Google on the use of stock photography

Google on the use of stock photography

Two Googlers discussed the use of stock photography in a recent Search Off the Record podcast, where they explored the relative pros and cons of the practice.

There are many opinions for and against the use of stock photography. Perhaps one point of agreement is that it may be inappropriate in certain contexts such as “our team” pages where a user may expect images of actual users.

But what about the people who organize Google’s support documents?

Googlers share the same concerns as anyone posting content.

Disadvantages of stock photography?

Lizzi Sassman, who manages Googles Search Central documentation, kicks off the discussion on stock photography by first asking if there are any considerations against its use.

“Lizzi Sasman:

Well, it could be for fun. Sometimes we’re like, “Oh, we want a fun cosmetic image for a blog post or something.”

John Muller:
I mean…

Lizzi Sasman:
You would also say, “Okay?”

John Muller:

Lizzi Sasman:
Or would there be downsides to using stock photography?

John Muller:
I think if you wanted to use them as a decorative element on a page, that’s perfectly fine.

It adds a little flavor, a little more color to the message or whatever content we have there.

So if it’s a, I don’t know, Halloween-themed article, then adding… I don’t know… a stock photograph of a spider…

I guess the spider, you wouldn’t want to have them too realistic.

This could be a trigger for some people.

But some Halloween-themed stock photos, and not too scary for our site, I guess… that would be perfectly fine.

Mueller confirms that stock photography can be used in the context of animating a textual context and he also implies that the image should be appropriate for the audience, such as not using excessively scary imagery in the context of the Google Search Central documentation, even if the context is Halloween.

Common sense, right?

Stock photography and image research

Next, Googlers turn to stock photography in the context of image search.

As a reminder, please note that Mueller is talking about stock images in the hypothetical context of Search Central using stock images.

“John Muller:
But I think the aspect there is stock photography.

And if people are looking for Halloween photos, we are unlikely to show up in search results for that.

We would have this image, but probably, I don’t know, 20, 30 other sites have the same image, and they all have a license for it, and showing it is fine.

And maybe even the original stock photography site has that image in the search results.

And if you’re looking for something like a Halloween image, you’ll probably want to use the original site.

It’s not that Google’s documentation should rank for this query.

I guess the other aspect is also that you wouldn’t rank for it in image search, but that doesn’t matter either.

So you have other good images on the same page or on the site…or if you’re talking about web search, it’s not going to hurt your site.

It’s more, it’s like, well, it’s decorative, but that’s not what your site is about.

Therefore, you will not be ranked for that specific stock photography.

But everything else will be fine.

It’s not that we say, “Oh, this is a generic site. We shouldn’t show it in search. »

Stock photography – advantages and disadvantages

The Search Off the Record podcast clarifies several points about stock photography.

Stock photography will not negatively influence web search performance for a webpage, which should alleviate the anxiety felt by those using or considering it.

On the other hand, don’t expect stock photography to rank high in image search.

Some believe that stock photography can distract site visitors or project a lack of authenticity.

But that’s only the case if the stock photography is in a context that demands authenticity, like in an “about us” or “our team” webpage.

John Mueller gave an update on stock photography and authenticity in a 2020 Office-Hours meeting place when he said:

“For image retrieval, if it’s the same image that’s used in many places, it will be more difficult.

There’s also the potential impact on users, post-search, for example: does it affect conversions if your team photo is an obvious stock photograph? »

Something that hasn’t been mentioned is that it’s useful to use structured data for images on the web page.

So even if the featured image is a stock image, it can still be useful for Google to know that it is the featured image through the structured data.

Images in structured data can be included in all rich results.

According to Google’s documentation:

“If you include structured data, Google Images can display your images as rich results, including a prominent badge, which gives users relevant information about your page and can drive more targeted traffic to your site.”


Listen to this part of the Search Off the Record podcast at minute 4:21

Featured image by Shutterstock/Asier Romero

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