Tumblr and photos. Sadly, not quite a marriage made in Heaven. True, it’s incredibly simple to upload an image to a Tumblr Photo Post. The pic is automatically hosted for you, without any degradation in quality. Visitors can click to enlarge your pic, and then download it, without being subjected to a barrage of adverts. That’s all very positive stuff. A luxury not many dedicated image hosts can offer.
However, what happens when people want to find your photo? Not your followers on Tumblr – a much, much bigger selection of people out in the wider world. People who are specifically looking for photos exactly like yours, on Google Image Search… Well, for those people, finding an image uploaded to a Tumblr Photo Post could be very difficult. Why? Essentially, because Google may not have much, or indeed any indication as to what your photo is supposed to be.
Because Google can’t ‘see’ photos, you have to describe them verbally in order that the search engine knows how to categorise and display them. If your post doesn't tell Google, in words, what's in your photo, then the chances of your photo appearing in Google Image Search are next to nil.
Looking at the RSS feed for my active Tumblr blog, it appears the 'Single A' theme I'm using takes around the first 60 characters of the caption in a Photo Post (provided a caption is entered of course), and turns it into a title. It then takes the complete caption and turns it into a description. This at least means the post is getting some sort of title, but even assuming all Tumblr themes do the same, trying to kill two birds with one stone in such a way is not a very reliable way to optimise for search engines.
So I feel that if you’re more interested in getting your photos found on Google than getting them found within the confines of Tumblr, you’re better off posting them in Text Posts. Text Posts allow you to add a clear and properly defined title. But they also allow the addition of alternate text – usually abbreviated to alt text – which further helps Google to determine what your photo is actually depicting.
Post titles, post body text, and alt text, will all help Google to understand what’s in your photo. In my experience, the post title is the most important factor of the three, but it should still be supported by body text within the post, and alt text linked specifically to the image. You might feel it’s a pain adding all this stuff every time you upload an image, but consider how many more visits your blog could get with the power of Google and other search engines showing your photos to the wider world. Photographs can be extremely powerful in grabbing people’s attention, so a little extra work to help them into the public eye is, I feel, well worth doing.
Without any question, Google Image Search is a primary source of traffic for my blogs. For many search terms, I have images on the first page of Google’s results, and for a few searches, an image of mine is the very first one Google displays. My blogs aren’t yet in themselves powerful or widely known (although they’re steadily getting busier). Indeed, the photos on one local interest blog of mine have been placing themselves higher in Google search than shots of the same subject matter posted on Flickr. Is my piddling little local interest blog more powerful than Flickr? Of course not. So why have my blog's photos subordinated Flickr photos? Well, because: a) I’ve made a concerted effort to surround them with proper text information, and b) most Flickr users don't do that. They just post the shot, with a one line caption (if that), similar to the way so many people do on Tumblr. I'm convinced that surrounding photos with the right text and really communicating them to Google does make a huge and telling difference when it comes to getting them found.
But moving back to Tumblr, if you decide to upload an image directly into a Text Post, you’ll encounter a raft of problems. For a start, the quality and physical image size of the photo will probably be reduced during the upload process. And secondly, the photo will not have a click-to-enlarge option for site visitors. So the suggestion I’m going to make is that you try hosting your photos elsewhere, and then paste hotlink code into Tumblr’s editor – as you would on a forum. It takes slightly longer, but this way, you have the full means to serve Google with all the information it needs, and potentially attract a much wider section of the public to your blog.
There is a drawback, which you may feel is too great a price to pay. Basically, when you paste in hotlink code from a third party host rather than uploading directly to Tumblr, the photo will show in the post on your blog, but not in the updates to your followers’ dashboards. If your followers don’t visit your blog, they won't see your photos.
Naturally, if you have thousands of followers, whom you know for definite really are keeping an eye on you in their dashboards, then this could be a serious problem. But I’d urge you to be realistic about how many of your followers genuinely do look at your posts. Also, I'd ask you to consider that Twitter only shows photos as links, and yet based on the descriptive content in tweets, people still make the effort to view those photos. In the end it's your decision as to whether you feel this is worth a try, but in conclusion I'd stress that Google is not a momentary flash of publicity like your Tumblr followers' timelines. If you get your photos to display in Google Image Search, then unless there arises a problem of some sort, they're likely to be there for a long, long time. That typically means a stream of new views every day - and not just within the first hour after you've made a post. It also means visitors ending up on your blog, and not just viewing your posts on a feed as they most likely will within Tumblr.
In Part 2 of this piece, I'll show you how to hotlink photos from Photobucket to your Tumblr posts, in such a way that, in my opinion, you'll optimise your chances of getting your images found on Google. Here's the link to Part 2...
Tumblr users might also be interested in streaming audio to Tumblr, adding coloured text to Tumblr, and adding emoticons to Tumblr.
Posted by: Bob Leggitt