The images you create to use on your website, social media, and other marketing activities are your business intellectual property. You may suspect other people are using your images without your permission, and you can use Reverse Image Search to research how and where your images are being used on other digital properties.
As the name suggests, reverse image search lets you search the internet using images (whether they are from the web or your own) as opposed to words. By sharing a specific image with your search engine, it will then go on to find others like it. It can be used to find content associated with specific images, where certain images are being used and how popular they are. It can also be used to find modified and amended versions of an image.
Now that we know what reverse image search is, I will explain how to use it.
How to use reverse image search
When you search using an image, your search results may include:
- Similar images
- Sites that include the image
- Other sizes of the image you searched for
Google reverse image search is available on a number of browsers:
- Chrome 5+
- Internet Explorer 9+
- Safari 5+
- Firefox 4+
For the purpose of this article, I will be using Chrome.
There are four easy ways that you can search by image from your web browser. Before you start, make sure you are on images.google.com:
- Drag and drop – drag and drop an image from your computer in to the Google image search box.
- Upload your image – click on the camera icon in Google image search, select the “upload an image” tab, and choose the file you want to search.
- Search image URL – click on the camera icon in Google image search, select the “paste image URL” tab, and paste the URL of the image you want to search.
- Right click an image on the internet – You can right click on any image on the internet and select the “Search Google for this image” option.
Using Reverse Image Search on a Mobile Phone
You can search Google to find images that are similar to ones you see in search results. This is available on the Chrome app (Android and iPhone or iPad).
- Use the Chrome app to do a search.
- Tap the image you want to search with to open a larger version of the image.
- Touch and hold the image. In the box that appears, tap Search Google for this image.
Examples of reverse image search in action
Now I have showed you the ways in which this function can be used, lets take a look at some of the results it generates. I will be using the right click technique to carry out my search. The image I have decided to search the internet for is Hallam’s Digital Marketing Map. It looks like this:
In this example, I’ve searched using the URL of the image. Google
Additional sizes: the first option I am presented with is to search for other sizes of the image:
Sites with similar content: the second option shows me websites that contain digital marketing maps. When I click on the Gartner link, it shows me their version of the map, not ours.
Visually similar images: the third option on the results page brings up visually similar images to the image that has been searched:
Pages with matching images: finally, the results bring up a list of websites that include matching images to the one that I have searched for. In this case it is sites that are using our Digital Marketing Map, and scrolling thru I can see there are 67 sites using our image:
Reverse image search limitations
The Google Reverse image searches only a restricted part of the entire digital ecosystem. Whilst it brings up results from LinkedIn and Pinterest websites, it does not appear to bring up images used in Twitter or Instagram
Why use reverse image search?
As you can see, it is a very easy tool to use, and it can generate insightful results. But why should you use it?
Google reverse image search is a useful tool to identify content related to specific images, how popular certain images are, and where they can be found on the web. However, there are other benefits of using reverse image search from a digital marketing perspective:
Measuring the impact of your content marketing
As they say, mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery, and the reuse of your images is a sign that your content has resonated with your audience sufficiently that they are choosing to embed it in their own content.
Identify linking opportunities
As the results page showed, reverse image search provides you with a list of websites that have included your image, whether they have permission to use it or not. This provides you with a great opportunity to build links back to your own website, where the site in question credits you for the image used. Spend a bit of time checking through the results and making sure credit has been given where it’s due. If not, you are well within your rights to ask for the credit in the form of a link.
Protect your intellectual property
This is a useful tool for identifying who has used your images on their website. The results pages identified a range of visually similar images to the Hallam tube map. The results I found showed similar, but fundamentally different images. This problem can arise when someone uses your exact image, but puts their own logo on it in order to pass it off as their own. This is an infringement of your intellectual property.
Stand out from your competitors
There is nothing worse than paying for expensive stock images, only to find a few weeks later that your competitor has the exact same image on their website. Checking sites that already include your chosen image can help you avoid this pitfall.
By checking sites with the same images, you can identify the context in which other companies are using the same image and avoid negative connotations. For example, the model who’s image you are using to promote your vegetarian cafe, may also be used as the poster boy/girl for a burger restaurant.
Find a hi-res version of an image
If you are using images that are not copy protected, reverse image search allows you to find a higher resolution version of the image for your design work.