Optimizing images for WordPress. There’s been a lot of digital ink spilled on the subject. There are tons of urban myths swirling around. There’s stuff that’s true, stuff that was true five years ago, stuff that was never true, and stuff that’s way over complicated or just plain wrong.
But the real lowdown, circa early 2020, is stupid simple.
You don’t optimize images for your WordPress site. WordPress does it.
All you have to do is upload a good quality image, at the largest size your site will need, saved at a JPEG compression of 82 or higher.
And, by the way, make sure you have ImageMagick enabled as your imaging library.
Let’s optimize some images for uploading to WordPress, step by step. In this How-to, we’ll use Photo Mechanic. Photo Mechanic is known as a hard-core tool for professional photographers. It’s not usually thought of as a program that web designers would turn to.
But, as it turns out, Photo Mechanic is a great tool for this particular job. It’s powerful, comprehensive, fast, and straightforward to use. Maybe it’s time to commend it to the attention of the web design community.
It’s what I use in real life for this kind of thing, if that means anything to you.
We may be seeing a long longed-for trend toward WordPress hosting providers enabling the ImageMagick imaging library by default. That causes their customers’ sites to respect embedded metadata on images. Preserving metadata means preserving rights information, powering rights-driven features like Google Images’ “Image Credit” and “Licensable”. Which makes life better for honest people all over the web. When hosts turn on ImageMagick for all of their customers, millions of sites at a time will switch to honoring metadata. If indeed we're seeing a trend, this is really good news.
Google is beta testing a new feature that will help honest people obtain licenses to use pictures found on Google Images. “Licensable” will help identify images whose owners can be readily found. Cash can be exchanged and a license issued in the speed of a click. Or an email or phone call.
(Many copyright owners I have dealt with have been so blown away by somebody approaching them for a legit license that they have just given me the license. Honesty pays. I kid you not.)
How it works
Three IPTC fields new to Google Images will drive the new feature. This is in addition to the three fields that Google has supported since late 2018.
The Web Statement of Rights field, which is known in most software as “Copyright URL” will drive a “Licensable” badge on an image in Google Image search results (see illustration above) and, if the field contains a valid URL, a link for “License Details” will appear on the image’s preview. (“Valid” here means the whole URL, beginning with the protocol, like this: https://www.carlseibert.com/licenses ) This is the most important of the new-to-Google fields.
Google is now telling website operators that stripping metadata from images is not a good thing. Look at the bottom of this help page where Google tells webmasters – ever so gently – to leave copyright metadata alone! Woo! Hoo!
Google describes the URL in Copyright URL as “A URL to a page that describes the license governing an image’s use.” For most non-Creative Commons images, there is no license yet for whatever use a Google Images user might have in mind. That’s the idea – to arrange for such a license. So, Google’s description can’t be taken too literally. I’ll come back to this.
Missing from the mockup Google released is the image’s copyright notice. The contents of the Creator and Credit fields appear more prominently than before. But where’s the copyright notice? Maybe clicking on the photographer’s name brings up the copyright notice? If the contents of the Copyright field aren’t revealed, that could be a big issue. Hopefully, this will be sorted out in the beta process.
Licensor and Licensor URL, relatively unknown fields in the PLUS portion of the IPTC’s Extension Schema Standard, will drive additional links for the name of an agency/licensor and “Get this photo on:”. This part of the feature is clearly aimed at photo agencies. The URL could point straight to a purchase page for that particular photo.
There’s no harm in just putting your company name and link to whatever page on your site is best for dealing with folks who want to license a photo here. Or, on the other hand, honestly, I don’t see any harm in individual photographers just skipping this field. Which is a relief, since most of us won’t immediately have access to the Licensor fields in our software anyway.
For what it’s worth, I think the way Google has laid out these links in its current beta (see the main picture above) is backwards. I think that they should start with a link for “Licensing Details” (which will be driven by the most likely populated field), followed by “Get this photo on:” which can really only help out in those cases where a license may be purchased online. We’ll see what happens as Google proceeds with the beta.
