I’ve heard rumors that having unique images is the next step in avoiding duplicate content penalties.

I know this will come as a shock to you – but no one cares about your stock images. Actually, they suck. And if you’re playing it cheap, the obvious stock photos make your content seem fake and disingenuous. You know what I’m talking about – the group of businessmen with perfect teeth standing over a table having a discussion about marketing strategy. We all know your office and employees don’t look like that.

Sure, content without images is kinda boring. It’s a little dry and the images help break it up. But if Google stays on it’s current path, those using popular stock images may end up with poor rankings and worse – a duplicate content penalty.

I can already hear the protests.

Design department? I’m the entire marketing department!

I don’t have time to create my own images!”

Photoshop? I wouldn’t even know where to start!

Our designer doesn’t have any extra time to help me!

…What kind of images would I even create?

I don’t have a photographer on staff!

Guess what! I had a job where I was the marketing department. I still don’t (technically) have time to create my own images. I’ve never had a professional photographer on staff. And my photoshop skills are limited to opening the program.

So I hear you. I get it. But – I believe in this so strongly, that I’ve come up with a bunch of hacks that you can avoid stock photos, and I want to share them with you!


1) iPhones are your best friend.

Seriously – they take pretty good pictures, and with a little editing, you’ll be fine. Need a little help editing them? Download an app like Aviary that has pretty good editing features to help improve the quality of that quick snap. Take pictures of anything and everything that you think could be incorporated into a blog post and illustrate a point. I’m glancing through my iPhone pictures – food, flowers, my fiancé… I don’t know how I would incorporate any of those into a blog post, BUT maybe if I took a picture of a stop sign, an empty restaurant, or bad advertisements I could figure out a way to use them to illustrate a point. (Don’t let your friends make fun of you for taking pictures like this!) I took this picture at Longwood Gardens a few weeks ago… could I use it as a metaphor about the road to success? Maybe. Maybe not.

2) Add text.

If you’re going to buy stock photos – at least add to them to make them more unique. You can do this in Photoshop – or if you’re desperate, download the app Over that allows you add text to an image.

3) Screenshot it.

Writing a ‘how-to’ blog post or using an example of something? Screenshot it! Easy, free images. Just make sure you aren’t screenshot-ing anyone’s personal information – and you should blur out anything that wouldn’t be public information.

4) Crowdsource.

For some of my clients that have had photo limitations, I’ve resorted to crowdsourcing in blog posts. What images have others done using our products? Do some searches (Check Instagram!), contact the owners and ask if you can feature their image on your blog and credit them. 9 times out of 10 they’re flattered and say yes.

5) Find a Niche Photo Site

Go outside of istock, 123rf, and other stock photo sites to ones that offer free (sometimes) photos licensed by amateur photographers. Check with any copyright issues first, but seriously – you’re not going to find the 3D-faceless-white-people here. Or lightbulbs over heads. Unsplash is a neat place to get some free photos, but this blog article will give you 7 more places to find unique free photos.

6) Try Typography.


Don’t use a photo. Instead, look at typography options – it could be a quote from the blog post, the title of the blog post, a statistic in the post – these make great pinnable images, too! It’s creative and way more engaging with that tired stock photo. Example: like this awesome typography print from Society6.

7. Illustrate.

Are you a little creative? Can you draw – or are you limited to stick figures? If you can do some original illustration, it’ll save you a stock photo.

8. Photoshop.

If you are stuck using a stock photo, at least photoshop it to make it different. You can mash a few photos together or add some photo effects to jazz up an old, tired stock photo.

In the end, although Google is not yet penalizing stock photos, they have taken strong action against duplicate content, or at least low-quality non-unique content. If it continues down this path, I would not be surprised to see an algorithm update that favors websites that use original, unique imagery.

9. Canva

No, I don’t work for Canva – but I’m a recent convert and new addict to this online software. Why? It “enables anyone to be a designer!” My photoshop skills are rudimentary and I didn’t study design in school. Still, I’ve been exposed to enough good and bad design work to know how to create something simple and effective. There are many tutorials and inspirational pieces that you can easily come up with something. (And check out the header on this blog post – I made that in a few minutes using Canva.)

Hopefully these tips and tricks will help you create visually engaging pieces of content or spice up your blog posts just a little! If you have other suggestions, please leave them in comments or tweet at me @caitlinjdodds! I’d love to add more as I find out about them.