When you’re designing or updating a website, one of the most important considerations is images.

There are a large number of reasons why having images on your website could prove to be the key to success.

Images matter to your customers. Photograph-based social media sites such as Pinterest and Tumblr all but taken over, and this fact proves just how important photographs, images and graphics are to the public.

We tend to buy something based on an image. In fact, in a recent study 67% of ecommerce customers said that their decision to buy was based on a photograph with the same number citing an eye catching image as “very important”

Furthermore, studies have shown that an article that features one or more image is more likely to be viewed than one without.

With this in mind, finding the right images for your website has never been so important. However, there are a number of considerations you’ll need to make:

The law

The use of copyrighted photographs and images is illegal and unethical. Not only do you run the risk of having the image removed, but you’ll also risk prosecution and legal action by the owner of the images.

In addition to the traditional penalties of using a copyrighted image, it’s also worth considering just how tech-savvy many business owners are now. The use of an image that wasn’t yours in the first place could lead to online smearing or boycotting of your goods/services.

The quality

Although many businesses use images within their web content, many fail to gain the rewards for doing so because the images they use simply aren’t appropriate. It may be that the image is of a poor or low-density quality and as such does little to sell the product or service it is being used to highlight. Alternatively, it may be that the image in question is out of context for the business. Whilst many stock photos tend to be generic, it is important to ask yourself when using an image if it is the right one for you and your content. If not, the result could be worse than had you not used an image in the first place.

Finding the images

Although it is possible, of course, to pay for images or to have them specially produced for your requirements by a private photographer, there are a number of sites that offer free access to “stock photos”.

The majority of these operate by either having no copyright on images, meaning that you’re free to use them, or ask users to credit them as the source when using them. In either event, the use of stock photos from a free site means finding a quality photograph that will improve the appearance of your work, together with more budget to apply to other things.

Although finding the right images is often a case of investigating, some of the best sites for free stock photos offer categories for searching.

Here are some examples of these sites that are highly ranked among experts:

Unsplash offers subscribers the chance to download up to ten images every ten days. These images tend to be scenery or nature based, are a blend of colour and black and white, and the majority are in high definition.

Superfamous is the website of photographer Folkert Gorter. His are a blend of scenery and geographical images, all of which are available for free as long as the user credits Mr Gorter.

IMfree stocks thousands of photographs that have been submitted by artists who simply want to share their work. Assuming that a user is happy to credit the photographer, every image is free and these can be searched for by category (such as “people”) and then by sub-category (“young”) allowing for a unique image that is appropriate for the use in question, rather than being generic.

FreeImages offers over 35,000 images that can be found by category, such as “seasonal and events”, “abstract” and “business”. The site has its own agreement known as the “image licence agreement” and all users must adhere to this throughout their use.

New Old Stock still offers free images to anyone who wishes to use them, but with a little twist. All of these images are taken from old public archives and are vintage photographs of people, places and buildings from across the world. Because of the nature of the images, these are not as unlimited as those on other sites, but they are a rarity because of the imagery they offer.