Should Google Penalize Your Site for Using Stock Photos?

This was a disturbing thing to find in my mailbox this morning – Google’s Matt Cutts discussing whether or not using stock photos on a website hurts rankings. His initial answer was ‘no,’ that it makes no difference whether images are original or stock. 

That’s great, as I know many of my business clients can’t afford to hire a professional photographer to take the wide range of photos that are often needed to both present the client’s work/products and illustrate or explain points they make in the text content. Carefully chosen stock photos for metaphors and ideas are a great way to increase visual interest plus add an extra level of comprehension for visitors. 

Cutts then went on with the more ominous statement: 

“But you know what?” he adds. “That’s a great suggestion for a future signal we could look at in terms of search quality. Who knows? Maybe original sites – original image sites might be higher quality, where sites that just repeat the same stock photos over and over again might not be nearly as high quality.”

My clients don’t “repeat the same stock photos over and over again,” but still, this is quite disturbing. It penalizes smaller companies with tighter marketing budgets, and particularly companies just starting out who may not even have much to show in the way of original work images. I hope this won’t turn into a serious consideration for Google – they need to concentrate on the quality of text content, not the business’ decisions about imagery.