How to get Permission to Use an Image

Building on top of the great post from Ben Cook, A call to Internet Marketers: Stop Stealing Content, I would like to take this momentum and opportunity to point about a recent case where I got approach the right way with a question if a certain image of mine could be used.

I share Ben's sentiment, where I have had multiple pictures lifted from search results. I even went as far to fill out a DMCA take down request just very recently, to take down an image from a Picasa album. Googla has made that process easy enough to go through it quickly. On a regular basis I get people to reach out to me where they saw my image somewhere used, or even where somebody acted like they took the image. Sometimes you get people to add a link as you requested, most people don't even respond to your email requesting to either add a link or take the picture down. A DMCA to a site owner takes considerably more time than through a simple Google form. So most of the stealing offenders are getting away with it.

The Proper Way to Ask for Permission to Use that Image you Found at Google

While it can go really easy and with a good result if you just ask, as Ben also indicated. Just recently, I received this simple request through my contact form on my picture site

Hello! I found this image online and I was wondering if I could buy this from you or would I be able to use it as a banner?
I look forward to hearing from you.

Its about this picture:

San Francisco Skyline at sunset taken from Treasure Island. Copyrighted picture Dennis Goedegebuure

Now to understand more what kind of business I was dealing with, I responded quickly, and we went back and forth on the topic:


Can you explain more about how you would use the picture? Do you mean an online banner or a printed banner?


It would be for an author book signing I am planning for several authors in SF.  The banner would be used on the website. Here is the site My graphics person found your SF image. Attached is the banner image I would like to get it changed to using your image but I won't unless you give me permission. I also have the banner image with all the author names on there as they would use it on their pages. That is also attached for your review.

Please let me know if it's ok to use and if there is a charge? I'm happy to pay you a fee like when I've purchased off a stock photo site.
 As you can see, the usage of the image is very stylish, and does it justice.
Authors by the Bay
Since this is an event which I would go to myself, and with three kids I support, I don't mind if they use this image for their website. So I responded:
I will grant you the right to use the picture under the following conditions:
- Picture can only be used as described in the previous email, for this event only
- Instead of paying me, I would like to ask you to make a donation to Lucile Packard Foundation of $25 (Feel free to add any amount if you would like to) in name of Deyan Goedegebuure (my son who is diagnosed as a pre-diabetic),
- Can you send the proof to me, as I would like to use it in a blogpost describing your way of asking for permission is the way to go on the internet. I will send the post before publication to you for approval, and will mask any identifiable information
If you would like, you can also add a link to your website to point out the picture is being used with permission, and link to the page where you have found it.
You see that, I didn't even linking back a requirement, since I really think a donation is the form of payment.
In the end, the person requesting the permission to use one of my images ended up doubling the donation to $50. Everybody won in this case, and I'm happy I can point out the way this all should be handled in the future!
donation for permission to use an image

Stop stealing images, just ask permission from the right holder, its really simple!

The email conversations and the banner are published with permission of the person who requested the usage of the image.


Google+ and its Importance for Brand Searches

So many so called Internet Marketing experts have mis-qualified Google+ as a social experiment from the search company in Mountain View. What Google plus will turn out to be, is what you and I are making off it. Right now, it seems to be the environment where you would build up your own authority to be used to classify the value of your publications online.

So how would you use the Google Plus announcements in the knowledge graph box on branded searches for your company? Right, to push a certain message which is actual and important.

Case in point: the economic impact Airbnb is having on the New York City community. Can you imagine that the Airbnb guests over the last year spent more than $632 million dollar in over the different neighborhoods of New York? Where most hotel chains are concentrated in mid town Manhattan, Airbnb guests brought money into local neighborhoods like Astoria Queens, Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn or Lower East Side / Chinatown on Manhattan. And who would have expected that Harlem would be a neighborhood you would go, and stay with people in their house to avoid the usual tourist traps. When I first visited New York when I was 12, people told us to avoid Harlem or Queens all together! Fair enough, that was in the 80s.

