Finding Free Images Through Image Search

by Alan Eggleston

Images (photos) can add impact to an article. They can add emotion. And they can add understanding. An article on a website or blog without an image may inform, may entertain, may even motivate, but it certainly won’t convey in the same way as one with an image. At least, a well thought-out image. For all those reasons, every editor should consider balancing the web page with text and an image.

Images add value to articles.

Photo: JoshArdle Photography by Creative Commons license.

Yet, one very good reason many websites and blogs don’t include images on their pages is cost. A good image can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars, well beyond the budgets of many small businesses and certainly beyond those of most bloggers. But using images doesn’t have to be expensive. I’ll show you how to find useful, meaningful images without the cost.

Some Images are Free

There are free image sites. Google the string “free images” and you’ll find them. Some are free to access the catalog but there is still a licensing fee to use any of the images. Some are free to access the catalog and use the images, but the quality isn’t always the greatest. Some you don’t find out whether the image is free until you locate the image and check the photographer’s licensing agreement.

Well, there’s a much better way to find free images.

I find my images by doing an image search on one of the major search engines. They all work a little differently, but all involve filtering the image search for creative commons license use when I do the keyword search. The easiest, by far, is with Bing. Google is second easiest. And Yahoo is the third, with the side benefit that it’s allied with Flickr.

Finding Free Images with Bing

To find an image to use for free using Bing:

  • Go to the Bing home page and click on the “IMAGES” main navigation tab.
  • In the search window, enter a keyword or keyword string for the image you want (example: “chains” or “chain link fence”). Hit the enter button or click the search icon.
  • Now in the gray top filtering bar, click “License” and in the drop-down list of choices click:

for commercial sites or blogs

    • “Free to share and use commercially” or
    • “Free to modify, share, and use commercially”

for non-commercial (personal) sites or blogs

    • “Free to share and use” or
    • “Free to modify, share, and use”

Bing cautions in their online help page, and it’s always wise to follow:

“When you find an image that you want, go to the originating website for the image and determine the actual license for the image. Next, go to the Creative Commons website and make sure you read and understand the license and its provisions, restrictions, and attribution requirements.”

Finding Free Images with Google

To find an image to use for free using Google:

  • Go to the Google home page and click on “Images” in the main navigation.
  • In the search window enter a keyword or keyword string for the image you want. Click the enter button or the search icon.
  • On the results page, click on the gear icon at the far right above the image display. In the drop-down list that appears, click on “Advanced search.”
  • At the bottom of the Advanced Image Search page, under “usage rights” (defaulted at “not filtered by license”) choose:

for commercial sites or blogs

    • “free to use or share, even commercially” or
    • “free to use, share or modify, even commercially”

for non-commercial (personal) sites or blogs

    • “free to use or share” or
    • “free to use share or modify”

Again, once you select an image, go to the image on its original website and verify the license language to make sure it is indeed free and that you understand what is required and allowed.

Updated: Google Chrome offers a plug-in for finding duplicate images, which may make it easier to find an image’s original owner and original licensing. Read about it here.

Finding Free Images with Yahoo

To find an image to use for free using Yahoo:

  • Go to the Yahoo Image Search page.
  • In the search window, enter your keyword or keyword string. Click the enter key or the search button.
  • When the image results page comes up, click on the double arrows “>>” in the upper left under the tabbed main navigation.
  • Now look at the new left hand navigation and click on the last item: “Labeled for Reuse.” That will filter the images for those that allow you to reuse them. Unfortunately, that’s as focused as the filtering goes.
  • When you find an image you like, go to the original image on the original website and see what the licensing requirements are.

Finding Free Images with Flickr

A photo storage service allied with Yahoo is Flickr. Each user gets a terabyte of storage for their photos and they can determine as they store their photos how they want to license them. You can search the site for photos and the ability to use them. Here is how:

  • Go to the Flickr home page (or access it through the Yahoo home page).
  • In the search window at the top right, enter your keyword search word or search string and hit the enter key or click the search icon.
  • On the image results page, beneath the search window at the top right, click on “Advanced Search.”
  • At the bottom of the Advanced Search page, click the box for “Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content” and if they apply, click also either or both:
    • Find content to use commercially
    • Find content to modify, adapt, or build upon
  • Click the “Search” button

Always verify that the image you want is free for use as filtered by going to the original image and reading the licensing restrictions and requirements.

