Google Images Licensable Badge: Everything Photographers Need to Know

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Image piracy is a real issue that affects all photographers who publish their work online. Having to deal with issues such as image theft is a source of frustration for many. Thankfully, Google Images licensable badge ushers in new opportunities for photographers to capture referrals and sales directly from Google Images searchers.

For years, the search engine overlord, Google, hasn’t been exactly helpful.  The commercial interests of photographers simply weren’t being protected. People would find images on Google and often download and use those images without any regard for copyright or licensing terms.

But with the latest update to Google images and the advent of licensable images, all of that is about to change.

What is Google Images licensable badge?

The latest update to Google Image search adds the licensable badge to images that can be licensed online directly from independent photographers, just like you!  For example:

Suppose, I want to open an ice cream parlor and I am looking for a picture of chocolate ice cream. As a business owner, I need to attract visitors with a few pictures of delicious chocolate ice cream. So, I head over to Google and type in the keywords “chocolate ice cream”.

Now, initially I am not seeing any images with the licensable badge. If you take a closer look at the picture above, you will notice a “Tools” button.

Tip: Click the “Tools” button

Clicking on the Tools button, I notice a list of options to choose from. By default, your search results will display unlicensed images. But if you want to use your images legally, you can choose any of the other options and you will get a list of chocolate ice cream images to choose from.

Now, when I toggle my usage rights to images for commercial use that allow modification, I get an entire different set of results. 

And because now I know the criteria under which the image of my choice is licensed, I can now easily obtain instructions for how I can use that image without having to worry about the legal repercussions of image piracy later down the road.

The Licensable Badge

Clicking on the “Licensable” badge will display the image on the right side of the page with some additional details.

This chocolate ice cream image has been licensed under Wikipedia Commons license. Clicking on the link transports me to the wikipedia page that contains information about the owner of this image and how I can use this particular image.

Google Bot scans the internet (including your WordPress website) and creates a massive index of images. These images eventually make their way into Google Images, which visitors can search for.

How can you get your images into Google Images? Continue reading, and I’ll show your how, including how to get backlinks directly into your store where searchers can purchase licensing rights from you.

Why are licensable images important?

Now, you might be thinking: “Why is licensing even important in the first place?”

Here’s the thing: Licensing your images can be a game-changer for your online photography business. People will now be easily able to obtain relevant licensing information about your images and you can direct them to you sales page where they can purchase a usage license.

The risks of using unlicensed images

Violating a licensing agreement and using it freely on your website can result in potential copyright lawsuits. You might receive a “cease and desist” order from a photographer, your entire site might get banned/penalized, and you might get sued for copyright infringement.

No bueno.

As a photographer, you should already be somewhat familiar with licensing. There are many different kinds of licenses out there. Consider giving the article on Budgetstockpoto a read to learn more about the different kinds of licenses. Knowing more about licensing information will definitely help you out in your business.

Licensable badges will help you acquire backlinks

If you are using original images on your site, you can make use of the licensable badge feature to acquire backlinks to your blog or website.  Each licensable image contains a link to the site where the image can be licensed and purchased. This is a powerful thing for photographers: You can get direct backlinks to your site (or your shop) where consumers can purchase your image. More on this later.

Fewer copyright infringements? Well, hopefully.

While the new update lets searchers easily find out licensing details for images, it still doesn’t stop nefarious users from stealing your images. It does, however, give users acting in good faith the ability to pay you for your work. And this feature has been the missing ingredient in Google searches. A standardized method for searchers to obtain licensing details for images was simply non-existent. Consequently, most people simply downloaded images fitting their search criteria and used copyrighted images with wild abandon.

Will this decrease the number of copyright infringement cases? It should. Will copyright infringement stop? Absolutely not 🙁

How will this impact your photography business?

