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Using Image Keywords in Image Metadata

If you have already read the other articles in this series, you might now be wondering why I have made no mention of image metadata. Surely, if there is one thing that ties an image to the identification of it's content, it has got to be the metadata that is encoded within the image itself? Yes, you are quite correct, and of course I would encourage you to make sure that all of the important metadata for your images: the Description, Keywords, City, State/Province, Country, and Copyright information as a minimum, is included within your images before you export them. But this series of articles is all to do with aiding Search Engine Optimisation, and although it seems counter-intuitive, there is no hard evidence as yet that Google and the other search engines are making any use of embedded image metadata at all. They may well be reading it, but they are not using it to make any difference to their search results or rankings.

Why is this? The exact answer is hard to find, but the general opinion of search engine watchers is that Google regards image metadata as rather secretive stuff, something that the average user doesn't know about or concern himself with. Because of this, there is the chance that malicious developers and web-masters will just use image metadata as a place to spam and stuff unsuitable, inappropriate, or misleading words into an area that the average person doesn't see, to give them an unfair advantage, much as happened with the now-unsupported 'keywords' meta tag in a web page. There is also the possibility that some web hosts, when an image is posted to them, will themselves strip or modify the image metadata that a user had previously stored. This happens already, in many popular social-media servers. The initial image poster and the end-viewer of the image generally have no idea that this is going on. Faced with all these underhand shenanigans and chicanery, the search engines would rather just ignore all stored metadata within an image than be fooled or scammed by it.

Will this ever change? It is hard to tell. Personally I would guess that things will stay as they are until a popular 'App' comes out that lets the user easily store and retrieve metadata tags to and from their photo, and then display these tags under an image in FaceBook etc. so that users do not have to type their own captions and locations by hand. Maybe a voice-to-text tagging system would work well, where the camera lets you speak a caption after taking the shot. Until then, don't expect the search engines to publicly take any notice of your image metadata, or use it to affect your search engine returns or rankings. Do, however, carry on adding it.

Other uses for your keywords

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