Facebook search to take on Google

Facebook search to take on Google, but has Facebook shot itself in the foot?

Rachel Mytton-Mills model

Rachel Mytton-Mills, model

One of the big internet news stories of the moment is how Facebook is moving into search, with the footnote “Facebook to take on Google in search.” Why do I suspect Facebook might have shot itself in the foot? Let me set the scene and you’ll see my argument.

It’s only recently I’ve started to care about search and search engine optimisation (SEO) as it didn’t used to affect me, indeed a good deal of my online content is deliberately hidden with “do not index” tags – stuff done for clients that isn’t for public consumption. But because things have changed I’m revisiting my work and investigating data I’ve never bothered about… with some surprising results, which triggered the above question in my mind.

I’m a photographer, and my work falls into two main categories; commissioned work I do for clients which is, by and large, locked away and password protected, the exception being press release images, and stuff I do for fun. The fun stuff is parties, music and fashion; I do this work more as a hobby, but it is highly visible online because it helps promoters, designers, labels and artists with their PR – no harm in my hobby helping others out.

I host my photos on Zenfolio, one of the big pro-photographer hosting sites, because even though it’s a premium site it gives me the control I need, has no limits on storage (as of now, I have 44,199 images online using 105GB of storage) and has built-in e-commerce (get yours with this 10% discount code: 9KB-CFE-RRZ). What they are also apparently very good at is SEO, something I’ve only just taken note of.

When I shoot a set, I add a title, byline and story to all the images into the IPTC data fields so that no matter where the image ends up, the story goes with it; something the press love for obvious reasons. I am surprised to find that this habit has done astonishing things for my SEO by accident. For instance, I have a collection of photos of a fairly famous (and infamous) businessman. He has been written about a lot, by big media names such as the Financial Times, etc. I was frankly amazed to find out that without consciously trying, I outrank major news organisations on search engine results pages. Conventional wisdom would tell me I have a snowball’s chance in hell of achieving this, so how has it happened? I’m guessing, but I think it’s this:

I have a set of maybe 300 images of a party held for this chap – the story in each image is the same, e.g. “blah, blah, blah at John Smith’s party blah, blah, bah.” John Smith (name changed) is probably only in ten pictures, the rest are of guests, but the search engines have indexed them all as him, and concluded I’m the world’s authority site on him. Thinking about it, this seems like accidental black-hat SEO, but I can’t see that Google’s search engine has punished me for it.

Anyway, back to the original question – has Facebook shot itself in the foot?”

People love photos – everyone who is anyone tells you “include a photo to get noticed, liked and shared.” Well, it has long been a bone of contention between photographers (who care) and Facebook, that Facebook’s systems strip out all the meta data from images we upload – all that lovely indexing information. Every photographer I know has hated this since the beginning and many have complained bitterly, to no avail.

Well… if you want to be a search engine, you need to index. You need to index the important stuff, and photos, so I’m told, are pretty important assets on Facebook. So, unless a picture is tagged it’s not searchable. Is this a major historical fail? And, if it is, will Facebook stop stripping the meta data out of images?

Or is this just wishful thinking on my part – revenge for Facebook trashing my meta data for years? I’d love to know what you think, especially if you are a bitter photographer like me! (Comment below, it won’t show up straight away as I need to approve comments… I’m too popular with the spammers selling fake goods.)