What does this mean to you and me?
Google is trying to clean up the copyright thieves bazaar that the internet and that their product, in particular, has become. It is in our interest as content creators and publishers to help out in any way we can. It’s our stuff that’s being stolen and our web pages where the stolen stuff ends up.
Moreover, it’s dead easy to be on the right side of this.
What do we have to do?
Photographers need to make sure that they embed proper metadata in every image they send out into the world. Readers of this blog already know this.
To review, Google Images already exposes the contents of the IPTC Creator, Copyright, and Credit fields. Double-check to make sure your template fills these fields properly.
The Creator field just needs your name.
The Copyright field holds your copyright notice. There is no legally required format. Just tell everybody you own the copyright. Adding some minimal contact information, like your business phone number, really helps.
The Credit (or “Creditline”) field is trickier. Traditionally, this field holds the name of whomever the photographer is working for. For a published credit that reads “Suzie Photographer/The Widget Times”, ”The Widget Times” goes in the Credit field. Nowadays, some people are putting the entire credit string in this field. Which freaks out automated publishing systems, yielding something along the lines of “Suzie Photographer/Suzie Photographer/The Widget Times”. Sigh. Your choice. Or don’t use the field at all if you don’t need it. Neither Google nor I will judge you.
I have written about the Copyright and Credit fields before. Visit this post. The search feature on this site will return some more posts that talk about Copyright.
Add – or refine – content to the new fields
Copyright URL/Web Statement of Rights needs valid content for you to benefit from the new Google goodness. Make sure the value in your template is complete, including that beginning “https//” or “http//”.
But where should the URL point? Mine used to just point to the front page of my site. I figured that anybody who wants to reach me will be able to click “Contact” and all will be good. But I didn’t have “https//” in the URL, so by Google’s lights, it would have been for naught.
What I recommend here is for you to make a simple landing page for people who might want a license. “Hey, thanks for your interest in my work. Talk to me and we’ll hook you up.” is all you basically need to say.
I made such a page for this site in a matter of a few minutes. It doesn’t appear anywhere on the site’s navigation menus. The only visitors who will see it will be coming from a link in my metadata, so it doesn’t have to be fancy at all.
If you have a page on a photographer’s portfolio site like Photo Shelter or Zenfolio or SmugMug, from which users can buy licenses, you could link there. Or you could make a landing page on any of those sites, too.
Or… I imagine that just linking to your home page or contact page would still be OK.
What about Licensor and Licensor URL?
If you’ve got ‘em, smoke em. It’s basically no work on your part to fill them in on your template and then you’re good to go. If you don’t have access to those fields in your metadata editing software of choice, I wouldn’t sweat it. By properly filling Copyright URL, you’ve got the “Licensable” tag and 90% of the benefit of the feature. Anybody who wants to buy a photo from you has the information they need to do so.
Of course, remember to add a good caption! Google doesn’t read embedded captions (yet). But identifying what’s depicted in am image is the main point of metadata.
Once a lot of images are tagged, the Google Images environment will be a better place – a little more honest-people-friendly and a little less thief-friendly.
Editing software support for these fields
I scanned through the software I cover to see which programs support these newly important fields and which didn’t.
Photo Mechanic – Supports Copyright URL, but doesn’t yet support Licensor and Licensor URL. Photo Mechanic’s lead developer Kirk Baker told me that his team is aware of the issue and is discussing potential solutions. Support is forthcoming.
Update Late April 2020: Photo Mechanic 6 now supports the entire Licensors structure, including Licensor Name and Licensor URL. See this post for more.
ON1 Photo RAW – Supports the Copyright URL field, but not the Licensor fields.
Photoshop – Supports both Copyright URL and the Licensor fields.
Adobe Bridge – Supports the Licensor fields, but not Copyright URL. Copyright URL is part of the Core Schema. What. The. Heck? I looked carefully. If I made a mistake, please let us know in the comments.
