[Updated June 2018 by Laurel Devoto]
You don’t have to spend a bundle to get great free and legal content for your website. Photos, videos, sounds, and vectors are available for free online without breaking the bank or the law. Knowing where to find high-quality, relevant content is a great way to improve your website or blog and make it more interesting for visitors. Without spending a dime, you can still use high-quality images on your blog to improve reader engagement and help make your blog posts look more attractive. There are so many sites that offer a variety of licensing options to suit any project.
Web Content and Copyright Rules
Most types of content have some kind of copyright, which means that you can’t use them without permission. While there are notable exceptions — things old enough that they’ve fallen into the public domain, for example — in most cases you don’t want to use anything available online without express permission. Doing so can open you to a host of lawsuits.
However, there are licensing options available for those who want to use content created by others. Some types of licensing require you to pay. Others let you use the content for free as long as you follow the guidelines set forth by the creator. For example, you might have to include a link or credit; in other cases, you might only be able to use the content in certain locations or ways.
Always check the licensing options before choosing your content, even if it’s free. You want to understand the requirements so you can follow them when you use the content. If you misuse a photo, video, sound, or other types of media, it can be considered stealing. There are legal options available to artists whose work is used without the proper fees and attributions.
Evaluating Free Content
With so much content available, you shouldn’t ever have to settle for something that doesn’t fit your design vision perfectly. There are so many sites with such a variety of media available that putting in a little extra time should help you find what you want. For example, you might be able to find an excellent infographic on one site but find mesmerizing scenic images on another.
Look at the quality of the images offered on the site. If there are lots of gorgeous, high-resolution pictures available, you can rest assured that the site is worth your time. It can take some searching and playing with keywords to find the right images, so don’t waste your time on a site that doesn’t offer the content you want. Scroll through some of the featured images and perform a few common keyword searches to judge the quality of the content available.
If you’re worried that the images you’re choosing are overused, try doing a reverse image search to see how often they show up. If they’re splashed across pages similar to yours, there’s a chance that your audience has seen them before. You might want to expand your search to something new. You don’t want to look exactly like every other site in your niche.
15 Great Sites for Legal, Free Content
If your site uses WordPress architecture, PhotoDropper is a quick way to find and attribute images. It helps you use the right kind of attribution so that you avoid any licensing or copyright issues as well. Since it’s an add-on for WordPress, it’s also designed to place the image on your site. Using something like PhotoDropper can help save you time and energy if adding images to your site is something you intend to do on a regular basis — like on your blog, for example.
StockSnap is another site that offers high-quality images for content creators. Everything offered on the site uses Creative Commons CC0 Licensing, which means that you can use the image anyway you want without even attributing it. As StockSnap says in their discussion on licensing, though, attributing the image to the creator is a nice thing to do and you should consider doing it even if you don’t need to.
Pexels also offers free stock images and videos under the CC0 license, so you don’t have to provide attribution. The site also has an option to download free videos to use on your site. You don’t have to sign up for a membership to use the site, though doing so may help you keep track of the photos that you download. If you’re often going back for more photos, having a record of ones you’ve already used can be useful so that you’re not using the same image twice.
4. Wikimedia Commons
With over 2 million media files, including images, videos, audio and eBooks, all available under Creative Commons, open source or public domain licensing, Wikimedia Commons is a great resource for anyone looking for media to use. Though commonly thought of as just another part of Wikipedia, files placed into the Wikimedia Commons are available for use by anyone and the site is easily searchable. The site also has sound and video clips that are licensed under the same terms of the images.
Freesound is a site where people upload, share, and use sounds made by others for their sites. It’s a creative commons database with plenty of files available. If you’re editing a video or looking to add creative animations to your blog, Freesound is a great place to start. Like images, sound can be copyrighted. Everything available on Freesound is available without having to attribute the sound or pay for it — which can help reduce your media budget, especially if you use sounds regularly. Free and legal content can help you use your money for marketing or in other areas of your blog.
Freepik has a variety of media that’s free for personal and commercial use. The site also includes vectors. If you haven’t used a vector for things like logo design and site design before, consider trying it out. They’re ultra-high quality images that can be scaled up and down without losing quality. If you try to resize a picture too often, it might look blurry or distorted. That’s no good when you need the same image on multiple types of projects, like logos, headers and business cards. Vectors are a better choice for these projects.
