The Vanguard View: Insight for Association Websites

Say NO to Stock Photography for Association Websites

Posted by Ray van Hilst on Wed, Mar 20, 2013


Images can be a powerful – if used wisely. For example, consider stock photography. Stock images are everywhere because they are easily accessible and inexpensive. But are they good to use?

Stop for a moment and tell me how many times you have seen THIS guy?

Bad Stock Photo Dude 


He’s famous and works really hard. Apparently he’s a business appraiser….

Business Appraiser


A mortgage broker in Canada…

Mortgage Broker 


And even a doctor…


And this doesn’t even begin to touch other egregious online examples of "silver haired business man" exploitation.

“But I have a limited budget and can’t afford those fancy photos. Why should I care if this guy is on all these other sites?”

Your Association Members Use Other Websites

One of my favorite online rules is Jakob Nielsen’s axiom that “users spend most of their time on other sites.” 

And with all these websites out there using stock photography, the chances of your association members coming across images from other sites increases. When someone sees the same photo on multiple sites, the first thing they think is “this company/association/website is trying to be just like everyone else.” 

As David Meerman Scott says, “The problem with the B2B happy multi-cultural conference room with computer shot is that it has become a cliché. It is world-class, cutting-edge, mission-critical visual gobbledygook. Just like written gobbledygook, this kind of image is so overused to have become meaningless.”

Don’t settle for clichés.

Stock images are irrelevant

Our next reason stock photos suck is a matter of relevance. Marketing Experiments performed a test comparing the use of stock photography verses real imagery on a website and their effects on lead generation. What they found was that photos of real people out-performed the stock photos by 95%.

While this test dealt with conversion pages in B2B websites, the principle still applies to association websites.  A goal of just about every association website is to “get non-members to join.” So when a non-member comes to your website we want them to stay and look at your content. The best way to do that is to make the layout, content and design feel relevant to them. Using real images of real people creates that connection that engages them in your site.

People photos are good. If they are real people.

An eye tracking study by Jakob Nielsen reviewed pages with listings of company staff including photos and bios.  When examining how people viewed the page, the study found that viewers spent 10% more time looking at photos than reading the bios.

For associations, this presents two great opportunities:

  • Show off your members.  Include photos and case studies of your members.  Their real stories and experiences not only resonate with potential members, but create a visual connection that engages the user on the page.
  • Introduce Your Staff.  One of the most visited pages in an association website is the Contact Us page.  When a visitor is on this page, they are looking for someone who can answer their question.  Start to build a relationship with this member (or potential member) by including staff photos.

Two examples from Vanguard Technology clients include websites for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) and the Professional Convention Managers Association (PCMA).

The IAAPA homepage includes a number of images of members including the Featured Member highlight and a promo for Funworld Magazine, which usually highlights one of their members.

The Contact PCMA page includes the basic contact information, but also includes photos and bios of the staff. This is especially important when you have staff that who are from the industry and are recognized industry thought leaders such as PCMA’s leadership.

Stock photos aren’t all bad. They can fill a hole in your content and add to the quality of your site. But when selecting stock photos, do your research and look for unique photos that are not used on other sites in your industry. If your budget allows, consider using licensed photos that limit the exposure of the image on other site.

But at the end of the day, the best option will always be original photography of real members and staff. It not only looks better. It communicates more and performs better.


Disclaimer: No stock photography was harmed in the making of this blog post. But if you are one of the organizations I referenced above, I apologize. They are just good examples of how one image can end up on many sites. 

For more tips and insights for web design and association websites, click on the banner below to download our eBook 10 Things Members Want from Your Association Website.

Topics: web strategy, association website design, best practices

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