t is a fact that people tend to skim through websites, rather than read through vast amounts of text. Having images on your website helps break up the flow of copy into manageable and readable sections, as does making use of white space and effective layout principals to give a better viewing experience.
Acting as a visual aid, photography can help people understand your company through the kind of images you choose to display. Well-chosen photography can help contextualise your firm in the minds of the viewer and help reinforce your positioning, allowing you to create a positive (or negative) impression.
Almost every accountants' website uses stock photography, (as, to be fair, do a huge majority of businesses). Our analysis of the style of photography used on accountants' websites showed us that the quality of photography used varied hugely, with some firms using images that left us with a negative impression, while others chose professional looking images that created a positive impression of their firm.
The worse end of the scale - Condescending and lazy website imagery
At the worse end of the scale, it is likely that extremely poor photography choice is just one element of a generally bad user experience for your website viewer. When you use images like the ones below (which we have taken from two accountants websites) these images not only suggests your firm is cheap, and perhaps rather uninterested in the impression they give to their clients, but I would argue these images are actually condescending to your clients. Do you really think your clients need a visual aid like this to drive your message or positioning home?
Why would an accountancy firm feature such images on their website?
1) The firm is perhaps a start-up and the owner has made the website themselves, and genuinely does not realise the mistake they are making. It would be unfair for us to expect an accountant to have to make correct creative decisions where matters of design are concerned so this can be a forgivable oversight in some situations.
2) The firm has decided to employ the cheapest website design company they could find. When firms decide to invest the least amount of money possible on their website, they will end up with a website that reflects this. Their website will often be templated, rather than bespoke (to save money) and little thought or time will be given to providing stock images that help the accountancy firms' positioning, or how they are perceived.
3) The firm does not employ any individuals that give consideration to how the firm is perceived from the outside world. They may reason they are 'very busy' and therefore the partners 'see no reason' to warrant any investment in their website or their reputation. This is more common in established firms run by partners in the 40 - 60 age bracket and not that common in accountancy practice start-ups run by those in the 20 to 40 age bracket.
The bad end of the scale - Grinning, over-the-top fictitious staff.
This is a ubiquitous category of stock photography we see on many accountants websites that do not serve to differentiate the firms they represent or portray them as credible experts. Examples of these images include:
Why are these images bad? Firstly, these kinds of photos serve little purpose and are largely ignored. Secondly, they don't represent the day-to-day activities and culture of your office. I'm making an assumption of course, but I think I'm right in most cases... Do your staff regularly fist-bump in a group? Do you gather on the roof at sunset? Is the person in the photo with a headset on actually your receptionist?
Furthermore, they're probably unrelatable to your target audience, and these photos are very commonplace, especially on the cheaper looking accountants websites, meaning they're providing your firm with little to no point of differentiation in the mind of your website viewer.
This kind of accountancy firm does not employ any individuals that give consideration to how the firm is perceived from the outside world. They may reason they are 'very busy' and therefore the partners 'see no reason' to warrant any investment in their website or their reputation. This is more common in established firms run by partners in the 40 - 60 age bracket and not that common in accountancy practice start-ups run by those in the 20 to 40 age bracket.
The good end of the scale - Relatable, aspirational photography that reflects your audience, and not just the people that work at your firm
Try to feature photos that your audience can relate to. Happy, smiling business owners, (but not too twee). Try to match the age of the people roughly to the average age of your clients and show them in realistic working environments.
Go for an aspirational feel, with a focus on lifestyle, entrepreneurship and ambition. Viewers should be able to identify with the people in the photos, and the images should avoid a ‘corporate’ feel. The stock photography industry would have us believe that all Millenial business owners work out of coffee shops or own bakeries (they don't).
It goes without saying that if you're niching your accountancy firm in a particular audience (which you should...) then your photos should relate to the people working in that field. Niching in dental practices?.. show Dentists. Niching in construction?... show it.
The stock photography industry would have us believe that all Millenial business owners work out of coffee shops or own bakeries (they don't). Be relatable and specific with your stock photography, not twee.
Make sure your website photography is appealing to future staff and doesn't make your team look boring.
Remember the kind of photos and the tone-of-voice they convey will also have an impact on how your firm comes across to potential employees. You need to avoid overly corporate, dry photography if you want to make your firm attractive to a younger workforce. Look outside your industry for inspiration on 'Work with us' pages, and 'Meet the team ' pages, and don't be afraid to be fun, different or even witty.
Your brand strategy will dictate the kind of photography on your website
If you're having conversations with your branding agency about the kinds of photos you're hoping to see on your website then you've probably already undertaken some brand strategy work, and you understand your brand personality and the personality of the kinds of people you are trying to target.
Deciding on specific photography will come at the later stages of the design process, and will reflect the findings of this strategic brand work, but at this point, you'll understand you don't have to be absolutely literal in the approach. You don't need to show a picture of a suited person doing a tax return. You might instead choose to show a person enjoying some free time (because your accountancy firm has saved them considerable time, and helped them pay the right amount of tax). In short, show 'clients' enjoying their lives, in part as a result of the excellent business advice you've given them, not pictures of you doing your job. You should assume your clients will make that mental connection, and in turn, they will find your images relatable and recognise themselves in the images.
Look outside your industry for inspiration on 'Work with us' pages, and 'Meet the team ' pages, and don't be afraid to be fun, different or even witty.
Finding good stock photography
There are many stock photo libraries, and as a rule of thumb, the more you pay the better the images will be. But be warned, sites like Shutterstock will also host their fair share of poor photography that will do your brand no favours. Exceptions to this rule are websites such as Unsplash which offer free photos with the proviso you credit the photographer in your website. Take some time, make sure you've done some strategy work with your brand agency or web design team, and factor in some budget towards some decent photography. You may even consider eschewing photography altogether and opt for bespoke illustration if your budget allows, but be sure your images to provide some visual context, and communicate the essence of your brand.
Remember, images can:
Give your firm credibility (or remove all sense of credibility).
Convey your brand personality.
Reinforce your brand message and values.
Help break up website copy.
Help your website visitors relate to your firm.
Help visitors recognise themselves and their situations by showing images of people with similar demographics to your target audience.
If you'd like to find out more about how to differentiate your accountancy practice website download our free ebooks here.
If you have a project you'd like to discuss, get in touch with Ben at Prosper here.
Written by Ben Stanbury