In the digital sphere, photographers make money through selling photos. Selling photos online can take two main forms:

  1. Selling through 3rd party stock sites – You can either sell your photos on your own website, or you can sell photos on photo repositories like Shutterstock, AdobeStock, 123RF, Envato Elements etc. The downside with this option, is that the 3rd party sites take the majority of the sales profit and leave you with peanuts. The commission rates varies site to site (for instance, on Shutterstock, your commission rates will vary from anywhere between 15% to 40% depending on your tier level). The underlying fact is that you lose out on potential earnings when you sell through a 3rd party stock website.
  1. Sell through your own shop – If you are looking to sell photos through your own website, you will incur a small charge at the beginning for the software, but this method would allow you to retain 100% commission on any sales you make. Nice! Granted, there is a little setup time, but you’ll be building a sustainable business where you control the products and prices. 

Let’s compare a few 3rd party stock sites:

Third Party PlatformCommision rangeURL
Shutterstock15% to 40%https://submit.shutterstock.com/payouts#:~:text=Earnings%20Schedule%20%7C%20Shutterstock&text=Earn%20up%20to%2040%25%20commission,download%20your%20images%20or%20videos.&text=When%20you%20sell%20more%2C%20you,of%20your%20content%20is%20licensed.
123RF30% to 60%https://www.123rf.com/contrib_structure.php#:~:text=Earn%20from%2030%25%20to%2060,your%20creative%20works%20with%20us.&text=How%20much%20can%20you%20earn%20per%20download%3F&text=All%20earnings%20will%20be%20rounded%20to%20the%20nearest%20USD%240.01.&text=Your%20commission%20depends%20on%20your,you%20hit%20Contributor%20Level%208.
AdobeStock33% royaltieshttps://contributor.stock.adobe.com/commissions
Alamy 50% to 70%https://www.alamy.com/terms/contributor.aspx

The royalties you earn from stock photo repositories can often be minimal. Living a financially independent life means you want to make more money from your photos. 

Helps you generate more sales

And adding a licensing badge to your stock photos can help you generate more sales irrespective of whether you are using your own site or a third party site to sell your photos.

When users search for images on Google, your stock images will appear on Google search results. And when people see the option to license those images, they will consider making a purchase.

However, giving your photos exposure on third party platforms is often difficult and that caps your earning potential.

Sell usage licenses from your own shop

That’s the reason why we recommend photographers to sell their photos through a self-hosted site. If you really want to make some serious cash with licensed photographs, then getting your own site is something definitely worth investing in. 

User-friendly platforms like WordPress have made it easy to host your own site. Moreover, the Sell Media plugin makes it especially easy to sell your images online. What’s more; the plugin is free to use and gives your online shop a classy look.

The Complete Guide To Getting Your Images Licensed

Without further ado, let’s walk you down the aisle and get you updated on how to get your images on Google Images with the licensable badge. 

Optimize your images and web pages for search engines.

Ensure that Google can access and index your web pages and images. Because if Google crawlers can’t crawl through your webpages, it won’t be possible to index your images. Consequently, the visibility of your images would drop. 

Optimize your photos for Google Images involves the following:

  1. You want to make sure that your people can view the images on your site without requiring any login. The idea is to eliminate any barriers.
  2. Ensure that the image-containing pages on your site are included in the robots.txt file. 
  3. Keep your images up-dated with Image SEO best practices.
  4. Create relevant sitemaps to keep Google updated on any changes to your site. (specifically, changes to your images is what your focus should be on)

Once you have got your basic Image SEO done right, you can move on to the next step.

Now that you have got your images appearing on search results, the next thing that we are going to be focusing on is getting the licensing badge for your photos.

How to add the licensing badge to your photos

To get a licensing badge for your photos, you need to send Google specific instructions using what’s called “metadata”. Don’t worry if this sounds intimidating, because our free Sell Media plugin handles all of the technical integration for you seamlessly. But technically, here’s how Google’s licensable badge feature works:

1. Use Structured Data

To understand the content of the page, Google makes use of something called structured data.