Adobe Lightroom Classic – Supports both Copyright URL and the Licensor fields.
Capture One – Does not support Copyright URL or the Licensor fields.
XnView – Does not support Copyright URL or the Licensor fields.
In sum, this is a zero-work thing. (Unless you’re using software that doesn’t support Copyright URL) Check your templates and you’re good to go. Depending on your software, “Get this photo on:” will either work now or be available to you later.
For website owners
What do those of us who operate “normal-size” websites have to do to make our web pages work with this new Google feature?
Just make sure your website does not destroy metadata. Then Bob’s your uncle. Or substitute whatever cliche for things being hunky-dory you prefer. Regular readers of this blog probably already have their sites whipped into shape.
To make sure, just grab a photo that you know has IPTC metadata. Put it on one of your pages. Visit the page in a browser. Right-click and download the picture. Go to the IPTC’s online metadata viewer here, or from the link at the bottom of this page. Or use any metadata-capable program.
If the metadata is there, it’s all good. You don’t have to do a darn thing and you and your contributing photographers can rest easy.
If you don’t have a marked-up photo handy, you can download the IPTC’s standard test image here. It has LOTS of metadata. I wouldn’t put it on a visitor-facing page, but that’s just me.
If your website fails the metadata round-trip test, the chances are it can be fixed in a jiffy.
Fixing websites that strip metadata
A plurality of all websites (some 35% of the entire web) run on WordPress. WordPress will use the imaging library ImageMagick if it’s available and has been enabled in PHP. Most WordPress hosting services offer ImageMagick. By default, ImageMagick supports metadata.
Turning it on is incredibly easy, but the exact method you’ll need to use depends on your host. Some hosts have easy-to-follow instructions in their documentation. For others – most of them, really – you just contact customer support via chat or phone and they’ll either tell you what to do, or more likely, just take care of it for you. Problem solved.
More and more WordPress hosts are enabling ImageMagick by default. If your host has already hooked you up with ImageMagick, we don’t need to be having this conversation. But props to your host!
The “other choice” for WordPress sites is an imaging library called GD. GD ships with PHP and is used if ImageMagick isn’t there. GD strips metadata. Currently, GD is at version 2.25. Support for metadata is on the roadmap for GD v2.4. When that day comes, it will be good news for content creators everywhere. But it might be a while.
Many big websites use the Drupal CMS. Drupal users need only install a couple modules and they will be able to choose their imaging library in Drupal’s GUI. That will take a good healthy three or four minutes. The hardest and most tedious part by far is reading my How-To post on the subject.
Super-fancy, custom-built websites, like the big news sites, may use any imaging library, but the chances are pretty good that a given site uses ImageMagick. And ImageMagick has likely been told to strip metadata. If that’s the case, it’s as simple as telling it not to by deleting an argument. Obviously, that’s a developer thing. And nobody is going to change a live server absent a pretty good argument for doing so. But when it comes down to it, it’s not a big deal.
If your website is static and your images are processed externally from your site and you have metadata stripping going on, just tell whoever or whatever is doing the stripping to stop doing that!
Another way to trigger “Licensable”
You can also enable the Licensable feature on your page itself, with schema.org structured data. This is a page-by-page and image-by-image thing, and you have to do it, as opposed to just letting Google parse the embedded metadata from your images. That’s a lot more work. Structured data is able to override embedded metadata, so that might be a reason to go that way.
Photographers and website operators alike – when should we make ourselves ready?
Well, right now would be good.
Seriously, we’re only being asked to do stuff we should already be doing anyway. All we really need to do is check and make sure our metadata templates are in good shape if we’re photographers and make sure our website is behaving as it should if we are website operators. We should check this stuff periodically anyhow.
Google says that Licensable should be up and running by late April, 2020. The more compatible content we have up before then, the better.
Will I zoom to the top of the SERP?
