Do Google Images index unused images?

Some time ago, I was quite bored, so I got an idea. What if I uploaded an image to my blog, but didn't use the image anywhere, at all! How much would it take for google to index the image? How about to show it in the results listing when searching for images? Would the image even be in the results, if not used in an img html tag?

So I went to google images and started searching for all sorts of things, to see what kind of competition there was for the keywords I chose. I decided on trying to rank for these keywords:

  • spam bird with 24,300,000 results
  • bird spam with 24,200,000 results
  • birdspam with 852 results
  • spambird with 412 results

So, I started by making a rather ugly image, that would be easily recognizable when looking through the results at Google Images. I uploaded it the 13. Feb, 20:18:38. Then I made around 30 backlinks to the image and pinged those URL's so that Google would find the backlinks. It didn't take long before the kind GoogleBot downloaded my image file, as you can see by this log entry from my webserver: - [14/Feb/2012:04:00:48] "GET /static/files/2012/02/birdspam.jpg HTTP/1.1" 200 95768 "-" "Googlebot-Image/1.0"

Less than eight hours after I uploaded the image, it was downloaded by Google! Excelent, I went to check if the image were to be found on Google Images. It was not!

So, I decided to up the ante. I purchased 15k backlinks from fiverr, pointing directly to my image. I had to wait a day before I received the backlink report. I then made google slowly find the url's that are linking to my nice image, so that I could find out exactly what amount of links was required before Google would show an image that isn't used anywhere.

So I got the links, and a day later, I checked Google Images. Sure enough, I had to specify the exact size of the image to find it, but it was indexed and it was being shown. I figured that google would take me to some kind of image caching site, but no, I was taken to a russian website where one of the links to the image was.

At this point, I was enlightened. I figured that in order for google to show an image, it had to be used somewhere, inside an HTML img tag - I was wrong. :-)

I waited a few more days, to see how high the image would rank. Five days later, I checked the rankings:

spam bird: 7
bird spam: 11
spambird: 11
birdspam: 1!

So that answered my question! Yes, Google does index unused images if there is enough links to it!

On a related note, my image was ranking pretty good, considering the competition, but whenever anybody would search for that image, they would go to sites other than mine.

That brought up another interesting question. Would google penalize duplicate content, when the content is an image? I mean, they found it first at that russian site and then on two other .com sites, so maybe it would be hard to make the image rank with MY site as the site people would be taken to, when clicking the image in google images.

Which is why I now present you the image of the bird spam, that I created for this experiment. In a weeks time, maybe before, google will rank my image with my site as the owner, or maybe not. I'll let you know. :-)

Anyways, here is the bird spam image:


Written by Jannich Brendle tor 23 februar 2012 In SEO

tags: backlinksgoogleresearch

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