Every webpage that you view on your browser contains code that may be categorized into two forms: visible code snippets and invisible code snippets. The invisible code snippets are mostly metadata. It looks something like this:

    <script type="application/ld+json">
    {
      "@context": "https://schema.org/",
      "@type": "ImageObject",
      "contentUrl": "{{ getImageUrl( $image->url, 600 ) }}",
      "license": "{{ getRoute( $user, 'user.license' ) }}",
      "acquireLicensePage": "{{ url()->current() }}"
    }
    </script>

Thankfully, WordPress and our Sell Media plugin make this incredibly easy. Every single image page contains all of the necessary metadata on the page, ready for Google to index your images. Once your site’s SEO is solid and you have adequate domain authority (not hard if you’re using WordPress!), then your images will start appearing in Google Images search with the licensable badge 🙂

Simple as that.

2. IPTC Photo metadata

The other way to get the licensable badge in Google Images is by embedding the required IPTC metadata directly into your photos before uploading them into WordPress.

We do not recommend doing this. Here’s why:

  • You won’t know the specific url where buyers can purchase a license. This is why we use the Structured Data approach in our Sell Media plugin.
  • You cannot edit the photo metadata easily in WordPress or any other website editor. You’ll have to delete the image and upload it again.

Regardless, here are the required IPTC metadata fields that you must include in your image metadata in order to get the licensable badge from Google Images:

  • The Web Statement Of Rights (also known as the Copyright URL) field – This field contains information about how the owner has licensed the use of the photograph. 
  • The Licensor URL field – it contains information that lets interested parties know how to contact the photographer and obtain a licensed copy of the photo for commercial use.

To learn more about editing IPTC metadata in Lightroom, please see Kevin Lisotta’s excellent guide where he shares the process.

Other helpful metadata editing tools

Here are a few additional tools to help with the IPTC metadata editing process:

  1. Adobe Lightroom: Number one on our list is Adobe Lightroom. It does a wonderful job at adding metadata to your images. If you are keen on adding metadata to your images with Lightroom give this video a watch
  1. Adobe Photoshop & Bridge: Adobe Photoshop & Bridge can also be used to edit metadata of your images.
  1. Photo Mechanic: Another convenient tool to add metadata to your photos is Photo Mechanic. Photo Mechanic makes organizing, managing and editing your image metadata super fast. 

There are plenty of tools out there, so feel free to share your favorites in the comments below.

Why WordPress + Google Images is the Perfect Fit

Choosing the right platform to help get your images indexed by Google Images is key. There is no better platform than WordPress for this. Not only can you quickly add SEO plugins to help optimize your site for search, but as demonstrated above, your site can instantly become optimized for this new Google Images licensable feature.

Aside from WordPress, here are a few others:

Visual Society

Visual Society also includes automatic Google Images licensable badge integration for all e-commerce galleries. Like our WordPress solution, Visual Society’s solution just works and there is no setup required from you at all.

PhotoShelter

Photoshelter also includes licensable images integration. But the downside to using Photoshelter lies in the fact that it doesn’t have any blogging platform, which can impact your site’s SEO.

Shopify

Shopify is the leading e-commerce platform, but it does not include Google Images licensable badge integration. Plus, it’s not the most ideal platform for selling photos. In the Shopify world, 1 image = 1 product. That 1-to-1 relationship simply doesn’t scale well for photographers who might have thousands of images to upload/sell. Suffice to say, the workflow for setting up your photography store will take a very long time.

Squarespace

Squarespace is another option that’s open to you, but you don’t want to opt for this either. That’s because Squarespace doesn’t allow you to get your images licensed. Plus,  you’ll run into the same paradigm as you do on Shopify: 1 image = 1 product. Imagine if you have 5 galleries, each with 50 photos. You’ll have to create 250 products! On photo-centric platforms, you’d only have to create 5 galleries. Using Squarespace to sell photos will present a massive workflow problem!

