Be honest – have you ever gone to Google images and grabbed an image there to use in a blog post or even on social media?
One hurdle in creating digital marketing pieces for a lot of business owners is finding images they can use – and that they actually like.
It can be expensive to have photos shot for you by a professional, and maybe you need an image of a cityscape or something nowhere near you.
The problem with just going to Google Images?
You’re probably violating copyright laws and you’re putting your business and your content at risk.
There are better ways to source images to use throughout your marketing – legally!
How to Find Legal Images to Use Online
A common scam around the internet right now is to submit a contact form through a website and claim the website is displaying images that are copyrighted.
This emailed message claims to be a legal communication and that you need to remove the images from XYZ company.
A few of my clients have received this notice and all of them panicked. Why wouldn’t they? They’re being threatened with a lawsuit!
How do I know that each of these are a scam?
Well first, I highly doubt any actual legal communication would be sent through a contact form. But most importantly, I know that when I’m sourcing images for their websites that I’m doing so from sources that are 100% legal.
Check the Image License
When it comes to finding images you can use for your online marketing, you need to pay attention to licenses.
Is the image OK for a business to use? Are you grabbing it from just a corner on the internet? Are you properly citing a source if you’re using it for context?
These can get pretty complicated.
Shortcut the legal stress and instead, go to the best sources.
Free Stock Photo Libraries
There are actually quite a few free stock photo libraries on the internet. You just have to be sure that the fine print says it’s OK to use those images for business purposes.
While you might have less of a selection with a free stock photo service, you’ll still be able to find beautiful, unique images that you can use on your website and in your marketing.
Some of my favorite sites with free images include Unsplash, Pexels, and FreePik. While many of the images you’ll find on each of these sites might be similar (creators can upload their pictures to different free sites after all), they all have a pretty good library of free images.
Unsplash and FreePik both also offer a paid upgrade to get more specific and premium photos, but I often find what I like in the free versions.
Paid Stock Photo Subscriptions
Free is always great, and I tend to start on Unsplash and Pexels first myself, but I highly suggest having a subscription with a professional stock photo site. Personally I use Adobe Stock because I already use the Adobe suite of software and I prefer their photography style to others.
Other paid subscriptions like iStock and Shutterstock can provide you with a much wider selection, better search results, and more unique shots.
However, the stereotype of some of these stock photo sites of having cheesier shots is true, so make sure to browse a few different types of photos you might look for before you commit to a plan with one of them.
Filter Google Images
What a lot of people don’t understand is that you can actually find free-to-use images through Google Image Search. You just have to take an extra step to do so.
Once you have searched for an image, you can select Tools on the top right of your search results, then Usage Rights, then select Creative Commons from the drop down.
You’ll have to click through to the source through the image to double check the commercial use policy, but it’s a quick way to search through many free stock image sites at once and others you might not think of.
Take Your Own
Of course, the easiest way to know and understand the copyrights attached to your images? Take as many as you can on your own.
Not all of us are gifted photographers, but most of us are holding a pretty decent camera in our hand for 80% of the day anyway. Your own pictures – not stock photos – are better especially for social media, even if they’re not the prettiest.
After all, those are more authentically you and your clients and prospects will love that!
If you can, have a photographer take a few headshots of you (and your team) and ensure that they give you a piece of paper turning over the digital rights for your photos.
I was able to put one of my clients at ease over that contact form image copyright scam because I had in fact taken every single image used on her website. I knew that they were protected because we had generated their content internally.
There will always be a time and a place to use stock photos, but when you can, start with what you can do yourself.
Protect Your Business with Legal Images
Your business is your baby. The last thing you want to do is to take shortcuts that can put your business at risk.
The next time you need an image, make sure you either use Google Images the proper way (by narrowing down the Usage Rights) or better yet, just start with a free stock photo website.
I’ve heard horror stories and cautionary tales from other agency friends who had clients who had to shell out thousands of dollars for the improper use of images.
Respect the copyright, protect your business, and take a few minutes longer to find images you can use. Legally.