Why Does Your Blog Have Stock Photos on Every Post?

The Internet is great for generating hive-minded behavior.

We start doing something because someone figured out how to hack the system for attention, then our sheep-like online marketing minds pursue that tactic long after it has lost its effectiveness.

By the way, most of these tactics never really served a valuable purpose anyway.

Stock photos for every blog post

My example today is the use of stock photos in every freaking blog post and article on the Internet.

It’s made a lot of stock photo companies rich (not so sure how much trickles down to photographers). Bloggers and online publishers have exploded the image market, rapidly growing it to $11 billion.

Shutterstock (SSTK) is a prime example of this growth, climbing 325% since its IPO in 2012.

Unfortunately, this explosion of images has not necessarily added a lot of value to the Internet. Quite the contrary, it has littered the web with random, incongruous, and often bad images.

We should stop doing this.

There are probably other things we should stop doing because we started it for reasons that no longer exist. Here is another example.

How we got here

I think one of the primary origins of this bad practice were RSS readers. In these feed readers, the existence of any image would make your post jump out and often trigger a click (heroin for Internet marketers).

But, no one uses RSS readers anymore…Google killed them. ;)

Then Facebook and other social networks reinforced the behavior by grabbing images and giving them prominent positions in their news feeds–reinforcing the notion, in publishers’ minds, that they’re essential.

Go take a quick look at your Facebook newsfeed. What’s interesting in there and what isn’t?

After that little practical exercise come back and we’ll talk about how data can confuse us into perpetuating bad habits.

Data can sometimes confuse you into doing bad things

We look at research like this post from Hubspot and fold the lead–Photos on Facebook Generate 53% More Likes–into mindless online marketing strategies.

Photos Generate 53% More Facebook Likes

Believe me this data is not revealing a silver bullet. In fact, it might just mislead you into assuming throwing in a random stock photo on every blog post and then automatically sharing it into Facebook (or other social network) will get you some quick easy web traffic.

To make my point on how wrong-headed this is, consider this bit of interesting contrarian Facebook research from Jon Loomer. His data seems to indicate that photos might be the worst thing you can do to move traffic from the Facebook channel over to your blog post.

Clicks/Fans Rate Plummet with Photos

I think the obvious conclusion is that all content should observe the principle of Occam’s Razor–including only what is necessary and not a bit more. I would suggest that often means leaving out the stock photo.

Please use photos when they help the experience

Of course, as bandwidth becomes inconsequential to the type of content we deliver on the Internet, web and mobile applications will continually reach for interesting imagery and rich media. Therefore, I’m not suggesting that you discard your creativity in developing interesting visuals–just don’t be lazy and mindlessly add stock photos to every blog post.

What do you think?

  • http://christysherman.wordpress.com/ Christy Sherman

    Think about the now-old phrase, “shiny-object syndrome.” It looks good. It sparkles. ONE source says it’s a good thing to do, and… here we have it. I get it, best practices can be valuable when starting out. But some of what we’re seeing isn’t even passing the smell test!

    • http://kaleidico.com/ Bill Rice

      Hey @christybrewer:disqus! Good to hear from you…it’s been awhile.

      I totally agree. Lately, as I cruise around the web I see a lot of content marketing on a bad auto-pilot.

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