Google crosses a line...Google Image Searches

Discussion in 'Business of Photography' started by tlsohl, Jan 31, 2013.

  1. Google has made a change in their "Image Search" in the last few days that will have a dramatic impact on photographers and their websites. Traffic on my website has declined by 40% in the last 3 days, and when looking for the cause, it's very over 75% decline in the number of Google Image Searches that result in a visit to my site.
    Now, when you do an image search in Google and click on one of the thumbnail images, it brings up the FULL-RESOLUTION image from your site, WITHOUT ever actually taking the visitor to your website. There's a tiny little message towards the bottom that says "the image may be subject to copyright", but I have no doubt that "theft" and usage of online photos will sharply increase with this move.
    Now, people can search for your images and even DOWNLOAD the full-resolution images, all from Google, WITHOUT ever visiting your website.
  2. How is it that you're making full-resolution images available to public internet trafffic in the first place? Or, really, why?

    You can use directives in a ROBOTS.TXT file to tell Google which folders to crawl, index, or follow - and they do respect those directives. If you want people to visit, just make sure that Google is only indexing a page that shows thumbnails and low-res, watermarked images, and that you've told them not to index or follow links to resources you don't want them to serve up as search results.

    But more to the point, people who want to rip off your images are going to whether they have to click their mouse one more time or not. Don't make those images publicly reachable regardless. And did I mention watermarking?

    It's possible I'm misunderstanding your use of the phrase "full-resolution," though. On visiting your site (nice bird work, by the way!), I wan't able to get any more high-res than 800px.
  3. Not "full-resolution", but more than the thumbnails,'re right, I wasn't that clear. The highest res photos I have on my website are up to around 900 pixels in width or height. I'd never have the full-resolution images online. That's not the issue.
    The issue to me is web traffic. Google is now displaying the highest-resolution photos you have on your website, directly, and even allowing download of those photos, without actually taking people TO your website.
    My traffic is down 40% in 3 days. Other photographers are also noting dramatic traffic declines since the change. People looking for images no longer have to go to the actual website, they can stop looking once they simply do a google search.
  4. Again: you have complete control over this by telling Google how to handle their visits to your site and how it's indexed.

    For example: keep your thumbnails in a folder like:


    with your higher-resolution images in a folder like


    and then use robots.txt to tell Google which pages and folders it's allowed to index. Tell it to index your documents, and that it's ok to index /thumbnails, but that it's NOT ok to index /images. They will then present only the thumbnail-sized images in their image search, and someone persistent enough to look for a higher-res image will just follow the trail to the page showing that thumbnail. This is exactly what the robots.txt file is for, and you can completely control Google's behavior while it's visiting your site.
  5. Good strategy Matt, and simple enough to implement.
    The net effect of the Google change though is still going to be a net reduction in web traffic from google image searches to external sites.
  6. I'm not sure that's true, Terry. In the scenario I'm describing, they serve up the thumbnail, and they show the visit-this-site link, and the "see original" link of course doesn't bring back anything but the thumbnail. The person who wants to see the larger one is going to click the links that drive them to the original page.

    Another way to tackle this is to use a thumbnail page that pops out the larger 800px versions in a JS-driven window. Using something like lightbox or a similarly popular tool. Usually Google will avoid running browser-side JS to display larger images, and will leave them well enough alone.
  7. It's already true. Google searches linking to my site are far below what they were just last week, and sites across the globe are experiencing big traffic declines:

    If someone sees a thumbnail where the big image won't come up, what are they more likely to do? Go to the site? Or, given that they're already on a google image page with hundreds of other image options, simply click on another image they're already looking at?
  8. I'm not entirely clear on your purpose, I suppose. Are you worrying about the people who want to rip off 800px JPGs? Those aren't your (prospective) customers, and aren't the ones who are going to click your banner ads. They're looking around for images to heist.

    Perhaps consider a different watermark on the smaller images - one that actively encourages visits... "See this in higher quality at www..." or some such.

