SEO Backlink Image Scam

Today we are going to talk about an SEO backlink image scam. I searched online for it once I unraveled the mystery, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Nothing online about it. And so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to create an awesome piece of content that explains this scam to people and hopefully helps them avoid being scammed themselves. So let’s get into it.

What Are Backlinks?

First and foremost, what are backlinks? When someone links to your website, that’s a backlink. So you’re a website. I’m a website. I was on your website. I found awesome information. When I went back to produce my own content on my site, I linked to your website or your page as the source for that information.

Backlinks tell Google that a website’s content is valuable and reputable. So that’s why original research always gets a ton of backlinks. Especially if you’ve got research with numbers in it because people love statistics. When we craft our content stories, we can deliver a second solid punch with firm numbers supporting our analysis, our opinion, or just a particular feeling that we’ve had about a subject. 

Backlinks are also one of the top three SEO ranking factors. So more good backlinks mean you’ll rise in the search engines back. Bad backlinks can bring you down by association. It’s kind of like how a man or woman is judged by their friends. A website can be judged by its backlinks.

So what are backlinks? Backlinks are basically Internet street cred. That means the more you have, the better off you are, as long as they’re high quality backlinks. 

Ruthie Bowles, Defy The Status Quo

How Does This Backlink Scam Work?

They’ll target you based on an image that you’ve used on your website. How do they do this? With a reverse image lookup tool. So they’ll upload an image and this tool will spit out all the websites that it can match the image to. 

Then, they’ll send you a message asking them for a backlink to credit them because you took their photo. How dare you! The message likely sounds nonthreatening, which is great because you’ve probably just about lost your mind as soon as you read it. 

And then you paste the link on your site again because you don’t want to be sued. You’re relieved that they were so nice about it. Boom, SEO backlink image scam complete!

It Works Because No One Wants to be Sued

This scam works because you’re relieved they’re not suing you. They could’ve served you with a takedown notice and they can sue you right off the bat for infringing on their copyright. For a real photograph owner anyway. They don’t even have to warn you; they don’t have to ask. 

You’re just relieved that that is not what happened to you. Something like that could totally destroy small business and the scammers are taking advantage of that.

The Message Started an Investigative Process

So my client received the following message: 

Hi, it’s James here from I’m reaching out because I noticed that you used one of my images in this post [he provided a link to my client’s post]. 
I took this photo in 2014 and it’s copywriter belongs to me and my website. Here it is: [he provides two links that appear to go to his site]. 
Unfortunately you didn’t give me credit for the image. I’d really appreciate it if you were able to add a source link beneath the image, could you do this? 
James H. 

Investigative Process Step 1: Freak Out and Confirm Your Image Source

Actually, my pre-step was freaking out. I freaked out because I said, “No, this could ruin my credibility!” 

First of all, I only ever use royalty-free images or paid stock photo options, all right? I’m like, “Oh my goodness, please do not tell me that the royalty-free image sites are corrupted or something!” 

I confirmed that this image was taken from Pexels, which guarantees royalty-free images. So if this photo isn’t actually royalty-free, that’s Pexels fault, not mine. “Sue them”, that’s what I’m thinking.


But at the same time, Pexels entire business strategy is built on this. So why would they run the risk of having any unusable photos in their database? That’s when the scam alerts started going off.

The freak out part of this step is optional. Confirming your image source is not. 

Investigative Process Step 2: Evaluate the Message

So your next step is to evaluate the message that you’ve received. So there were some grammar errors in the message. The big one being a misspelling or improper usage of a word. He put “copywriter” instead of copyright. 

He also signed the message, James H. Well, I mean that’s better than John H., right? But that could be anyone, and he didn’t even include a contact phone number in the message. 

And the links are actually to the site’s media library. So it was www.pick That just means that you’ve uploaded images or media into your WordPress media library. I can upload anything I want into my media library without actually putting it on my site, but it does generate a link for it. 

So you’ll see companies do this sometimes with downloadable content. They’ll put it in the media library. You put in your information to download the ebook, you hit submit, and then you go to the “thank you” page. You can click that link it shows the media that you wanted. 

As I said, you can do that with anything without actually putting on your site, images, videos, documents, audio, all sorts of things.

Investigative Process Step 3: Vet the Company

My suspicions are sufficiently riled up at this point. Now, we must vet the company. I tried to look up Pick Comfort on social media. I also tried using Google and I couldn’t really find them anywhere. 

They didn’t have any social media accounts and only a basic contact form on the website. I also noticed that Pick Comfort actually links its products to Amazon product pages that don’t belong to them. Based on that, I concluded that it’s likely an affiliate site trying to generate revenue. 

