Let’s dispense with stock artwork

All over the web and social media these days, an article, blog post, or any other written content is accompanied by an image. Specifically, a stock photo or graphic.

It’s certainly true that the presentation of written content on-screen is much prettier with visuals than without.

But stock images are being used ad nauseam. They’re all over the place.

And all too often, the stock image, at best, only is tangentially relevant to the theme of the article. The purpose of imagery should be to amplify the communication of what’s being conveyed in the written piece.

Pictures and text often pair nicely together. You have an article about a thing, and the picture illustrates that thing, which in many cases helps you understand the thing better. But on the web, this logic no longer holds, because at some point it was decided that all texts demand a picture.

– Hansen O’Haver, The Outline

If the photo isn’t really core to the article itself, then what’s the point?

We reflexively add a photo or illustration to every article, because of the widely accepted mantra that sharing it with imagery on social media attracts more clicks.

We’ve all been programmed to do this. It’s silly. I’m guilty of it on my blog. So are respected media outlets such as The New York Times and TechCrunch.

This unfortunate reality is also part of the stupid, short-sighted mandate broadcast by digital marketers that content creation revolves around SEO, engagement (clicks), and the resultant vanity metrics used to validate their success.

I understand that images –> clicks is industry gospel, but it seems like many publishers have forgotten their sense of pride. If a picture is worth a thousand words, it’s hard for me to imagine there’ll be much value in the text of an article illustrated by a generic stock image.

– Hansen O’Haver, The Outline

The purpose of content is simple, really: to facilitate communication with the purpose of conveying a message, telling a story, and generating awareness.

Generating good written content isn’t easy. Curating and crafting good visuals for an article is even harder. It’s time-consuming and often is above our own capabilities.

That’s the very reason why we turn to stock photos and vector artwork. The widespread availability of free resources such as Unsplash and Pexels only further amplifies our temptation to do so.

Some of the most respected blogs feature little or no artwork. Seth Godin’s blog is a great example. So is Daring Fireball.

Personally, I’m moving away from stock imagery and making a commitment to create my own whenever possible – and only if deemed necessary. If I have nothing good to present visually, then I’ll simply default to my branding card for social media sharing.

Great communication, whether in a blog, marketing content, or a social media post, comes from words alone, or amplified with effective illustration.

Let’s put an end to the useless practice of throwing something up there, just because digital marketing hype mandates that we do so.