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 the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Search & Social | SEO: Image Search | Social Media Marketing


About The Author: 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.

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  • thekohser

    Lise, this is a helpful article. Not to be a wet blanket (because I do think there’s a good deal of value in what you’ve presented here), I am skeptical of how much traffic an image is going to generate for the image and license provider. We all know that external links provide lots of outbound traffic, because that’s what the general Wikipedia user gravitates toward when seeking more information about a subject. Clicking on a picture, then following where it came from? Not so likely. So, your appeal to the PR world to come fill up Wikipedia with pictures is, in my opinion, unfairly advantaged to Wikipedia — the encyclopedia’s net value will definitely increase much more from the added pictures than will the value of the licensor of the pictures. But, that seems to be the Wikipedia way. Jimbo benefits a lot. Contributors are barely thanked.

  • JEHochman

    On a high traffic article, a picture of your product is free product placement. Many thousands of visitors will see the product and the brand.

    Additionally, if the image has a CC-BY license, visitors can copy the images to their own sites, but they are required to provide an attribution link. That’s the viral part.

    Let me “think evil” for a moment. There are Wikipedia mirrors that don’t use nofollow, and there’s no guarantee that nofollow will be in place forever. As better anti-spam measures are put in place at Wikipedia, I expect that nofollow will eventually be removed. Among Wikipedia volunteers, I think a substantial number recognize that nofollow makes the web worse, and they would agree to remove it if other defenses were effective.

  • David Gerard

    Note, by the way, that watermarked images are ill-favoured, i.e. likely to be deleted, on Commons, and verboten on English Wikipedia (which means that even if it’s uploaded to Commons it won’t be used there).

  • Seth Finkelstein

    JEHochman, I’m skeptical that the Wikipedia mirrors are all that helpful for link-love, apart from maybe They’re pretty spammy sites, and Google probably has figured them out by now. While many Wikipedia volunteers may be against nofollow, the powers-that-be apparently favor it, so I’m also skeptical that there will be any change in the forseeable future.

    While I believe Durova is to be praised for trying to find mutually beneficially arrangements between people seeking site-promotion and Wikipedia, I think there is an underlying classical “asymmetric information” economic problem. That is, Wikipedia knows a lot more about how you will benefit it, than you know about how it will benefit you. AND they can drastically change the rules on you with no recourse, as happened with “nofollow” being implemented by a simple decision from on-high (I still wonder about that – Brion V. stated Wales said to do it, Wales seemed to imply it was actually Brion’s idea, so that confuses the issue).

  • David Gerard

    Seth fails to note, of course, that adding images to Wikimedia Commons may constitute a pro-cult activity.

  • thekohser

    Here’s another rub — how is it that a self-interested party adding pictures doesn’t also run into “conflict of interest” issues? Are we saying it’s okay with pictures, questionable with text, and absolutely verboten with hyperlinks? Sounds like we have a sliding ethical scale for WP:COI.

  • Seth Finkelstein

    Now, now, David, you’re confusing my well-known point that Wikipedia is a cult, with a strawman that all Wikipedia exploitation is thus cult activity (please keep in mind you brought this up in the thread, not me). And thus as you snidely note that non-cult type exploitation is obviously not a cult activity, *BAM*, down goes the strawman.

    However, nowhere have I stated that all Wikipedia exploitation should be accounted cult activity, or that being a cult constitutes the sole and only mechanism of Wikipedia exploitation. That’s merely the most common and prominent method 1/2 :-).

    I’m taking this article on its own terms, as a marketing piece, which is often a proposal for mutual exploitation :-). Again, on a personal level, I’d say Durova is doing something very laudable in the article. But on a business level, I’m dubious the transaction is as good a deal for the contributors as is being argued.

    thekohser also has an excellent point about the different treatment of images, text, links. From an outsider’s perspective, this is indeed confusing. Why is promotion by images invited, text iffy, links flameworthy? I think the answer is in the relative value of categories, images are likely to benefit Wikipedia a whole lot more than benefit the contributor, so it’s encouraged, whereas links are the reverse, and text roughly in the middle.

    Which is a very strong argument to think a bit skeptically about the deal the contributor is getting.

  • Durova

    There’s one constant factor whether we’re talking about text or images: Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. Its social media aspects exist to support the encyclopedic mission. Industry professionals who adjust accordingly can do all right there.

    Most SEO professionals (and the PR industry in general) have focused on the text side of Wikipedia rather than on the image side, which is a choice that plays to their weaknesses: a very good press release makes a very bad encyclopedia article, just as an excellent encyclopedia article would be a rotten press release. It’s harder to learn a new writing genre than to relicense some images and plan a set of targeted uploads. The site’s volunteers have been deleting around 1700 images a day, mostly because of copyright issues, which is a good indicator of how welcome more copyleft licensed material would be.

    It’s up to businesses to weigh the advantages of this approach. In many cases there’s no real cost to relicensing existing proprietary material. When I checked a Google search for “American wine” today Wikipedia’s article was the number four return so the brand recognition value of getting an image of some particular winery there is probably nontrivial.


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