Google is saying that participation in Licensable will not be a ranking factor. That makes total sense. Right now there just isn’t enough properly marked-up content out there for Google to use as a basis for judgment. That said, in the long term, doing stuff that Google asks us to do is usually works out to our benefit.
Google has once again moved a step closer to a better world, where images are more likely to retain the information that makes them relevant to society. It took a bit of a lawsuit nudge to get Google’s heart in the right place, but no matter. Their momentum is in the right direction. Will it all help? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
How do you deal with photos that come to you with no metadata? If you watched my videos on preparing images for the web, you may have noticed that I said that "I tried to make the demo images look halfway professional.” Most of them had embedded metadata, in other words. You may have cried foul. “None of my [insert adjective] clients ever send me pictures that are labeled in any way!”
We can deal with that. We can slap on some metadata. To our optimizing for the web process, we’ll just add a step to apply the metadata that should have already been there. But we’ll only add seconds to the amount of time it takes. We’ll invest some think/plan/learn time now (again) and the physical process will go by in a blink.
Google has begun actively surfacing copyright metadata on Google Images. Now that the Copyright field itself is working, users can see all three of the IPTC fields Google promised a few weeks ago. What does this mean for website operators?
It means that, if you haven't already, you should make sure your site respects metadata on images.
If you haven’t already, you should, ah… encourage your content contributors to put their names on their work.
Google Images will include copyright-related IPTC metadata
Google announced today that Google Image Search will support some IPTC metadata. In a blog post dated today, September 27, 2018, Google Images product manager Ashutosh Agarwal says that “Starting today, we’ve added Creator and Credit metadata whenever present to images on Google Images. … Over the coming weeks, we will also add Copyright Notice metadata.”
Google will read from the IPTC Creator, Creditline, and Copyright fields to expose the metadata information.
In the IPTC’s own press release, photo metadata guru Michael Steidl says, “Embedded IPTC photo metadata has an essential role for photos posted on a website. These fields easily show people searching for images who its creator and copyright owner is. We encourage all parties who post images on the web to fill in these IPTC fields.”
This is a huge win, folks. The IPTC, CEPIC (the Council of European Professional Informatics Societies, which is an IPTC member and collaborated in the effort) and Google have made a giant stride. The motto of this blog says that “metadata empowers honest people”, and that’s just what happened today. Google has used it’s enormous weight to push forward the role of metadata, enhance copyright protections, and by extension, promote honesty itself.
Users, upon finding an image in a Google Image search will see a link for “Image Credits” on a photo’s search results page. Clicking through will reveal the metadata, first from the Creator and Creditline fields, and soon from the Copyright field as well. A further Google search should produce contact information for the copyright holder, from whom a license to use the image legally could be obtained.
What you need to know: The IPTC has published a Quick Guide for metadata for Google Images here.
Full faith and force
The key takeaway is that the “force of Google” has been imposed. Users with professional level skills know that copyright management information metadata can be read from an image on Google Images by simply downloading the image and looking at its metadata. Such users also understand that scarcely any images include any metadata, either because their creators didn’t bother to put it there, or because some website stripped it away.
And no one could help but appreciate the irony in Google’s “Images may be subject to copyright” disclaimer.
That changes today
As of now, photographers are on notice that if they wish their rights to be taken seriously, they need to sign their work in the metadata.
Website operators who want to please Google – which is to say all of us – will need to check to make sure their websites preserve embedded metadata. (See this post, and this one for information on making your site metadata-friendly.)
Designers and ordinary users will be able to see at a glance who owns a photo, assuming that person has labeled their work. (And there won’t be any excuse for not looking.)
Internet hosting providers now have more incentive to provide metadata-friendly default settings for their customers.
Quick copyright refresher
The creator of a work owns the copyright to the work, unless the creator is an employee whose job is the creation of copyrighted content, or the creator has explicitly transferred the copyright to another party. Thus, it follows that a copyright owner will be identified in the Creator or Creditline metadata fields. Later, when Google exposes the Copyright field, not only will it identify the copyright holder directly, but often will contain contact information, such as a telephone number or web address.)
