Over the past couple of years Google has been cracking down on websites that make use of duplicate content. With algorithm updates, such as Panda in 2011, seeking out and penalising sites that have little original content, website owners are becoming increasingly vigilant about what they publish.

As Image Source’s SEO Executive, I often receive questions from photographers and image buyers looking to improve their websites. One of the most common questions I am asked is “will Google penalise my site if I use stock photos?”

I can certainly appreciate the concern, especially with Google’s firm stance on duplicate content. After all, if you get on the wrong side of Google you could see your website plummet in the rankings and ultimately lose traffic and sales.

Matt Cutts, Google’s head of web spam, confirmed on Monday in his recent webmaster video (below) that using stock photos does not count as duplicate content and sites that use stock photos would not be penalised. This is obviously great news for stock photographers and image buyers. However, in the latter part of the video the question was raised as to whether original imagery would ever be treated differently to stock photos.

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k15GpWfsxZU’]

I want to clarify that there are currently no known plans to treat websites that use stock photos any differently to websites that use original imagery. It is however an area we will be keeping a close eye on.

Logically, I can’t see how or why Google would ever penalise stock photos. From Google’s perspective, I appreciate that text content should be original so that search results are not diluted with lots of duplicate content. However duplicate images do not dilute search results, they can be used to illustrate different points and multiple uses can in fact be a signal that the image is good.

Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions about SEO or website development and digital marketing in general and I’ll try to address them in future articles.

Social Media

Image Source: Cultura RF

Social media is a massively underused tool by Photographers. Alex Jordan explains the benefits of being a social butterfly and how to negotiate that tricky balance of self-promotion vs copyright concerns

Social media is an essential tool in developing reputation and gaining exposure. Unfortunately, for many of the photographers I’ve spoken to, social media is not a high priority and is even, for some, the subject of much concern.

There have been many passionate debates in the photographer community surrounding image sharing, crediting and income generated by others through social sharing – this much read article on A Photo Editor around Pinterest is one such example. But despite these concerns, there are clear SEO benefits to social sharing.

I appreciate that managing social media profiles isn’t for everyone, so instead of encouraging you to open Facebook and twitter accounts (by the way, you should), I’m going to talk about how you can encourage social sharing from your website or blog and how you can address copyright concerns.

Why should photographers encourage sharing

Most of the photographers I speak to understand the benefits of allowing their photos to be shared. For starters, encouraging sharing is a great way to build backlinks which will positively impact search engine rankings. Increased links and people talking about content will also increase traffic to the website where the content is featured.

Search engines will monitor social signals and if they see a lot of activity on a particular website they will assume the content is relevant and appealing, thus giving it weight over others in search results. Sharing also presents the opportunity for your content to go viral, reaching potentially thousands and even millions of people in a short space of time.

How to make your website social

If there’s one thing photographers have in their favour it’s that they have access to stunning content and have great stories to tell. This is perfect because people love sharing great images and interesting or unusual stories. I’m not going to go into too much detail about what content you should produce, but as a general rule if it is unique, interesting and informative, with a need-to-know quality, then people will likely want to share it.

As a photographer, or anyone wanting to share content, you should ensure you have the tools installed to enable sharing. By far the most popular independent provider is AddThis, but individual social networks will offer their own share buttons too.

I recommend you add AddThis to your site and enable sharing through Facebook, twitter and Google+. For images, I also recommend encouraging sharing through Pinterest. This can be achieved by selecting the relevant social networks in AddThis, or by downloading the individual sharing tools from each social network.

Here at Image Source we encourage sharing through social media because of the SEO benefits sharing brings. This is also the case for many of the other leading image libraries. If you check out any of our product pages on you’ll see sharing options for each of these social networks, with AddThis installed at the top of every blog post on IMSO.

Copyright concerns

One issue that keeps coming up again and again is the issue of copyright. Some photographers are reluctant to encourage sharing because they see it as unlicensed replication, or stealing. The reality is that most of the people who share content do not feel that they are stealing it. Most will share to talk about it because they find it interesting; they wouldn’t otherwise have any use for it and probably wouldn’t seek to benefit financially from it.

When I talk about the benefits of sharing, I do appreciate the negative effects of copying too. I therefore suggest that photographers should also take measures to protect their work. For example, something I mentioned in an earlier tutorial, make sure your web images are of a low resolution. This means that you’ll never have to worry about high quality images being copied. By encouraging the sharing of lower resolution images, you’ll likely gain exposure which could lead to demand for higher resolutions.

Another thing you can do is to add watermarks. Watermarks do discourage sharing, but when correctly implemented in a way that is not too intrusive they will provide a good reference and will ensure that end users are not publishing unlicensed work as their own.

