Marketing is expensive, but thanks to digital technology, it's gotten a lot less so in recent years. People now have access to things like stock photo sites, saving the effort of curating their own marketing materials and locating images for other needs. Some forego the effort entirely, posting text without images and hoping for the best.
Unfortunately, that's not going to end in any "best" way. After all, studies have shown that content that contains images is more shareable—94% more likely to be shared, in fact—and that's nothing to sneeze at.
The problem is that not every business can afford to purchase or create original images for every single piece of content that they publish. That's where stock images come into play, and in this guide, we'll cover the best sites to turn to when you need visual content quickly and without the expense of doing it yourself.
First, though, let's take a minute to discuss just what "stock images" are and what they entail. Then, we'll go over the features that you should be looking for in a site for your small business use so that you can choose exactly what fits your needs. The caveat? You might even find more than one site that you want to keep on file for stock photos.
Stock photography is an industry dedicated entirely to creating images that are available for public use. There are websites that focus on creating a database of illustrations, vectors, photos, and other visual content that is easily searchable and allows people to find all the material that they need. Some of these tools are totally free, while others are free but their images include a watermark or other attribution.
Other stock photo sites charge a small fee for their service. Some may only charge if you want to download or use a certain version or type of image. Others may allow you access to unlimited stock photos for a single monthly fee. The way you pay is up to you, and it's going to be one of your least important concerns. The point is that these sites are an integral part of any small business marketing strategy, so it's time to find the best ones.
Although there are plenty of criteria that you could put on your list, some features are going to be more valuable than others. When considering any of the stock photo sites below (or others you find), consider things like:
· Royalty-free images that are available for legal commercial and personal use should be plentiful—this sounds like the standard operating procedure for stock sites, but some have limits on their content or aren't set up properly.
· Consider how many images are in the database. Most sites have thousands, so it shouldn't be hard to find a good selection, but make sure you check.
· Check out the uniqueness of the image collection. A lot of stock sites have similar content, so if you want to stand out, you'll want somewhere that has different pictures.
· Download and sharing options for images. Can you just download the image or copy the link that you need? Are embedding codes available? Think about whether you're going to want to change the size or resolution (which some sites will do for a small fee), and other details, too.
· Premium options are nice, too. The majority of the sites that are on this list have free versions but then offer a premium tier that may remove ads, increase storage, or improve the selection of available images for those who want something a little more robust and are willing to pay.
If you're looking for the best, these elements will go a long way in getting you started on your search. Now, let's dig into that list we keep mentioning so that you can see just what's out there to help with your marketing strategy.
Another way to enhance your marketing strategy, and the rest of your business operations for that matter, is to enlist the assistance of our virtual receptionists. At Smith.ai, we can help automate and streamline all of your mission-critical services, or any that you choose, to free up more of your time with a partnership that grows with you.
Flickr is a social network for photo sharing, offering more than five billion stock images from amateur and professional photographers around the globe. One of the best features of this site is its rich metadata that lets you search for photos based on tags, geolocation info, and more. You can search using the search bar or the World Map if you want to search by location, and you'll even be able to check trending images and sort by recent additions.
There are even galleries and collections that you can explore by photographer or type, and the site makes it easy to determine which pictures are free to use and which ones you'll need to pay for. When you're searching for an image, you can simply click the option in the dropdown menu for "Commercial Use Allowed" -- those images are all free to use.
Flicker is free to use, although a premium version is available for $5.99 per month if you want to get rid of ads and enjoy a few extra features (like unlimited storage).
Pixabay is another great resource for stock photos, offering a huge collection like most of the sites on this list. Where they really shine, though, is in the illustration department. There are more than 1.5 million photos, videos, illustrations, and vector graphics on the site, which are all free to use. The advanced search options make it easy to find what you need, and you can even search by camera and orientation.
Of course, you can simply search for images based on keywords, and there's even an Editor's Choice section that shows off the best images on the site. When you need professional illustrations and graphics, this site is the place to turn. It's hard to find royalty-free illustrations, as many people know, but this site makes it easy.
