Table of Contents
- Let’s Talk About Photo-Syndication
- Which Photos Should You Use for Free Stock Photography?
- Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License
- Flickr: Revisiting Web 2.0
- How to Search for Your Images online
- Link Reclamation and Outreach
- Outreach to Foreign Language and International Sites
- Skip These 5 Types of Sites When Doing Your Image Link Building Outreach
- Re-Indexing Pages That Have Placed Your Link
- Things You Could Do to Take This Even Further
What if I told you there was a way for you to get you own free stock photo library up and running in 60 minutes or less? And with no hosting charges or coding knowledge required.
There’s a huge demand for royalty free images which is why free stock photo sites have exploded over the past half decade.
In March, 2017, Ross Hudgens of Siege Media posted a Slideshare deck on link building strategies and one slide in particular stood out.
It stuck in the back of my mind for a couple of months. I had been doing well with my photos on Instagram and figured I should probably give this tactic a shot.
On July 5th, 2017 Search Engine Land posted Andrew Dennis‘ case study on taking a site from Zero to 100,000 visitors in 12 months. In the third section of the post he detailed out establishing passive link acquisition channels. Specifically using high-quality, original photography with a Creative Commons license “that allowed others to use the photos as long as they linked back to their original source.”
I had sat on this for long enough – so that very same day I messaged Andrew on LinkedIn for further clarification. He wrote me back.
I now get between 1-5 links a month from photos that I’ve taken with my smartphone and GoPro. Image link building nicely rounds out my backlink profile. It is not a replacement for obtaining powerful links from high-authority domains. But it does provide you with an additional—and diverse—set of sites sending signals back to your website.
I’ll show you a few of my photos in action.
Here’s a photo of Montreal’s Biosphere picked up by Westmount Mag, a bilingual urban lifestyle site.
This is a photo of wall art near The Plateau in Montreal that I snapped on the way to meet a friend for some beers. Spot.ph based out of Manila, Philippines featured it in their round up of international wall art.
Jay Banks, a successful realtor based out of Vancouver, has featured several of my photos in the ‘Vancouver Photo Gallery’ section of his website. I snapped both photos when I was walking around the city.
And finally, here’s a photo captured down by the tracks at Main and Terminal in Vancouver. It was used as a feature image for an article posted on E-International Relations, the world’s largest open access site for students and scholars of international politics.
All four of these photos were snapped randomly on my way to or from some other activity. I posted each of them on Flickr and set them to be syndicated across the web under a CC BY 4.0 License. (more on this later).
And more importantly – the majority of them link back to this site.
Let’s Talk About Photo Syndication
I’ve written at length about content syndication. But it wasn’t until the summer of 2017 that I discovered the power of photo syndication.
What is photo syndication?
Photo syndication is the process of uploading your photo on to powerful social content platforms—namely Flickr—which then, in turn, gets distributed across the web via search engines and feeder sites.
We add rocket fuel to the mix by attaching a Creative Commons license to each of the images that we push out. The CC license helps the photos get indexed into even more image databases and found by specialized search bots.
Infographics and free high-resolution images have been an excellent way to build ancillary backlinks for over a decade. Some brands have even used free commercial use images as a primary backlink builder.
Hubspot and Shopify’s ‘Burst’ host proprietary stock photo libraries. But there’s no reason to let them have all of the fun.
If you’re a *pretty decent* photographer and you’re looking to build out your brand and gain some backlinks that your competitors will have a hard time acquiring – you’ve come to the right place.
I’ve been using my pictures as backlink generators for the past eight months. Now I’m going to detail out step by step how you can go about doing the same.
Which Photos Should You Use for Free Stock Photography?
For your photos to get picked up for use on other sites, they’ll need to fulfill one of 6 different functions/themes.
People: child, old lady, a police officer
Places: the beach, Laguna Beach [specific], Laguna Beach sunset [more specific]
Objects: circuit board, old typewriter,
Actions: surfing, drinking coffee, jogging
Specific Events: Coachella 2018, New Years Eve in Times Square,
Moods: excitement, anxiety, stress, melancholy, happiness
Take a look at Shutterstock’s homepage to see what type of images they’re featuring.
Then go deeper and do a search on a theme. Click on ‘Popular’ to get a sense of what photos businesses are paying for. Do you have anything similar in your inventory? Or do you have the capability of taking a picture at or near the quality on display in this image set?
Now click on one of the images in the set or category, and I’ll show you what else we can uncover.
Underneath the photo, you get the image title, categories, and around 50 tags.
When you upload your photo to Flickr, a lot of work has already been done for you. Flickr allows up to 75 tags per image, so if you’re posting photos of cityscapes, you can certainly ‘borrow’ a lot of the applicable ones that you see here.
