Matt Cutts: EXIF Image Metadata is ‘Potentially’ a Google Search Ranking Factor

Matt Cutts

EXIF data is the metadata that is included in most images that are taken with the camera. It includes things such as camera type, date taken, size, along with dozens of other parameters.

But does any of this metadata have any impact on Google search results? Could webmasters potentially manipulate this information in order to rank better either in the regular search results or image search?

In the latest Google webmaster help video, Google’s Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts discusses whether EXIF data from pictures is a ranking factor in search results. The answer might surprise you, and will get many more webmasters looking into EXIF data and how they should be utilizing it within their images.

“The short answer is we did a blog post in April 2012 where we talked about it and we did say we reserve the right to use EXIF or other sort of meta data that we find an image in order to help people find information,” Cutts said. “And at least in the version of image search as it existed back then, when you clicked on an image we would sometimes show the information from EXIF data in the right-hand sidebar. So it is something that Google is able to parse out and I think we do reserve the right to use it in ranking.”

There are many other sites that will show EXIF data, the most common being Flickr, which has the option available to all photographers uploading images to include that information, which is then accessed via a click in the sidebar of the image.

“So if you’re taking pictures, I would go ahead and embed that sort of information if it’s available within your camera, because if somebody wants to eventually search for camera types or focal lengths or dates or something like that, it could possibly be a useful source of information,” Cutts said. “So go ahead and include it if it’s already there, I wouldn’t worry about adding it if it’s not there. But we do reserve the right to use it as potentially a ranking factor.”

It’s interesting that Cutts repeatedly says Google reserves the right to potentially use EXIF as a ranking factor in the future. So many should view this as a potential heads up that Google is leaning towards using this information in some fashion fairly soon, and I might want to think about incorporating information when taking new images.

What is in EXIF data that could potentially be used for ranking factor? The obvious would be the geotagging data that is included with the built-in GPS, such as when the photo was taken with a mobile phone. This could be done to help ensure specific photos were taken at a particular business in question, such as for local results. However, this data can be manipulated and changed or added after the fact.

However, there are also “Image Description”, “keywords” and “subject” metadata tags that most people don’t realize is there. And while people have definitely tried testing stuffing keywords in these fields, there’s no evidence that Google is using this at all. It is pretty similar to how Google now pretty much ignores anything that’s in the keyword meta-tag on webpages, because of its high susceptibility to be spammed.

There are also fields to put copyright information and photographer information, including contact information. This could definitely be useful for Google when they are trying to determine who the originator of a particular image is.

Considering how frequently images tend to get ripped off from the web, there’s always the possibility that Google could attribute the original image to the wrong webpage or site. With photographer information, it could be used by Google to properly attribute the original image.

Bottom line, this video makes me suspect that Google will be making a move to incorporate more data from EXIF into their search results, particularly the image search results, provided they can ensure that the data they use isn’t spammable by webmasters. So brush up on your EXIF data, and if you are taking photos, ensure that EXIF data is being properly embedded.

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