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Get the Most Out of Using Free Stock Images for Commercial Use Featured Image

Get the Most Out of Using Free Stock Images for Commercial Use

by: Hostwinds Team  /  June 22, 2017

Why you should always use images

If there were one relatively simple thing you could do when you're writing a blog post to garner more shares and keep visitors on your blog longer, you would do it, right? Well, there is. It's using images in your post. Not just any old free for commercial use stock photo thrown in there, but images you put together that are relevant to the content that surrounds it (and optimized, so they don't affect your site's loading time).

The visual appeal of your content has a significant impact on how visitors feel about your business Click To Tweet.

The visual appeal of your post (and your entire site) has an enormous impact on how visitors feel about your business. It can make them want to stick around or send them sprinting back to the search results or wherever they came from. It's also a key factor in how much they'll want to share that post with others. In fact, according to Larry Kim, it can increase engagement by as much as 650%. And Jeff Bullas says that posts that include images get 94% more views.

Using images isn't just a recommendation anymore, but pretty much a requirement if you want your blog to be successful.

Where do I find images to use on my blog?

You probably know you can't just download and use images from just anywhere. But you might not know that there are many places you can find excellent, high-quality images that are free to use in any way you want. Here are a few of the best places to find images you can use for personal or commercial use. They all offer images and photos as is or with modifications and without any attribution requirements (with a link verifying it):

Note: Each site on this list uses one of the images from their site, so you can see the quality of what they offer.


Pixabay is an excellent free stock photography site that releases photos under Creative Commons CC0. What sets this one apart is the wide variety of illustrations, vectors, and videos that they also offer. Definitely a site to check out if you need free photos, illustrations, vectors, or videos. adds hundreds of beautiful, high-quality images each week. You can use the search function to find photos that are relevant to your topic. You can also check the trending section to see which photos are gaining popularity. There's also a section that shows the most popular searches that are done on their site. Or, you can look at the most viewed or most downloaded photos. Free stock photos, with no restrictions.


Another stock photo site that releases the photos under Creative Commons CC0. You can see the most popular searches at the top or search for your own. You can also browse by color. If you use Chrome and like the photos that they offer, they also have a Chrome extension to make it even easier and quicker to find images to use. They also have a selection of videos to choose from.


PicJumbo is operated by a 22-year-old photographer by the name of Viktor Hanacek. He shares his photos here for both personal and commercial use. There are lots of high-resolution photos in a variety of categories to choose from. If you happen to love his work and what he's doing, there's also a premium membership you can choose to subscribe to starting at $10/month. You get new, never-published before photos each month, unlimited downloads, and access to all premium photos already available.


Skitterphotos was created by a couple of amateur photographers who were excited to see their photos used. And according to them, "good quality free photos were hard to find." Now they have their own photography business. They also allow other photographers who want to share their photos to upload them here. All images on Skitterphotos are released under the public domain using Creative Commons CC0.

Jay Mantri

Jay Mantri doesn't say a lot about the site itself. He's an active Instagrammer and consistently posts photos there. While the site doesn't appear to be updated often, there are tons of photos here with a unique feel. And they're all free to do what you want. Creative Commons CC0.

These are just a few excellent places to find photos and images that you're free to use on your blog. But like we said, don't just throw any old image on there. Please take a few minutes to make it your own. You don't have to be a Photoshop whiz to do this (of course, if you are, then go for it!). There are lots of ways you can customize your images.

Edit and customize your images

Want to add something special to your images but aren't so great at Photoshop (or don't want to buy it)? You have lots of options to choose from, including:

  • Gimp – Photoshop's little brother. And it's free. There are lots of tutorials, guides, and videos online to help you learn it, too.
  • Paint.Net – Not as flashy as Photoshop or Gimp, but its shining power comes from its simplicity. It's easy to use, accessible, and you can do quite a bit with it.
  • Photos Pos Pro – Yet another free photo editor. Although it's not as well-known, it deserves to be mentioned. If you feel confused at all with it, there's even an option to turn on a novice layout.
  • Pixlr – If you don't want to download a program, you can customize your images online with They also have mobile versions for both iOS and Android.
  • iPiccy – Another photo editor that you can use online. It's easy to use. Most effects are done with one click instead of specific little tools to do different tedious effects.

You might even want to create infographics or interactive images. No? It isn't as difficult as you might think with all the handy tools available today. You don't have to be a pro designer or have a hefty budget to hire one, either (of course, if you are or you can, then go for it!).

Infographics are shared 3x as much and can be an amazingly effective way of getting more leads Click To Tweet

According to Diana Urban at HubSpot, infographics are shared 3x as much as other forms of content. And they can be an amazingly effective way of getting more leads from your site. (Hint: If you read her article, you'll see that she shows you exactly where to get five free infographic templates to get you started) Here are just a few places you can create infographics and interactive content:

  • Visme (Interactive images)
  • ThingLink (Interactive images)
  • Canva (Infographics, social media and blog post images)
  • (Infographics)
  • Piktochart (Infographics)
  • (Infographics)

How many images do I need to use?

Now that you know where to find images and how easy it is to edit them, how many do you need? That pretty much depends on how long your post is and how many are needed to get the point across. If it's a short 300-word blog post about a recent hot topic, you may only need one or two. There is one study by BuzzSumo, though, which showed that using an image every 75-100 words is the best. There's no exact science to it, so experiment and see what you get better results with.

Optimizing your images and why it matters

So you've created some awesome unique images that you're excited to start using and testing. But before you start adding them to your post, you should do a few things first to optimize them. Why should you care about taking time to do this?