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License
Once you’ve decided which photos you’re going to release out into the wild – you’ll need to affix it with a Creative Commons license. The Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) version to be specific.
“This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.”
There are six main CC licenses, but the *Attribution* version is the only one you need to be concerned about. For further clarification – here’s a handy chart breaking down the differences between each of the license versions. You *could* get away with using the Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) license, but I would recommend you stick with CC BY 4.0.
You can read up on the legal code to fully understand the licensed rights that you’re giving up.
Now we’re going to set everything up on Flickr.
Flickr: The Social Network That Time Forgot
Flickr???!!! “I haven’t visited my Flickr page since 2008!!”
Yes, Flickr. Despite Yahoo’s best efforts to decimate every property that it scooped up in the mid-2000s, Flickr still thrives. It’s a DA98 platform and remains the 357th most visited site on the web.
Flickr may pale in comparison to Instagram when you’re talking sheer traffic numbers. But when you want to syndicate a photo across the web, Flickr is “the business.”
It took a couple of months to get momentum on my Flickr account – but now I average 2-3,000 views/day on my photos.
Sign up for the service and name your Flickr account something memorable and easy to search for in Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo. You would preferably name it after your company, or site name. Something catchy and fairly unique.
“MassiveKontent” is an easy search both in the universal and image search engines – so that’s what I went with.
Choose your first set of photos that you want to use to create your free stock image library. Now upload the first one. I keep the dimensions of each photo at 2250 pixels across. That’s more than what’s required for any blog post or header image – but too small to make high-quality prints from.
Title / Description: Give it a good descriptive title. In the description, you can feel free to add any other pertinent details – but this is where you’re going to drop in your CC BY 4.0 license wording.
My standard text is:
-You are free to:
Share — copy and redistribute this photo in any medium or format
Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the photo
for any purpose, even commercially.
Please give credit and link back to massivekontent.com/
Add to Album – If you’re going to be uploading a sizeable quantity of photos, you’ll want to create albums based on the topics that you’ll be focusing on. It makes for easy organization.
Add License – From the drop down menu of license choices you’re going to choose ‘Attribution’. Alternately you can set the default of your entire Flickr profile to automatically apply an Attribution license to every photo that you upload.
Geolocation – “Add This Photo to your Map” if it is relevant to a location. You want to give searchers as many opportunities to find (and use) your photo if they’re looking for a specific location image. If you have the GPS function enabled for your photos on either your smartphone or camera – Flickr will automatically geo-locate your picture.
Add Tags – You get 75 tags. Where Instagram uses hashtags, Flickr is all about tags and groups. I’d recommend searching through 10 or 20 popular photos in each of the categories that you want to place your images in. The popular images will give you a feel for which tags work best. It’s not any different than choosing the right hashtags for your Instagram uploads.
Groups: You’ll want to join several groups in your categories – and search out the larger ones as well the hyper-niche focused collections. Groups will help spread your photo 10x faster across Flickr.
A free account lets you place images into 30 groups. Flickr Pro doubles that limit to 60 groups. Most of the quality Flickr collectives will only let you place one or two photos into their groups each day.
After you’ve uploaded your initial collection(s) you’ll need to sit back for a few weeks and wait for your images to spread and populate the search engines. Remember – this is meant to be passive link building.
Fast forward 30 days.
Now it’s time to find all of the sites who are using your images. I’ll go in order from longer and more involved to easy and automated.
How to Search for Your Images online
The Hard Way: Manual Google Reverse Image Lookup
Go to your Flickr albums and zoom in on the image that you’re trying to track down online.
Right-click on the picture and click on ‘View Page Source’ in the drop down menu or simply hold down on the Ctrl + U buttons.
Then click Ctrl + F and enter “jpg” into the search box.
The first result that shows up *should* be your picture.
Highlight the jpg URL [example: https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4645/24275057017_a9eb4bba09_b.jpg] and copy [Ctrl + c}] it onto your clipboard.
Now head over to Google Images and click on the camera icon to ‘Search by image.’
And then paste the image URL.
Scroll down to ‘Pages that include matching images.’
Start manually searching for potential link reclamation targets-sites that have used your image(s) without properly crediting you.
A Slightly Easier Way to Track Down Images
For this technique-it’s helpful if you keep copies of your free stock photos in a few easy to access folders.
Go back to Google Images ‘Search by images’. This time click on the ‘Upload an image’ tab and click ‘Choose file.’
Choose your target image and click ‘Open.’ Also, take a moment to admire my fantastic file naming abilities.
Give it a second and Google will deliver you results similar—or an exact match—to the ones you arrived at when you input the URL in ‘The Hard Way.’
