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How to use images and reverse image search as part of a link building strategy

By Teo Hillier | July 2020

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Using reverse image search as part of a link building strategy is not a new concept, but I have discovered a new and improved way of doing it more effectively... Introducing the Pix and Flick(r) Method.

Creating visual assets and conducting a reverse image search is an effective link building practice which can be completed using free and easy-to-use programs.

Using reverse image search as part of a link building strategy is not anything new or unheard of. It has been discussed by countless people working in Outreach and SEO including industry bigwigs such as SEMrush, Ahrefs and Moz.

However, the guides are often outdated or will recommend that you manually search every image individually by using Google Image or Tiny Eye.

I have found a way to improve this practice.

I came across a free to use program, Pixsy, which makes reverse image search projects much quicker and more effective. When combined with a correctly set-up Flickr account, this has become the best method I have found for generating more backlinks and what I like to colloquially call the “Pix and Flick(r) Method”.

How to use Pixsy for reverse image search

Pixsy is an online program used by artists and photographers to conduct multiple reverse image searches, simultaneously, in order to determine if their work has been used improperly or without permission.

Pixsy can be synced to an Instagram feed, Google Drive folder or Flickr account, as well as the option of manually adding images using the drag and drop function.

The results appear on the homepage and segment any online image matches by country, whether the image was used on a commercial site, and will update any new matches after your last login.

Certain clients and websites will naturally have more images to choose from, such as e-commerce sites containing product images or clients operating in fashion or interiors industries.

However, all websites no matter what industry will have some original images which they own the rights to or have created. These can include:

  • Logos (including old logos)
  • Product Images
  • Office images
  • Staff PR images
  • Infographics
  • Data visualisations
  • Social media images and graphics

Although the default settings are set to search for images which are considered exact matches, you can manually adjust the match accuracy, identifying images which have been edited.

Once Pixsy has identified a match, you can simply reach out to the site owner or relevant contact, and ask them to include a link and attribute the image correctly to your client.

How to use Flickr for passive link building

You can also set up a Flickr account to encourage content creators to use your client’s images and passively generate backlinks.

It has been more than 10 years since Lisa Barone discussed how Flickr played an important part of a Content and Link Strategy on Search Engine Land. Barone would use Flickr to host client images and engage with a niche, but dedicated, birdwatching online community.

This resulted in dozens of magazines and publications using niche images found on Flickr. Editors and content managers are always looking for cheap, or free, relevant imagery to use in their articles. In many cases they will specifically look for Creative Commons licensed content.

By relaxing the ownership of the images, you are allowing content writers to reuse your images providing they attribute ownership back to Flickr. Barone noticed that this in turn would increase traffic to the client’s Flickr account as the visitors would continue and click through and end up on the client’s site. In this case it was a retailer selling binoculars.

This particular method has since evolved to allow for a passive form of link building.

Last year on an SEO Sub-Reddit, a similar tactic to Barone’s was discussed. However, now you would explicitly ask those who use an image to cite the client as the original source, and not the Flickr account.

It was recommended to perform a reverse image search roughly once a month checking that images are being used correctly, occasionally asking webmasters or editors to link to the correct page in case they had accidentally accredited Flickr.

It was also suggested to upload the selected images to Wikimedia Commons to appear more frequently in Creative Commons image searches.

How to set up a client Flickr account correctly

Setting up a Flickr account and posting photos correctly for passive link building is pretty straight forward. There are just a few key elements you need to be aware of:

Use professional images

Ideally you should select images which are aesthetically pleasing and could be mistaken for stock images. Using high quality, professionally photographed images with no branding are very useful to a content manager or journalist when it comes to illustrating their story.

Be creative with your images

The images don’t need to be directly related to your client’s product or service. Barone’s use of a Flickr account focusing on birdwatching photos rather than photos of binoculars is a good example of this. You could include images of food, scenic views, animals.

Attribute a Creative Commons License

After you have selected which images you are comfortable for others to use, all you need to do is select the correct Creative Commons License.

For the purposes of link building it needs to be an attribution license of some kind. There are a few different options which you can read about on the Creative Commons website.

A standard 'Attribution' license (as highlighted in the image above) would allow the user to edit and adapt the image to their liking, providing they cite you or your Flickr account as the original source. Whilst an 'Attribution-NoDerivs' license allows the user to only use the image in its original state, identical to how it was uploaded to Flickr, providing they cite you or your Flickr account as the original source.

Which attribution license you choose largely depends on how much control you wish to relinquish. Both Pixsy and Google Image Search can still find images whether they have been edited or altered.

Selecting ‘Public Domain’ would not be good for link building as the images would become freely available for anyone to use, and you would have no right to secure the link. Whereas selecting ‘All Rights Reserved’ would discourage editors from using your images in the first place as they’d expect to pay a fee or face a legal challenge.

A few more Flickr tips n’ tricks

There are some pretty basic SEO Flickr tips which will make the image appear in more image searches and hopefully generate more link opportunities.

Some good old keyword research

Start by doing some keyword research around the types of words or phrases which are commonly associated with your images. You could use a tool like Keyword Planner, but you should also consider visiting stock image sites such as Getty Images and Alamy to look at which tags are popular and may also be relevant to your image(s).

Choose a good title

Choose a title that best describes your image, and one that will hopefully drive more traffic. Using Flickr’s ‘tags’ are a good way of adding any supplementary keywords, as long as they are still relevant to your image. For any other additional keywords you could create individual titled albums which categorise similar images together.

Use the description wisely

Whilst it's tempting to add more keywords in the image description, take this opportunity to specify which domain or page should be linked to if they decide to use the images.

Regularly add images to Flickr

Although you don’t need to have a regular upload schedule, you should aim to add some new images every few months. Flickr has ‘recently added’ and ‘trending’ sections in their image searches, so this is a good way to get your images seen by more people.

Pix and Flick(r) Method final steps

The final steps of the ‘Pix and Flick(r) Method’ simply requires that you have synched your Pixsy and Flickr accounts together. Remember, whenever there are new photos or visual assets being created to add them to the Flickr account.

You can change Pixsy’s email settings to send match reports monthly or send over match reports as they happen.

When outreaching to new matches, it’s a good idea to have a generic email template saved and ready to go to speed up the process.

Try using this simple example email template below:

Hi [Insert Name],

Thank you for using our image in your article on [URL of article].

I was wondering if you could link to us as the source using the following link [Insert page]

Many thanks.

I hope you find the Pix and Flick(r) Method useful 👋