Image Link Building – The Way We Do It

I talked about image link building briefly at SearchLove London, back in October of last year. Releasing images under Creative Commons has resulted in some incredibly authoritative links for us at Tecmark. For example, the Government website used our image and credited us with a link. (

image link building

That’s a particularly authoritative example, of course. But it’s one of many links we’ve built this way, not just for Tecmark, but for some of our other clients too. It can be employed cross-niche.

And there’s the process we’ve developed to produce, distribute and build links and citations using images.

1. Set objectives

Your goals might just be as simple as “increase link quantity.” In my case, for the Tecmark website, it was about building relevance in and around Manchester. So ideally, I wanted citations in the context of Manchester.

Whoever we’re building links for, we have a clearly defined goal. We try and make it as specific as possible (e.g. “Achieve x amount of links on sites in a x niche by x date.”).

2. Produce or collate your images

Based on your goals, decide what photos you need:

  • What should your photos be of?
  • How many do you need?

In the case of Tecmark, we wanted citations relating to Manchester. So we opted for a series of images of views of the city centre as taken from our 15th floor office near Piccadilly Station. Our logic was simply that if people use photos of Manchester, presumably they’ll be used in posts, news stories or other content about Manchester.

You don’t need a fancy 15th floor view of a city though. Let’s say, for example, you want a load of links on websites about office furniture or office services, you could produce an album of ‘stock’ type photography of office furnishings.

3. Upload to Flickr under Attribution Creative Commons license

I can’t recommend Flickr highly enough. Aside from being the biggest photo sharing site on the planet, Flickr is an option on the Creative Commons search engine and it tends to feature heavily in Google Image Search results.

You have two choices when it comes to setting the license for your images on Flickr. You can either set each image’s license as you upload it (which might be better for those of you with an account that also hosts some images you want to retain all rights on) or you can set global settings for all your images.

I went for the latter. Under your account settings and privacy, there’s a little option to set the default license for all images:

flickr license settings


With Attribution Creative Commons the following applies:

attribution creative commons


4. Tell people how to attribute

This seems like the most obvious statement to make. I confess, though, that we were distributing images for a year without doing this! It was only after a session at LinkLove in March 2013 (by Distilled’s Hannah Smith) when she mentioned telling people how to attribute that I started feeling like a complete clown for missing this out. I now add a straightforward instruction in the description.

5. On page optimisation for images

There are a lot of images on Flickr with very artistic titles. For example, pictures of butterflies called “Spread your wings,” or something similar. That’s fine, if you think that this is something people will want to find when searching “spread your wings.”

People are only going to use your images if they find your images. So, by all means, be as creative with your title as you choose. But do bear the basics in mind. I have an entire set of Manchester skyline images and the title is pretty much just what the picture is (e.g. “Manchester City Centre at Sunset,” etc). This, with some  link activity (I’ll talk about that later) will help to secure relevant visibility in both the organic results and image results:

image search results rankings

Two key things to bear in mind when uploading to Flickr:

  • Your image title will become the page title for your photo’s page
  • You image description will become the meta description

flickr image optimisation

 6. Get eyes on your photos

In the first instance, get some eyes on your photos. Join relevant groups, add your photos to them and make friends! Talk to other photographers in these groups and treat Flickr, in this way, much like you would treat any other social network.

Share your photos on social sites too.

7. Tracking image usage

There are several ways to track your images being picked up and attributed or picked up and not attributed.

Not everyone will credit properly! We commonly find:

  • People using images without crediting us at all
  • People using images but linking back to Flickr rather than the website we’ve asked them to link to

So you will definitely need to put aside some time each week or month (depending on the frequency you want to clean up!) to find examples of people using the images without crediting correctly.

7.1 Google Reverse Image Search

If you only have a handful of images, Google Reverse Image search might well work for you. Just put in your image URL and you will get a list of places using that image:

google reverse image search results

7.2 Image Raider

Image Search really can be a manual, laborious process if you’re talking about hundreds of photos. For that reason,  I’m a big fan of Image Raider! This is an automated reverse image search. You add your images (either by uploading them or connecting with your Flickr account) and Image Raider will email you when it finds new hosts for images. You can also login and see new instances of your images on the web:

image raider timeline

For limited searches, the service is free. But you can buy credits for bulkier accounts at low prices – £5 for 1,000 additional credits.

