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Is Hot linking good for SEO?
Skip straight to: How to SEO your images through hot linking
To start out, let's define some terms. The term "hot linking" is when a website includes on their page an image that is hosted on another website.
Often "hot linking" is used to allow people to show photos on blogs, message boards, social networking sites or other such websites where users like to share content, but are unable to upload images to be hosted. There are many photo sharing websites out there that do allow users to host images and then link to them from other websites. Many times users will find images that are already hosted on the website where they were originally posted. It is common for users to "hot link" or to link directly to the image to call it up on the page where they want to share it, whether that is in their own blog post, discussion board entry, or social networking site.
What is the down side of "Hot Linking?"
Hosting is a service for which users pay annual or monthly fees for a hosting plan (with the exception of free web hosting and image hosting services). Each hosting plan has usage allotments. One of these allotments is called bandwith or transfers.
To illustrate let's imagine that I am hosting a website consisting of 1 page that has a page that is 1 MB and a photo that is 1 MB. That means each time my page is viewed the hosting service deducts 2 MB from the bandwith/transfer allotment of my plan. Letís say my plan is 1000 MB per month. That means I could have about 500 views per month without going over my allotment.
Now let's imagine that a popular blogger finds my 1MB image and "hot links" it on their site on the first of the month. Let imagine this blogger has 1000 visitors per day. In the first day this person would cause my transfer limit to be used up. So what happens next? Well, when you go over your minutes on a cell phone, they don't shut off your phone, they just start charging you a lot more for overage minutes. In the same way, someone exceeding their bandwith limit is charged overage charges. These are much more expensive than the standard rate people pay.
Now the example I gave is very extreme, because many hosting services allow for 1,000 MB (or 1GB) or more per day, not per month. Also, most images optimized for web settings are around .1 MB (100 KB) not 1MB (1,000 KB).
The point is that if not monitored, other people hot linking your images could end up using up your traffic allotment and costing you money.
What is the upside of hot linking?
When people hot link to your photo Google and other search engines see this as a vote for this image. If it gets used across multiple separate websites and even within a single website on multiple pages in certain contexts it helps the ranking of the image and makes it show up higher in image searches. Other people hot linking your images speed us the "voting" process and boosts your rank.
This translates into traffic when a visitor sees the small thumbnail image in the Google image search and clicks on it. That takes them to the page where the image is found. You want to make sure that your page is the one that gets indexed along with the image, because otherwise someone is using your image and your bandwith to drive traffic to their site. The search engines are smart enough to figure out over time the first place where the image appeared. Generally this is the page that gets indexed. Also, they generally will index your page if the image is hosted at yourwebsite.com/the-image.jpg and among the pages that link to this photo is a page hosted on yourwebsite.com.
Generally speaking, Image based SEO is an overlooked part of search engine optimization. As the popularity of Universal Search (when a search engine shows links, videos, and images all on the same results page) grows, the importance of optimizing images for search will also increase.
Get Ready for Hot Linking!
Image hot linking can be a big benefit to your website and drive some good volume of traffic to your site, but you must be prepared for it. There are a few steps to protect prepare your site for hot linking. These will keep your interest protected and minimize the down side mentioned above.
How to SEO your images through hot linkingLet's imagine that my keyword target is "baby bunny rabbits." This step-by-step process will help you to build a page that will allow your image to be found in an image search.
Now that you have done these things, the odds are good that the search engines will index your image for their photo searches. If the image is a nice clear one, the odds are good that other people will "hot link" it, and it will start to show up even higher in the search results. Your site will show up higher in the regular listings results as well, and if you are lucky a universal search type results display will show your image for all searches done on your target keyword.
If you are able to do a good job of monetizing your visitors by getting them to become repeat visitors on your site, showing profitable advertising, selling quality products, or converting subscribers, then the relatively low cost of the traffic/bandwidth for you site and for other people to hot link to your images will be an investment that will pay off.