Michal Dzierza
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500px introduces a small change with huge implications for photographers

13128636754_0ed0c47398_z.jpg

Did 500px.com just give photographers a simple, but effective publicity boost (and Flickr another kick in the ass)? Unless you've spent the last week or so in a cave, you probably know that Flickr has just released a new version of its mobile app. It's got tons of reviews, mostly positive, unlike its web redesign, which alienated many users. But, as some pointed out, Flickr is catching up with other mobile photography apps and is likely to focus on the web property next.

Meanwhile however, its more nimble competitor, 500px.com, has implemented a small change to how it displays its members' images on the web, which is likely to help many web-savvy photographers find a much bigger audience beyond 500px.com itself.

A few days ago I noticed that Google indexed a few new pages featuring my name, including an old photo upload on 500px. Then I got second alert about another 500px page with my photograph. So I looked at both pages trying to work out why they got indexed now. All of a sudden and for no apparent reason. Did someone link to them? Did 500px feature them somewhere? No.

Have a look at the URL for the above Battersea picture after I've uploaded it to Flickr:

www.flickr.com/photos/dzierza/13128636754

And the same picture on 500px.com:

http://500px.com/photo/63628261/misty-battersea-by-michal-dzierza

If you know anything about SEO you'll understand the difference between the two and the significance of the change to how 500px structures its URLs. If you don't, let me explain it briefly.

Google, still the most powerful search engine on the planet, takes a wide range of signals into consideration while indexing and subsequently surfacing pages on its search results pages. The importance and significance of these signals varies - and constantly changes - but the general consensus is that URLs should still be optimised (but not abused, i.e. stuffed with zillions of irrelevant keywords) as Google still uses the information contained within the URL to determine how to rank the pages.

Now, if you were to look up a picture of misty Battersea, would you type into Google (or any other search engine) 'misty Battersea' or '13128636754'? And that's why - for now at least - 500px has got the upper hand.

I wasn't sure whether it was a recent change or an old feature I'd only just noticed, so I reached out to Oleg Gutsol, the CEO of 500px.com who confirmed it was a recent addition:

Our web team recently added photo title and the photographer's name to the photo url. This is mainly to help search engines discover the photos and their creators better.

I also asked him what the feedback has been so far, if any:

So far, you're the only one that I heard from about this, what do you think about it?

Here's what I think:

- if you're a photographer after a much larger audience, this is an invaluable and free publicity tool. Use it wisely. If you *really* want to be super serious about SEO and driving search traffic to your images, research your image title keywords before you publish the image. Otherwise just be aware of the fact the title and your name now form part of the URL.

- if you edit the title, the url will change too. So if you want to reoptimise old images, do it sooner rather than later. It would seem 500px applied the URL changes retrospectively as when I searched for 'misty battersea michal dzierza' Google still showed the original page it indexed, which also contained just a random string of numbers and was still outranked by Flickr.

- the change is likely to benefit the photographer, but the biggest winner is obviously 500px. The change is likely to boost its organic traffic from search engines, but may also - potentially at least - harm some photographers' sites' SEO by outranking them. However, I don't think it's a massive issue for most people.

By Michal Dzierza

P.S. Funnily enough, Google doesn't optimise its own URLs. The same photo on Google+  https://plus.google.com/photos/103816950273290237811/albums/5627752255992544737/5997600335388236018?pid=5997600335388236018&oid=103816950273290237811