Plus, Pixabay is totally free. There are no disclaimers, no exceptions, and no premium plans holding back the best features—you just get access to great stock photos.
Unsplash has an impressive collection of almost 700,000 images that have been captured by plenty of different photographers. It's got a simple search bar so that you can find the images that you need with ease, and you'll even be able to browse by collection, which sets this site apart. In the "Collections" area, users can create their own curations and groups to organize their favorites for later use.
Unsplash is home to over 125,000 amateur and professional photographers, and it's totally free. The site is great for the small business that wants a place where they can create and manage their own galleries of stock photos, and it makes navigation a breeze. You'll even be able to search tags, browse by artist or category, and more. Those who are going to be searching for several images within a single theme will enjoy this site.
Unsplash is a free stock photo site with unlimited access for all users. It's fueled by a community of people sharing their work with the world, so there's never any cost involved.
StockSnap is a site that keeps up-to-date better than most. If you want the freshest, most relevant content, this is the place to go. While the other sites keep up, StockSnap adds hundreds of photos every single week, which goes well above and beyond offering free stock images. The site does link to Shutterstock (a paid tool), so be careful to check the images to see whether they're locally hosted or linking out to make you pay for them.
StockSnap allows you to search for photos by those that have the most and least views, favorites, and downloads. You can also search by the add date and create an account to curate and store all of your favorite content. It's all totally free and you'll never have to worry about "unlocking" access to anything unless you choose to explore the options over at Shutterstock.
You can find millions of images on the site that are available for commercial use to add just the right level of marketing magic to your content every single time.
Everyone has heard of Google Images, and it's going on the list because it works. In addition to having the handy reverse image search option, this feature also allows you to search millions upon millions of images from all over the web. You can use the standard Google search parameters and refine your search in several different ways, finding all kinds of content and images that you can use.
Typically, you'll find a bunch of images that aren't available for commercial use with a general image search on Google. However, you can refine the parameters under Tools > Usage Rights and limit them to those that are Labeled for reuse/with modification. That way, you can either just use the images, or use them and modify them, depending on your needs.
Google Images is totally free to use, but you'll have to do a lot more work to ensure that you've got a license to use the images that you find. Don't get yourself in a jam with copyright issues.
If you're looking to get a little more creative than the average photo or illustration, you might consider adding GIFs to your content. This can also be a great way to engage with customers and make your marketing a little more fun. With GIPHY, you'll have access to more than one billion gifs that are easily searched, shared, and downloaded for any use you have in mind. You'll find popular GIFs, relevant images, and even a community of artists that create original GIFs and upload them.
Of course, we'd be remiss to mention that there's not a lot of clarity on the copyright surrounding GIFs because of all of the content licensing factors involved. Courts, generally speaking, have avoided getting involved. Many small businesses today are using GIFs in content and communications as a way to connect with their audience and keep people engaged. If you're one of those brands, this site should be on your list.
Any of the tools on this list will be a useful addition to your content marketing strategy and other business needs. You'll find that they all have their own pros and cons, and since they're mostly free, you should check them all out before you decide. These tools are quickly going to become an invaluable resource for your small business and should be something that you take advantage of in every way that you can.
Another tool to take advantage of is a partnership with our virtual receptionists here at Smith.ai. While stock photos might be the missing piece to your marketing strategy, stock responses and canned answers are not what your customers want. Today's customer wants dedicated attention, a custom solution, and a professional, reputable company that they can rely on.
While you might be every single one of those things, you're also limited on time and resources as a small business owner—that's where we come in. Our virtual receptionists can take control of your Facebook message answering, SMS messages, 24/7 live website chat, and more, making sure that your customers get the personalized, dedicated interaction that they deserve even if you're needed elsewhere.
As a small business, it's all about harnessing the power of your resources. Schedule your consultation today to find out how Smith.ai can become an invaluable resource for your company, no matter what solutions you need. We're here to answer your questions and discuss your needs 24/7, and you can also reach us at (650) 727-6484.
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