Image Hotlinking and SEO : Are There Any Benefits?

SMS Text

An SEJ reader sent us the following SEO Question, which we would like to open for readers to contribute their thoughts.

  • Are there any benefits of other sites hotlinking your site (is that worth as much as a regular link)?

Hotlinking refers to the process of using images of one site on the pages of another site. Hotlinking is infamous on the web due to the following reasons:

  • Hotlinking is treated as a way of stealing bandwidth from the host site [the site where the image is originally hosted]
  • Besides that hotlinking can also result in copyright infringement violations which can land you in a legal conflict with the owner of the host site.

But the main question here is, keeping all the copyright issues aside for a moment, if we look into hotlinking from an SEO perspective, are there any benefits in getting your images hotlinked by another website? Would hotlinking be worth as much as regular links?

When this question was asked in the Google Groups Webmaster Help Discussions recently, Aaron Pratt, a member of the group, responded by saying:

“anything linked to including images shows that people out there might like what you have, google then has to determine is the linking is real or make believe. :)”

However, the point to notice in the above statement is “anything linked to”, so:

  • If the hotlinked image has a link to your website URL, then that would be treated as a proper image link and will pass due link credits to your website.
  • Also if the hotlinked image is linked to the image URL itself, then that would increase the chance of your images appearing in Google Image searches.

Last year, Patrick Altoft wrote an exceptional piece and script to benefit from sites which hotlink to images, embedding an alt attribute and image title in the linking code, making this hotlinking even more powerful.

But what if the image is neither linked to your site nor to the image URL? Do you think such a hotlinking would still be beneficial to your site? What do you think?

Loren Baker
Loren Baker is the Founder of SEJ, an Advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing strategy & development agency.
Loren Baker
Get the latest news from Search Engine Journal!
We value your privacy! See our policy here.
  • Strange this topic should come up, since it’s one of the no-no’s I mention in an article of mine from yesterday.

    As a discussion, it’s novelty value will diminish the very second Google decides hot-linking is “evil”, should they go that way…

  • Yeah this is evil because the reasons mentioned are mainly to steal bandwidth and copyright infrigement.

    One way I’ve explored hotlinking is if you have a website that speed is of the absolute essence then offloading your images to an Amazon S3 account or something to speed up load times. Of course the same could be done for CSS and JS files. In a far fetched way that scenario is beneficial to SEO because search engines do look at load time as a factor in their algorithm.

    But just to be honest, if your that serious about optimizing for bandwidth then you should be fully optimizing web graphics as I mentioned in this post I wrote a while back, Why and How to Optimize Graphics for the Web.

  • The definition of “hotlinking” stipulates that someone has to link to an image on your site in order for the link to be a hotlink (otherwise they are just copying your image).

    Hotlinking causes your Google image search results to soar, but in my experience most of that traffic consists of people looking for images to hotlink.

    I’ve blocked all off-site access to my most popular images, sacrificing search visibility for them, because the hotlinking was using hundreds of megabytes of bandwidth every month without sending any actual traffic to my sites.

  • Some sites even encourage this by providing some images to use for linking. The subtle difference being that they are surrounding the img html with a tradtional link, so clicking on the link takes you through. I guess then if the hotlink isnt counted the other link is!

  • Hi Loren,

    many experimental evidences shows that image hotlinking contributes to contextualize the image: if the original page that hosts an image provides insufficient information about that image, and some pages that have an hotlink to the same image (but also if they duplicate and host the same image theirself) provides information that an engine can read and use, then that image will be contextualized and ranking accordingly.

    So, there actually is a benefit when someone hotlinks your images (as long as the engine can spider that pages, and that pages contain relevant information).

    Not so long ago, I wrote a piece for a document called “Link building secrets”, and it was about how to build backlinks on images that are likely to be hotlinked. Enjoy the reading 😉

  • this makes sense for images that you create and have control of but what about images that are free to use and you simply download then put them on your site? does it make sense that you’d come up for let’s say “magnifying glass” when the only reason you put it on your site is so readers can associate your article with “seeking” or “searching”?

  • Didn’t Eli at Blue Hat SEO explain this one a while back, with his flaming middle finger picture example?

  • Yeah Gab, he gave that as an example :

  • sem4u

    One of my sites was ranking well on Google Images, but this lead to lots of hotlinking from people using forums and Myspace, etc. So I blocked them with htaccess, but now they don’t show in Google image results. However, the bandwidth bill is a lot lower.

  • Interesting stuff. we do the image hotlinking all the time through out our partner websites.
    Now, i need to rethink .. 🙂

  • I’ve been a victim of hot linking several times.

    I’m not sure about this, but I think when the image is hot linked to a forum, and Google bot will index the image. The result will be, the one who hot linked our image was the one who was referred by the Google bot who was the owner of the image.

    We don’t get traffic. The only who got traffic is the one who took the image and post it in their forums.

    But, I’m still skeptical whether to remove the image or change the URL of it.

    If I change the image URL and delete the image from our server, I’m not sure if the new image will be re indexed quickly.

    I think we still benefit if someone hot linked the image, but I also think that we don’t benefit at all because no organic visitors comes to us, unless they will intentionally visit the site where the image came from, but more than 90% of the visitors tend to look at the image only and look at the website where it was embedded and they don’t mind where this image is hosted.

    I think the Google bot should be wise enough to determine where the image was hosted and only show that page once the image is click, not the site who embedded the image.

    But I also think Google did the right thing. What if the image is hosted in an image host, not a site. It would be useless to show the homepage of the image host, that’s why the site who embedded the image was shown.

    But still, it’s still unfair to the one who uploaded to image to his/her blog or website then someone hot linked it.

    The one who uploaded is skeptical to stop the hotlink because he/she thinks that if we don’t permit hotlinks, then the chances of getting to the first page of the image results will be much lower.

    I hope you got my point. Wooot!

  • I would really like to know the answer, as I hotlink some images, although I try to take a fair approach. I provide links to websites for free with the image from their site, and only hotlink to tiny websites. Partner websites give me URLs to hotlink, so no problem there. Not sure about copyright implications of a hotlink, as it’s not a copy?

  • Ok so google may treat hotlinking in such a way that it is a benefit to have your stuff hotlinked (at the moment)… At least that’s the just I got from your article… One of my blogs is mainly a photo blog with short paragraphs for each image to assist in SEO….

    However what if your images are being hot linked so much that your site speed degrades to such a point that people are turned away? This was happening on one of my photoblogs (not listed on my blog roll). I instead now use .htaccess to serve up a generic image (only 10kb) requesting that the people come to my site to see the images instead (with a collage of sample images)… Since the images being hotlinked were from 50kb – 200kb previously, this has substantially cut down on my bandwidth load and the hot links still remain out there pointing back to my website.

    Kill two birds with 1 stone, cut down bandwidth, drive more REAL traffic to your site, keep the hotlinks active.

    If you SEO the images on your website they may still appear in google image searches as well, but linking back to your site rather than forums / etc (as I believe google caches the images as it crawls?)