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Are unique images a ranking factor?

     
8:24 am on Feb 4, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Many people are using stock images on their sites. Google has the ability to not only recognise these images but also recognise parts of them which are used in composites. They can therefore tell which are unique, which are not, and even which are neither one nor the other.

I wonder if this is a ranking factor? It would seem logical to me; a website with completely unique images is more likely to have been put together professionally than one using commonly available stock illustrations or photographs. If they are not used as a factor I wonder why Google has gone to such huge trouble and expense to build such an efficient recognition system.
9:32 am on Feb 4, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Interesting question, but I'm sure it's one of those zillion or so ranking factors so it could be so diluted that it has little effect. On a related note, I wonder if using other sites images has any ill effects...it's kind of like duplicate content.
11:48 am on Feb 4, 2015 (gmt 0)

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It is a sure bet that any unique image out there will get scraped all over the place! (sigh)

And I agree, text rules more than images for ranking... yet I do wonder WHAT the difference might be?

Inquiring minds want to know.

[edited by: tangor at 12:09 pm (utc) on Feb 4, 2015]

11:59 am on Feb 4, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I think unique images have many indirect benefits. Think about visiting a site and seeing it use generic stock images. Then visit another site with original images, you are going to view that site as more of an authority which can indirectly lead to people sending you more backlinks and increased usage. If you have good unique images you should use them.
3:01 pm on Feb 4, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Also:

- There's a range of possibilities between "unique images" and "generic stock images that everybody is using."

- If images were a ranking factor in Web search, mightn't the importance of the images come into play? (In other words, an image used as an illustration for a text page might have less ranking influence than an image used in a slide show or photo gallery where the image is the main attraction.)
6:16 pm on Feb 4, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I don't have proof, just personal experience, but I believe it to be a ranking factor for e-commerce. Perhaps only as a side effect of a machine learning algorithm (panda/penguin). For example, one thing a machine learning algo might find in common across "thin affiliates" is an overused product photo.
1:02 am on Feb 5, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I went to exclusively custom images on my site a number of years ago. 100%, custom done by a local graphics guy.

I have no proof either,but don't see it as a ranking factor. Never really paid much attention to it.

I haven't been scraped as bad either. Some, but not like the amount my content gets scraped.

The advantages for me aren't ranking. The advantages are:
- I refuse to pay licensing fees to companies that use those extortion letters that were going around a few years ago. pay $1000 or we'll see you in court things.
- images are mostly stamped with my website name so scrape away I guess.
- I think it looks more professional. If not that, at least it differentiates my website from a cookie-cutter website.
- I provide custom images even when I do guest blog posts. Again, images are stamped with my website, and I think that looks really pro.
- the cost is inconsequential. I don't even pay attention anymore, maybe $5 an image? I pre-write a couple dozen blog posts, send the topics over to the graphics guy and have him build the images. then I just grab each image as I publish. If you're actually paying for licensing, not sure it's any cheaper, not with a decent and fast graphics guy that can whip these things off fast. Most of them start with a template anyway.
- oh, and they fit with the website. My color scheme, etc.

Again, I'm 100% custom graphics on my site (and all sites I set up). Cost is really not a factor, professionalism and differentiation is, and I've never seen a change in ranking as a result.
1:30 am on Feb 5, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I have been involved in graphic arts since 1973.
The power of great graphics, converting copy and the presentation cannot or should not be ignored.
Consider conversions before traffic, and everything else will eventually fall in place.
7:24 am on Feb 5, 2015 (gmt 0)

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No, I don't think it's a ranking factor. In my opinion Google is not using this data (uniqueness) at all. Scrapers are constantly stealing my images, pasting them on low quality websites (with sometimes auto generated bogus text), but with a good title and alt text ... and ranking like hell in image search. In many cases my (what used to be) unique original images are no longer ranking, but the scrapers are. Google doesn't care at all about copyright, uniqueness and the original owner.
1:43 pm on Feb 5, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Google already said they take into account uniqueness for text, so why wouldn't take take into account uniqueness for photos and images?
2:29 pm on Feb 5, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Google already said they take into account uniqueness for text, so why wouldn't take take into account uniqueness for photos and images?


Sure, for image search. But for Web search? That's a whole different issue.
2:36 pm on Feb 5, 2015 (gmt 0)

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so why wouldn't take take into account uniqueness for photos and images?


Because Google lost track years ago whose the actual original image belonged to. Unless there is only one image in their index it can be a total lottery as to whose they show, some results are simply mind boggling.
4:44 pm on Feb 5, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Using images as a ranking factor in Web Search would be tricky for a number of reasons. For some searches (say, "portraits of the Virgin Mary") images are central to the query, while for others ("biography of Abraham Lincoln," "treatments for pancreatic cancer") the text is far more important.

As for "unique" images, uniqueness isn't the same as quality. Take the aforementioned "biography of Abraham Lincoln": Most Lincoln bio pages are likely to be illustrated with stock photos from the 1860s, simply because very few photos of Lincoln are available. A "unique" image of Lincoln would have to be a drawing, a painting made from a photo, or a modified version of an existing image.