Attribution

Often one of the restrictions listed with a creative commons license is the requirement that you attribute ownership of the image. It probably makes good sense whether or not they ask for attribution to give it, since you are using their work. I usually go one step further by linking the photographer’s name with their website. Often their work is on Flicker, allowing them to showcase their other works.

  • Here is what my photo attribution usually looks like:

Photo: Rusty Clark, creative commons license

(See it here.)

So don’t let cost be an excuse for not adding visual impact to your articles. You can afford “free!” – with a little image search and time.

Disaster Planning for Editors Part II

In last month’s post, I reviewed some of the ways editors can prepare for natural (or national) disasters. This month, let’s take a look at disasters of a very different kind.

Public relations disasters
Public relations disasters are, of course, on a far smaller scale than acts of war or mother nature. PR disasters don’t cause loss of life, but they do cause loss of business, reputation, and possibly revenue. A PR disaster might be a precipitous drop in your company’s stock price, the resignation of a CEO, or a scathing customer review that goes viral. Here are some ways you can prepare ahead of time so when disaster strikes, you’ll be able to react quickly:

  • Think through scenarios. List some scenarios that are likely to happen to your company. Some examples might be: Your company stock sinks; your CEO, owner, or president resigns; stockholders complain about a company policy; a customer’s complaint goes viral on social media; one of your products is recalled; trolls hijack one of your social media campaigns and bombard the Internet with negative messages about you, etc. There will likely be some scenarios that are very specific to your company’s line of work that you will want to consider as well. What would you need to know in each scenario? How would you want or need to change your communication processes?
  • Identify legal and compliance approvers. Communications in response to PR disasters usually require additional approvals beyond that of your regular communications. Who needs to approve stock- or executive team-related special messages, for example? You might need special compliance approval for any stock-related statements, or you might need sign-off from members of your company’s board of directors if you are dealing with a CEO resignation or other high-profile change in management.  Know who the approvers are before you need them to approve anything.
  • Meet with your PR and legal colleagues now. Talk about the approaches to communication they would take in situations such as a steep drop in your stock price or an irate customer whose complaints have been picked up by the media. Ask them what you cannot say in these situations and what types of language you must avoid. Ask them what you can do (if anything) to try to help assuage the situation.
  • Determine the lines of communication. If a negative review comes through your social media accounts, who is responsible for sounding the alarm, and who needs to be informed?  If the board is about to fire the president or hire a new one, who will give your team a heads up so you can update communications as necessary? Make sure you have established relationships with the people who need to keep you informed and vice versa.
  • Start drafting communications in advance. If you take the initiative to draft some templated language now, you’ll have more luck influencing the messaging than you would during a crisis when everyone goes into paranoid mode. Offer to create drafts that could be tweaked to accommodate different events or situations. The drafts should have some of the basic elements you recommend, such as brevity, calls to action, links to more information, and limited legalese.
  • Keep an up-to-date content audit file. Every web team should perform a content audit on a regular basis. This audit should result in the creation of a master file that lists all of your content (websites, social media profiles, etc.). The file should include page URLs, titles, keywords, publication dates and author names, and any other data your team needs. If your content audit file is current, you can quickly figure out what needs to be updated following an emergency. For example, if your CEO resigns, you should be able to open your audit document and search on keywords like CEO. You will quickly see pages and sites (executive team bios, quarterly messages, CEO social media accounts, etc.) that mention your CEO’s name so you’ll immediately know how much content needs to be updated.
  • Figure out how you will leverage social media. If your company is on social media, how will you address a customer complaint or negative company publicity? Sometimes taking too long to respond to a situation via social media can make things worse for your company, so make sure your social media team has clear guidelines on when to engage or not engage with an angry customer or customer reactions to negative company news.
  • Document the plan and train your team. Once you have put together some basic guidelines with your legal and PR colleagues, include this information in your new hire training, content manuals, style guides, etc. — wherever you have documented processes for your communications.

Go through your PR disaster plan a couple of times a year with your team so everyone will have a refresher and know what their responsibilities are if something happens. Hopefully you’ll never need to implement your plan, but you’ll be glad to have it ready if disaster strikes.

