Camera.pngYou're constantly getting advice, from me and all the Internet marketing gurus, that you need great content to succeed in search marketing (and lots of other Internet marketing techniques, too). And we all assume that you'll write this wonderful content yourself, because, God bless us, if you can write e-mail you can probably write a blog post or a Web article. But, if you're like me, you really want to include a picture. And if you're really like me, you couldn't take a decent picture if your life depended on it. (It might be my camera, pictured above.) And if you're a carbon copy of me, you wouldn't pay to use licensed photos if you had a gun to your head. So, how can you legally use free pictures?

See, legally is the sticking point here. I know that you can use Google Image Search and grab a picture on just about anything, but it's usually stealing. Yeah, I know that the copyright police are unlikely to bang down your door and tie you up with a rope that looks like a circle with a "C" inside, but stealing is still stealing, and I don't want to do it. For a while I was grabbing images from anywhere and slapping them up on my site, but I've stopped. (I keep meaning to go back and get rid of the stuff that I cribbed early on, but it's always on the bottom of my list.)

Recently, I have been feeling proud of myself, because I've been using only photos licensed under Creative Commons, a fantastic movement that wants to allow people to share their copyrighted content for free, but still retain rights to that content. If you're totally unfamiliar with this idea, check out this great video on Creative Commons. (Hat tip to Paull Young.)

So, for the last few months, I've been sourcing my pictures from Flickr advanced search and checking the box near the bottom that says, "Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content." Now, honestly, there are two other boxes that restrict the search even further to "Find content to use commercially" and "Find content to modify, adapt, or build upon," but I haven't been checking those boxes, because I don't think of my blog as being commercial and I am not changing the photos. (If anyone knows whether I should be checking those boxes, please let me know.)

But as I looked over Creative Commons more closely today, I realized that I haven't been complying with the licensing terms. I am supposed to be attributing the photos to their creators, and I haven't been doing that. But I had no idea how to attribute anything—it's not clear from reading the license, and most Flickr photos say nothing about how to attribute them.

So, after a bit of Googling, I found this great interview where Creative Commons' general counsel, Mia Garlick, explains how to attribute work licensed under Creative Commons. It made me feel a bit less stuipid, because it isn't clear cut.

If the copyright owner specifies how to write the attribution, use that. But most don't, so you use your best judgment. From now on, I'll put something at the bottom of my blog posts explaining where I got the picture from and leave it at that. I hope I am legal now, and it's still my favorite price: free.

If you've been holding back on adding photos because you don't want to pay or you don't know how to legally use free photos, check out Flickr's Creative Commons search and start spiffying up your site.

Photo courtesy of John Kratz under Creative Commons license.

October 28, 2008

Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.


Good stuff Mike!

We all have need of quality images for our sites and marketing campaigns. Now we know how to do it without that nagging feeling that something is unethical about it!

I'm also a big fan of Zemanta for image selection - using the WP plugin Zemanta suggests images relating to keywords in your post and then inserts the images along with the credit so you don't have to even do that bit yourself.

Thanks, Craig. I still think of myself as an altar boy, so I hated that nagging feeling, too. I've got to go back and clean up all the pictures I was using illegally in the past...

Great tip, Clare. I'll experiment with the Firefox plug-in because I use Movable Type myself.

Hey, Clare, I installed the Zumanta plug-in fro Firefox and it is great. I just used it for my blog post today--it found the picture and stuck it into my blog and it put in the right copyright attribution. For this unfamiliar with Zumanta, take a look at my post to see what it did:

What a great tool! Thanks so much.

Good information. I learned an expensive lesson this year when I posted a photo supplied by a client. Evidently, he had permission to use the photo and had paid the royalty, but that didn't entitle me to use it, even on his behalf via a cross promotion.

The stock photo company noticed I was using the photo and sent me a substantial bill accompanied by a scary threat. Even though I was able to negotiate the price down somewhat, it was still a very costly lesson. Ouch!

I will definitely check out the photo resources you mentioned here. Only wish I'd known about them sooner.


Really useful, Mike.
But where did Zumanta go to?
I've tried Google search and Mozilla Firefox addons but no trace.

Any suggestions?


'Send three and fourpence, we're going to a dance' is reputed to be the message received by the general at the charge of the Light Brigade.

Whereas the message sent by his Colonel through the messengers was 'Send re-inforcements. We are going to advance!'

So Zemanta got corrupted into Zumanta - for which there are no search results.
However, a slightly more rigorous reading of the comments has put me back on the right path.


Sorry to send you off on the wrong track, Bruce. I am still using Zemanta and it saves me lots of time for each post.

I do use photos from Flickr as the image on my blog. Finding appropriate photographs that be in the commons license are my number one choice for my blog.

Also, I find a way to add a flickr photo album to my blog.

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Search Engine Guide > Mike Moran > Free Pictures Done Right