Now start combing through the results manually and see if there are any sites that you can reach out to.
Tineye Reverse Image Search
You can repeat the exact two processes that I laid out above – but by using Tineye Reverse Image Search instead—or in addition to—Google Reverse Image Search.
Tineye has a database that will soon cross 26 billion images indexed from across the web.
How to use Tineye
- Upload an image from your computer or mobile device
- Copy and paste a page or image URL address into the search box
- Drag an image from a tab in your browser and drop it in a browser tab where TinEye is open.
Or if you want to speed things up even more – you can use a Tineye browser extension and search for web images right from Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari, or Opera.
With an extension loaded into your browser, you can right-click directly on images that you find on the web and trigger a Tineye page search.
A page will load with every image that Tineye fetched from the URL that you sent it. Choose the image from the menu and wait for the results.
In a few moments, Tineye will search through its database of ~26 billion images to see if there are matches.
You’ll have the options-Best match/Most changed/Biggest image/Newest/Oldest-to choose from the drop-down menu.
But there’s a better way. And it’s called Pixsy.
Automate Your Image Search Using Pixsy
Pixsy was founded in 2014—by photographer Daniel Foster—as a way to combat online theft of his images.
“Pixsy is an online platform for creatives and image owners to discover where and how their images are being used online.”
Pixsy’s main utility is to help creatives uncover and resolve copyright infringement claims. Luckily the only thing we need it for is to find image matches. It’s free for monitoring up to 500 images which should more than suffice. The next tier up is $20 / month for up to 2000 images.
Sign up for an account and then synchronize the images in your Flickr profile.
After Pixsy has gone through your photo library it will list out the ‘Matches’ that it has found on the web.
I maxed out on my 500 free photos – so I ended up signing up for a paid Personal account. This moves me up in the queue providing me with ‘high priority match scanning’. I also get a weekly email listing out the new photo matches that they’ve found.
Link Reclamation and Outreach
Alright – let’s go out and claim those links that should rightfully be pointing at your site. This method of outreach is nearly identical to link building via unlinked brand mentions or uncredited infographics.
It has a high ROI as you’re not pestering the webmaster or begging for links. You’re merely reclaiming what’s yours.
98% will just link directly to your Photo on Flickr. NOBODY will bother to read your CC 4.0 specifications in each description box of your photos. It’s just the way things are.
But you’ll be 80-90% successful in reclaiming your links, as you’re in the right. But approach everyone in the most pleasant manner possible. It absolutely works.
I typically batch my image link outreach and spend an hour—once a month—firing off emails. This is a task that you could get a virtual assistant or employee to perform.
Image Link Building Outreach Template
Here’s a template you can use that has worked out well for me.
Thanks so much for including one of my picture of a [insert subject] on your [insert topic or headline] page. I/We love seeing my/our work featured around the web.
[target page URL using your image]
And my photo
[exact Flickr URL of the image used]
Could you please link to [YOUR WEBSITE URL] as per my Attribution credit request on each image (instead of linking to the photo on Flickr)?
Thanks very much and have a great week!
Occasionally when you’re trying to get a webmaster to switch out the link from Flickr over to your site, you’ll get pushback. Not often—but because you’re dealing with humans—it will happen.
I never like to get into a long drawn out debate with anyone-so I’ll attempt one more follow up email and leave it at that. Remember, these Creative Commons image links are ‘secondary’ backlinks. You want to spend the bulk of your content promotion campaigns building editorial links from relevant authority sites. This is just ‘cherry-on-the-top’ link building.
So don’t burst a blood vessel or hit full rage mode if someone won’t attribute proper credit to your image. At worst-it’s still a link to your Flickr page. It builds out your brand-and grows link equity to one of your ‘second-tier’ sites.
Outreach to Foreign Language and International Sites
You’re going to come across (many) international sites using your images. You’re going to have to make judgment calls here as you’ll need to take a few extra steps to get your link. Especially if the site is not in English.
I’ve successfully placed a link on a French travel site due to how far along Translate.Google has come. I took my outreach template, ran it through translate and then sent them a message through their contact page.
And voila-they responded shortly after that despite the time difference. Most people want to do the right thing.
And another link placed!
For outreach to international sites—but still in English—take note of a few details.
- Be incredibly polite – i.e., use my outreach template. The respondent might not *get* your humor if you try to be funny. Keep it simple but respectful.
- Be aware of the-sometimes drastic-time zone differences. People often won’t get back to you right away.
And here’s a link to the Google Sheet that you can use to track your outreach.
Skip these 5 Types of Sites When Doing Your Image Link Building Outreach
Reverse image search will yield a lot of returns for five types sites that you won’t be able to reclaim links from. Don’t even bother trying. Just look at them as additional branding for your company. And hundreds of additional backlinks pointing towards your Flickr profile that you didn’t have to build.