Optimization and the Competitive Analysis Audit

by Alan Eggleston

In my last article, I talked about how to conduct a search audit. Those are very useful for determining your site ranking and whether your site is optimized for search. However, they won’t help you position yourself against your competitors as much as a competitive analysis audit will. This article is about how you can do that.

Photo: Pixaby, creative common license in the public domain.

Photo: Pixaby, creative common license in the public domain.

1. Who are your competitors?

First, identify your top two or three competitors (or perhaps it’s one big competitor). Compare your website rankings against theirs for the keywords or keyword phrases for which you optimize your site. If you rank higher than any of them, great! Then you should work on improving your ranking if you don’t already occupy the top spot.

On the other hand, if any of your competitors rank higher than you, you need to analyze why. That means examining their source code, links, and social media.

  • Compare search rankings on Google, Bing, Yahoo, and any other search engine that drives significant traffic to your sites. Look for their sponsored ads on various search engines, too. Because results that show up in sponsored ads can bring quick response, you may need to invest in them, too, to be competitive.
  • In a competitor’s source code, look for agreement between title tags, description tags, and body text (and on Yahoo, keyword lists); look also for use of alt tags on graphics and images, text links at the bottom of the page, file names using keywords, image names using keywords, and such elements as positioning of keywords in headlines, paragraphs, and so on. Do they use H1 and H2 tags on headlines? In short, what are their SEO best practices? Also, what are their SEO “black hat” practices – do they violate any guidelines*? How can you perform even better on your site?

*In a very competitive market, when someone violates guidelines they put all others at an unfair disadvantage, especially if others are following the guidelines. Be aware that if you report a competitor and they find out, retaliation is always possible, even if you aren’t doing anything wrong. Reporting is anonymous, but that doesn’t mean competitors won’t find out.

  • Look for your competitors on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. There are others, too, but let’s start there. Are they engaging customers there and leading them to their website? It can be a big advantage you should consider jumping into if you aren’t already. Look on their home page for icons linking to other social media sites.

2. How do you compare in a search?

Second, look at the meta tags on competitor sites and do a search audit to see who ranks highest for their keywords or keyword phrases. If you don’t use or optimize for their keywords, should you? Does this give them a competitive advantage if you don’t?

  • Make sure any keywords you optimize for are true to your business and your message.
  • Look for ways to best them for relevancy. For instance, can you mention the keywords earlier on the page than they do? Can you position keywords for a phrase in a more logical order? Is there any “low hanging fruit” you can take advantage of, such as using H tags on headlines where they don’t? Do they not use unique page titles and descriptions on their pages? Optimize better than they do!
  • If location is key to your business success or if you’re considered a local business or organization, is your location (most usually city) part of your keyword string and prominent on your home page? If you have multiple locations, do you have location pages to support that?

3. Where else do competitors have a presence?

Third, look for competitors in directories like search engine maps and registries (such as Google Places), business registries (like Merchant Circle and Local First), and industry or professional registries. You should consider registering with them especially if your competitors are there.

  • Most directories are free but you can buy higher postings. Look for your competitors in the choice spots. If they show up there, you may need to invest in the same choice spots to be competitive.
  • If your site gets a lot of mobile business, make sure you register with Google Maps and Google Places, and even if you don’t get much attention on Bing or Yahoo, register with Bing Maps and Yahoo Maps to make mobile search easier.
  • Register for multiple categories where available. For instance, if you’re a hardware store, don’t just settle for hardware. Register for plumbing, electrical, building, and any other area the registry may cover.

4. Keep your eye on your competition.

Finally, conduct your competitive analysis audit periodically. As the saying goes, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.” Your competitors may be doing the same thing and making adjustments that you’ll need to counter. New competitors may enter the market, or competitors who weren’t a factor before may suddenly surface. I would at least compare rankings monthly for a few months and then do a more thorough audit if ranking results are volatile.

Build on Your Own Strengths!

Note: Most small businesses and organizations aren’t SEO-savvy enough to do an audit so when you do one you have the advantage. However, some hire SEO companies to conduct campaigns for them and they will be savvy. The important thing is to learn what your competitors’ optimization strengths and weaknesses are and then counter them by building on your own strengths and reducing your own weaknesses.

