Once upon a time, the Internet consisted only of simple web pages full of text and links. It was a sparse, largely colorless landscape meant to convey information in the smallest possible file sizes. You may or may not remember how slow Internet connections were. Dial-up, anyone?
But that was then, and this is now. Today, connections are often lightning-fast and web surfers demand a rich, colorful and responsive web design experience from the websites they visit. Mere text and links no longer suffice if you want to keep people coming back to your website. It can seem overwhelming if you’re a business owner just getting started. But if you strive for simplicity for your website, you’ll be more focused.
I’m not a photographer. Where can I find quality photos?
There are many options for finding high quality photos to use on your site. There are two basic options for obtaining photos, and they’re similar to the options for everything else in life: free and paid.
Free: Creative Commons and public domain
Creative Commons is a licensing structure photographers can use to make their photos available on the Internet for certain uses. Some allow you to use their photos on your site in return for credit, others let you do anything you want with their photos as long as your use is noncommercial, and some require you to use the photo as-is, without any significant editing. Some sites with robust Creative Commons catalogs include:
Remember that each site and each photo have different licensing requirements. Flickr, Wikimedia and PhotoPin make it easy to figure out how you should credit the photos you use, so follow their directions and you’ll be fine.
Public domain photos are best defined as photos for which there are absolutely no licensing requirements or copyright burdens. They are the freest of all choices, both legally and financially, but they’re listed second here because, well, often you get what you pay for. It can be difficult to find the perfect photo for a blog post in a public domain collection. But here are some great sites to get you started:
- U.S. Government Photos and Images
- Wikipedia list of public domain photo providers
Paid Stock Photo Providers
Some of you may have the budget for a paid service, and many times you’ll find a larger library with more choices in such services. Some popular paid stock photo providers are:
Photos bring your website to life
Wherever you decide to get your photos, you want to make sure you’re always using something relevant to what you’re writing or selling. Unrelated photos just for the sake of having photos will confuse and annoy your visitors. And worse, they don’t build trust with your customers.
Instead, focus on bright, in-focus images that related directly to your headlines, or at least to your first paragraph. You want people to look at the photo, look at the headline or opening paragraph, look back at the photo, and say “Ah yes, that makes sense.”
Photos are also an immediate indication that you’ve updated your site. When people come back and see a big new photo, it signals that you’re active and your site is somewhere they can expect to find fresh new content. This will help you stand out in a sea of competitors with bland, unchanging pages.
The importance of high quality images
People love to share images. Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and other social sites are full of millions of photos and links to sites with beautiful images. If you want your site to be sharable, you need photos people want to share. This means bright, in-focus and relevant to your content and your audience. Think about it: when is the last time you saw a boring piece of clipart being shared on Pinterest?
You also want to avoid small, pixelated, low-quality images for purely aesthetic reasons. They make your site look cheap and possibly spammy. With so many free and affordable options out there, there’s no excuse to use a piece of clipart anymore.
Just as consistently updating your site with new content and images will make you stand out among competitors, using low quality images, no matter how frequently you update, will make you look like an amateur.
Higher quality means you can edit if necessary without degrading the image’s appearance. Sites like Pixlr.com are easy to use and can help you crop photos, so they span the width of your blog posts, for example, as well as do more advanced editing like color tweaks and filters. Higher quality means more data, and more data means you can do more without risking that professional look.
Relevant, high quality photos give your website a competitive advantage
There really isn’t much more to it than that: the Internet is a visual place. And it’s meant to be consumed with your eyes. Websites with nothing except tons of text will never be as immersive and engaging as sites that use images to help convey their message. Well, what are you waiting for? Go find the right photos for your website.