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Using Flickr for Search Engine Optimization

I’ve previously blogged about [1] optimization for Image Search. But, images can also be used for optimization for regular web search as well. Where online promotion is concerned, it appears to be an area for advantage which remains largely untapped. Many pros focus most of their optimization efforts towards the more popular web search results, and don’t realize that optimizing for image search can translate to good overall SEO.

Flickr is one of the most popular image sharing sites in the world, with loads of features that also make it qualify as a social networking site. Flickr’s popularity, structure and features also make it an ideal vehicle for search engine optimization. So, how can image search optimization be done through Flickr? Read on, and I’ll outline some key steps to take.
Obviously, one major aspect of optimizing images to improve traffic to your site relies upon the quality of the image itself — so, take and post good pictures! There are lots of books and sites which detail the criteria for producing a good photo: subject matter, drama, composition, contrast, color saturation, etc. I won’t go into all of this since it should be easy to find how-to sources. The obvious point to having high-quality images is that more people will click on their thumbnails, link to them, and send them to their friends, so good pix will generally bring you more traffic than bad pix.

Don’t let insecurity about your pix hold you up from optimizing with them, though — having some bad pix would be better than no pix at all.

The subject matter of your photo is an area where imagination and experimentation will be good to employ. Some businesses are very visual in nature, and some are not, but you could be surprised about what images might bring you traffic and then conversions from that traffic.

I once stayed in a bed-and-breakfast in Indiana, and the wardrobe in my room was a piece of the set from the movie, Hoosiers. Just think — if a page devoted to a picture of that wardrobe was posted online with a full description of the furniture’s history, die-hard fans of that film might come across the page when they’re searching around for info on their movie, and they might choose to stay at that B&B just for this reason alone. So, for subject matter, take pictures of your products, pictures of your staff performing services, and take pictures of things unique to your business or location. You can even take pix of things just distantly related to your business. Does your company sponsor a yearly charity event? Post lots of photos about it. If you’re a restaurant with a fantastic view, post a pic of it. Better yet, post a number of pics of it — one for every season, perhaps, and at different times of the day — noon and sunset. If you think your business doesn’t lend itself to photos, consider ways to photo aspects that differentiate you. If you’re a factory, perhaps you have some process that results in best-quality — consider photographing that process and posting sequential pictures of the steps. When you post pictures for the sake of optimization, there are a lot of ways that they may bring you more traffic and conversions — and you may not initially know how they could result in conversions. So, experiment with the subject matter.

Simple steps for Image Search Optimization with Flickr:

• When you upload your photos, ALWAYS add tags. The “tags” or keywords that you associate with your photo will make it findable to users when they are searching, and lend keyword weight to the photo’s page. Enter as many tags that accurately should be keywords associated with your photo as possible. Note! When entering multi-word tags you must put them within quotation marks. Ex: “pickup truck”

• This should be obvious, but have your photos publicly viewable — not just restricted to viewing by your friends and family.

• Create a descriptive title for the image. This adds yet more keyword weight to the photo’s page within Flickr.

• Enter a description under the photo, or write something about the picture.

• Sometimes, add a note or two directly onto the photo, particularly humorous ones. Flickr allows you to select a rectangular area, and associate some text with it that will appear as tooltips when users mouse over it. Adding a humorous note or two may encourage users to participate on your photo’s page.

• If the photo is location specific, go into Flickr’s tools and geotag the picture. To do this, go into the Flickr set tools, and locate the location on the Yahoo! Map, then drag the picture onto the map to pinpoint its location. (see my posting about Flickr’s new geotagging [2])

• Create thematic Sets for your photos, and add each pic to the set(s) appropriate for it. This provides yet more contextual clues to search engines about the content of the photo’s page, and it will allow a user arriving at the page a way to easily look at other similar pix you’ve taken.

• Browse through Flickr’s Groups for groups that are dedicated to pix that would be related to your photo. Sometimes it helps to search for photos using keywords you used in your tags, and then see what Groups other’s photos are members of. Join those groups, and then add your photos apropos to the group’s theme. The more links to your photo page, the more important your photo will be considered, so add it to a number of groups. Ideally, add it to groups which have a lot of members — the number of members indicates the popularity and traffic of the group.

• Link each of your Flickr photo pages to your website, or to related pages on your website. You can add hyperlinks into the Description field below the photo. Use link text that has a call to action, or which tells the user what to expect if they click on the link. Ex: “We sell this product at our website.”, “This view from tables at our Restaurant.”, “This room is available at our Bed & Breakfast“. It’s best to link to specific pages of related content as a richer indicator for pagerank transfer.

• Link to your Flickr photo pages from your website. You could use text links back to Flickr, but even better, post the Flickr photos directly on your site’s pages, using the HTML code Flickr provides under the “All Sizes” tool. The HTML code they provide hyperlinks the photo back to it’s Flickr page. Why is this important? It provides a bit more link weight to the photo’s page, and allows users of your site to go through and browse your other related photos easily.

• Finally, post as many optimized pix as possible. This is mostly a game of many small fractions adding up to large, cumulative results. The many pages of pix, linking back to your site will help build your overall PageRank. The more pages you have, the more likely it is that other Flickr users will find your content, and link to your content. It also expands your chances of having a lucky picture or two find its way onto a viral popularity wave which spurs many users to send links of your pic to their friends, or a reporter might find that one of your pix is ideal for their news story.

Some Notable Results:

I’ve had a few pix that reporters asked to use for stories, or which they linked to from online news sites.

For instance, I posted a screengrab of a Google Map satellite pic containing a swastika-shaped U.S. military building [3], and many fascinated users emailed it to each other or blogged about it. Finally, the second largest newspaper in Norway wrote an article [4] about it and linked to my page. All the attention has resulted in over 5,800 pageviews since May when I posted it, and the page continues to get good traffic. Notice how that page was fully optimized using many of the steps I described above to help it achieve this popularity.

In another case, I posted a pic from the SES Conference in August, 2006, of Danny Sullivan interviewing Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt [5], and blogged [6] about it. A European reporter asked me for use of the photo, and I readily agreed, in return for a citation crediting me as photographer, linked back to my personal website. Since I like to make sure I am credited for my photos, I have my Flickr settings as “Copyrighted — All Rights Reserved.” It could be possible that loosening the legal restrictions on your photos might result in more sharing and more links back to you, though — I haven’t tested that out.

For another example of a highly-trafficked photo, I navigated through Flickr’s all-time most popular tags [7], chose the one that looked most-popular, “Wedding”, then I clicked to re-order the results by “most interesting”. This photo [8] came out as tops in the most interesting wedding pix, and it’s received well over 14,000 views. It’s a great pic, but notice how its popularity didn’t just happen by accident. The image was optimized, and users found it by searching for keywords and browsing groups of similarly-themed pictures.

Flickr.com seems to be highly-preferred by Google, ranking-wise. If you search for “Conversation with Eric Schmidt [9]“, my photo of the event is in the tops of the SERP on Google — surprisingly higher than some other sites’ pages on the same subject. Oddly (and shamefully), Yahoo! and Yahoo! Image Search don’t seem to share the same preferential treatment of Flickr content — in fact, for many of my optimized photos, I can’t make them come up in Yahoo’s image search results at all!

Hopefully, all these tips will prove helpful to you in using Flickr as a component for your search engine optimization.

green stingers [10]