Disaster Planning for Editors, Part I

When you think about disasters, you probably think of hurricanes, earthquakes, or acts of terrorism. You probably don’t think of editing! But those of us who edit websites, applications, and social media should have a strategy for when disaster strikes.

If you live in an area that’s prone to weather events or earthquakes, you probably already know what you’re supposed to do to protect yourself. You should have a first aid kit and potable water, food for your family and pets, etc. If disaster hits when you’re at work, you likely know where you are supposed to go if your building is evacuated. But what if the disaster takes down your servers or makes your website incredibly slow? Your IT department probably has a plan for data recovery and server backup, but do you have a plan for communicating with your customers?

Here are some ways you can help your team prepare for a disaster well before anything happens.

  • Know what your most business-critical channels are. Which website or application needs to be restored first? What social media channel has the most followers/fans so you can prioritize your messaging?
  • Make sure everyone has a backup, including you. If an unforeseen event impacts your team’s availability, you should have a designated team ready and waiting to step in.
  • Distribute an emergency contact list. Each staff member should have an emergency contact list (include cell or home phone numbers and home email addresses).
  • Secure remote access for critical team members. Make sure your fellow web editors, content managers, and developers have remote access to your content management system so they can update the website from home (or a designated work space, if your company has a back-up work location) if needed. Have your team test out their remote access to make sure it works, especially if they are using home computers.
  • Build helpful error pages. This is good usability practice, but it becomes critical when your website is inaccessible. Don’t use the dreaded  “404” error page. Work with your developers to find out what the experience will look like from a user perspective when all your servers go down. Is there a way they can ensure your audience sees a custom message from your company? Create an error page that includes helpful links to other applications that might still be accessible and phone numbers for customer service. Include links to your social media sites as well, because if the disaster has only affected certain areas and is not widespread, you will likely still have access to your social media accounts and can update your customers through those channels.
  • Determine who will need to approve emergency messaging. When something unforeseen happens, your company will likely want or need to issue a statement. This could mean that people who don’t normally approve your content will now be approvers. Make sure you know who needs to sign off on any emergency statements instead of trying to figure it out in the midst of chaos. (Find out who the back-up approvers are as well, in case the designated approvers are not available.)
  • Be supportive and helpful. If there is a national disaster that does not impact you directly but your company wants to comment on it, make sure your messaging is nothing but helpful and empathetic. Some companies have made the mistake of using a tragic event to promote their product (for example, American Apparel encouraged customers “stuck inside” during Hurricane Sandy to use the time to shop their website; Epicurious suggested that customers try their cranberry scone recipe in response to the Boston Marathon bombing). It’s far better to say nothing than to offend people or take advantage of a tragic situation.
  • Know which reputable charities your company supports. If customers might look to you for suggestions on what they can do to help, make sure you give them accurate information. Know your company’s stance on charities before a tragedy happens and do your research so you don’t direct your customers to an organization you don’t know anything about.
  • Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. What questions would your customer have for your company in the event of a disaster? If your company provides an essential product or service, what expectations might customers have about your availability during or immediately after a disaster? Any messaging you craft should address these expectations.
  • Review your content with the disaster in mind. Rethink your existing and planned content in light of the event that has occurred. Is there anything on your website now that you should remove or edit to reflect what has happened (either from a factual or empathetic standpoint)? Or is there content you have scheduled that you need to postpone or scrap altogether?  For example, say you were planning a series of travel articles about the Gulf Coast, but the Gulf was just struck by a deadly hurricane. You will likely want to postpone that series until the coast has recovered from the damage. (Don’t forget pre-scheduled email newsletters, partner content that you might not directly control, and quarterly or monthly communications will need to be reviewed too.)

In my August post, I’ll review how editors can help plan for a very different kind of event: the public relations disaster.

“Content Strategy for the Web” – Key Points

by Alison Lueders, Great Green Editing

My summer reading tends toward mysteries – Dan Brown’s “Inferno” – that sort of thing, But this month I read Kristina Halvorson’s “Content Strategy for the Web.” Ideally web editing occurs within the context of a content strategy. Here are some key points to ponder while you sip that cool lemonade or iced tea.

Some definitions

We don’t create content for its own sake. It usually exists to meet some organizational objective.