Google hasn’t said that it will consider IPTC metadata, and a website’s treatment of it, in calculating page rank. Let’s just say it wouldn’t surprise me. I’d be shocked if they don’t, frankly. If not now, soon. Google’s oft-stated mission is to surface the best quality, most relevant, content. The concept of “authority” has long been a critical means to that end. Respect for copyright and specificity in description of content certainly seem like markers of “authority” to me.
A mere hint that Google might value something usually causes a stampede of activity as SEO consultants spread the word to their clients, who, in this case, will surely pass on requests (or requirements) for metadata to their content providers.
It doesn’t hurt that sensible metadata is basically free Google “juice”. A reasonably full set of metadata adds only a millisecond or so to page load time. And setting a web server to be metadata-friendly doesn’t cost a darn thing.
Will Google look further into embedded metadata in the future? Will they, for example, compare the contents of a photo’s own caption with the caption on the web page and use the results to predict the relevance and freshness of the content? I sure would, in their place. As a human photo curator, that’s a strategy that I do use. Google is famously tight-lipped about their ranking algorithms. They’re also logical and smart. If Google’s support for embedded metadata makes embedded metadata more commonly available as a potential ranking factor, will they go ahead and use it? I’ll bet they will.
Google will be reading metadata from the XMP and IIM data blocks, in that order. If XMP is present, it’s read. If not, the IIM will be read. That’s a sensible reading order, and in fact the one I usually recommend. No mention has been made by either Google or the IPTC of reading creator or copyright data from the Exif. That’s fine by me. I never thought that descriptive metadata belonged in the Exif block anyway.
Regular readers will know of the challenges and ambiguities of the Creditline field, and that I’m not too comfortable with using it in the way that is suggested by this development. Watch this space for new guidance as my views on this field are forced to evolve. (A summary of IPTC fields can be found here.)
“Starting today” tends to be an elastic concept for Google. As I write this post in the afternoon of September 27th, I haven’t yet been able to find a working example of the new functionality anywhere on Google Images. I have included the animated GIF Google used to illustrate its own post, but I have yet to see “Image Credits” in the flesh, not even on the image Google used in their own illustration. It may be a while before a Google Images search returns metadata for your images.
In their press release, the IPTC invites website owners and software developers to contact them for help implementing metadata support in products.
This blog is part of a pro bono effort in support of the benefits of good metadata. If you are a developer, a webmaster, or a content producer and you want help with metadata, you may reach out to me, as well. In most cases (and within reasonable limits) I provide help free of charge.
You’re a web designer. An email full of images lands on your desktop with a thud. You experience a momentary euphoria. But euphoria slowly turns to dread as the prospect of actually dealing with those photos looms. In this HOW-TO post, we’ll lay out a workflow that gives you the tools you’ll need to bring order to the mess, be duly diligent about rights and licenses, automate the drudgery of optimizing images, and it’ll be dead fast.
There is a metadata angle to this story. We’ll get to that. But first, let’s vent about the outrage. Outrages. Multiple outrages. There is so much that is so wrong here.
Our tale begins as the Post Office, best known in some circles for delivering letters, and in others for infringing sculptors' copyrights, begins production for a “Forever” stamp to be issued in late 2010. They wanted to do a Statue of Liberty stamp. They hired an image research consultant to scour stock agencies for a photo of the great statue.
Stock agencies?!!!!! Stock?! Why on earth would the Post Office use a stock photo of an iconic statue
Today - May 25, 2018 - the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) goes into effect.
The GDPR is a 200-page law designed to protect internet users from spam and abuse at the hands of websites and services that use or store data on individual users. It applies to any website that does business with people who live in the European Union. Which means every website in the world. Including this one.
I’m posting this GDPR update to let you know that I take your data and security seriously. And, for that matter, to let you know how much I appreciate the time you spend on this site.