(Editor’s note: Since John published this post some things have changed, although these principles are still valid. The one thing that has changed is the rise of royalty trolls. They make it a bit dangerous to source images just using a Google search, so keep that in mind. You might also want to check out a recent list of image “do’s” and “don’ts” here.)


One of the very early lessons I learned in working with my SEO clients was the tremendous power of using the right types of web images.

Years ago, Michael Campbell taught me about the importance of using just the right types of images to engage and compel visitors to respond. One of the most basic images we talked about, was the importance of having your own personal image taken professionally. A portrait or head shot that is well done by a good photographer will have all the benefits of being properly lighted, well balanced and should show even a reflection of your personality.

Since your web visitors will gain more of an immediate “first impression” of you from your picture, you want an image that conveys that properly. People tend to learn much faster visually than they do by reading a lot of text and as they say, “first impressions count.”

Choose Images With The Right Emotional Appeal

The next thing I learned was that when choosing images to display on a web site, they need to have some emotional impact. People want to see happy looking people and ideally images where the subject is making direct eye contact. You never want to have a model who is looking downward (which may subtly suggest depression or discouragement.)

In our early SEO workshops that we conducted back in 2002, I had happened to ask a number of students what it was that they saw on our web page that convinced them to come out to the workshop. Several of them mentioned to me that they thought it was a photo I had of a class in session, in a semi-dark room and it showed all of the students from the back of the room, their laptops open and all aglow. “That photo I saw made me want to be there in the room and learning what they were learning,” explained one attendee.

What Image Styles Are Most Influential For Your Site?

  1. Your personal profile picture
  2. Images that illustrate a point using a chart
  3. Screen captures (ideal for software demos)
  4. Images of happy people
  5. Images that use creative and informative infographics
  6. Images of pets, cats, dogs
  7. Images that include children or babies (for baby related or toy related projects)
  8. Images that “tell a story”
  9. Images that illustrate or use humor (the right cartoon may bring a smile to the visitors face)

In an early project for a client who manufactured baby cribs and baby furniture, I discovered the best way to sell the crib was to have a cute baby just inside the crib.

For a Christmas page at a jewelry store, I found a cute puppy who was untangling a present and dragging a ribbon across the floor.

Of course one of the most useful types of images is simply to use the right type of royalty free stock images. There are loads of resources online where you can download free stock photos of people, pets or just about anything you may need.

One tip I can give you if the stock photo resource you use has a search engine built into it. Try searching for an image by adding an emotional verb to the type of photo you are searching for.

  • Instead of searching for a single word like “kitten” try instead searching for “surprised kitten.”
  • Instead of “people” try “Happy people”
  • Instead of searching for subjects alone, search for the emotional value you are trying to convey.

Royalty-Free Images Resources

Are you looking for a few royalty free image resources? Here Is a good list of graphic design resources from Looka. There are loads of free resources here. Enjoy!

Best wishes,
John Alexander

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
Quote: Walt Disney