The fact is that any images you put on your website can be copied, that’s just the way it is. You can stop search engines indexing images (for example by disallowing indexing through a robots.txt file), you can publish copyright notices on your website and you can install JavaScript that prevents ‘copy and paste’, but the fact is that if there is an image on a website and someone wants to copy it then it can be copied. So in short, if you don’t want your images copied don’t put them on your website. My feeling is that if people can copy your images anyway, why not protect yourself with low resolution images and watermarks, and embrace sharing so that you turn something negative into something that is very positive?

This is obviously a contentious issue so why not share your thoughts and feelings? What are your experiences with social sharing?

I hope this series has helped you make changes to optimise your web images and increase exposure. If it has, why not share it? I could go into so much more detail and talk about much more, but I wanted to keep this series basic so that the foundations could be set. If you have any questions about any of my posts or about SEO in general, feel free to comment or contact me directly.

This session is part of my image optimisation series. For more information about the series please see my introduction.

A photo album

Gary John Norman / Image Source RF

You have a great site, full of outstanding photography. You want to show it to everyone. But the ‘person’ who needs to see it first is Google, and Google needs a map. This week, Alex Jordan’s essential guide to optimising your images for search engines, shows you how to build an Image Sitemap

This session is part of my image optimisation series. For more information about the series please see my introduction.

XML Sitemaps are arguably the best way of telling Google and other search engines that specific pages in your website exist. This tutorial is specifically about Google image Sitemaps, but first, you must have a reasonable understanding of what standard XML Sitemaps are and how to use them.

Standard XML Sitemaps

Sitemaps are essentially lists of URLs that relate to each page on a website, like an index or directory. Submitting Sitemaps to search engines allows them to ‘discover’ every page on your site. What makes XML Sitemaps special is the way that they are formatted. They allow you to provide additional information, such as the last modification date of a given page, but more importantly all major search engines support XML Sitemaps.

For the sake of this tutorial I am going to assume that you know about XML Sitemaps. If you do not then I recommend you first check out www.sitemaps.org and read through Google’s Documentation.

Google Image Sitemaps

Google Image Sitemaps extend the standard Sitemap protocol and allow webmasters to provide extra information about their images. They are a great way to directly tell Google where your images are (on your server) and what they are about. Using image Sitemaps therefore improves communication with Google which reduces the time that it takes for Google to index your sites and enhances the potential for your images to rank for relevant searches.

Assuming you already have a standard XML Sitemap set up, you must first add the following XMLNS declaration to the <urlset> tag:

xmlns:image=http://www.google.com/schemas/sitemap-image/1.1

This declaration allows the additional image-related information to be interpreted because it is not part of the standard Sitemap protocol.

In order to turn your standard Sitemap into an image Sitemap you must then add the following tags which go between the <url> and </url> tags: <image:image> which encloses all information about a single image, and <image:loc> which specifies the URL of the image.

For example:

<url>

<loc>http://www.example.com/sample.html</loc>

<image:image>

<image:loc>http://www.example.com/image.jpg</image:loc>

</image:image>

</url>

There are then four optional tags that can be used to provide extra information:

  • <image:caption> allows you to define a caption (description) of an image.
  • <image:geo_location> allows you to describe the geographical location of where an image was taken, for example “Soho, London, England”.
  • <image:title> allows you to define a title (shorter than a caption) for an image
  • <image:license> allows you to place a URL to the license of an image

A complete example of an Image Sitemap for a site (www.example.com) with 1 page and 1 image could therefore be:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>

<urlset xmlns=”http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9″

xmlns:image=”http://www.google.com/schemas/sitemap-image/1.1″>

<url>

<loc>http://www.example.com/index.html</loc>

<image:image>

<image:loc>http://www.example.com/images/dog-with-bone.jpg</image:loc>

<image:caption>Fat Jack Russell Chewing a Bone in Soho Square on October 22nd 2012</image:caption>

<image:geo_location>Soho Square, Soho, London</image:geo_location>

<image:title>Jack Russell Chewing Bone</image:title>

<image:license>http://www.site.com/my-license.html</image:license>

</image:image>

</url>

</urlset>

Note: Please ensure that your robots.txt file does not disallow the crawling of any content you want indexed.

For more information about image Sitemaps please see Google’s documentation.

If you have any questions feel free to comment or get in touch at @AlexJordanUK. Check back next week for my final tutorial where I shall discuss Social Media and Copyright.

A photo album

Alys Tomlinson / Image Source IE127-013

Photographers! Your beautiful, image-rich portfolio sites are great to showcase work to clients. But to capture the attention of a potential image buyer, you really should read Alex Jordan’s guide to optimising your images for search engines. This week… “Tell the story”

This session is part of my image optimisation series. For more information about the series please see my introduction.

