SEO 2.0 Best Practices: Finding Images/Choosing Free Photos

Orange merry-go-round spinning so fast you only see a light circle at night.

In the early days of blogging on the SEO 2.0 blog I used images only as a nice to have addition. Why?

I wrote and published a lot while there weren’t many free (to use) photos back then.

By now I always do add teaser images to my posts. It has become much easier in recent years.

Yet at the same time is has become more difficult to choose free photos! How that?


Why Add Free to Use Photos to Your Blog Posts?

First of all: why should you use images to your blog posts? You get more eyeballs of course.

Why add photos even when you deal with boring topics that have no visual representation?

Some topics like SEO rarely yield any significant imagery beyond screen shots.

Let me explain the benefits of catchy images. An image

  • catches attention
  • stirs curiosity
  • illustrates a topic
  • makes you relate to the subject
  • helps you to memorize
  • looks good and thus makes an overall positive impression
  • is great for being found at Google image search

It’s easy to find images by now, even truly free stock photos you can freely use on your blog without having to pay.


Free to Use Image Resources

In case you didn’t know yet: There are stock photography and free image search engines!

Thus I won’t offer you an overwhelmingly large list of sites to find stock images on. I will recommend 4 image search engines I use to find free to use photography:

  1. Unsplash
  2. Pixabay
  3. Pexels
  4. Pikwizard

I seldom use more than one of these 4 as it’s easy to find high quality free to use images to illustrate your point with a few clicks using one of these sites.

In most cases I already find the image I need on Unsplash.

These days using attractive images on blog posts is a SEO 2.0 best practice.

Postings without images are the exception and do not perform well usually.

Having an image, a random one does not suffice though by now. It’s tricky.


Finding Images is Easy – Choosing is Difficult

Now that you found some images you may be tempted to use on of the most obvious choices.

Finding image sis indeed easy by now but not just for you. Everybody else is also finding the same images.

Thus choosing the right image for your post is difficult. There are a few pitfalls that make your post underperform.

  • stock photography cliches
  • images everybody else already used
  • photos showing particular groups

Ouch. How do you avoid those? It depends of course. See below and find out about each issue.


Use Photos of Real People with Flaws

Man with long and facial hair who looks real

There are many so called stock photography clichés. You certainly recognize those intuitively by now and ignore such images as fake.

What are the common cliches and stereotypes? Perfect looking people smiling around computers or in meeting in otherwise bland office spaces without any context.

Such photos were obviously made to fit lots of websites but the people on them look so out of place that you are effectively lying to your audience.

Instead use photos of people who look real. They may have some small flaws or other atypical characteristics:

  • men with long or facial hair or both
  • women who do not have ideal slim bodies
  • kids that are not perfectly clean.


Use Rather Unique Photos

Do not use photos that have downloaded millions of times. Unsplash shows statistics below each image.

You can also perform a search by image or reverse image search before choosing an image to find out how often it got used already:

People tend to ignore images they have seen too often. Unless the familiarity is something they expected and cherish.

Familiarity mostly applies to images they are used to, like photos of people they know or places they love.

Thus you should try to use rather unique photos. As a big brand: hire a photographer! You can contact photographers directly on Unsplash now:

For everybody else: scroll at least a bit and do not select the obvious choice you find on top for one word searches!

Of course there is middle ground between hiring a photographer and choosing a free photo. You can pay for a stock photo.

Many sites sell stock photography and some of it is affordable.

I would not buy it for a blog post but when you illustrate a business website you’d rather want a photo not everybody else uses, maybe just a few sites.

Or at least check out the Unsplash homepage and look what new photos have just been published. Sometimes they match your topic!


Don’t Use People Photography to Illustrate Touchy Topics

OK, now that you have used real people and images not everybody else used you have to look out who you use to illustrate what.

  • Do you really want to use an image of a person of color when writing about violent street crime?
  • Do you really want to use a photo of a woman to illustrate a story about household chores?
  • Do you really prefer to show a photo of an old white man when dealing with career prospects?

These choices may prove more controversial than you might like, actually backfire and tarnish your reputation.

When choosing photos of people try not to be racist, sexist and otherwise prejudiced. I know. It’s hard.

We’re all subject to decades of subconscious conditioning through passive media consumption.

When dealing with touchy topics you may want to hire an illustrator instead or at least not to use photos of people at all.

It might be better not to use people photography to illustrate touchy topics at all. Instead use places or metaphors.