So here is my advice. If you have something to say, and you have a valuable brand, make sure you publish a blogpost, and share it on your Google+ profile of your company. This  blog postwill show up right next to the brand search results.  Just check the latest Airbnb post on our G+ profile below here.

How to use Google plus in the knowledge graph

The best part of all of this: YOU CONTROL THE MESSAGE!!!

This is why Guest Blogging is Dead in the Water for SEO

Update: it shows how important this topic is, as the latest webmaster video by Matt Cutts is about Guest blogging. See the embedded video below...

Ever wonder why Google has taken a stance against guest posting? Once again SEO's have killed the tactic and are pissing in their own backyard. Case in point; I received an email with the simple question if I already used guest blogging to build my business. More specifically;

[company name redacted] is developed specifically to grow your business and the level of influence it has on Google on a long term basis through high quality guest blogging. It not only helps you target the strongest keywords in your market, but it builds a platform for your business to solidify your online foundation. If you are already incorporating guest blogging for your sites, I really want to encourage you to try our company out or consider outsourcing to us, as there are few choices in our below-average price range for the level of quality we put out. It'll surely be worth the ROI.

I clicked through to the site to understand the business proposal and guess what, it's a link scheme in the form of article placement... This will surely get you into trouble. You will pay for every post written by a sweat shop in a low income company, distributed through email spamming bloggers that don't know any better;

[company name redacted] is an internet marketing company focusing on the use of guest blogging to generate more traffic to your webpage. You pay for however many posts you want to buy, and our team of advanced guest bloggers will develop a high-quality blog post with great content and place them on blogs relevant to your topic that already have great traffic coming to their site. By doing this, you will gain credibility and develop more link juice for your site, giving it positive recognition by Google.

Really... you just mentioned Link Juice..?  And from the order form you can see that it's all about the link with direct match anchor text...

guest post order form

And from the email:

We focus on strictly "real" guest blogging. We don't use networks or other services to speed up, we simply build relationships with site owners and get high-quality content posted on blogs in your niche. The posts usually fall on sites with a page rank range of 2 to 5 and a minimum
domain authority of 25.

The pricing scheme is pretty expensive, where you need to commit for at least 4 months, at a $67.50 per post! Wow...! Nothing about the quality of the content written, or anything about the outreach strategy.

Can I start running now..?!? No wonder so many people not involved in real SEO hate the SEO industry.


How can I guest blog without it appearing as if I paid for links?

Improved App Insights My *SS, This Is About in App Data

Have you seen the latest land grab in user specific data by Google? Yes, that same company which is now obscuring all referral keywords for organic traffic from their search engine because of privacy concerns for the user? Today Google announced: Improved App Insight by Linking Google Analytics with Google Play. Sounds great right, finally you can see the number of downloads on the Google App store, and you can track those users in your app what they are doing and how valuable they are. But guess what, who else can see this with the integration of Google analytics in your App? Right Google!gp-referral-ga

From the Techcrunch post on the topic (emphasize mine):

The Play Developer Console itself, however, is also getting a bit of an update. It’ll now show information about how often users use an app, for how long and what they are doing inside of it (assuming they have Google Analytics set up in their app).

This two-way data flow, Google argues, “gives you instant access to the in-store and in-app metrics of record in whichever Google product you use.” For most developers, the Analytics integration is probably the most interesting of these two new features, however, as it provides the most comprehensive view of how their apps are performing.