I’m often asked how Google knows what an image is about. In my previous sessions I talked about naming the file and alt tags, however captions and context has a lot to play in how Google and other search engines manage images. I’m going to discuss captions and context in a little more detail and explain why carefully matching images with appropriate text is essential for image optimisation.

Captions

Captions are a useful way of providing more information about an image. For example an image title, credit, geographical location etc are bits of information that are important, but are generally not suitable for use in the alt tag or filename.

Instead, text captions should be used in a way that displays the information in close proximity to the images they refer to. This information should also be kept visible to users. Google will generally not index content that is hidden from users, for example through use of CSS or JavaScript, so what you write should be visible to all.

For those of you who are still using HTML 4.1, there is no way of semantically marking up images and captions. However, this does not mean you cannot use captions. There is no set way of doing it, but one popular method is to wrap captions in <p>…</p> tags and placing them close to the image they refer to. It is then good practice to wrap both the image and caption in a div. For example:

<div>

<img src=”images/animals/ small-dog-eating-bone.jpg” alt=”Jack Russell chewing on a bone”>

<p>Photo of a Jack Russel with Bone: &copy; Image Source 2012</p>

</div>

For those of you using HTML 5 things are a little easier. HTML comes with new “figure” and “figcaption” elements designed specifically for marking up image captions semantically.

Rather than going into too much detail about these new elements I’d like to refer you to this really useful article; however the following example should illustrate how these tags can be used:

<figure>

<img src=”images/animals/ small-dog-eating-bone.jpg” alt=”Jack Russell chewing on a bone”>

<figcaption>Photo of a Jack Russel with Bone: &copy; Image Source 2012</ figcaption >

</figure>

Context

Since search engines assume that you are displaying images relevant to the rest of the content on the page, they tend to use the text surrounding an image to try to understand what it is about. It is therefore important to only use relevant images and to ensure that there is sufficient descriptive text on a page.

This poses several issues for photographers. In my experience photographers tend to publish very image-rich websites that are generally very exciting visually. Unfortunately, this usually means websites that have very little text and pages dominated by images that are not necessarily grouped and displayed in a logical structure.

Photographers should instead try to increase the text content on the pages where their images are featured and group similar images by common features. I appreciate that this is easier said than done, but the following tips should help you take steps to optimise the context of images on a webpage.

  • If you are worried that too much text will take the focus from the images, use a small, non-intrusive font and choose a colour that is readable, but reduced emphasis. Using a dark gray on a white background instead of black goes some way to achieve this.
  • Use page headers (HTML H1, H2, H3 etc tags) to separate relevant content. For example, if a page is dedicated to a travel shoot, instead of displaying all the images in no particular order, headers can be used to separate images that focusing on a common theme, such as landscapes, people, food, wildlife etc
  • Don’t stuff pages with keywords as this is a spam signal. Instead use descriptive sentences to describe an image, concepts, locations etc. If you don’t know what to talk about, try talking about the shoot location, the subject matter, the brief, the concepts conveyed by the images etc.
  • Try to keep relevant images together under their own heading, or preferably their own page. When you have multiple pages it is essential that each has its own identity and that content is not duplicated.

If you have any questions feel free to comment or tweet me at @AlexJordanUK. Next week I’ll be discussing Image Sitemaps, probably the best ways of telling Google that your images exist!

Young man with his face in picture frame

Image Source / Royalty Free

Remember Alt-Rock? Welcome to the world of Alt Tags, the digital stuff that will rock every photographer’s bank account. In this week’s image optimisation tutorial, Alex Jordan explores Alternate Text Attributes

I’ve been working with photographers for a little over 6 months and it is very apparent that they want to do more to optimise their images in search engines. After all, optimising your images leads to higher rankings, more exposure and potentially more income. When put like that I’m surprised that so many photographers fail to optimise their images appropriately.

Last week we looked at the image filename, type and size. Now, in the third week of my image optimisation series… it’s time for… Alt Tags – Alternate Text attributes.

What are Alt Tags?

Alt tags are a required attribute for the “img” tag in HTML 4.1 and HTML 5 and look like the following:

alt=”alternative text goes here”

Its purpose is to provide a brief text description that will be displayed as an alternative to the image if a user has prevented image downloads or the image is not available for whatever reason. However, for search engines, alt tags are also an opportunity to briefly describe the images they relate to.

The below example outlines an HTML image tag with alt attribute:

<img src=”images/animals/ small-dog-eating-bone.jpg” alt=”Jack Russell chewing on a bone”>

Using Alt Tags for SEO

Google’s Matt Cutts Explains the importance of alt tags in the following video:

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3NbuDpB_BTc’]

In simple terms, alt tags help search engines understand what is going on in images. Once they have an idea of what an image is about, search engines can rank them appropriately to relevant searches.

