Google has made some significant changes in the past year that affect how websites are rated and ranked. If you’ve noticed a sharp drop in traffic to your site, Google’s new algorithm is probably the culprit.
One area that Google took a second look at was images, both photos and graphics. There was once a time when, if you had a photo of a cruise ship on your site and called it “cruise-ship.jpg” and put it on a page that was about cruising, the search engines loved you. No more.
Google’s bots still look to see if your images are relevant, but now they also check to see where else on the wide world web that image appears. And these bots are incredibly good at spotting duplicates. Even if you use only a small portion of an image that appears on another site, Google can identify them as being the same image.
This falls under the heading of “duplicate content” and in the search engine world “duplicate content” is bad. The more duplication, the worse.
In theory, if the images on your site also appear on hundreds or thousands of other sites, then your site must not be very original or interesting.
Of course, that is an erroneous assumption, but we’re dealing with mindless bots relying on cleverly coded algorithms, not sentient human beings relying on good old common sense.
Fair or not, your “duplicate content” penalizes you in Google’s eyes.
This is especially problematical for travel agency websites, filled as they are with stock photos from suppliers and other sources. What can you do?
Well, if you have a website that is provided to you (and hundreds of other travel agencies) by a “content provider,” the answer most likely is “not a lot.” In that case, not only are your images duplicate content but just about everything else on the website except the information about your specific agency is duplicate as well.
If this is your situation, I suggest you concentrate on pages you create and have total control. Most providers should let you do this.
If you have created your own website, you have much more latitude and may want to implement some or all of the following strategies.
- Use your own images whenever possible. You don’t have to be the world’s greatest photographer. In fact, I have a theory that people will respond more positively to a site that has a “personal” and “authentic” look and feel. It differentiates it from all the glossy travel sites out there. And if you have to take a few more trips to build up your supply of photographs, well that’s a sacrifice you’ll have to make.
- Use your customers’ images. You are forever sending your customers on wonderful trips. Why not ask them to share a few photos (with attribution) so you can highlight to others just how wonderful you are?
- Swap photos with fellow agents. After all, you can’t be everywhere. You might want to have an agreement that each image in this “swap club” will be used only by one agency.
- Commission your own graphics. It’s common for blogs to use stock images or icons to illustrate posts. For example, you might have an image of a question mark to illustrate a post in which you answer a question. Using sites likeFiverr.com or TenBux.com you can find excellent graphic artists to create images that will be unique to your site and at an extremely modest cost.
- Get artsy. This is a ploy that might be called a “hack.” Take a stock photo that you have a legal right to use and modify — a photo from a supplier, for example. Put it on your computer monitor in full-screen mode. Then, using Instagram on your smartphone take a photo of the image. Finally, apply a few Instagram filters until you get something you like. Now you have an “artistic” version of the original image but one that will be seen as absolutely unique by the search engine spiders—at least for now. In time, Google may catch on to this technique and, since Google doesn’t like to be fooled, figure out a way to detect it.
Are we getting too anal here? Perhaps. Having unique images will not vault your site to the top of the search engine results. But, SEO is a matter of making small incremental changes, and as the saying goes, every little bit helps.