According to Halvorson, “Content is what the user came to read, learn, see or experience.” And content strategy does several things:

  • “defines how you are going to use content to meet business objectives
  • guides decisions about content throughout its lifecycle
  • sets benchmarks against which to measure the success of your content”

Content strategy crosses disciplines, including:

  • messaging and branding
  • web writing
  • information architecture
  • SEO
  • metadata strategy
  • content management strategy

Sound complicated? It is, but Halvorson exhorts us to “call it what you want – just get it done.”

Web writing – “a whole lot more than smart copywriting”

Halvorson describes web writing as “the practice of writing useful, usable content specifically intended for delivery online. This is a whole lot more than smart copywriting. An effective web writer must:

  • understand the basics of usability design
  • be able to translate information architecture documents
  • write effective metadata
  • manage an ever-changing content inventory”

I hadn’t seen this distinction expressed quite like this, but I found it helpful.

Developing a content strategy

The book describes the steps involved in developing a content strategy. While these can flex significantly in practice, the basics include:

  • stakeholder alignment – getting key people to support your content efforts
  • audit – identifying what content you currently have
  • analysis – understanding the world in which your content lives
  • core strategy – setting the long-term direction for all your content initiatives
  • content – defining the substance, structure, workflow and governance of your content

People

It’s telling that the last 4 chapters of the books discuss “people issues” – from content job descriptions to governance approaches to ways to pitch content efforts to upper management.

In my experience, it’s not developing the content or implementing the technology that’s the biggest challenge. It’s managing the people issues.

Adaptive content – what does it mean for web editing?

In discussing the future of content, the book makes the point that “we need to start thinking about content as something that lives beyond a particular publishing platform.” So true. As web editors, is our work really confined to one platform? Or is our focus increasingly on content, regardless of form?

Bottom line: The book sums up the importance of content this way: “Better content means better business.” I really believe that. The book does a great job of explaining why this “no-brainer” idea is both important to understand – and really hard to do right.

What books about web writing and related topics do you read? Share your favorites here!

Search Audits – Finding Out Where You Stand

by Alan Eggleston

Photo: Alan Eggleston screen capture

Photo: Alan Eggleston screen capture

One of the first actions I take for a client – whether I’m providing SEO services or simply writing or editing copy for them – is to perform a search audit. In addition to doing the thing they ask me to do, I want to know, where do they stand today in a search, and how can I build on that (and certainly not make it worse)?

When you decide to make changes to your website, you should know where you stand in a search, too. And you should take actions that will do it no harm. The best way to know where you stand is to do a search audit.

What is a search audit?

Like any kind of audit, a search audit is an analysis. In this case, it looks at the basics of your website and attempts to see what results a basic search returns and how your website contributes to it. Here is what I do in a basic search audit.

My basic search audit

First, I set my search tools to “any time” and “all results.” I also clean out my browser cache, history, and cookies; these, plus location, can affect results. (See Google’s Search Settings for more details.)

Next, I do a basic organic search using the relevant keywords and phrases for my site and see where my site shows up and how my site compares with my competition. This isn’t an exhaustive search, more of a cursory search to see if my site shows up in the very important first three pages of returns, how I’m competing with others whom my potential customers may also find, and for my most critical keywords and phrases.

Afterwards, I look “under the hood” of the site – in the “source code” to see what optimizes the site or what acts as roadblocks to search. I’ve talked about these before, but to summarize:

  • Meta tags: Does every page have a unique page title, description, and list of keywords? Does every image and graphic have an alt tag?
  • Positioning of elements: Is the top of the page code heavy, or are indexable heads and text at the top?
  • Head tags: Do headlines and subheads use the H1, H2, H3 (etc.) head tags to add weight?
  • Strong tags: Are keywords bolded or italicized with “strong” and “emphasis” tags on first use to add weight?
  • Links and anchor text:  Are keywords given authoritative links using a variety of external URLs and anchor text that tell search engines they are meaningful and highly relevant to your page?

To look at source code in a Windows browser, right click on the page and in Chrome scroll to “view page source”; in Internet Explorer scroll to “view source.”

I also verify that there isn’t anything “black hat” in the source code that could earn penalties, including hidden text, keyword stuffing, link stuffing, and so on.