Fast loading site + SEO friendly = More traffic

Properly optimizing your images can help you get more traffic to your site. If your images are optimized for SEO (which we'll look at below), it can help your overall rank in the search engines. But it can also lead to traffic from image searches that may have never found your site otherwise.

And by ensuring your images aren't hogging bandwidth and space, your site will load faster. It's a well-known fact by now that slow-loading sites not only will rank poorly in search engines, but they also turn away would-be visitors and customers. No one will sit and wait for your site to load if it doesn't load pretty much instantly. Just fractions of a second can have a significant impact, especially on mobile devices (and face it, browsing on mobile has pretty much become the norm).

How do I optimize my blog post images?

Size matters

When you add your images to your post, you can decide what size you want them to display. But even if you tell it to display a super large image in a smaller format, that size data is still there. If you have an image that's 3000×1500 and you're only going to be displaying it as 800×400, change the size before adding it to your post. You probably have an image editor of choice from above to do this, or you could use an online resizing service like PicResize (There are many more, too. Google it).

Compress, compress, compress

Even after you've resized your image, you can still make it smaller and load much faster by compressing it. And even if you've exported your image with "Save for Web" from Photoshop or something similar in another program, I can almost guarantee that you can still reduce the size further with image compression.

Some sites will compress your images for free. My two favorites are and TinyPNG. If you have multiple images you want to compress, TinyPNG has a bulk option. Both do a fantastic job of compressing your images' file size with barely noticeable or zero noticeable changes to quality in the final image.

Pay attention to the details: File names, alt tags

Once they're sized down and compressed, it's time to start adding them to your post. Again, there are a few things you should do here too. You should make sure you make a relevant and unique file name (title) and alt text for each image. This will help search engines know what your image is about, and it might help it show up in image search results.

Use targeted keywords in both, but do so naturally. Don't use the fields to try to spam your keywords. Google is smart enough to know what you're doing.


If you have a popular site or your images are just plain awesome, you might find one day that someone is hotlinking them. Hotlinking an image is putting the URL of an image (in this case, your image) on their site, so it displays the image instead of uploading the image to their server.

It may just be that they're new to running a site, and they don't realize the harm. But that's not always the case. Even the Huffington Post has been guilty. The Guardian published a story about a case where they were made an example out of by Matthew Inman at The Oatmeal.

Why you should care

You should care about other sites hotlinking your images for a couple of reasons. For one, they're stealing your image (unless they got your permission to use it). Two, they're using your site's bandwidth to show it on their site. This is why it's also sometimes called bandwidth theft.

How do I prevent hotlinking?

You can prevent hotlinking in many ways. You can do it with a WordPress plugin, through cPanel, or by manually modifying your .htaccess file. If your images are hosted on Amazon, you can find instructions on how to prevent hotlinking to your S3 file here.

Prevent hotlinking with a WordPress plugin

If your site is on WordPress, the easiest way to do this is by using a plugin like All in One WordPress Security & Firewall. Once installed, you'll see a tab for hotlink protection. There are quite a few other plugins, but all of the ones I looked at haven't been updated in years. While they might work just fine, it's usually better to avoid plugins that aren't actively maintained.

Prevent hotlinking in cPanel

Note: mod_rewrite needs to be enabled on your server for this aspect of .htaccess to work. If you have Hostwinds shared or business hosting, this isn't a problem. mod_rewrite is already enabled for you. If you're using one of our dedicated servers or VPS with cPanel, it should already be enabled as well. If not, check with your hosting company.

The next easiest way is probably doing it through your cPanel. Go to the Security section of cPanel and click on Hotlink Protection:

You'll see this page where you can setup the particulars for your hotlink protection:

  1. Make sure you have enabled cPanel's hotlink protection feature
  2. Put in the URL of your website and any other sites that you want to allow hotlinking
  3. If you want images to show in the browser when their exact URL is entered, check this box
  4. If you wish to hotlink to redirect to another page or image, put the destination URL here
  5. Don't forget to save your settings when you're done

Prevent hotlinking with .htaccess

When you use cPanel to disable hotlinking as described above, it automatically changes your .htaccess file for you. If you prefer, you can manually edit your .htacess file, too. By adding the following lines of code to your .htaccess file, you can prevent hotlinking by not allowing the hotlink and showing an error. Or you can choose to display alternative images when someone tries to hotlink.

To simply disallow hotlinking, add this:

1234 RewriteEngine onRewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http(s)?://(www\.)? [NC]RewriteRule \.(jpg|jpeg|png|gif)$ - [NC,F,L]

If you want to show an alternative image when something is hotlinked, add this (replacing with the URL to the image you want to show):

1234 RewriteEngine onRewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http(s)?://(www\.)? [NC]RewriteRule \.(jpg|jpeg|png|gif)$ [NC,R,L]

You can use this tool to generate the correct code, then to check and make sure it works.

Misc tips for getting better results from your images

There are many things to keep in mind when selecting your free stock images for commercial use, designing them, and even where you decide to place them. Two tips from Neil Patel: Use images that have real people and add text to your photos.

Using images that feature real people can increase the amount of time visitors view them. The catch, though, is the photo needs to be relevant and provide value, give information, add personality, depending on the context.

You can see other data-driven image tips he offers here.


Unless you're a research lab or university publishing pure research and study data, images should be an essential part of your content creation. Please don't put it on the backburner or treat them as an afterthought to your article.

Has this information been helpful? If so, please share it.

Written by Hostwinds Team  /  June 22, 2017