Add Power to Your eCommerce Marketing Without Adding Any Cost
Let me tell you a story of woe. I got stung by an image trap.
I write ten thousand of words of content every week and handle dozens of images. I know copyright law. As a content creator – and a creative person by nature – I respect it. It protects me, you, and everyone else and let’s content creators get rewarded for making things. So I am really careful to only use images that I can get a verified license to use. But as careful as I am, I got tricked one time into using an image by one site from a so-called “free” image supplier. But it was a trap, because that image was posted "illegally" by another person and the original copyright owner came knocking on my internet door looking for me to pay a fine.
I know that I got stung because a “real” copyright owner would recognize an error and simply ask for a cease and desist – basically instructing me to take the image down. But this guy just wanted me to pay a penalty. I'm still a little embarrased by the whole affair because I try to be careful. Anyway … penalty paid, lesson learned. I am WAY more careful now and I make sure that I double check the source and the licensing arrangements before I get started.
When “Free” is the Most Expensive Option
I have paid subscriptions to some high-profile image subscription services. The most famous one is iStock / Getty Images. for a couple hundred dollars per month I get access to hundreds of thousands of images that I can mostly use any way I want to. You need to read the fine print because there are some restrictions, but for blogs, articles, social media posts, presentations, and general website use it’s all included. But I make content for a living so I can maximize the value of a paid subscription. If you are a heavy user – meaning that you need ten images or more per week – definitely look into it for yourself.
In the online world, EVERYTHING gets better performance with images – email, blogs, social media, web content … everything. Becasue most people do not create content for a living, I completely understand that most small businesses just can’t afford to maintain subscriptions. And buying images one-by-one is time intensive and expensive. So a lot of website owners just copy images out of a Google search or from another site. It’s risky, and we just don’t recommend it to anyone. You can get caught and – whether your website is hosted on the Shopify platform or use some other platform or service – you can get hit with a “take-down” notice that can cause your site to be unavailable until the “issue” is resolved. It’s real, it happens, and that’s just no bueno. You can read about Shopify's policy on take-down notices here.
Fortunately, there are a lot of legitimate ways to get free images online these days.
Before we get started on this, let’s be clear. You need to read the licensing for each recommendation in this blog post and understand if there are any limitations. And individual websites can change their terms and conditions. But I have a list of more than three dozen sources of images and I want to share the wealth and opportunity with you. So here are the top five FREE eCommerce image sites that I have used for marketing and in Shopify sites – and you can too. They can add real power to your marketing without adding any cost.
Understanding eCommmerce Photo and Image Licenses
First things first ... let's talk about photo and image licensing.
If you are looking for free eCommerce pictures, photos, graphics, and other images, your best bet is to take no chances and look for “Creative Commons Zero – CC0.” This is a license has no restrictions or attribution requirements. But there are several other types of “free” image licenses. If you want to know more about them, you can start with this Wikipedia page that covers the basics.
But again, I do this for a living and can keep track of the various kinds of image, graphic, and photo licenses and how I’m allowed to use them. You might not have the time or ability to do that. So I recommend that you stick with Creative Commons Zero – CC0. You will still have plenty of choices to work with.
My List of FREE eCommerce Image Sources for Shopify and Beyond
Here are my top five FREE eCommerce resources for images, photos, and graphics, in no particular order.
Shopify Burst Images
The folks at Shopify have recognized that acquiring free images is a real challenge. So they have created a resource called “Burst.Shopify” that lets you download and use images for free.
All images are free to use for any purpose under the Creative Commons CC0 license. Cool! And not just for Shopify account holders … this is for everyone. You can read the Burst Terms and Conditions here.
It’s still a really new service, so selection is pretty limited. They are adding photos all the time, but it takes a long time to build up a library of things like this.
Go here first and search. If the perfect image pops up, great! Use it. Otherwise move on quickly because you have other options.
The folks at Unsplash are totally awesome. It started as a free service to get attention for a design company. They started giving images away to keep people paying attention to what they were doing. But the Unsplash free photo service has now stepped out on its own and they are building a lot of community around it.
More than 200k images and growing with a decent search tool. All images are granted “irrevocable, nonexclusive copyright license to download, copy, modify, distribute, perform, and use photos from Unsplash for free, including for commercial purposes, without permission from or attributing the photographer or Unsplash” (read their license agreement here). It doesn’t get any better than that.
We can’t think of anything at the moment.
These guys are pretty wonderful. If you join their online community (it’s still free for now) you get special collections emailed to you – it’s worth it. But at some point I think that they are going to have to find a way to monetize this beast of a creative community that they are building, so that’s an unknown for the future. But for now, search to your heart’s content and enjoy.
Pexels does a great job too. They have several thousand images available and their online search works fairly well.
Good inventory of stock images and all images are free to use for any purpose under the Creative Commons CC0 license. You can read the Pexels license agreement here. They have two revenue models – ads and donations. If you use a few images, I say consider donating $5 every once in a while because it’s just a nice thing to do.
Remember that there are ads. Some of those ads are for paid image sites. There is NOTHING wrong with advertising, but they share search data with their advertisers. This means that ads are displayed that are often similar to the free image that you are looking at. Because image ads appear on pages with the free images, make sure you know if you are clicking on another free image or on an ad.
They are definitely a good source for images. Just be careful about the ads.
Just about everything we said about Pexels also applies to Pixabay. They also have thousands images available and a decent search tool.
Good inventory of stock images and all images are free to use for any purpose under the Creative Commons CC0 license. You can read the Pixabay license agreement here. As an added bonus they have easy to see meta data about each image (the type, size, and upload date) and you can search for similar images easily. They also have two revenue models – ads and donations (they call donations “buy us a cup of coffee”). And just like Pexels, if you use a few images, I say consider donating few bucks to the cause. I have.
The ads are little bit more intrusive than on Pexels. Again, we get it. Everyone’s got to pay the bills. But it kind of breaks you heart a little when you are searching for a "free" image and suddenly see the PERFECT photo only to realize that one is an ad for a paid image.
Use them and use them again, but watch out for those pesky ads in context.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
I almost hesitated sharing this resource because … well … it’s one of my secret weapons. But The Metropolitan Museum of Art Collection is definitely one of my top five free image sites and I cannot, in good conscience, deny sharing it with you.
AMAZING images of some of the most famous art pieces in history. They have nearly a half million images ready to go or in production. You can read the Metropolitan Museum license agreement here. Some of the images are super-high resolution.
No downside whatsoever. The only thing is that these are images of actual fine art pieces, so it can be hard to find “business-y” images to use. But I ALWAYS look.
If you can find a way to put a Picasso in your eCommerce email, why the heck not? If including a painting by Leonard da Vinci on your website is right for you, now you can do it. If your Instagram account could use an impressionistic masterpiece by Monet, here you go. Or you can just kill a few hours staring into artistic genius on the web and feel better about the world for a while. They are doing a service to the world.
Here is "Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies" by Claude Monet ... posted here just because I can.
You Now Have Access to Millions of FREE eCommerce Images
You now have instant access to literally millions of images that you can use for free in your Shopify eCommerce store and in your email and social media marketing. Like I said before, I have dozens of resources, but I truly believe that these five will be able to handle the needs of nearly all my readers … at least it's enough to get you started and make your marketing really jump.
That’s it for this week. More content to come. Thanks for reading!