Google’s upcoming Licensable badge feature should make it easy to find licensable images without needing to leave Google Images. We take a look at how it will work and how to prepare for it.
Google is currently working on a new Google Licensable badge feature, which should make it easier to find and license images for use.
For many, this is a change that’s welcome but long overdue. As our recent article on image downloading attitudes explained, research indicates that many people use search engines to find images they want to use, with a majority specifically using Google Images. That in itself isn’t an issue, more the fact that many people are prepared to download images straight from these searches, without regard for copyright or licensing restrictions that may be in place.
This is despite warnings that have been present on Google Images results since 2018, which explain that an image may be subject to copyright protection.
The Licensable badge feature is currently in beta, which means that some details may change before the feature is made public, although Google has announced enough information for us to understand what this means for photographers and those managing content.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Google Licensable badge, including what this means for SmartFrame users.
What is the Google Licensable badge?
The Google Licensable badge, which has also been referred to as the Google Licensable label, is a small notification that appears over thumbnail images in Google Images searches. The badge makes it clear that the image may be licensed for use.
When the user clicks on the image, further details are revealed. There’s a License Details notification, which links to details of the license itself. The name of the licensor’s website is also included here, as is the name of the creator and the credit required for attribution.
How do I attach the Google Licensable badge to my images?
Google has stated that those who wish for licensing information to be displayed on their images should include the relevant information in one of two ways.
The first method is to use structured data (markup), while the other way is to append IPTC metadata to the image itself. Whichever way you use, this information can then be read by Google and automatically included where necessary.
In other words, you do not need to apply for this separately. You just need to make sure to include it in a way that Google can read it from your images.
As the IPTC Organization explains on its website, proper use of the Web Statement of Rights field is what determines whether the Licensable badge appears. This field needs to contain a valid URL, which should link to an explanation of the copyright ownership and what the license on offer allows.
Not sure what IPTC metadata is? We’ve put together a separate article that goes into this in more detail.
What’s the difference between structured data and IPTC metadata?
The main difference between the two is that IPTC metadata remains part of the image wherever it goes, whereas structured data exists within a web page and so it remains separate.
For most content owners, appending IPTC metadata to the image – or separately in a sidecar file – probably makes more sense. In other cases, such as when the image in question is hosted elsewhere or when its IPTC fields are not accessible for some reason, structured data may make more sense.
Google explains structured data in more detail on its Developers blog.
When will the badge be available?
While some IPTC information is already being displayed alongside images in Google Images searches, the company hasn’t confirmed a specific date for the Licensing badge’s availability.
Google was expected to start crawling the web for additional metadata in May and release the badge at the end of that month. However, the coronavirus pandemic has delayed these efforts by at least a month or two. Currently, there is no official release date, but we’re hoping that it will happen at some point in July.
Is there anything I should do now?
While the feature may not be available just yet, Google points out that filling in the relevant IPTC fields now will mean the badge can be displayed once the feature becomes available.
It also underlines the importance of site accessibility, and being able to crawl and index relevant pages. So those who plan on licensing images in this way can make good use of time by ensuring there are no obstacles here (see below).
Aren’t licensing options already included in Google Images searches?
Currently, when you search via Google Images, you are able to filter results in a number of ways to make it easier to find what you’re looking for.
You just click on the Tools option underneath the search bar and a number of filters appear. These include Size, Color and Type, and they’re joined by an option called Usage Rights.
Clicking on Usage Rights gives you four options for filtering – labeled for commercial reuse with modifications; labelled for reuse; labeled for noncommercial reuse with modifications; and labeled for noncommercial reuse – as well as an additional option that instructs Google not to filter results by license type.
So if Google already has an option to filter by license type, why is it introducing the Licensable badge?
The main difference between the two appears to concern whether the image in question is licensable for a fee. The existing four options all result in images that can be used without cost, whereas the Licensable badge allows the content owner to detail licensing terms (including costs) on their own website.
For many years, Google Images has long been viewed as an easy and obvious place from which to steal images. Google had previously displayed options to view images at particular sizes underneath images, and many have suspected that their removal was in response to this criticism – particularly as it added a notice about respecting copyright in its place.