Now for the next 48 hours (I think), anything you purchase, not just that item, Pick Comfort, will receive a commission. So now, of course, I have to avoid Amazon for the next 48 hours or else I’m giving Pick Comfort money.

Investigative Process Step 4: How Did They Find My Client?

Next, I needed to determine how they found my client. I’ve pretty much unraveled the method of attack and now I want to know how they even targeted us in the first place. 

They used a reverse image lookup tool. The entire process is free when you consider the images are also free. To duplicate the process, I uploaded the image that we used in our post into the reverse lookup tool that Google provides. I found my client’s blog post after page 5. 

They probably did the same thing and then sent the same message to every match that they could find for that image. All they had to do was change out the URL or the link to each company’s website and they would have a complete message pretty easy.

Reassure the Client and Calm My SEO Spidey Sense

Whew, finally done! Well, kind of. I still needed to reassure my client and confirm my suspicions. The best way to do both was to see if they’ve done this before. The average company will likely just give the backlink because they don’t have the SEO spidey sense.

Remember, most will be happy they aren’t getting sued.  I don’t blame them, especially if they’re just trying to create content and they don’t necessarily have the content marketing and search engine optimization background that someone like me has. So lucky for me, and lucky for you reading this post, I actually found three examples of them succeeding in getting the backlink for images that were not theirs. 

Checking a Site’s Backlinks

So how do you do this first step, check out their current backlinks? What I decided to do was use Neil Patel’s backlink tool.

His Backlinks tool is a free way to check out backlinks for your site or someone else’s site. Ahrefs also has a free backlink checker, which provides more results usually. The only thing you have to do is copy and paste the domain name into the search bar and hit enter and wait for the results. 

If you pay for SEMrush or another type of SEO tool that will let you check for backlinks, then, of course, you could use that instead. But this was the easiest option and it’s free and accessible to everyone. 

Successful SEO Backlink Image Scam Example 1

My first example was a real estate website that wrote an article on how to spruce up your bathroom, which is incredibly important for real estate. Especially when people are coming to view your house. You need to make sure that your bathrooms and especially your kitchen, those two areas look amazing. 

This image on the left, at the bottom, you can see the arrows that I drew. You can see that they hyperlink to pick comfort as the source for this image.

And so what I did in order to find it, I searched “small orchid in bathroom” and I found the image on the right on Unsplash. 

Successful SEO Backlink Image Scam Example 2

I felt that number two was really the nail in the coffin that I needed. The website is a news and trends website. Their article was about why you should wash your hands and sing at the same time. So probably singing happy birthday and washing your hands at the same time. 

This particular image on the left, you can see it says in the caption: “credited to James H, Pick Comfort”, and then Pick Comfort’s URL. Wow. Just put all of it out there. And so what I did was I looked for “bathroom sink” or “running faucet” or something like that. And I found the image on the right on Unsplash.

Now to be honest, after reviewing the website, I don’t feel like this particular image was really on brand. It’s incredibly dark and I feel like they probably should have picked a different one. But I digress. 

Successful SEO Backlink Image Scam Example 3

Finally, I found a gamer website. This actually attests to the accuracy of the reverse lookup tool. As you can see, the image on the left is actually altered. They put logos for different companies in the image. They’re going down the faucet cause the author was talking about leaks in the video gaming industry. 

Instead of putting just Pick, they hyperlinked the text “image source”. But if you click on it, it goes to Pick So again, I just looked up bathroom sinks and found the image on the right on Unsplash.

So as you can see, these images are royalty-free and the person claiming that they took these photos lying. And that’s the point. And that’s why we go through this exercise of checking and confirming how these things play out. 

Don’t Get Taken in By This SEO Scam!

Make sure that you double-check any communications you receive about your photos or any original content that you’ve created on your website. Do your due diligence upfront when you’re producing content. What I mean by that is to make sure that your photos are royalty-free or you’re using paid stock photo options.

You have to be careful with websites like Flicker. They have great images, but oftentimes they don’t allow for commercial use. Just keep that in mind. If you outsource your content and you have content partners, make sure you vet your partners. You hire them for their expertise. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be aware of their processes, at least a high level. 

When they’re giving you images to use, just ask them where they came from. If anybody does reach out to you about photos, make sure that you can easily present the source. 

If you receive any information about your photos on your website, run them through this process or contact a trusted content professional and ask them to help you determine whether or not this is a scam. You don’t want to have any bad or erroneous backlinks on your site going to someone else that’s not related to what it is that you do. 

Have you heard of this scam before? Has someone reached out to you to get you to place their link as an image source? Let us know in the comments!