How is it possible the Techcrunch editor, and any other technology writer, totally misses the seismic shift which is happening here. Google getting access to in-App metrics like usage, navigation, in App purchases is a major data point for Google to become the monopoly player on the Android App marketplace. Let me explain:

New Popular Apps

A new App is submitted on the app store. It has the Google analytics integration embedded, which allows Google to track not only the popularity of the App in numbers of downloads, but also would give Google insights into (as mentioned above):

  • Number of active users
  • Time spend on the App
  • Activity within the App

Now do you really think Google would have a popular App like Waze grow as big as it did, before spending over a $1 Billion to buy the popular App? I reckon the business development and the Mergers & Acquisitions teams at Google will keep a close eye on which Apps are doing great after launch, pulling the in-App metrics and negotiate the sh*t out of a deal.

If the App makers don't want to sell, there is always the opportunity to build your own. With all the internal data available for the dev teams, and a hard coded position in the Google Play store, I bet a native Google - Android App would win it 99/100.

Rankings & Popular Apps

In a private conversation with an SEO I really respect, he brought up a good point on the way Google could use the in-App data in a different way to gain a competitive advantage: Cross referencing the internal data across users, you can figure out which App downloaders are the innovators in the space. A little unclear explanation, so let me give a little bid more details.

Across all the App downloads in Google Play, Google can quickly spot those people who downloads apps early in their lifetime., which become popular. Using statistical modelling and a large data set, they could predict the probability a certain App becomes popular purely based on the fact it's being downloaded by certain people. This is not only good for early acquisition discussions, but could also become a competitive advantage over other App stores, because Google would be able to recommend better App's, have better rankings in the App store etc.

Privacy of the User

I more and more get the feeling Google is one creepy company. The argument of privacy within organic search has been made very clear; Google doesn't want anybody snooping on what people are searching for, see this quote:

We added SSL encryption for our signed-in search users in 2011, as well as searches from the Chrome omnibox earlier this year. We’re now working to bring this extra protection to more users who are not signed in.

So what about the privacy of Android users, downloading an App on their phone, not knowing the big G is tracking every movement, every action and every purchase they make in these Apps? More data for Google, not for us...!


More Advertising in Gmail

gmail-adsHere is a little peek into the future of advertising in your Gmail account. Prepare to see more popping up, colors changing, and new Ad formats being tested the closer we come to the end of the year. Hey, Google is a for-profit company, and the pressure to out-perform the quarterly results year after year is just really big. With a stock price dependent on good news, the temptation to all that virgin real estate in the free-Google products must be simply too large for some of the groups within Google. Gmail will probably carry many more ads in the next couple of months, apart from the smarter targeting on the content of YOUR emails!

Just think about it, now that you are opt-in into Google+ with that same Gmail account, Google can easily start to target ads much better based on your G+ activity, friends networks and stage in life. I'm sure Google will milk this investment really good, as a large number of people, including me, have been using Gmail for a quite some time. So Google could mine all those emails for better targeting, where in the time I've been using the Gmail account went through various life stages. With some smart people in the room, they must be able to figure out what is next in my life, and include that in the personal ad targeting algorithm to serve "better" ads for me. Hey, if it's good for users, why not!

In the mean time, I still receive other people's email in my Gmail inbox, where I never got an answer on the post about the Gmail security breach. This is still an open issue!

Converse Chuck Stars & Stripes

While walking on Market Street in San Francisco, I walked by the Converse store. Check out the Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers Stars & Stripes wall for 9/11!

Converse Chuck Taylor Stars & Stripes

Never forget!

Own the SERP’s

Sometimes you learn more about SEO, other times you learn a little. Today, with the launch of Android KitKat, the Search results (SERP's) for the search term KitKat changed significantly in a short time. Based on some comments online from a former search quality engineer, after I posted the screenshot of the Android/KitKat page ranking #2, we can determine QDF (QDF = Quality Deserves Freshness) can trump page authority for high volume searches with news trending. So how can you dominate search? Own the SERP's!
Here is the old SERP for the search term KitKat. Where the timeframe for the pages ranked was changed using the Search Tools. Data range: 8/1/2000 - 8/31/2013, to make sure we include all the published content on KitKat for the last 13 years prior to today!