With Image Raider, you’ll find:

  • People using your images and crediting correctly (so you can record the links)
  • People using your images and referencing your/your brand as the image owner without any links
  • People using your images and referencing you/your brand as the image owner but linking back to Flickr
  • People using your images without any type of credit or attribution

7.3 Fresh Web Alerts

We also use the Moz Fresh Web Alerts to get notifications daily to find people who’ve credit by linking to Flickr or who’ve mentioned Tecmark but not linked. We identified that those trying to credit but not doing it correctly generally mention our brand name and often mention ‘Creative Commons’ but the link is absent.

This alert notifies us of instances like that.

fresh web alerts

8. Chasing attribution

I mentioned the 4 types of usage instances we find when tracking image usage:

  1. People using your images and crediting correctly (so you can record the links)
  2. People using your images and referencing your/your brand as the image owner without any links
  3. People using your images and referencing you/your brand as the image owner but linking back to Flickr
  4. People using your images without any type of credit or attribution

With the first set of people, you don’t have to do anything (but could benefit from doing something, as I will discuss later). But the other types will need some chasing.

8.1 Those who’ve tried to credit

The people who’ve tried to credit (so they’ve mentioned Creative Commons and the owner of the image) but who’ve either not included a link or they’ve linked back to Flickr are, in my experience, those who are easiest to deal with in chasing up correct attribution.

Contact these people (either by phone if there’s a phone number, or by email or social media). My approach is simply to thank them for using my image and mentioning me in the post. I express some gratitude for the fact they felt compelled to use something I’ve created. I then ask if they can update their attribution in accordance with the instructions outlined on Flickr and my response rate is good and often positive. I send out a second round of follow up emails to those I haven’t heard from around 2 weeks after the first round.

I’ve had two website owners in the past year come back and say it was policy to link to Flickr (and not to commercial sites). They both asked if, on that basis, I would rather they removed the image. I said no. Ultimately, I’ll take a link back to the Flickr page over no link at all. Links back to Flickr help boost your photo’s rankings in relevant web and image search results, which gets more eyes on your photos and will contribute to more usage.

The link I mentioned at the beginning of this post is a prime example of this type of ‘attributor.’ When I first discovered the image, the attribution link went to Flickr. I contacted them and asked for appropriate credit and got a quick response. As is policy on the website, the update to the image credit has been noted publicly on the post:

image credit update

8.3 Those who have not tried to credit

This is where I generally find the lowest response rates, though still by no means terrible. I’ll always take a similar approach as to when I’ve approached those who’ve tried to credit: a thank you for using the image and a polite request to credit it properly. Again, I follow up two weeks later.

Amongst this group of people I generally hear back from around 70% overall and almost all of the people I hear back from are prepared to attribute correctly.

The fact of the matter is that if you don’t hear back from a website, there’s not a great deal you can do. You could, of course, go all ‘legal’ on them. But ultimately, if things become unfriendly, they’re only going to pull the image down anyway, so you won’t gain anything. I just accept the frustration of the tiny minority not responding as a part of this process.

9. Active image attribution building

The process described above is largely passive, with the exception of the follow ups. But there’s potential for more active link building too.

The most authoritative sites who credit properly (either of their own accord or after you’ve asked them to update a credit) are potentially gold dust. They like your images, they want to use Creative Commons images and they know how to credit properly. So don’t be shy in offering these people (once you’re already engaged with them) more images for their website – even offering them exclusive use over some of your photos if you have sufficient to spare.

In addition, don’t be shy in contacting people whose blogs you come across that maybe need an image. Maybe they’re using a word cloud where you think you have an image that would fit so much better. Don’t expect the same response rates from this as you would get from contacting someone already using your photo, but nonetheless, it can be a nice little ‘in.’

Other Media

We’re only using images in this way at the moment. But with sites like Jamendo that let you distribute audio/music under Creative Commons, there’s a lot of scope for link acquisition through attribution across a host of different media.

If anyone has tried distributing audio in a similar manner before, I’d be really interested in hearing how it’s worked out!


10 thoughts on “Image Link Building – The Way We Do It

  1. Kevin Wiles says:

    This is a great post Stacey, I’ve had a nightmare for some time now from another Kevin Wiles who is 18+ and it pulls into my imagery. I’ve tried for some time to try and get my images higher up.

    I might try some of the above 🙂 If I only have images of myself to use any suggestions how this could work?

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