Ranking #1 on Google Isn’t as Important Anymore

Yes, I hate to tell you, but ranking #1 on Google isn’t as important as it used to be. Don’t get me wrong, I think dedicated businesses can get there for many keywords. However, there are a lot of other considerations you need to take into account before you pay that SEO company to get you to the “top”.

Here is today’s podcast episode:

And the video:

And, of course, the transcript:

Hi, I’m Ruthie Bowles, owner of Defy The Status Quo, and you’re listening to an episode of The Defiant Business Podcast, your daily 10-minute shot of business knowledge. 

So what are we talking about today? Google rankings. They’re not as important as they used to be. I know. And that’s unfortunate, because there’s a bajillion companies out there right now just waiting to spam your email inbox promising to get you to the #1 rank. But are you actually #1, even when you show up that way? That’s the real question. 

Can You Really Be Number One in the Google Search Results?

The Featured Snippet

So, there are a lot of things taking away from search engine rank even when you do have that top spot. The first one that I’d like you to consider is the featured snippet. The featured snippet is that relatively new box that pops up with the answer that you were looking for. You often see it with things like recipes, or when you need a list of something, or if it’s a really simple answer, maybe it’s math or the definition for a word. 

But what it means is that you can get on the search engine results page, see the answer, and you no longer need to click through to go to a website. So the person who is ranked number 1, or number 2, or number 3 doesn’t matter. You’re already looking on the page and you’ve got your answers. 

You just close your phone, close your computer and move on. So even if you are number one, that featured snippet is taking away some of your stuff. 

Featured Videos

One of those things Google has been rolling out is featuring videos. That’s the next thing that we’re going to talk about. 

This will typically pop up with your how-to questions, and those how-to questions used to be some of the easiest phrases to rank for. That’s just not the case anymore because of the video features. 

If I say like the following, Google’s almost certainly going to feature videos from Youtube and other places too answer my question: 

  • “How do I install the Yoast plugin on my wordpress website?” 
  • “How do I plant tomatoes?” 
  • “How do I make jam?” 
  • “How do I milk a goat?”

When people ask how-to questions, they often want to see someone doing it. So those video features pop up right at the top on the search engine. Again, kind of pushing down and making the top ranking webpages not as noticeable. 

The Ads

And then of course, the thing that’s been there since forever. The ads. Ads always show up first, and what do we do? We scroll past them. In episode 19, I talked about ad blindness. 

We scroll past them, but what we’re not scrolling past is the featured snippet. We’re not scrolling past the box of “People also ask”, we’re not scrolling past the video features because they could answer our questions. So we have to give them even a little bit of time to review them. 

Consider, with things like video features, featured snippets, “People also ask” boxes… You are looking at all the things that can push search engine results further down the page. 

Snippets as a Point of Contention

The featured snippets themselves are kind of a point of contention between Google and content creators. You’re thinking “Why? They answer questions, they’re so helpful.” 

They’re a point of contention because what Google is essentially doing is taking content that’s not theirs, copying it, and presenting it on their page. Is that technically most helpful to the user? Sure. Especially for easier questions to answer. 

For something like on my website, if I ever popped up in a featured snippet, people will most likely click through to see the rest of what it is that I have to say, because my topics aren’t math questions, they’re not easy to solve, they’re not recipes. 

But Google is still copying content and presenting it on their website, and they didn’t ask anybody if they could do that. So that’s where the point of contention comes from. Google cares about user intent. It used to be that when somebody entered in something on the computer and they were looking for something, Google took those exact words and that’s what they were looking for. 

Focused on User Intent: The Where and How Matters

I don’t know if you remember… Maybe you’re not old enough to remember and maybe it’s just me, but I would have to type in different approaches to my key word to try to get the answer that I was looking for. If you’re a Millennial or older, you might remember that.

if you’re Gen Z, you’re like “Oh, what are you talking about? Google’s always known what I wanted”. That’s what I used to do. I used to change my search query to try to get what I actually wanted. Google noticed people doing that, and so they changed the algorithms because that way it could focus more on user intent. 

Your Ranking Worldwide

Google accounts for location of the people using their search engine. So, if you’ve been working with a search engine optimization agency and they just told you that you ranked #1 for “small business accounting” in Baltimore, you’re not going to rank #1 for “small business accounting” in New York or Miami. 

Other businesses there are going to rank for that. Even though you could render your services completely online, you do not rank #1 for “small business accounting” all over the world. Even if you do rank #1, where do you rank number one? That’s the next question. 