The Licensable badge makes it clear that an image may be licensed, but that it can only be used in accordance with specific conditions that are detailed by the content owner on their website. Those wishing to discover these terms must, therefore, click through to the website to view them, as these would not fall under the existing filtering options.
It’s possible that these filtering options will change once Google makes the Licensable badge available, although the lack of consistency between different royalty-free licenses means that one would still need to understand the terms for a specific image on the licensor’s website, rather than in Google Images.
How does this affect SmartFrames?
SmartFrame already supports this feature and generates a thumbnail compatible with the new Google Licensable badge standard.
In order to activate this feature, relevant metadata fields have to be populated. If your source image contains the relevant metadata it will be imported automatically, although you can add the missing metadata manually for images that have already been uploaded to SmartFrame (and even batch-edit image metadata here if you need to).
You’ll also need to enable the Image Search Engine thumbnail option in the Control section of the Admin Panel. Once that’s done, SmartFrame generates thumbnails that are optimized for Google with all of the metadata included.
A few tips here: Google Images favours thumbnails that are fairly large and have a common aspect ratio, as opposed to images with a more atypical aspect ratio (such a panoramic images). If you want your images to rank better, set the size of the thumbnail to the largest one available.
Additionally, in order to minimize the likelihood of image theft, we suggest adding a watermark to your thumbnails, which can be configured in the SmartFrame Admin Panel.
How do I make this badge work for my business?
First of all, you need to know whether web users can easily find your images. The simplest way is to publish your images and try searching for them using keywords in Google Images.
There isn’t a single recipe for this, and it very much depends on what content you want to publish. Unique and unusual keywords may get less traffic, but these are more likely to be found among the competition. You may wish to use a keyword tool – or an application that includes one, such as Google’s own Google Ads – to find common search terms.
If you’re not one of the largest image agencies with a big marketing budget and a huge content library, you will find it difficult to compete with commonly searched keywords. That’s why carving a niche for your content is a better strategy than a direct confrontation.
The Google Images crawler analyses the webpage where the image is hosted – often called the asset page – so it’s important that the page meets the usual SEO criteria. There are many SEO resources and guides out there, but the following points cover the basics.
● The asset page should contain text relevant to the image, such as a description or caption
● The asset page metadata (title, keywords and description) should be relevant to the image content and meet the usual SEO criteria, such as the recommended length and format
● Content should be unique, so avoid duplicates and repetitions (ideally, a similar page should not exist anywhere else)
● Use human-friendly URLs for both the asset page and the thumbnail
● The thumbnail’s filename should be human friendly too
● Make sure your SSL certificate is valid and your website address always redirects to https://
● Make sure your image is optimized for mobile devices
● Finally, be sure that it’s optimized to allow for fast page loading
The Google Images crawler also needs to be able to find the asset page. End users usually get to these pages by searching for keywords, but Google’s crawler doesn’t know what to search for and the search page becomes a dead end. If the page is not linked to another page, it may be invisible to Google.
One solution is to publish collections, featured images and category trees that help the search bot navigate your inventory. You can also generate sitemaps and image sitemaps for your content, and instruct Google where to find them.
My images are configured for the Licensable badge. What next?
The next step will be to wait for Google to make the Licensable button available – but there is something else you should do today to prepare for it.
You need to know whether users are interested in your content and clicking through to your website.
Make sure you have set up Google Analytics correctly. That way, once the Licensable badge is enabled, you will be able to measure the impact on your website by comparing the data from different time periods.
It also pays to think of the Licensable badge as an additional ‘Buy now’ button for your thumbnails, and to consider the user journey.
It needs to link to a page where the user can purchase the license and download the image. Licensing terms and pricing should be clear, and the purchase needs to be one click away.
Remember that users coming from Google Images may be visiting your website for the first time, and that they will land on the image asset page directly, without visiting the homepage. They are most likely just interested in purchasing the license quickly and affordably, so you should endeavour to make the process as painless as possible.