Backlink image credit scams – the newest black-hat SEO tactic

Backlink image credit scams - the newest black-hat SEO tactic

“Hi! Just getting in touch because you’re using one of my images in your article.”

Sound familiar? It may well do – over the past few months, several of our clients have received an email that starts something like this. If you’ve had a similar communication land in your own inbox, we know that it can be a little unsettling to receive, especially since it looks like you might be faced with legal action.

So if you’ve received one and you’re thinking ‘what should I do’, the first thing is – don’t panic. If we’ve created and uploaded the content on your behalf here at 21Digital, you can rest assured that we only ever use images that we’ve got the licence for.

We would never simply download something from Google Images, as that would open you up to genuine copyright action. Instead, we source our imagery from stock image sites like Shutterstock and iPhoto, so we have explicit permission to use it, and the proper authors are already being credited. In fact that’s exactly why stock photography sites exist – to provide royalty free images and peace of mind from situations like this.

That means you don’t need to respond to any emails accusing you of using this imagery without permission, however polite they may be. These claims are false, and the communications aren’t from the original artists or photographers. These scammers actually have no power to compel you to do anything, legal or otherwise.

What if I’ve already responded to the initial email?

To be honest it doesn’t really matter. The main point of order is to check that neither you nor your colleagues have given them any additional sensitive information or data. Even if they do succeed in getting you to place the link, it’s easily reversible. If you’re in the middle of a correspondence with them, once you have the licence to hand then you can feel quite comfortable in just ceasing to reply.

What’s the point of these emails?

What the scammers are actually doing is engaging in some quite devious (unethical) SEO tactics, specifically through social engineering. Essentially, they’re trying to gain backlinks to their site. Which, let’s be honest, is fairly innocuous compared to what they could be after, but that’s no reason for you to give them what they want.

When assessing the quality of a website, Google looks at the number of inbound links from other sites as evidence for its trustworthiness, quality and authority. These inbound links are referred to as backlinks, and if you like, they act as ‘votes of confidence’ from other sites. So essentially, the aim is to unfairly and artificially boost their own site higher up in Google’s search results, without putting in all the effort, technical skill and investment that this would normally require.

“I will admit it’s quite a creative way of doing it,” says Ashley Chaplin, our SEO manager. “But it’s very unethical, and stands in complete contradiction to everything we believe here at 21Digital. It’s a cheap and underhanded way of building links, and unlike the bespoke strategies we create for clients, it’s very unlikely to bring these sites long-term results.”

What if I’m still not sure if the email is genuine?

What seems to be catching quite a lot of people off guard is that unlike the vast majority of scam emails, these ones are normally quite polite – the purported “copyright holders” apparently don’t mind that you’re using the image on your post, they’d just like you to acknowledge them by linking it to (and crediting) their own website. Now, most scam emails try to create a sense of urgency and panic, which nowadays puts most of us on our guard, but the more laid back nature of these ones can make them seem more authentic from the off.

If in doubt, you can always check out the site they’re asking you to link to. Does it look amateurish or unfinished? Is it poorly designed, or poorly worded, or stuffed with repetitive or random phrases?

Large sections of Lorem Ipsum (dummy text) on the homepage or other key pages can be a good indicator that a site is not quite as established as it’s pretending to be, and it’s worth looking out for a physical address, with a number you can call. Trust your instincts – if something seems off, it almost certainly is.

If you’re still not sure after all that, we’re always happy to provide answers here at 21Digital – especially if we’re the ones who’ve written the blog for you. We always keep records of our images, so we’ll be able to tell you definitively whether the email in question is worth your time.

And if you need any extra advice or support with any of our other digital services, don’t hesitate to ask. With more than 17 years of experience behind us, we keep all our skills in-house, so you can count on us to provide ethical, award-winning technical SEO skills and expertise that help your business grow. Our full range of services also encompasses web designweb developmentGoogle Adsdigital consultancysocial media marketing, and email marketing services.

WANT TO FIND OUT HOW WE CAN HELP YOU?

Give us a call on 01254 660 560, or email us on hello@21digital.agency and let’s talk!

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