What's more, if "uniqueness" of images were a ranking criterion in Web Search, the algorithm could be gamed easily with the help of Photoshop. Every two-bit SEO would be Photoshopping manufacturers' product shots, hotel photos, stock images of the Eiffel Tower or honeymoon couples or office scenes, etc. just to trick the algorithm into thinking his client's photo of a toaster or the Hotel Whatsit was unique.
5:29 pm on Feb 5, 2015 (gmt 0)

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The power of great graphics, converting copy and the presentation cannot or should not be ignored.


I absolutely agree. A good image can stop surfers dead in their tracks and encourage them to take a closer look at the site. This can only be good for relevancy in the eyes of Google.
5:31 pm on Feb 5, 2015 (gmt 0)

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What's more, if "uniqueness" of images were a ranking criterion in Web Search, the algorithm could be gamed easily with the help of Photoshop


Have you tried this? I have. Google's image recognition system can't be fooled as easily as that, it is very, very efficient.
6:43 pm on Feb 5, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Something else to think about in terms of unique images:

In Google Image Search, the top-ranked images are often stock or PR photos (including duplicate copies of said images). If Google doesn't think uniqueness of images should be a ranking factor in Image Search, why should we assume that Google gives unique images much (or any) weight when ranking pages in Web Search?
8:06 pm on Feb 5, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I'm reasonably confident (quite a bit of testing, although, if I'm honest, not enough to call it scientifically proven) that having duplicate, stock photos across your site are a contributing factor to a panda penalty.

So might not be a ranking factor per se, but if you add to other poor quality signals may cause your rankings to tank.
9:24 pm on Feb 5, 2015 (gmt 0)

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In Google Image Search, the top-ranked images are often stock or PR photos (including duplicate copies of said images).


Not in my experience. I used to generate my own images using Daz Studio - absolutely unique - and they almost inevitably ranked highest in image search.
2:20 am on Feb 6, 2015 (gmt 0)

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In Google Image Search, the top-ranked images are often stock or PR photos (including duplicate copies of said images).


I just noticed something on Goog Image search which is very interesting.

Out of few hundred + images returned, maybe half dozen have their name stamped as in "domain. com" on them. Most of my competitors, including myself are putting domain name on the images for quiet a while now. Only a handful our images are in image Search. I personally have over 2500 unique images on my site of my widgets.

Those with the stamp are not displayed. Those without the stamped that were taken by "FlyBy bloggers"(stamp removed) are in prominent positions at this point.
9:40 am on Feb 6, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Hopefully it isn't a ranking factor - since I think it'd be unlikely to improve search results.

I recall someone suggesting it to Matt Cutts in a video - and he responded by saying it was an interesting idea that they might look into - which would indicate it wasn't a signal at that time.

I suspect it's something they will have tested - but I'd be surprised if it improved serps: Check out the BBC website for example - almost every photo is credited to once agency or another - and a lot of it is stock photography. The same is true of lots of major media outlets where stock photos are routinely used to illustrate stories written by professional journalists.

For that reason I suspect it's been tested - and probably didn't work.

For one of my own sites, I use my own original photography where possible - but the nature of the subject means it's often impossible to get photos as good as those available elsewhere within a reasonable timeframe.

At that point you have a choice between uniqueness and quality - and I think my readers would prefer to see the best photo I can find (and use legitimately) rather than the best one I was able to take myself.
6:04 am on Feb 13, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Think about visiting a site and seeing it use generic stock images. Then visit another site with original images

I dunno. I keep thinking about, let's say, eleven-things-you-never-thought-of-combining-into-a-list dot com, which uses almost exclusively stock images. It doesn't seem to have done them any harm; in fact sometimes the stock images are effective precisely because they are stock images.

If you have a humorous article about Dreadful Hotels I Have Known, stock images may be just the ticket. (Section on Bad Bathrooms accompanied by stock photo of sewage treatment plant, that kind of thing.) If your article is about Worst Hotels in Klatchistan, better have your own pictures or readers will think you've never been allowed inside.
6:31 pm on Feb 13, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I dunno. I keep thinking about, let's say, eleven-things-you-never-thought-of-combining-into-a-list dot com, which uses almost exclusively stock images. It doesn't seem to have done them any harm; in fact sometimes the stock images are effective precisely because they are stock images.

It hasn't done them any harm....yet. But all those sites are (IMO) with the stock images and shock headlines are going to go away at some point.

Remember the big headed people images? :). When was the last time you saw one of those?
8:34 pm on Feb 13, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Think about visiting a site and seeing it use generic stock images. Then visit another site with original images.


How many users can tell the difference between a stock image and an original image in most cases? For that matter, how many users care?

Also, there are times when everyone's image will be a stock image.(E.g., a NASA image of the dwarf planet Ceres or a news photo of Mt. St. Helens blowing its stack.)
8:46 pm on Feb 13, 2015 (gmt 0)

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In my experience they are not a ranking factor - we have many articles with unique images and others with stock images and have seen no ranking difference between the two - but i have found that our unique images often get used in the Knowledge Graph, even when the article itself is not cited or even shown on page 1 of the serps, and since the image is linked directly to our site that can generate (limited) traffic.
12:37 pm on Feb 14, 2015 (gmt 0)

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nd have seen no ranking difference between the two - but i have found that our unique images often get used in the Knowledge Graph

This is very like my experience as regards images, which aren't as easy to put in an algorithm as text/semantics, but are useful beyond compare by everyone and their little puppy dogs, too.