Images are essential, but they can also cause problems.
You need to include images on your website and in every piece of marketing content you publish. You also need to make sure you have the legal right to use these images, or you could face severe consequences.
If you’re setting up your website or business blog, you probably don’t have an existing bank of original images to draw from. That’s okay, there’s an endless supply of quality images you can use for free online – as long as you know how to source and attribute them properly.
Do I need to use images in my blog?
Images make your content more visually appealing, which is vital when you need to attract the attention of internet users who have countless other options to choose from.
Blog posts that feature relevant images attract 94% more traffic than those without images (according to research from Skyword), so you can almost double your audience by including a well-chosen graphic.
Note that the statistic refers to relevant images. The photo or graphic you choose should relate to the topic of your blog post, or set the right mood.
Can I use any image I want?
Finding suitable images for your website and blog isn’t as simple as typing words into Google Image Search and saving the pictures you like.
Some of these images are free to use, but you need to check first. Most of the time, these images are someone else’s property and covered by the same copyright laws as the rest of their content.
You wouldn’t copy and paste someone else’s blog post word-for-word and pass it off as your own. By posting their image without permission and without giving it the proper attribution, you’re doing exactly the same thing.
Consider the following scenario:
You’ve hired a professional photographer
You’re determined to make your new website stand out from the crowd, so you hire a photographer to take professional, high-quality images that you can use across your site and for your business blog posts. You’re happy with the results.
Some time later, you’re checking out your competitor’s newsfeeds when you spot a familiar image. Clicking through to their site, you see they’re using your photos to promote themselves, without having asked you or paying for the privilege. If their website gets more traffic than yours, people may even duplicate the image themselves after seeing it on their site and give them the credit.
You can take action to stop this. And people can take action against you if they find out you’re doing the same thing.
What happens if I use copyrighted images?
Copyright holders don’t have to chance across your site to see that you’re using their images. Thanks to tools like Google’s Search by Image and TinEye, anyone can do a “reverse image search” to find where their images are being used.
If you use copyrighted images without permission, you are violating copyright law and the owner of the image can take legal action against you, even if you remove the image.
Google and other search engines also penalise websites for using duplicate content. If your blog gets too many marks against it, your search engine ranking will suffer and your blog might even be removed.
How can I use copyrighted images legally?
Some content creators won’t mind if you use their images, as long as you give them credit and provide a link that will help drive traffic to their site. However, it’s always advisable to play it safe where copyright law is concerned.
There are two ways you can legally and ethically use images that are under copyright:
1. Ask the creator/owner for permission to use their image
When you’ve been granted permission, you should include a note in the image caption or elsewhere on the page that attributes the source. It’s also courtesy to include a link to the page that includes the original image. For example:
Image: Civic Web Media
Remember, it’s not enough to credit and link to the source if you haven’t received explicit permission from the copyright holder to use their content.
2. If your use of the image falls under Fair Use
This will only be the case if you are using the image for purposes such as commentary or criticism (e.g. product reviews). Read more about Fair Use in Australia.
Even if you are permitted to use copyrighted images, you should not alter them without permission (apart from resizing) and avoid featuring them too prominently on your website or branding.
Where can I find copyright-free images?
These images may be either:
Public domain (PD): These images can be used freely without permission or attribution.
Creative Commons (CC): These images can be used freely as long as they are properly attributed to their creator. See this example for how to give proper attribution.
Some of the best websites that host copyright-free images are:
Some of these sites also include sponsored images that have to be paid for (from sites such as Shutterstock and iStockphotos), so ignore any images with watermarks if you’re looking for freebies.
You can also search for public domain and Creative Commons images using Google Image Search, by filtering your search according to usage rights:
What else do I need to know?
This guide is intended as an introduction for small businesses on how to use images in your business blog and website. If you need more detailed information about copyright and plagiarism laws in Australia, you should contact a legal professional.
Read our other blog posts for more advice on how to get your business blog up and running and avoid common mistakes.