KitKat Search Results before the Android announcement

Now, based on today's news; the announcement of the partnership between Nestle's KitKat and Google's Android, the search results for KitKat look much different. What is interesting is that the knowledge graph box is showing on the right side of the results in the latest results, while it is not showing in the results set when you change the timeframe.

The search results for KitKat today after the Android news brokeSo what is here to learn, QDF is strong... Maybe even stronger when it's about a Google product..?

QDF chat

What have you learned in SEO world today? What have you seen in the SERP's?  How can you dominate search? Own the SERP's! Literally 

The Curious Case of Webmaster Central Search Query Data

For some time, we SEO's have known Google Webmaster Central query data is not always accurate. Ian Lurie even called it worthless. Still I look at the data once in a while to find good opportunities or small wins. For the last couple of weeks, I've been following a rather curious case in our Webmaster Tools data (Google Webmaster tools from now on abbreviated with GWT). I suspect the phenomenon I'm describing in this post has started to occur with the change in image search on Google, which resulted in a massive decrease in image search referrals for websites explained here by Define Media, (trust me, I know; I lost a lot of image search traffic on this website). The data in GWT has become even more inaccurate. Here goes...The Curious Case of Webmaster Central Search Query Data.

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Washington DC Images

When you do a search for the keyword Washington DC, you will spot an image from Airbnb's Washington DC Neighborhood page in the image search universal box:

Washington DC Airbnb image ranking

You would think you could expect a whole lot of traffic from an image like this high up in the Google search results. This might have been the case, where the old image search lay out could be a great source of traffic for any website, however, let me disappoint you right there, that since the new image search lay out, hardly any traffic is clicking through to the website where the image originated. Google, the scraper site, is keeping all those visits on their own properties...

Here is that same search query on Google image search:

image search Washington dc Airbnb

As you can see, the Washington DC image from Airbnb ranks really well, even without proper SEO best practices like file name of the image nor the domain it's being served from (yeah, don't get me started on that one..)

Google Webmaster Tools Query Data

At first glance, looking up the Washington DC Neighborhood page in the Top Pages report in Google Webmaster Central it looks all fine. The Washington Neighborhood is the second page when it comes to impressions in the Google search results, when filtered on the US and Web alone! However, if you're in the travel vertical, you'll know this order of destinations is not right! New York is a much more popular destination, where especially Airbnb is well represented with a large number of great listings in Manhattan or in Brooklyn. Even the San Francisco on Airbnb should show larger number of impressions, just from a gut feeling alone.

webmaster central Washington DC traffic

It becomes even stranger if you click the page open to see the search terms for that page. Suddenly, the query Washington DC shows a higher number of impressions than the overall page does. The clicks are way off,  and not by a little, but by a landslide...

Webmaster Tools strange numbers

Hypothesis on the Difference in Click Numbers

My hypothesis on the differences between the numbers as reported in GWT is simple. Back to the Image universal search box on the Washington DC query:

Universal Search image box Washington DC

What if the number of impressions represent the number of times this image was presented to searchers in the SERP's, both web or images. Where the the lower click number, 700 clicks, represents the actual to the page on all keywords, and the clicks on the keyword Washington DC, 3200 clicks, represents the clicks on the image where those folks stay at Google, but only see the larger image as it was scraped crawled.

What do you think..? Please let me know down here in the comments...

