Image hotlinking is the process of linking an image from another site, so it shows on yours. For example, if Website B has an image that you want to use, you can embed a code on your site. This code will run and show your audience the image.
However, the image is not directly uploaded to your server. What it means is that the image is hosted somewhere else.
On another note, other people can do this to you. They will hotlink to your image—they will essentially use your images without your permission.
Now, is this a bad practice?
Yes, hotlinking is a bad practice. In the front end, it may seem like a good idea because you no longer have to download the image or buy it and then load it to your website. On the other hand, you may think that hotlinking will bring traffic to your site.
But no, it won’t.
Today, I will show you several reasons why you shouldn’t hotlink images when building your website. Also, I will discuss why you should prevent others from hotlinking images from your website.
Copyright infringement – if you copy someone’s content, it is a copyright infringement. While laws in the US are pretty much as stringent as they should be, they aren’t. Nevertheless, there are site owners out there who can track their content, and if you are one of the hotlinkers, you may find yourself in legal trouble.
This is especially so if your site is big and if it is earning money. Your victim will look for justice, and I am sure his attorney will squeeze money from you because you violated his rights to his content. Hotlinking is not worth it. Just get photos from free sites if you can.
There are many websites where you can get free photographs and graphic arts. All you have to do is to give credit to whom it is due.
Server response and uptime – if you hotlink images, the way the images show on your site depends on the server of the image source. Now, if that server is down, then the image is not going to load on your site.
And what happens then?
Images are supposed to make your site visitor stay. If the image on your site does not load because the image source is down, your site visitor will not be happy. That site visitor is going to leave, and will not even bother checking your other pages. An image that does not load gives the impression that the website is not professional.
If your site visitors leave, Google will know about it. As such, Google will not rank your pages, and you are doing a disservice to your SEO efforts. In addition to this, bad link sources also slow your website.
It steals your bandwidth – now, if others hotlink images to your site, you are the victim. If they do this, not only are they violating your copyright, but they are also damaging your website’s performance.
Imagine if there are hundreds of sites hotlinking images from you, what happens is that they are downloading the images on their webpages, but they are using your bandwidth resources. This can crash your website—and they are the ones who benefit from it.
You see, hotlinking an image is not good on either side of the spectrum. If you are the one hotlinking, you have a dependency on the host of the image, plus you can get sued for copyright violation.
If you are the one hotlinked to, you will lose bandwidth. On the other hand, you may not have the power to sue—it is a costly proposition at best.
So, what can you do? What you should do is to stop hotlinking, and then prevent others from doing it to you.
How to prevent hotlinking
What I am going to discuss here are ways so nobody hotlinks to your images.
- Watermark your images
The easiest way to prevent hotlinking is by watermarking your images. a watermark is a text on your image. This text should say something about your brand.
Watermarking does not really prevent hotlinking. However, it discourages the hotlinkers from stealing your image. If your image has your brand name, you can also warn the reader that if they are not viewing the image from your site, then the image is stolen.
There are WordPress plug-ins you can use to do this. They automatically watermark your images, but most of them are not free. If you do not want to spend money, you have to watermark them manually.
- Use CDN
CDN is a process the speeds up the delivery of your web pages. In this process, copies of your web pages are saved in different areas around the world. These copies are served in that area.
Most CDN providers like Cloudfare offer hotlink protection. There is no need for you to code or do the programming. What you simply have to do is to click some buttons, and the CDN program will take care of it.
- Disable right-click on WordPress
There are WordPress plug-ins you can use to do this. When you disable the right click, the person will not be able to get the image address. As such, they cannot copy it, much less hotlink to it.
These plug-ins are free. However, it is not a guarantee that you can prevent hotlinking. There are many hackers out there who can use bots to still access your image, but there are only a few who do this. After all, robots cannot “see” an image, so this is one of the best options to prevent hotlinking.
- Rename the files
This approach happens after the fact. If you have noticed a surge in your traffic, and that traffic is towards an image, then someone may be hotlinking to you.
In this case, all you have to do is to change the file name of your image. Once you do this, the URL will also change, which means that the hotlinker has to go back to your site and copy the URL again.
Do not think that only bad website operators do this. There are legit websites that hotlink not because they are maliciously destroying your site, but they simply want to show what you have.
Nevertheless, they should have known that hotlinking to your site can damage your site’s performance and that they are violating your copyright laws.
The internet is chockful of bad practices. People will always want to do something that is easy, and they will do whatever it is in their power to take advantage of other people.
From your end, never hotlink the image of other websites. It is better that you make your own or get images from suppliers who offer free or paid images. This should prevent you from getting into any kind of trouble.
Now, it is also your duty to prevent others from hotlinking to your site. Do what you can to prevent others from stealing your content. The best thing you can do is to watermark your image or use other tools that can prevent others from stealing your content via hotlinking.
Take the time to find out which images on your site being hotlinked to. Use plug-ins and investigate a surge in traffic, and then act on it right away.
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