Effective stock photo selection is critical for grabbing attention and engaging your audience
Having been in the legal copywriting game for several years, I’ve seen plenty of law firm websites, worked with clients to establish new sites, edit existing sites, or tinker here and there.
I’ve observed that stock image selections for blog posts (including articles) and web pages often present issues that result in a diminished experience for the website visitor. In website lingo, this is known as user experience or UX.
I’m no fan of preachy blog posts, especially not on this site (see exhibit A: my post about unsucking boardroom jargon), but now and then, I have something to impart that may resemble wisdom (or the wallop of cods, depending on your perspective). So, here are my top seven things to avoid when choosing stock photos for law firm websites.
1. No images
Occasionally, I encounter a legal site with no page or blog images. It seems the rationale for this is that images shouldn’t be used because they distract the reader from the importance of the words on the page.
But there are two excellent reasons why web pages and blog posts should always include images:
First, images significantly increase engagement, so site visitors are more likely to stay on the page for longer and remember the information. If you consider how your own mind works, you may realise that you visualise things as you’re thinking about them. Visualisation is a powerful way of remembering something and can help us store memories for the long-term.
Second, images can be optimised for search engine results (SEO), which can help the page achieve higher search engine rankings. As the Content Marketing Institute observes:
Because images naturally draw the human eye, visual content becomes an organic search competitive advantage. A search snippet with an image is more likely to be clicked than a text-only snippet.
So if you want your readers to engage with your website words and remember the message, pairing the content with an image is a simple and highly effective device.
2. Images aren’t optimised
The better your website’s SEO, the more likely a searcher will find it online. However, there are many elements to SEO and many variables for good results for particular keywords.
Images present excellent opportunities to score some SEO points when they’re well-optimised. It’s why your website’s stock photos should always include the page’s main keyword in the image file name and the image alt text.
The alt text is important because:
- It will appear if the image fails to load
- It describes the image
Alt text boosts the page’s accessibility. For example, vision impaired people often rely on screen readers to describe images and may better understand the page when alt text is appropriately used.
The lesson? Image optimisation is important for SEO and accessibility, and getting this sorted should be a priority for your law firm.
3. Images of legal symbols
Legal symbols include the Scales of Justice, Lady Justice, a gavel, old law books, or, the ultimate – all these symbols in one image (yep, I found one). These images are common.
This type of imagery is fairly inoffensive and often used because it’s challenging to think of alternatives. But the images work against the purpose of your website.
Your website is there to help people find you online.
To stand out from the crowd.
To help the reader remember your site over all the others they’ve visited.
But you’re blending in if you use the same imagery as other law firms, especially your direct competitors. Worse, you’re not giving the reader any sense of what your firm does. What it stands for and who it represents. It’s a missed opportunity to engage the reader with your firm’s personality and values.
The same is true for images of court building facades and courtrooms.
I’m not suggesting that you do away with every image of a legal symbol. Rather, evaluate what’s on your site. If you’ve got plenty of legal symbols, it’s time to rethink and replace some photos. Consider what else you can use. For example, a blog post about dog bite litigation would be more engaging with a stock photo of the relevant dog breed rather than the scales of justice.
And don’t get me wrong – I love an image of an old, musty book as much as the next legal escapee, but as a website visitor, one or two is my limit. After that, I’m on the lookout for something more engaging, and if I can’t find it on your website, I may go looking for it elsewhere.
4. Images of pens and documents
If in doubt, use a photo of a hand holding a pen over a legal document. Right?
Putting aside any Addams Family observations (it’s a Thing. Geddit?), there are countless legal website images in this vein. Wills and estates pages. Blog posts about memorandums of understanding. Or divorce. Contracts. Conveyancing. Or a case summary about a personal injury claim. Whatever the topic, there’s always something to be signed, so it’s tempting to go with the mysteriously disembodied hand.
Like the legal symbols, if you’ve used the concept once or twice, it’s time to find something else. When your competitors are using it too, there’s a risk that your webpage or blog post will blend in like a white sheep in a flock of white sheep on a sheet of white snow in a white cloudy fog. Point laboured.
5. Flat lay: not as racy as it sounds
I love me some flat lay imagery. Flat lay images are photographed from above to create a bird’s eye view. In food photography, flat lay is brilliant for getting a nice image out of a flat dish of food, for example, pizza, pancakes or cookies. And there are plenty of other situations where flat lay is an excellent option, including photographing a document.
But when there’s too much of a good thing, the site falls, well, flat. If your website has a collection of thumbnail images for blog posts or service pages, check for a variety of camera angles so that the collective images generate some interest.
6. Cluttered pages
While some legal websites have too few images, others have far too many, causing clutter and confusion. It’s a good idea to consider your stock photo in the context of all the images that will appear on the page, including:
Ideally, website pages should look clean and straightforward. If there are too many images, there’s a risk that your readers may never get to the page’s main message.
Coco Chanel famously said, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” The analogy for websites? You may need to remove or relocate a few images before you publish.
7. Images obscured by design
Sometimes, a webpage image is hidden or obscured by graphics. For example, only small snippets of the image are visible due to an overlaid logo. It may look impressive, but when the reader is unaware the image is there or can’t work out what it is, the effect is similar to there being no image at all. It significantly increases the risk that the page is unmemorable or unengaging.
It’s always prudent to check that design doesn’t overtake the image, and if it does, insist that the image is given prominence on the page. If you’re not sure, ask other people to check. Their first response will provide you with the most accurate indication of how easy or difficult it is to understand the image.
How to choose stock photos for law firm websites
When choosing stock photos, these tips may help to improve the page’s performance:
- Always use an image because the reader is more likely to be engaged by and remember your content. But make sure the image is easy to understand and not obscured by design elements
- Check the images used on other pages and avoid using something similar. Also pay attention to the layout of any groups of thumbnail images
- Try to think creatively when searching for images. For example, imagine you’re uploading a blog post about a probate application that was rejected because a child with a bowl of spaghetti accidentally defaced the will. I’d use a photo of the spaghetti rather than a generic flat lay image of a will
- Ensure your image is optimised for search engine results, including alt text that a vision-impaired person may understand
- If you’re using images of lawyers and clients, choose images that reflect your firm’s reality. For example, if lawyers generally work in corporate casual clothing rather than business suits, use images of lawyers in corporate casuals
- Remove or relocate any images that make your site appear cluttered
- Conduct an image audit on your website and replace any images that don’t meet these standards
Image is everything
Images are important for all websites, including serious legal websites. So image selection should be carefully considered and executed.
A small amount of creative thought can transform your law firm’s website images, differentiate your brand from the competition, make the content memorable to your readers and boost SEO. They’re compelling reasons to be the black sheep.
What’s your biggest peeve when it comes to website images?
Leave a comment below, but please don’t name and shame!