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Localized Sitelinks for Brand Query Airbnb

After last weeks post about the local tree houses in the Google SERP's, I came across the local sitelinks for our brand term (thanks to my neighbor colleague who was asking about the difference between the paid and organic sitelinks). When I do a search for the brand term Airbnb here in San Francisco, I get a number of local pages on Airbnb as sitelinks. You see a link to the SF city page and a link to listings in downtown San Francisco Airbnb San Francisco sitelinks

If you change the location to New York, the sitelinks change to pages on Airbnb with rentals in New York, and specifically in Manhattan. Airbnb sitelinks in New York

Taking this same location based search to a smaller city in the US, but a very hospitable one, Tampa (which came out of our study; Airbnb’s Hospitality Index: America’s Most Hospitable Cities), you see again local sitelinks, but the anchor text is focussed on the room type like; house & Apartment. Airbnb sitelinks in Tampa


Going to try one more; a popular summer destination for Vacation rentals in Myrtle Beach; the sitelinks for keyword Airbnb change again into more local site links with specific anchor text; North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach MYR. Just one of these does not have a localized anchor text; Apartment. Airbnb Myrtle Beach sitelinks

I tried to see if the local sitelinks are a travel vertical phenomenon. None of the travel sites I tried, I was able to replicate city level sitelinks based on the searcher location. The only website I was able to replicate this for, was for YELP: Yelp localized site links

Localized Sitelinks, Is this Good for Users?

A standard answer for any change made by Google is: It's good for users. It's questionable how useful these localized sitelinks really are for users. As I live in San Francisco, it's actually not really good for my experience to showcase San Francisco Airbnb pages, unless you would like to become a host on Airbnb.

My hypothesis is: Google is trying to become a mobile first company, where location of the user is becoming pre-dominantly important. Only if this is true, the localized San Francisco sitelinks make sense, as I might be looking for a place to stay in the city where I do a search on my smartphone!

Google as your Personal Assistant and New Revenue Optimization

For a long time, I've been thinking in what a company like Google could morph into. Just think about what you could do with the assets they have, large data centers for data storage/processing. The most visited websites in the world, the most popular smart phone operating system, Google analytics being used by a large number of webmasters and self driving cars; all of these products can collect data of our daily habits, which websites we visit and where we travel. What triggered me to write this blog post was a thread on Threadwatch by Joe Hall;

If you haven't heard of Google Now yet, you really should take a look at it....a serious look at it....This mobile app/platform tracks your movements and activities to act as a personal assistant of sorts through out the day. So for example if every day you take the same route to work, Google Now can give you a weather report for that route automatically. Sounds neat right? Yes, if you are willing to hand over your location data, personal habits, and daily routine to the worlds largest advertising platform.....yes that's real neat! And now as Barry Schwartz points out, Google Now can now show your boss your exact location.

The most interesting to me is that it integrates with Google+ Locations and let's you see when your employees or co-workers get to work, leave work, get home and so forth. It can also notify you when your kids leave school or get to school.

If you ask me, this is all just way to much. I mean seriously when are we going to draw the line on our personal privacy just so we can have a fun gadget????

Now let me paint a scenario what I've been thinking about.

  1. You're driving in your self driving car for your commute to work every day, while you work or read on your Chrome book.
  2. Suddenly, your car gives you a warning the car needs gas
  3. You give the car the approval to find the nearest/best gas station

Sounds about right, the car would plan the best route to a gas station you can fill up your car, and continue the drive home. But here comes the conflict of interest in play, while Google self driving car would like to take you from A to B, in either the fastest route or the most economical route, based on the premise of shareholder maximization, the car could decide on a different plan without even informing you.

Cheaper gas prices

Google is a profit maximization company, where the revenue is driven by advertising budgets. What if a gas station which is not on a convenient route for commuters to get to is willing to pay x$ for every lead Google brings to their pump. The car could make a decision that it's in Google's shareholders best interest to skip the cheaper gas from the station right next to the road, in favor of the gas station willing to pay a kick back on the gas it sells through the Google advertising program.

More expensive gas prices

Now suddenly Google will have a giant new revenue stream from all kind of offline stores, services and gas stations just based on the automatic optimization for revenue maximization. How's that for a business model. And with your Android or Chrome book, and Google wallet, you did not even notice you were ripped off, as you never saw the money leaving your wallet!

Suddenly, the self driving cars, the Android push and the acquisition of Waze all make sense, right?