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I have a cute photo on a site that is highly related to my number one keyword (lots of people hotlink to it). It just so happens that when someone searches for that keyword Google shows the top 3 images in the search result and then Google shows the rest of the results. When you click on the photo above the search results it brings you to the page on my site where that image is located.
So, if you allow people to hotlink to the image and that image shows up above the regular SERPs then that's an extra "bonus". You actually get more traffic because people like to click on the images when they're presented in the regular search results.
In my case, I decided to let people hotlink to the image because it ultimately gives me more traffic. But, this case is kind of unusual: Google doesn't show images in most of the search results.
Even though we call it hot "linking" it's really a src attribute and not an anchor tag. Although the url does get followed, there's no juice flowing that I know of. For that you need a real link.
What if you do have a real link, pointing to an image? Does it help you?
The original PR papers stated that PR was passed among pages, not images (which were considered dead ends).
Moderators, feel free to delete the same question that I posted here: [webmasterworld.com...]
ex if: widget.com/some-post has the following anchor text:
"check out this image of a widget here" and that anchor text links to mywidgetsite.com/images/widget.jpg, which resides on your site.
Having said this, the more a particular image gets linked to, the more it seems to move up in the image searches on the SE's...
I would say, the only way you will see a PR boost or any other real advantage is if someone links to you like this:
Check out this widget picture and links it to http://www.example.com/widget-pictures-web-page.html
Then the picture is generating a true IB link.