These search engine optimization agencies would say “Oh, we’ll get you to #1, pay us all this money, we’ll get you to #1”. 

You ranked number one where? You ranked number one under what context? Google cares about context. So if I look for restaurant reviews and you have a blog that’s all restaurant reviews, is your blog going to come up? 

Probably not, because it’s going to present Google reviews, Yelp reviews, and Travel Advisor reviews before you. Getting to the top rank amongst that competition is almost impossible, unless you have as much money as Google to pour into the endeavor. 

Making the Shift into Topic Clusters

So, if ranking number one is so hard, why are we still doing content marketing? Because content marketers like myself have made the shift to what we call topic clusters. So it’s not just about the one blog post that you’re going to put up. It’s about the five or ten that you’re going to put up about one particular topic. 

We’re going to take a concept, like filing annual taxes, and we’re going to write 5 to 10 blog posts surrounding that topic. They’re all going to link together. Also, they’re all going to link to a main post on filing your annual taxes as a small business. 

What that does is it communicates to Google that you are presenting a comprehensive education on this particular topic. It also allows you to rank for smaller, lower volume keywords that are easier. 

We’re not getting precise Google keyword volume anymore from Google Keyword Planner. These topic clusters can help you get a better idea of the sorts of traffic that you’re getting and where it’s coming from. You’re better able to analyze a topic cluster than you are one single keyword anymore, because Google’s kind of masking the data. 

Clusters, in addition to building your search engine market share, also build thought leadership and credibility for you. By thought leadership, I just mean your perception of authority. So when you present something comprehensive like that to people, they appreciate it. 

Can Giving Too Much Detail Hurt Your Business?

Even if you were to tell me all the ways that I could file my own taxes, I’m still not going to do it. But because I read everything and now I know for sure that you know how to file my taxes, I’m going to contact you, because I trust you. Because you told me already. 

There’s a variety of reasons why you would give that level of detail. One of the biggest ones is that, just because you’ve given that much detail, it doesn’t mean that people are just suddenly going to start doing it and you’re going to lose business. As a matter of fact, you may increase your business. 

Show your mastery of a topic through topic clusters, and worry a little bit less about your Google search engine ranking, especially if your website is new. It’s going to take a while before you get there. 

So, that’s what I wanted to cover with you today. You should not trust those people who say they will make you rank #1 on Google. 

If you enjoyed this episode, I’d appreciate you leaving me a review or a comment wherever that you heard it or watched it. If you’re watching this on IGTV or Youtube – and I will see you next time. 

This has been an episode of The Defiant Business Podcast. Go ahead and leave us a review or a comment and we’ll try to answer your other business and marketing questions in future episodes. 

Content Writing: For Search Engines or Humans?

Today we’re exploring a big question: content writing, for search engines or humans? A lot of people are vocally in support of the latter. But I don’t think there is a difference. You have to remember that your priority is always the people. Specifically the people in your target audience. HOWEVER, search engines play a role too. 

Listen to this episode to see why you should be writing for BOTH!

Here’s the podcast episode:

Or if you’d rather watch the video:

And here’s the transcript:

Hi, I’m Ruthie, owner of Defy The Status Quo, and you’re listening to an episode of The Defiant Business Podcast, your 10-minute daily shot of business knowledge. You don’t have a lot of time and I won’t waste it. So let’s get into it. 

Today we’re going to be talking about whether your content writing should be for search engines or humans. I actually see this division of thought about content writing pretty frequently. And when I do, whether I see it on Linkedin, Instagram, any social media platform or when I’m speaking with people at networking events, you can pretty much always count on me to throw in my 2 cents about this.

That’s because I don’t think that there is a difference. If you’re one of those people who do believe that there is a difference, I think that by the end of this 10-minute segment, you will at least have the other side’s informed opinion, even if you don’t change your mind. 

Content Written for Humans Only

So when I’m on Linkedin or Instagram, I see things like “I write content for humans”, or if it’s a company posting about their content needs, they will say things like “Content written for humans only”. Those are two sides of the same coin there: the writer, and then the business who’s looking for writers. And what these statements reflect is outdated knowledge about search engine optimization. 

Black Hat SEO

Typically when people say “I write content for humans”, or they say “Content was written for humans only”, what they mean is they don’t want any keyword stuffing. This is when you take one keyword, and you stuff it in a lot of places in a blog post or a webpage. This is actually something we call black hat SEO, and there are other techniques with this label. Like paying for backlinks.

Why would someone pay for backlinks? Read our post on the top SEO ranking factors to learn more.

