see the “On Page Time” and “Bounce Rate” drop on articles that are photo heavy, it may be time to remove some images.

Your target audience will guide you to an acceptable number of stock images per article.

And this isn’t to mention how more images impact page-load times. Since Google puts a lot of emphasis on website speed, you could inadvertently hurt your rankings in search results with photo-heavy content.

4. Pay Attention to Licensing

Creative Commons License

Perhaps the most important tip I can give you is to always keep an eye on the type of licensing before using stock images. Using the wrong one can easily lead to lawsuits.

For instance, you can use “Editorial” images when you’re writing a news-type of article about the topic. An example of this is using stock images that show brands, logos or celebrities.

Usually, I stick to licenses that state free for personal or commercial use, or creative commons. Depending on the image, the rights holder and the stock platform, you might have to add attribution for the graphics you want to use.

This means you essentially add a link back to the original creator.

Are Free to Use Stock Images Good?

Finding free images to use is pretty easy on the Internet. But you have to be careful. Some sites don’t have the best security when it comes to protecting the original copyright holder. And if you use one, you could also be liable.

However, reputable locations for copyright-free images are usually a safe bet when you want to add something to your blog.

The only real downsides to using free-to-use stock images is what I mentioned before…they’re everywhere. More people will flock to free sites because, well, it’s free. This means those images you want to use are also on many other websites.

Remember, the more unique you are with graphics, the better.

On the other hand, not everyone has the money to buy stock images from sites like or Shutter Stock.

When you decide to use free stock images for commercial use, just make sure you’re addressing the correct licensing.

Personally, I like using free images that are CC0 without attribution. This means you can use it for personal and commercial projects. But, I’ll still give the creator a thumbs up on their social accounts, favorite their works or sometimes buy them a coffee with a small donation if I can.

Most of the people who upload to free image sites just need a bit of recognition. And giving someone a thumbs up on the free site helps drive their brand awareness and popularity.

Where Can You Find Free Images to Use?

OK, so the Internet is flooded with places where you can find free stock images. But not all of them are active. In fact, it looks like many were popular back in the day and then just gave up.

However, there are a handful of constantly updated locations where you can pick up some great graphics for your blog.

These are websites I use for stock images. I know there are other places to get free vectors and PSD files, but I’ll do a separate blog post on those sites later.


Pixabay Free Stock Images

I’ve been using Pixabay for a very long time. It usually has images I am looking for or photos that give me ideas for editing my own.

Virtually all the images I’ve come across over the years are CC0 without attribution. This means you can use it for most purposes on a blog. However, there are a few parts of the licensing agreement you should be aware of before using the site.

For instance, you can’t redistribute someone’s Pixabay images on sites like Shutter Stock or Pexels. Most of the “What is not allowed” section is common sense, though.



Pexels is another site that I like to use, though, it’s nearly identical to Pixabay in almost every way. In fact, I’ve seen the same contributor post the same images on both websites.

I guess it’s good for personal marketing that way.

This is another website that has CC0 without attribution licensing and has virtually the same “what’s allowed” format of Pixabay. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the two sites were owned by the same brand.

Pexels has quite the library, so it might be something that can help you accentuate a blog.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

If you want to peruse a huge database of free stock images, has more than 57 million to browse through. It’s part of the non-profit platform associated with Wikipedia and Wikinews.

Although I’ve come across a few images I’ve liked, I’m not a complete fan of the site. I mean, it works well for what it is. However, I just don’t come across the same quality of imagery as I do with Pixabay or Pexels.

On the other hand, there have been a few perfect images I’ve found in its database. So, it might be something you’d periodically want to check out.


Creative Commons

Now, the Creative Commons website is full of free images. But, the entire database is subject to all creative commons licensing. This means you’ll find images linked to the various versions of CC copyrights.

What does that mean? Well, sometimes you’ll come across images that are CC0 without attribution as well as photos where you’ll need to add links and branding gifs whenever you use them.

And if you don’t mind simply linking back to the original graphic, Creative Commons does have an extensive database.

The biggest downside to this site, though, is its searchability. The ability to find exactly what you’re looking for is a bit of a mess.

For example, if I look for blogging, I see images of shoes, coffee cups, dresses and a slew of unrelated photos. This tells me that the site doesn’t have the strictest of guidelines when people upload images.

Still, it’s a huge database and you might find something of value.

It’s Always Better to Use Your Own

Stock images have their place, especially for a new blog. However, it’s always better to offer something unique to visitors. Depending on the topic and your own capabilities, it may not always be possible.

Just make sure your images complement the text.

Michael Brockbank
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