Videezy is another site where you can purchase high-definition stock videos, b-rolls, backgrounds, and other types of videos. You need to look at the license on each individual video and make sure that you can use it in the type of project you’re creating. On Videezy, some downloads are only available to be used for free in personal projects. Others are free for use on commercial projects. Just make sure that you’re following the terms of the licensing for each individual file.
With new sounds being added three times per week, SoundBible offers a great library of free and legal content for people looking to add audio files to their projects. Whether you’re adding sounds to your blog or editing video to display on it, you’ll find something to enhance your project on the site. Sounds download in an MP3 format.
9. Stock Footage 4 Free
At Stock Footage 4 Free, there are more than 115,000 stock footage clips, motion backgrounds and templates. You have lots of options to choose from if you’re looking to improve a single blog entry or planning an overhaul of your entire blog. One benefit of the site is that each video has a great description. This means that you don’t have to watch a lot of videos to find exactly what you’re looking for. Check out their license agreement to see what kinds of projects you can use their content in.
10. Burst by Shopify
Burst offers new photos for download and use every week. They’re offered to help people create a retail store on Shopify, but you can use them in projects for your blog as well. People can contribute images to the site; you won’t ever know exactly what you’ll find. You don’t have to attribute the images you download from Burst, but in their terms they suggest doing it anyway. It’s a great place to find a revolving series of images so it’s worth checking on a regular basis.
If you want to search a lot of creative commons images at once, FreePhotos.cc offers that service. You can use common categories and tags to find images that are free to use without attribution. This site also offers a subscription service that sends zipped images to your email. This can be helpful if you’re looking for some additional inspiration. They also ask that you link their service to others — like people who you swap blog posts with, for example — if you like what they offer.
Cinemagraphs are described by Clipstill as a “living photograph — a still image with seamlessly looping subtle moving element.” They’re usually 3-8 seconds in length. According to the site, they help increase user engagement. This is likely because they’re interesting, in-motion, and able to catch the eye and interest of the person viewing your site. You can use them as you’d use regular images or as a web design element. You have to link to the cinemagraphs you download. They’re all downloadable in MP4 format.
If you use a WordPress blog, then consider trying Fotor for downloading and using Creative Commons images. It lets you find them and embed them directly into your blog posts and photos. They have more than 335 million images to choose from. If you scroll down the page, you’ll see categories like nature, animals, and religion, among others. If you’re not sure what you’re looking for, scanning a category might help you find something that works perfectly.
14. Life of Pix
Life of Pix offers royalty free stock photos that are high-resolution. They’ll help keep your website looking sharp. They also have a neat feature called photographer of the week. It highlights the contributions of a particular photographer. The person changes every week and the site links to a variety of art that is available from that person. They also have a variety of free and legal content like videos for download, helping you find all the media you need in one place.
15. New Old Stock
One benefit to using older photos is that they can use them without having to pay or use attribution. Once things are free of copyright, they belong to everyone and can be used in any way you choose. All the photos posted on New Old Stock are historical photographs that come from the public archives. The might not be suitable for all blog types, but they’re excellent for aesthetic blogs or anything that needs a touch of old-time flair. Since the public domain has a ton of free and legal content, it’s easy to find historic images when you need them.
The Right Photo
The importance of excellent photos can’t be overstated. According to an article in Entrepreneur, blog posts with photos get 650 percent more engagement than blog posts that consist only of text. This means that even if the content you’re writing is excellent, it will be difficult to find an audience or be shared on social media sites without great pictures.
Text doesn’t capture a person’s interest immediately in the same way that images do. Interesting scenery, groups of people, animals, instructional photos — all of these can help keep someone on your blog long enough for them to be engaged by your writing. If you use relevant images, they can also help signal the content of your post to a reader. This helps them decide right away whether the post is right for them. Since there’s so much free and legal content available, you should be using images in every post.
It’s also important to use relevant images. If someone sees something that doesn’t resonate with their interests, they might leave the page before engaging with your content. You don’t have to stick to a single site to find great stock photos. As a matter of fact, you should hedge your bets and try a few different sites when performing searches. You’ll be more likely to find the perfect free stock photo, video, audio, or vector for your project. While one site might have the right photo for a blog post about one topic, you may find that another site suits a different topic better. So dive in and try a few sites to see whether the perfect stock photo is available for free for your blog.