tracking use of your images online

Tracking the Use of Your Images Online

I’ve spoken and written a fair old amount on the acquisition of citations and links through distributing images under a Creative Commons License. I wrote about the process we follow on the Meld and spoke about it at BrightonSEO and SearchLove London. It’s fair to say I’m a fan of the tactic.

why bother

The reason I’m a fan of this tactic is because of link wins like these:

uk government image use

UK Government Uses Image and Links

europcar image usage

Europcar uses an image and credits appropriately

how we distribute images

I’ve talked about this before and it’s covered on my Slideshare deck from SearchLove London below (slide 54 onwards).

In short, we’re using Flickr with the default license set to Creative Commons Attribution. We’re ensuring our titles and descriptions are optimised for the relevant terms appropriate to each image. We’re also telling people how to attribute. You can see some examples of it on my own Flickr account.

tracking usage and securing attribution

This technique isn’t a magic link tap! In fact, getting your images used is only half the battle. The next step is tracking usage, noting whether the usage was correctly attributed and securing an attribution if required.

In my experience, for every usage of an image attributed correctly, there’ll be 3 or 4 others not attributed correctly. When I say “not attributed correctly,” I don’t mean people are just trying to avoid attributing. In many cases people just attribute the name of the Flickr account owner, like in the example below:


image usage without credit

Credited by name (maiden name, that is!) without a link

There are other examples where people have simply not put any credit. Again, it’s often not malicious and is simply because they’ve not read the description where you have included attribution information. So the next job is to track usage of images. There are several ways of doing that and here are my favourite:

Google Reverse Image Search

Sure enough, Google has a reverse image search function that’s free of charge. How lovely. You can find that at Through that tool you can either upload an image or put in the URL of the image and see a list of URLs on which this image can be found. Google images can even return results where an image is used as a still in a Youtube video.

google image search results

Google Image Search Results

That’s great if you have no budget for this sort of tracking and you only have a handful of images. If, however, you’re doing this on a larger scale, you’re going to be better off using a service that can automate the checks for you on a host of images.

That’s where comes in. I love this tool. You can just hook it up to your Flickr account (or alternatively you can upload all the images you want checking) and it will run regular checks (you can set the frequency yourself). You’ll be emailed as and when there are new hosts of your images detected. Easy.

image raider notifications

Image Raider email notifications

You’ll then need to manually login, check the hosts and see whether attribution has been done properly. We dedicate a set amount of time to this per client per month. is priced on a credits basis. You get some for free. You can “pay with a Tweet” for others or, if you’re running larger scale searches you can buy them.


A newer to market tool is Tineye, another reverse image search engine.

tineye reverse image search

TinEye Reverse Image Search

I’ve tried TinEye and my image couldn’t be found (despite Google Reverse Image Search and ImageRaider both returning results). However, the site does say it’s in the process of doing  a crawl of the web and the number of available results will increase, so I’ll reserve judgement on this for now.

Approaching for Attribution

If you’ve found examples of your image in use without the appropriate attribution, you’ll want to get in touch to get it corrected. A few things we’ve learnt through trial and error with email approaches:

  • Open with a thank you! You should be grateful they’re using your photos and putting them in front of their audience
  • Ditch the SEO lingo. You’re not asking for a “link back to your site.” You’re asking for an image credit or for them to attribute the image as per the description on Flickr (which you can copy and paste)
  • Take advantage of someone who agrees by offering them further images if they’d like them (you can potentially offer exclusive images)

You’ll see on the Government link example I shared that there was a modification to the image credit:

image credit update

Image Credit Updated

That was the result of us contacting the site editors about a correction to the attribution they had used. We had a response within 24 hours.

It’s not always the case that you get a quick response, though. And sometimes you don’t get a response at all. In cases where users have linked to the Flickr page instead of the specific URL, I adopt an approach of a single follow up and then if we don’t hear back, I tend to leave it. The link back to my Flickr image will do no harm in getting the images seen by more people anyway… off page signals 🙂

The most annoying ones are those that don’t bother attributing at all and then either don’t respond or respond and refuse to credit. There’s not much you can do, in all honesty. Sure, you could go down the DMCA route for US sites, but in reality, it’s a lot of bother to go to for no gain whatsoever. So I tend to leave it after a couple of follow ups. At the end of the day, sites refusing to credit properly are probably of questionable quality. Would you even want that link?

The sites with the best content are the ones with the best writers, and the best writers are generally respectful of Creative Commons Licensing and are forthcoming with the owners of images they’re using. So don’t lose too much sleep over the others.


I couldn’t possibly end this post without the appropriate attributions image credit for the feature picture