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Image Search ranks other websites hot-linking to MY images

 9:57 am on Mar 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

I discovered something today that is truly hard to believe. I did an image search and was happy to see my images show up in the serps. Great! My images are ranking well! Until ... I clicked on some of them and noticed that it was not my website ranking for the images, but another website that hotlinked my images. Actually, that website was nothing but small snippets of text and hotlinked (= stolen) images from several other websites.

Why are my hotlinked images ranking in the serps, but directing vistors to the thief's website? How honest is this? I would expect Google engineers to be smart enough and direct visitors to the website of the owner of the images and stop supporting the business of hotlinkers. Or simple stop showing hotlinked images in the serps.



 5:41 pm on Mar 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

This used to be an even bigger problem than it is today. Granted, it is a technical challenge for Google because many websites do host their images on other domains from the rest of their content - it allow browser to open more connections and speeds up the load.

Are these images truly hotlinked, rather than stolen? That is, do the other sites use mark-up like <img src="yourdomain.com/image.jpg">? If so, you can protect against hot-linking to your server and eventually things will sort out.


 6:25 pm on Mar 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

Welcome to my ex-hell hole of a couple of years ago! At one time I was getting more than 10,000 impressions every day just for ONE image alone, yes, every day.

Do you have a .htaccess file?

If so I have code which will stop hotlinkers but also allow Google, Yahoo and Bing access to spider your site.

If you have a CPanel be very careful if you use hotlink protection, yes it worked however it blocked everything insofar as I was concerned. I had to experiment a lot until I got it right. It probably took me about 3-4 months but worked immediately on all the thieves.


 6:50 pm on Mar 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

If you have a CPanel be very careful if you use hotlink protection

I know, I used the CPanel hotlink protection for a couple of days and it was a distaster. I quickly disabled it.

If so I have code which will stop hotlinkers but also allow Google, Yahoo and Bing access to spider your site.

Great. Can you PM it?


 7:16 pm on Mar 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} .
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^google\.com [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^bing\.com [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^yahoo\.com [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http://(www\.)?example\.com [NC]
RewriteRule .*\.(gif|jpe?g|png)$ /images/hotlink.gif [L]

Substitute example for your website name.

If you want to allow any more of your sites access simply use:

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http://(www\.)?secondexample\.com [NC]

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http://(www\.)?thirdexample\.com [NC]

Change .com for whatever your extension is.

Since I implemented the above I have had zero problems.

Good luck!


 8:25 pm on Mar 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

Does you code also block hotlinks from Facebook? I ask because I think they have a special system for hotlinking. From what I see in the logs for my various websites, they're the main culprit in my case.


 9:24 pm on Mar 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

Funny you should ask that...

# unconditional
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} facebookexternalhit [NC]
RewriteRule \.(jpe?g|gif|png)$ - [F]

Everyone else gets the "no hotlinks" image, but these folks get nothing. Nothing, d'you hear? Nothing, nada, nil, no hotlink-facilitators wanted. Someone hereabouts once explained what it looks like from the FB member side. All I know is, you have to nip them in the bud before it gets to the hotlink stage.


 10:18 pm on Mar 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

Thanks HuskyPup and Lucy
I've always allowed hotlinking on my sites because of the possibility that the Google algorithm includes them as a positive ranking factor, at least for images. But in my opinion Facebook's policy on them encourages abuse, so I'm thinking about blocking them from at least one site.


 6:40 am on Mar 5, 2012 (gmt 0)

Thank you HuskyPup and Lucy!


 8:59 am on Mar 5, 2012 (gmt 0)

Great tip Huskypup though you may want to remove Bing and yahoo now if you also use a frame busting script. Bing/Yahoo are fairly good at showing visitors a hotlinked image without sending you the visitor and they do not allow frame busting anymore. The number of visitors you do get may not be worth the image loads(and resulting image theft, bots scrape search) in the long run.

Now if only browsers could have the right-click-save feature removed...


 11:43 am on Mar 5, 2012 (gmt 0)

I get very few image referrals from YahBing even though my images rank well with them. Some of my sites get 90% of their referrals from Google images believe it or not.

Quite simply some peope who are searching for my widgets like to see alternative widget images since, being natural products, they obviously vary and people like to see by how much...a LOT in some cases but the biggest problem was one specific set of images people liked...I'll tell you what it is, black, yep, black. People would search for a black image since they didn't know how to make one in their paint programme...can you imagine 10,000+ people a day searching and hotlinking for a black image alone?

I seem to get very few Facebook referrals and seemingly no hotlinks, interestingly one of my biggest hotlinkers used to be a mostly female forum board discussing home decorations, gardening etc. They still are a big referrer yet simply give direct url links to the relevant image pages.

I'm going to get my daughter to try Facebook hotlinking one of my images, I'll see what happens.

I don't use a frame busting script since I couldn't get it to work for some inexplicable reason!

I'm always well within my bandwidth every month however I saved about 250-300 mb per day and it's quite funny that many sites, even now, do not realise they have no images on their sites!


 5:42 pm on Mar 5, 2012 (gmt 0)

Some of my sites get 90% of their referrals from Google images believe it or not.

Do people really come to the site-- that is, load up more than one page-- or is it just the half-view you get from clicking a picture in Image Search? I've tried it and simply can't tell the difference in logs.


 6:52 pm on Mar 5, 2012 (gmt 0)

Try creating an extended version of your sitemap for Google, one that includes images & videos for your pages, which helps associating images to your pages. (Note that not a image sitemap, a sitemap of your pages that includes images etc. [googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com...] )

BTW, Facebook doesn't hotlink, because it copies & hosts your images on its own servers.


 6:54 pm on Mar 5, 2012 (gmt 0)

Do people really come to the site

Yep, they do.

Most who are checking for keyword widget are checking that what they are considering purchasing is actually that widget and to learn from where the original widget actually derives and to see what variation there is plus any synonyms etc. since many dealers, especially in the USA, use confusion marketing with trade names trying to claim that specific widget is not available from any other dealer!

All the other visitors come through looking for similar colours or alternative colour widgets and again where they are from etc.


 8:17 pm on Mar 5, 2012 (gmt 0)

BTW, Facebook doesn't hotlink, because it copies & hosts your images on its own servers.

You could be right. But if so, why do I sometimes see a flurry of activity in my logs from facebookexternalhit fetching the same image repeatedly within a short period of time. If they store it on their servers, why do they need to fetch it more than once?


 3:14 am on Mar 6, 2012 (gmt 0)

The horse's mouth [facebook.com] says:
Why does Facebook appear in my server logs?
Facebook allows its users to send links to interesting web content to other Facebook users. Part of how this works on the Facebook system involves the temporary display of certain images or details related to the web content, such as the title of the webpage or the embed tag of a video. Our system retrieves this information only after a user provides us with a link. You may have found this page because a Facebook user sent a link from your website to other Facebook users.

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