Why should you use stock images in your content marketing strategy?

How to best use them, and which stock photo sites to choose from?

When it comes to small business marketing and the need for photos and images for your website, social media, posters, or brochures – how does your photo library hold up?

As a marketing consultancy that works primarily with small, local businesses, we understand there is not always a budget for professional photography. While the latest phone cameras are pretty amazing, there is so much that goes into taking great photos, like lighting, staging, and a keen eye for detail… plus, time and energy!

Most small business owners are already busy and exhausted, and that’s where both YYC3 and the magic of stock imagery come in to offer helping hands. One of the very best ways to up your social media game and have an Instagram aesthetic that’s clean, cohesive, and envious is to utilize stock photos!  There are a number of FREE stock photo sites that can be browsed to find the perfect images to amplify your image, without incurring any costs.

Professional photos can be mixed in with your own iPhone photos and customer photos (consumer generated content) to achieve the polished online presence you need to take your business to the next level.

When done correctly, the use of stock imagery in your content marketing strategy will not compromise your authenticity, feel too staged, or too sporadic and inconsistent… so how do you do it correctly?

Here are our tips, and a list of the best stock photo sites we have on hand whenever we need some new photos for any of our clients – but don’t have a photoshoot scheduled any time soon.

Rule #1 – alternating between stock and personal photos is best practice. Define a pattern or ratio you will use, especially important for Instagram, for instance “stock photo, real person photo, stock photo, real product photo, brand quote, stock photo, real person photo”… you get the drill. Plan your grid to determine your pattern, and then stick to it.

Rule #2 – when scoping stock photos, it’s key to utilize multiple websites and multiple keywords. Different photographers have different styles and colour palette preferences. Pull photos that utilize the colours associated with your own brand for consistency. For example, if you were searching for stock photos for McDonald’s, you would specifically look for warm tones in the photos and photos that are heavily coloured with red and yellow. While searching try a range of keywords to broaden the scope. For example if you were searching for hair extension photos (as we have for our own client Scarlett Hair) you would try several different keywords including: “model”, “hair” and “fashion” to view a plethora of pertaining photos.

Rule #3 – Once you’ve found and downloaded your chosen stock photos from your favourite stock photo sites, make them “less stocky” and “more you” by applying the same filter to all, or custom-editing! We are big fans of choosing a unique filter for each client we have, and filtering all photos with it to keep the content cohesive with matching colour tones. If you want an Instagram feed that stands out from the rest, a consistent and clean feed that welcomes potential clients is how you stand out. It also shows your audience you’re thoughtful in everything you do; that you care about them and you care about detail. 

So, without further ado, here’s YYC3’s round-up of the best stock photo websites!

1. Pixabay.com

2. Kaboompics.com

3. Pexels.com

4. Unsplash.com

5. sitebuilderreport.com/stock-up

6. allthefreestock.com

7. deathtothestockphoto.com

8. dissolve.com

9. videezy.com

11. burst.shopify.com

12. reshot.com

13. foodiesfeed.com

14. freestocks.org

Let’s talk more closely about the 5 we frequent most often – why and when we chose one over the other.

Our choice when looking for specific items and holiday content
  • Downloads are available in 2 sizes or custom dimensions
  • Narrow your search based on specific colours, ideal for searching for your brand colours
  • Complimentary colour palette and hex codes are provided with selected images
  • Authentic vibes with simple styling to make your own

What we like most is that there are full photoshoots staged around a single product/person/theme and shot by a single photographer

A multi-contributor, high-quality stock photos AND videos
  • When an image or video is selected, similar posts are displayed below
  • Downloads are available in 4 sizes with the added option of entering custom dimensions
  • Narrow your search with similar keywords based on your original search word(s)
  • You can “Follow” contributors you like, and even “Donate” to them to say thanks!
Clean, high-resolution photos
  • Featured photos on the home page are always changing to spark your inspiration!
  • Downloads are available in 4 sizes
  • Narrow your search with similar key words based on your original search word(s)
  • “Collect” like photos into groups called “Collections” to keep your favourites organized!
High quality local stock photos and videos
  • Downloads are available in 4 sizes
  • Narrow your search by filtering orientation, size and colour
  • Vectors, illustrations and music are available for free too!

What we like most: that they have lots of local Calgary photos! Working with small Calgary businesses, we love that there are options to showcase the city, from Stephen Avenue to the downtown skyline, C-train, rocky mountains and beyond.

Features a wide selection of high quality photos
  • Simple search words warrant a range of high quality photos, with several shots from the same photoshoot
  • Downloadable options of HIGH resolution (for web and print) or LOW resolution (better for small web graphics)
  • “New Photos” provides users with fresh inspiration!

What we like most: there’s a “Tips” section that gives users valuable How-To’s revolved around social media marketing on Facebook! A true one-stop shop.

Lastly, we’ve done a side-by-side comparison of different search results on each site for the search term “Mother’s Day” since it’s coming up.

We hope that this will help you to decide which free stock photo site is best for your business marketing, and we invite you to try out all the sites listed to get a feel for their photo style!

So now that you have an array of high-quality stock photos and video resources to use for your business, remember your next steps crop and filter” which is a key ingredient in the recipe for a cohesive Instagram feed.

Plus, don’t forget, your consult with YYC3 is always FREE. We’re happy to help transform your Instagram feed to be the cohesive customer magnet that we’re talking about!