Brand imagery has come a long way in the digital age. Image-forward social media sites like Instagram have changed the landscape. It’s more important than ever for brands to present images that align correctly with their brand identity and messaging. Stock image companies like Shutterstock, Getty Images, and Unsplash allow you to source images for free or cheap. But there is evidence that custom images are better. So what does it mean, exactly, to have custom images? How will this impact your SEO and overall brand strategy? 

Building your brand image with custom visuals 

Brand image is the sum of your brand’s different elements. This can include visuals, messaging, typography, product design, and storefront experience. The definition has evolved to be the “mix of associations consumers make based on every interaction they have with your business.” 

An essential part of your overall brand image is your visuals. Psychologically speaking, images are impactful. In fact, “90 percent of the information that our brain gets is visual,” and 40 percent of people respond better to pictures than text. Your brand’s use of images can help to “enhance your content, catch the interest of new readers, and improve your chances of getting found through organic searches.” Let’s face it, what brand doesn’t want to get in front of more potential customers? 

There’s no question that images are worth the extra effort for your brand. Now the question is what type of image you should use. For SEO purposes, custom images will separate your brand from the noise.  

A case against duplicate content 

You may be wondering why you need to have custom images rather than free-use ones. It turns out duplicate content can negatively impact your SEO rankings.  

Elite Digital Marketing conducted a long term duplicate image experiment in 2019 that compared custom versus duplicate images. They focused on “numerous case studies have shown that the level of duplication across your site will have a clearly correlated effect on the ranking of the site.” 

The authors used this research to look specifically into duplicated, stock images for a website. They argue that real photos show a brand’s personality, whereas stock images can show a brand’s apathy, given their recognizable nature. The study hypothesized custom images would do better with Google’s algorithm. And that using them indicated the brand using them was ingenious, original, and dedicated.

Their method included ten domains, five of which were unique and five duplicated, as well as ten images per site with five of the duplicate domains hosting duplicate photos. To further control the results, they used a custom keyword that “was represented on all of the sites in a very similar fashion.”

The results? Conclusive evidence that custom images had a positive impact on web and image rankings. Conversely, having duplicate content and images caused an SEO ranking issue. 

One of your brand goals is likely setting your content apart and optimizing it for your audience. With the evidence against using duplicate content, especially stock images, it might be time to pick up your camera and build your library. 

How to build a digital image library

Building a digital library for your brand requires cohesion, priority images, identified image resources, and continuous updating. 

Of course, a digital marketing agency can help you curate your digital image library and help save you the time and trouble of these steps. But, if you choose to build the image library yourself, it can be a time consuming but doable task. 

Image cohesiveness shows that you’ve put some thought into your images and how they relate to overall brand strategy. With regular blogs, for example, having a digital image library to choose from helps to “streamline content management, support visual design, and increase brand recognition.” 

Priorities will change from brand to brand, but organization within your digital image library can help to integrate your custom images with the appropriate content. Some suggestions for organization are by location, project, blog versus social, or events. As custom images take more time upfront, this organization will help you on the backend. 

Custom images do require slightly more effort than searching a stock image site. Luckily the premise is the same: curating relevant images and attributing them properly. Keeping your library fresh is also essential. Just as you build out your content calendar for unique blog posts, your images need to stand out as well. Whether you are producing custom images in-house or hiring a marketing agency to do it for you, your visual content should progress with your brand. 

Optimizing your images

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, helps to get your content in front of your desired audience. After you’ve developed your custom image library, optimizing them for your content is the next big step to bring organic traffic to your site or social. 

Best practices for boosting an image’s SEO include high-quality images with proper file names and alt tags, that are the right size and type. A high-quality photo may seem like a no-brainer, but if you’re unsure about the others, we’ll break it down. 

Forbes gives a great example that naming an image “‘blue pickup truck’ is far better than ‘IMG 7907.’” A custom, relevant file name gives search engines more information for your content. Alt tags are hidden to your viewers but are helpful if your browser has loading issues. These can “include your primary keyword for the page and something descriptive of the image itself.” Finally, understand the difference between JPGs, PNGs, and GIFs and choose the correct size ratio for the best image quality as the page load time also impacts SEO ranking

Resources for curating custom images 

For some, photography comes easily, and switching to custom imagery won’t be a difficult move. For others, this may be unnecessary stress. Luckily, you have some options. 

The first option would be to hire a digital marketing agency like Savy to help you curate, post, and optimize your custom images and content. This option can take the bother of custom image sourcing entirely off your plate and allow you to focus on more important things. 

If you don’t have the funds to hire a digital agency, sites like UpWork allow you to hire freelancers for almost any brand need. It may be a temporary solution, but it could be a positive start for your image library.

If you want to keep everything in-house, you can hire someone skilled in photography or image curation. If you’re going to challenge yourself, take a photography masterclass from Udemy or from an actual photography master via Masterclass. Not to mention the editing prowess of sites like Canva, PicMonkey, and Stencil to give your custom images a boost. 

Custom images do not always have to include taking pictures on your camera and photoshopping them to perfection. As one article showed, you can use found images like headshots from LinkedIn and give them the “same, specific design treatment” in a blog series, for example.  

The point is, there are options to help you avoid ever using stock images again. Custom images allow for creative control of your brand and showcase your brand as authentic and original

Keep it custom 

If you’re still confused, we’ll make it clear: your brand needs custom images to compete. When you switch to custom versus duplicate content, your brand sets itself apart as original, authentic, and trustworthy to Google’s algorithm and your audience. Humans are visually-oriented, and using this psychology to your advantage can help boost your social engagement and give you brand an edge in SEO ranking. And, when you need an extra boost, Savy has the experience to help you navigate the custom image process so your brand can stay competitive and optimized.