WordPress

WordPress might just be your best option to set up your online photography store. Here’s why:

  1. It comes with a vast array of excellent themes and plugins that can really help your site stand out.
  2. Most WordPress plugins and themes are free, meaning that you can lower your operational costs significantly.
  3. WordPress is open source, meaning that tens of thousands of people help make the software better every day! It will be around for a really long time.
  4. With excellent plugins like Sell Media setting up your own shop is easier than ever. 

In short, if you want to reap the greatest benefits from licensable images, then get your site and get WordPress installed and use Sell Media to license your image.

BONUS: 3 quick tips to get sales from Google Images

If you want to make more sales, then you have got to bring in traffic.

To bring in organic search traffic, you need to optimize both your images and your site content so that Google knows what your site and images are all about.

1. Optimize Your Image SEO

Maximizing your earnings through your online photography store means you need to get your image SEO right.

Because you’re publishing your photos online, you want to make sure that your photos can be accessed by crawlers and indexed accordingly. Here are a few quick tips to ensure your images rise in search results in Google Images:

  1. Use human-readable filenames: This helps Google understand better what your image is all about.
  2. Fill in the alt text tags associated with your images.
  3. Add captions and title tags to your images.

2. Create sales funnels using the Licensable URL field

As we discussed before, your images will get the licensable badge when you either fill out the Licensable URL in a metadata using an editing tool like Lightroom, or when you use the free Sell Media plugin (it automates the process for you).

The Sell Media plugin for WordPress inserts a linkback directly to the licensable url field for all of your images. This means that buyers can go directly from Google Images -> Your Shop. Cool, right? Sell Media handles all of that heavy-lifting for you and makes your images perfectly optimized for Google Image search results. The licensable badges on your images will also help you obtain greater exposure and help you convert image searches conducted on Google Images into paid image purchases on your website.

3. Conduct research to find popular images

The key to running a successful online photograph store lies in getting your market research right. 

You want to figure out what kind of images are in high demand. Zeroing in on what people are searching for online will go a long way in helping you determine what’s right for you.

To find out what images sell best, we are going to make use of keyword research tools. Suppose, I am a real estate photographer and I have got some stunning real estate photographs. 

So, I head over to keywordtool.io and look up the search volumes and terms that people are using in my niche. Here’s what I discover….

I notice that real estate photography Atlanta is a keyword that is in high demand. So, I make a mental note to create blog posts centered around that topic.

Niche marketing

To take things to the next level, I want to look up real estate companies and dealers in Atlanta. By carefully going through their website, I’ll understand my niche better. 

I’ll be better able to take pictures that real estate developers want and make more money from my online photo store hosted on WordPress.

And an even better tool for keyword research is Ahrefs- the ultimate SEO tool. Let’s show you how it’s done.

So, because I am operating in the real estate niche, “condos in atlanta” is a very good keyword that I can target.

As you can see from the screenshot, the term has got some decent traffic and is a low competition keyword. So, it’s a good idea to study the top ranking results. Real estate companies are always looking to create stunning marketing materials.

So, I can visit their website, collect their email and reach out to them to enquire if they would find my stock of condo photos in Atlanta useful. Additionally, I will want to add this keyword to my images. So, that my photos appear on Google Images search results.

Other potential keywords I will want to look into include “apartments in Atlanta,” “homes in Atlanta,” etc.

By performing a thorough keyword research, I improve the SEO aspect of my images. Once I start bringing in traffic to my site through blog posts and sales will naturally follow.

Make Your Images in WordPress Licensable through Google Images Today!

Undeniably, the latest update to Google Image search results is a huge opportunity for photographers and photography enthusiasts. Being able to add the licensable feature to your images not only helps mitigate the bad stuff (image theft/copyright infringement), but it also helps you sell photos online!

To truly reap the greatest benefit from the licensable badge feature, it’s best to get your own hosting, install WordPress, and get kicking on the road to financial independence with the help of Sell Media plugin now!

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Thad is the founder of Theme.Works and Graph Paper Press. Previously, he produced online multimedia and documentary projects for USA Today including the inauguration of President Barack Obama and many others. He lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife Abby.

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