The 5 Site Types to Skip
1. Flickr feeder sites
Hiveminer (Flickr Hive Mind), Photopin, Stockpholio. Picssr, Flickriver
Flickr Hive Mind is a data mining tool for the Flickr photography database, allowing search by: tags(keywords); Flickr photography groups; Flickr users, their contacts, and favorites; free text; the Flickr Explore algorithm for interestingness. Flickr Hive Mind can also be an effective tool to identify photography with licenses that allow non-commercial (and sometimes) commercial use.
Flickriver is an alternative Flickr viewer, and as such, it displays Flickr photos using the official Flickr API – similarly to hundreds of other alternative Flickr viewers and tools.
PhotoPin is an image search engine that uses the Flickr API and searches creative commons photos to use for your blog.
Picssr is an experimental website that lets you browse Flickr photos in large thumbnail format.
This project is largely inspired by how photos are displayed on 500px. Picssr uses the Flickr API to fetch and display photos from Flickr
Stockpholio is a search database of over 1 million free stock photos for commercial use.
2. Weebly sites
Weebly—the extremely popular site builder—makes heavy use of Flickr Creative Commons photos. They have the function built right into their dashboard image finder. When a Weebly user selects one of your images from Flickr for use on their site (either in a post or as a header image), Weebly automatically inserts a link to your Flickr image into the footer.
I quickly found 39 Weebly sites using my images just by typing “Photos used under Creative Commons from Massive Kontent” into Google Search.
Just to triple-check I signed up for a Weebly account—took all of 3 minutes—and tested out their ‘Free Image Search.’ While going through the various steps in ‘Edit Site,’ I hit the Images section.
I went to ‘Select images from: Search, and then clicked on the Free Photos tab. For fun – I entered ‘Montreal’ into the search box, and sure enough, five out of the first eight photos were mine [all of the black and white ones].
At the bottom right of the search frame, you’ll note that it mentions – “Free photos are available via a Creative Commons license requiring attribution. An attribution link will be automatically added to your website footer.”
So if you come across your CC photos being used on a Weebly site don’t bother contacting the site owner to swap out the Flickr link. People use Weebly because they DON’T want to bother with HTML and CSS coding. 99% of the webmasters won’t know how to remove or change the link that Weebly has injected into the footer.
3. Travel and City Tour Sites
Sites like Traveladvisor, MapCarta, Tripcarta and Easy Resv pull in creative common images straight from Flickr’s API. If you’ve uploaded and tagged a photo in a city that one of these sites cover, your image might get pulled into their feed.
Don’t even bother trying to contact a site like this—as I naively did—to switch out the link. You probably won’t reach anyone, and you definitely won’t get a response. Just appreciate these as well-trafficked second tier links back to both your Flickr page and to each of your photos.
Note: Don’t mistake these tour sites for travel blogs. A popular and well-trafficked travel blog can be a goldmine for backlinks to your site.
4. Dictionary Sites
Wordnik shows definitions from multiple sources so that you can see as many different takes on a word’s meaning as possible.
5. Big City Informer Sites
Big City Informer sites are one of the more unique types of sites that I run across when hunting down my images. The sites are set up in WordPress—built on the SuperNews WP theme—that pull in feeds from a variety of sources. The sites are set up to pull in local news, videos, job listings and of course pictures.
Flickr CC photos figure heavily into the Pictures section. MontrealInformer is the only Canadian city covered in the BigCityInformer family of sites – and my photos often show up there. What I love is that the entire description from my Flickr photo is also pulled in.
The accompanying text sends a link back to my site, my Flickr page and the photo.
What I don’t like is that the link to my site is no-followed, and these types of pages are dogshit for both domain authority and traffic.
Re-Indexing Pages That Have Placed Your Link
Now that your target site has swapped out the Flickr link for yours – you’ll want to send a quick signal to the search engines that the page has now updated. You don’t need to do anything as drastic as using the ‘Fetch as Google’ tool in Search Console. Just Tweet out the URL or post it as an update on Google Plus.
Things You Could Do to Take This Even Further
- If you’re a marketer – the first thing you’re probably thinking is – how can I take this further?
- Add Instagram to the mix to push your photos out to an audience 20x the size of Flickr.
- Pin every photo to both your topical own Pinterest boards and other relevant group boards.
- Create a Tumblr blog specifically to distribute your photos.
- Utilize photo syndication for hyper local niches and local SEO. Take a tour of your city/town and take interesting photos of every significant landmark. Capture regional events and post the photos in a timely manner for local bloggers that need images for their write ups. Better yet make connections with these bloggers and journos.