Through the past few updates, Google has shifted its focus to unique content. What that means is any website or blog that doesn’t host engaging and original content takes a hit in terms of SEO ranking. This is largely due to the fact that many sites were just using cheap methods to rank higher in search results. Link baiting and keyword saturation are two of the most common problems with the old-style SEO rankings.
Even though Google has been working to do away with elements like that for some time, Hummingbird is the update that really solidified original content.
With all this focus on original content, it begs the question: What about photos? Do stock photos make or break your SEO ranking? Does it hurt you if you use duplicate image content from other sites?
Does Google Penalize for Using Stock Photos and Duplicate Images? Do stock photos hurt your SEO ranking or not?
In a video from June 2013, Matt Cutts, Google’s head of spam, gave a loose answer to the question. “To the best of my knowledge the answer is no. … It doesn’t really make a difference whether it’s a stock photo or an original photo,” he said.
However, Cutts then goes on to say, “You know what, that’s a great suggestion for a future signal we can look at in terms of search quality. Who knows? Maybe original image sites might be higher quality whereas sites that just repeat the same stock photos over and over again might not be nearly as high quality.”
In other words, Cutts has expressed that Google may look at adding such a filter to their SEO algorithms in the future.
Will problems with stock photos arise in the future?
Judging by what Cutts said in the video, there is a very real possibility that Google will update its SEO algorithm to filter for original image content. If you believe that such a thing is a stretch, just take a look at the sweeping changes Google has made regarding original text content. It’s clear that Google is looking to place quality content higher in search-result listings. Not only is this excellent for bloggers and content providers, but it’s also great for consumers. After all, I can’t imagine many people enjoy navigating to a website for answers only to find junk content and out-of-context keywords.
What will a change like that mean?
It’s better to be safe than sorry, so the best time to start preparing for such a change is now. You’ll want to take care of your images and content before your blog or site takes a ranking hit.
Expanding on that fact, such a change will affect more than just blogs and search-engine rankings. It will also change how photography and stock-image sites work. For example, content owners will want exclusive images, meaning higher prices on stock photos. In addition, there’s nothing stopping spammers and third parties from taking duplicate images and making minor changes to make them look unique. If the latter situation were to happen, would Google’s new algorithm be able to detect the minor differences? Worse yet, would the original content owner take the hit for the duplicate images? At this point it seems like that kind of filter would do just as well as a broken swimming pool fence does at keeping children away from the water.
It is hard to predict all of the possible scenarios that would come about if Google were to make such a change, but one thing is certain:
You should prepare as soon as possible.
How would images be affected?
The first thing to point out is that image quality would likely be a factor in such an update. Sites may or may not take a hit for publishing poor images with lower resolutions. If Google were to implement an advanced image-detection system, it is possible it could even test image composition, exposure and brightness. After all, if Google is going to focus on identifying engaging text content, doesn’t it make sense it would go to the same lengths for images and photos?
Another question that comes up is whether or not stock, professional-quality photos would be better to use over those taken with a personal camera. There is no question about the quality difference between the two image types. However, I would argue that sometimes a personal photo looks better than a professional one, especially those images that have been staged in a cheesy manner.
The algorithm could even factor in alt tags, naming conventions and image captions. Just think, how many images do you have on your blog in which you ignored filling in the alt tag?
What are you getting at?
The point to all of this is that sometime in the near future, Google may implement a filter that identifies poor or duplicate image content and reflects the findings in search results. You should prepare now for such a thing to happen, because even if nothing comes to pass, you will still have better content. Google Image Search already filters out duplicate image content for the most part, which means if you want your site to rank high across the board, you should already be adding unique images.
If you are one of those people who love to recycle the same stock images over and over, you should probably stop doing that. Not only will it potentially affect your site ranking in the future, but it is also just plain boring. After all, what could it hurt to add an original photo every once in a while? The answer is nothing, so get on that.
The ultimate answer is that stock photos and duplicate images don’t really factor in to SEO ranking, for now anyways.