Keyword stuffing is typically the one people think of, and they’re like “Yeah, I don’t want that. That stuff doesn’t make sense.” The thought that keyword stuffing and black hat SEO is what SEO writing means, has been pervasive. It’s been really hard to get rid of, but it’s outdated.

While that thinking persists, the opposite is actually true. If Google sees black hat SEO techniques, like keyword stuffing, used on a website, they will eventually bury that website in the search engine results. Maybe it ranks really high for a second, but then Google is like “Hey, let me take a closer look at this website. It’s doing so well. Oh, they’re not doing good things at all”. And then it starts to bury it.

People won’t be able to find you, so you don’t want that to happen to your website. So a content writer worth their salt won’t use black hat SEO on your website. 

What is the Goal of a Search Engine?

Today, what you need to do is consider the goal of search engines. What is the goal of search engines? To provide the best user experience that they can for their users. So their goal is to serve the best, most relevant, most entertaining content. So if your content is that content, then you’re already halfway there, maybe 75% of the way there, because good content wins out. 

What Is the Purpose of SEO Content Writing?

So what is the purpose of SEO content writing, then? SEO content writing is how you make sure search engines know that your content is the most relevant and what their users are looking for. You use search engine optimized content writing as a tool to communicate effectively with the search engines that you want to deliver your content. 

Let’s take a look at some of the guidelines for good SEO content writing. 

Broad and Specific Keywords

The first one is keywords. Yup. Keywords. The reason for this is because keywords are indicative of a topic. There’s broad keywords, and there’s specific keywords.

So a broad keyword would be “running”. That’s really broad and you’re probably never going to rank for that if that’s your goal. If you do, it’ll be a long time coming. A more specific keyword, or a long tail keyword phrase, normally reflects how someone actually enters in a search term in the search engine.

So instead of saying “running”, they might say “How to start running a 5K”. That’s a really popular topic, so you’re probably not going to rank for that either, for a long time. However, it’s still a great example of a long tail keyword.

But maybe a search engine phrase like “alternative plastics for bottled water”, is probably not a super common keyword. That tells you a topic, and as I’m thinking of this blog post, I can plan it out already in my head. But it’s not too specific that no one’s looking for it.

As you can see in the examples above, I’ve taken a broad search term and made it specific to a theoretical target audience. Even the phrase “starting a business”, looks like a long-tail keyword. And it is, by definition, but it isn’t one I’d recommend you use. Especially if you can make it more specific to your audience.

Check out our post on free keyword research tools if you need some help getting started.

Headlines and Sections

Pay attention to your headlines and sections. Search engine guidelines say you can’t have more than 300 words within any given section. If you have more than 300 words, then you probably need to break it up with another subheadline.

It’s good to include your keyword in your headline, but don’t overdo it. You want to do it in one of your headlines, but don’t stuff it if it’s not natural. Google’s aim is to get as close to human understanding as possible, and I’m sure one day they’ll achieve it. You want to make sure that your content is future-proof.  

Switch to Active Voice

The other thing that’s rough for many writers is the switch from passive voice to active voice. When we go through school, teachers emphasize passive voice.

Most of the time we don’t use you in our professional writing. We don’t say I in our professional writing and essays in college. We use the third person in content writing. From a marketing perspective, you want to say you, I and we. Those are the pronouns you want to use, but you also want to make sure your phrases are active versus passive.

An example of that is “The window was broken by the boy”. That’s actually a pretty long sentence, which you could flip to be active and say “The boy broke the window”. That’s a much shorter, concise sentence. Active sentences normally convey more emotion, and are easier to read.

Need more info on how to write search engine optimized content? Check out our Blogging for Business Toolkit.

Your Content Writing Should Be For Search Engines AND Humans!

So those are just three SEO recommendations that we follow. There’s a lot more. Use these things properly, you’ll communicate to the search engine that your content is good content for its users. That is the goal of search engines. It’s not to be peppered with keywords and be unreadable. That’s black hat SEO, that will get your site buried.

Just remember that SEO content is for humans. It helps the search engines understand that your content is what its users need to see. It helps search engines get your content in front of the people that you want to see it, which is basically anybody who might enjoy or benefit from your content. 

Search engine content writing is human content writing. It’s the way that we communicate with the search engines to let them know that our content is what the users want to see.

So next time somebody says “content writing: for search engines or humans?”, just remember search engine guidelines are a tool like anything else. A writer effectively merges what the users want to see with what the search engines need to see to get the content in front of your ideal target audience. 

I’m the owner of Defy The Status Quo, and this was an episode of The Defiant Business Podcast. I hope you enjoyed it and I’d love to hear your feedback, so be sure to leave me a comment wherever it is that you’ve run into this episode.