In the above example the alternate text is descriptive and concise at 6 words. Matt Cutts uses an example with 7 words, but the advice is really to concisely describe what a photo is about. That means not stuffing the tag with loads of keywords, being vague or overly descriptive. I usually aim for 5-10 words and, without going into too much detail about an image, I always manage to come up with a fitting description.

Feel free to ask questions either by commenting or via twitter @AlexJordanUK. Next week I’ll be looking at captions and context so that you can ensure that your web pages are designed for image optimisation.

Check back next week to find out about ‘captions’ and ‘context’

Image Source RF

In this week’s image optimisation tutorial, Alex Jordan reveals the secrets behind getting more views for your images – it’s all about image size, name, and file type.

This session is part of my image optimisation series. For more information about the series please see my introduction.

In this session we will cover best practices that can be achieved with little or no web design or development experience. These practices can help deliver more viewers.

It’s simple. With the right file type, resolution and name, you can dramatically improve the user experience. You will also do wonders for your rankings in search engines.

Format, Resolution and File Size:

The first step in optimising your images for the web is choosing an appropriate file format. Since formats such as PSDs and TIFFs do not render in all browsers and potentially require additional software to read, you should stick to the most commonly used web-safe formats, i.e. JPEGs, GIFs and PNGs, which are supported by all major browsers.

When it comes to optimisation, size really does matter. Search engines penalise websites that take too long to load (too long being a matter of seconds!) so smaller is better when it comes to images on the web!

Reducing the file sizes of your images can be achieved by saving your photos in the optimal format of JPEG, GIF or PNG and by sizing your images at the resolutions at which they will be displayed. Using high resolution images that are then scaled down by the web browser are unnecessarily larger than they could be.

Many suggest keeping images below 10KB, but in this day and age with faster connections and high-definition monitors I think this advice is dated. I agree, keep them as low as possible, but I’d use 50KB as my benchmark size.

Filename and Directory

When search engines interpret what your image is about they don’t have much information to go on. One of the most important ways in which you can describe your images is by the filenames you give them.

Let’s say you have a photo named ‘IMG00047.jpg’, it doesn’t tell you much! If you renamed it to describe the image, for example ‘small-dog-eating-bone.jpg’ then search engines have a little more information to go on. If you then store your image in the ‘/images/animals/’ directory, search engines will have even more information.

Directories also help search engines categorise images. Using the above example, search engines will make the logical assumption that all of the images in the ‘/images/animals/’ directory will be related in some way and will add weighting to the fact that they are categorised as ‘animals’.

So although these changes may seem simple and maybe even tedious, they really could make a difference. The web is a competitive environment and ultimately if you are to succeed you need to ensure your image files are optimised.

Check back next week to find out about ‘alt tags’ and how to use them to tell search engines about what your photos are about.

Computer Stress

Image Source / JOSE LUIS PELAEZ INC

In the first of our tutorials explaining the best ways of getting your images seen, Image Source web expert Alex Jordan explains simple and effective ways of optimising your photographs

Contrary to popular belief, search engines do not cleverly decipher the content or context of an image by reading the image file. Nor do they extract the embedded IPTC Metadata (information about images stored within an image file) and use it as a ranking signal. Instead, we have to tell them in no uncertain terms what a photo is and what it is about.

Over the next 6 weeks I’m going to discuss and advise how photographers and webmasters can optimise their images for website performance, search engine optimisation and link bating.

Image Optimisation Series

During this series I will be discussing the following topics:

Feel free to post your comments below or direct queries to @AlexJordanUK through twitter.

Photographers and Image Optimisation

Having worked in SEO for over 5 years I’ve been lucky enough to work with a wide range of people.  During this time I’ve found that photographers are, generally speaking, very good at creating visually exciting websites, but not so good at optimising them for search engines. This usually means that they suffer less exposure and therefore fewer sales than they should be getting.

Whilst at CEPIC Congress 2012 back in May, I took the opportunity to speak to several photographers and leading industry figures to get their opinions on image optimisation. It occurred to me that most of the people I was speaking to had not really thought about image optimisation, with many assuming that search engines would simply read and interpret the IPTC Metadata they had provided.

Unfortunately for them, search engines do not currently use IPTC Metadata and probably never will (at least in the foreseeable future). Interestingly, this issue was later discussed and confirmed by Michael Steidl (IPTC) during the Metadata / IPTC conference. I have therefore put this series together to help photographers optimise their images and to clarify some of the misconceptions they have about image optimisation.

Check in next week to see why choosing the right file size and file type can positively affect your bank balance!

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