More robust audits

If I’m doing SEO work for the client, I do a more exhaustive audit including more keywords and phrases, identifying and searching for specific competitors (a competitive site analysis), and searching through greater results depth. For very competitive industries or for clients where local results are particularly important, I focus more on local results.

I also look at inbound and outbound links more thoroughly. Search engines penalize for linking to spam and sites that aren’t relevant to your topic, so it’s important to ensure you don’t accept link exchanges or links with no real connection to you or your organization, including links further down the link matrix. One way to review links is through the links reporting in your analytics program (Google Analytics includes this feature, which also allows you to disavow negative links).

This is also a good time to consider how you approach social media interaction. Facebook, LinkedIn, blog, and other social networking likes, retweets, shares, forwards, and other interactions that indicate an acceptance of your content add value to your site, and if what gets passed on includes a link to your site, all the better. So be sure to add links to interior pages to your site and a way to pass them on.

Also good to check is whether your site is registered with certain professional and industry directories, which provide opportunities for links, and listings like Yellow Pages, Maps (Google, Yahoo, and Bing), Google Place, and Local First.

After the NSA PRISM surveillance revelations, some people looking for additional privacy have started using less prominent search engines, such as StartPage and Ixquick. Google and Bing remain the dominant search engines, but for the immediate future, don’t forget to account for this shift in source of traffic.

It’s all about building traffic

All these elements and more can affect how search engines view your site and, thus, your search ranking. Your whole purpose should be to optimize your site for searches so people who want your product or services can find them. Performing an audit will help you find where you come up short and improve your site. That is your goal, right – bringing in more traffic?

Do It Well: Addressing the Mobile Market

By Cathy Hodson

In a recent webinar on Responsive, Adaptive and Progressive website design that I sat in on, Bill Cava, the “chief evangelist” of Ektron, said that the proliferation of mobile devices is disrupting many businesses. He gave the examples of the newspaper business, which has traditionally been a print business but is and has been transitioning toward delivery of online and mobile content; and cameras – why would anyone want a standalone camera any more when you can snap an arguably good photo with your phone? Professional photographers might disagree with that, but Cava went on to say that it is predicted that there will be one BILLION smartphones in the world by 2016. If our heads haven’t already exploded from information overload, that is.

The mobile invasion
If you haven’t begun looking at how to address the mobile device market with your website and communication plans, you need to. According to a recent Pew Research study on smartphones, 56 percent of American adults now own a smartphone of some kind, with Android and iPhone owners accounting for half of the cell phone user population. In another recent Pew study on tablet usage, the researchers found that tablet adoption has almost doubled over the past year. “For the first time, a third (34 percent) of American adults now own a tablet computer, including almost half (49 percent) of those in their later thirties and early forties and a majority (56 percent) of those in higher income households.”

There are still hold outs. Maybe you know some of them. According to Pew, one third (35 percent) have some other kind of cell phone that is not a smartphone, and the remaining nine percent of Americans do not own a cell phone at all. So some people do still have a life.

Pew goes on to say that “ownership is particularly high among younger adults, especially those in their twenties and thirties (although a majority of Americans in their mid-forties through mid-fifties are now smartphone adopters).” Eighteen percent of Americans age 65 and older now own a smartphone, compared with 13 percent in February 2012.

Tablets Skew A Little Older
Tablets, on the other hand, also according to Pew Internet Research, skew a little older than the smartphone market. “Unlike smartphones, which are most popular with younger adults ages 18-34, we see the highest rates of tablet ownership among adults in their late thirties and early forties. In fact, almost half (49 percent) of adults ages 35-44 now own a tablet computer, significantly more than any other age group. Adults ages 65 and older, on the other hand, are less likely to own a tablet (18 percent) than younger age groups.”

How much mobiletraffic?
For my company, a nursing association, mobile traffic now accounts for 20 percent of the traffic that comes to our website. We implemented responsive design across our website in May, and we are looking forward to seeing how this helps our traffic numbers, particularly during our Annual Meeting in August.

Mobile design is a challenge for everyone involved in delivering content. Responsive design is one solution – one website catering to many devices. There are other solutions out there, and it is up to each company to decide what is best for their needs. If your company has not begun to consider addressing the mobile market, I suggest you get moving. The Information Superhighway continues to move at the speed of light. Don’t get left behind.