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Sunday, May 26, 2024

An Untapped SEO Opportunity: Image Link Love From Wikipedia

Suppose I told you about a way to create viral links on Wikipedia without raising objections from the site’s volunteers. Would I have your attention?

The key is images.

Wikipedia suffers from a shortage of images for use as illustrations and the SEO profession has yet to recognize the opportunity this presents. A modest investment of time learning site standards and licensure options can yield substantial benefits in website traffic, brand recognition, and customer loyalty.

According to Cary Bass of the Wikimedia Foundation, “The Wikimedia Foundation appreciates good quality, freely licensed images, and credit where credit is due is never an issue. Many of our images fall under an attribution license, which often takes the form of a web link back to the releaser’s web page.” So one mutually beneficial SEO strategy is to locate appropriate articles that lack images and upload a targeted set of images for them. As long as these uploads benefit the encyclopedia and the approach doesn’t come on too strong, site volunteers welcome the material.

To see what this means, let’s start by examining a missed opportunity. One of the world’s leading champagne producers is the Taittinger label. They also have some of the most interesting cellars in the business: part twelfth century monastery, part fourth century Roman chalk quarry. I visited the place when I was in France and enjoyed it for the history even though I’m not much for champagne. A good set of copyleft uploads from this firm could suit a variety of winemaking articles and probably appear elsewhere on topics as diverse as French history and Gallo-Roman culture. Unfortunately for both Taittinger and Wikipedia, the lone image on the article about this vintner is an amateur snapshot of the parking lot.


Taittinger is a leading champagne producer that operates in historic structures from Medieval and Roman times, but due to licensing issues Wikipedia’s article depicts only the parking lot.

A glance at Taittinger’s rival Moet et Chandon gives a better impression. The article about this firm, which is the maker of Dom Perignon champagne, contains four respectable images. That establishes an adequate brand presence on the article page, yet a close look shows how this company still misses out on several potential opportunities.


Moet et Chandon, makers of Dom Perignon champagne: the firm could get more traffic and brand recognition with a coordinated strategy.

Of the four Moet et Chandon article images, only one generates an outgoing link to the firm’s web site and that image is under full copyright. Fair use rationales don’t allow for reproduction at related pages where an astute marketer wants to appear and full copyright prevents an image from being housed at Wikimedia Commons. We’ll learn more about Commons later and how it facilitates viral links, but for now it’s enough to note that this company is in six different language editions of Wikipedia but only two of those six languages have an image-based link to the company’s site. Among the other three images on the page, two are under GDFL license and generate no outgoing links to the firm. The third has a CC-by-SA 2.0 license with an outgoing link to the photographer’s web site. Although the brand exposure probably still benefits the company, this image may be a legal gray area since Moet et Chandon owns an underlying trademark.

The bottom line for our discussion is that businesses can generate synergies by selectively re-licensing some images for use at Wikipedia and its sister projects. The first people to understand how to do this effectively are going to gain exposure at high level articles. An innovative SEO approach for either Taittinger or Moet et Chandon, for example, could position an outgoing link by uploading an image for use at Wikipedia’s article about the Champagne wine region or the history of wine. According to Larry Pieniazek, who volunteers for both Wikimedia Commons and Wikipedia, preferential treatment goes to the first appropriate image that gets suggested for an article. Wikipedia articles aren’t galleries so later candidates need to be substantially better in quality to take the place of an existing image.

Opportunity for high level placements exist across the topic of winemaking. The article American wine has no image at all. That’s right: if you represent an American vintner, your client’s product could become Wikipedia’s lead image of American wine. Other language editions would duplicate that image along with its outgoing link, and other downstream users would continue to spread the brand presence and linkage. A range of other articles lack images:

Regardless of your client’s specialty, a lot of low hanging fruit probably waits to be picked.

Hosting your images

The ideal location for image uploads isn’t Wikipedia itself but a sister project called Wikimedia Commons. Commons hosting makes it easy for an editor from the French Wikipedia or the Japanese Wikipedia to reuse an image they find at the English language Wikipedia. Of the three Commons regulars I consulted—Bass, Pieniazek and Brianna Laugher—all advised against massive uploads: Wikimedia Commons isn’t a free web host. Yet they all reacted with enthusiasm to the idea of twenty targeted uploads for specific articles that lacked images. A vintner could supply photos of grapevines, harvesting, fermentation, tasting, and finished product.

Sometimes, as Laugher explained, multiple images of the same subject are welcome if they emphasize different aspects of a topic. Laugher recommended the Mayflower search engine to scan Commons content and suggested the Commons help desk as a good place to seek advice.

Pieniazek added suggestions for categorization. “The best way to categorize them is to do it by what seems to come naturally… grapes under grapes, the process stuff under winemaking, and wines under wines. The category system is pretty good even though it could be better. Announcing on the Village Pump and asking for help would be a good thing in this case too.”

Appropriate licensure is important. Wikimedia Commons volunteers agree that CC-by-sa 2.5 or 3.0 is an attractive option for SEO purposes because it can stipulate that downstream users replicate an outgoing link to the client’s site as attribution. Learn the details before taking the plunge: some form of dual licensure might be the best option for a client’s needs and some of the other Creative Commons licenses are not accepted at Wikimedia projects. Credit normally appears on the image page rather than in an article caption.

A checklist for Wikipedia image SEO

1. Do a survey to identify specific articles that lack quality images. Your aim should be to provide unique content where it did not exist before. Create a list of images that would each enhance at least one article.

2. Arrange the appropriate licensing and announce it on your client’s web site.

3. Upload images to Wikimedia Commons. Include a statement about licensing status and an outgoing link as verification. Categorize the images.

4. Over at Wikipedia, notify the appropriate WikiProject with a list that correlates available images to suggested articles and request assistance from volunteers. This indirect approach is diplomatic for conflict of interest situations.

5. Be low key and tasteful. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia.

My next column will explain more ways to benefit from image uploads, including tips for landing a spot at some of the best real estate on the Internet: Wikipedia’s home page.

Durova is the pen name for Lise Broer, a Wikipedia administrator who confronts some of the site’s most disruptive editors. After graduating Columbia College, Lise attended film school and also served in the US Navy. The Let’s Get Social column appears Tuesdays at Search Engine Land.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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