    Also: how are you measuring traffic? Are some of the hits you're used to the referrer loads that happen behind the previous Google-popped-up image, and which people (most of the time) then just reflexively closed? Having looked at millions of log records and stats over the years, I know that's a big part of such traffic - essentially, an illusion that was an artifact of the way the image search was presenting things, before.
  9. Better question, even if you are getting less hits, are you getting a decline in revenue?

    If you have a blog with ads, I could see this as being a yes. But if you are selling prints/booking shoots, I doubt this will affect your bottom line that much.
  10. Yes, for me, it is about web traffic and ads. My site has my photos, but is also a birding information site. It gets a lot of traffic, much of it generated when people do a google search and find my photos. Ad revenue is a large part of the equation, so obviously web traffic stopping at Google is an issue for me.
    I think it goes beyond web traffic though. In just providing thumbnails of images, Google's search offered a tool for people to find what they're looking for. Now, however, Google is taking your actual full-resolution CONTENT and displaying it on their search results pages.
    Imagine Google or another site taking a web page worth of text, copying it verbatim, and displaying it on their website. Even with a link to the original source, most users wouldn't NEED to continue to the original source. Google becomes a one-stop information source. It's no different with images. If Google takes your high-res images directly from your website and displays them on Google pages, most users have no need to continue on to your website.
  11. Terry, I would like to introduce you to the app Flipboard. It basically does just that.

    Some content producers have learned to cope with it. Others have done what basically amounts to Matt's thumbnail trick.
    There are a few other apps out there (was one Instapaper?) that do mostly the same thing.
    Oh, and I would also check to see if there is anything you can do in Google Webmaster Tools. There may be a way to control this from in there, but not positive.
  12. It will be interesting to see if you have a change in actual human ad click-through. I maintain that a lot of the registered page views (unlike ad clicks) are more likely to be drive-by visitors who loaded the page only to kill it. Hard to say, all sites and visitor demographics are different.
  13. Terry, all the more reason to have contact info on your images. I publish my images to the Web mostly for potential stock sales. With that in mind, I don't care much if people using image search actually see my pages, as long as the image (with my contact info) get put in their face.
  14. Just to point out, for as long as I can recall, Google image search would let you pull up whatever size image was on a webpage without actually loading that page. You would click on the thumbnail on the Google page, which would give you a new screen with an often reduced-size picture, but much bigger than a thumbnail, with the underlying webpage serious faded and underneath. It would tell you how much (if any) bigger the version on the page was, compared to what it was displaying (e.g., original is 1.7x this size). You then could click on something like 'view original image', which would put the image, at the web page's full size, on your screen, with nothing else from the webpage. So Google appears to have short-circuited this process somewhat, but not fundamentally changed what you have long been able to do.
  15. I have also experienced a drop in visitors since this was implemented - about 40%. I don't mind their new design so much - but not showing the underlying website at all does not seem appropriate - though there are more links to it now. Does anyone know if the old "preview" of the site was showing as a hit result in peoples stats? If it did - we are probably not missing out on much. If the hits I am missing are people who were actually clicking to see the rest of the page because they could see it - that is a big deal for me.

    As a search user it also winds up being an inferior search to what we had before - I often wanted to see the other related content from the source page along with the photo in the results.
  16. Does anyone know if the old "preview" of the site was showing as a hit result in peoples stats?​
    Yes, it did do so. It was simple to test - just do a search, bring up an image that would do that background dimmed page load, and then run right over to your server log files to see if there was a hit on the underlying page/document. I checked that more than once, and yes - that showed up as traffic. And you're right, of course - that many people who did that drive-by page load would never have even drilled down to the background page, but would have looked to you like a visitor. As you say, I suspect that's not much real traffic actually lost at all.
  17. As a search user it also winds up being an inferior search to what we had before - I often wanted to see the other related content from the source page along with the photo in the results.​
    I totally agree with you, Michael.
  18. I often wanted to see the other related content from the source page along with the photo in the results.​
    But is one mouse click away ... and in the meantime, you aren't burning up the bandwidth and taking on the latency and caching chores surrounding loading the page whether you want it or not. One mouse click!
  19. But is one mouse click away ... and in the meantime, you aren't burning up the bandwidth and taking on the latency and caching chores surrounding loading the page whether you want it or not. One mouse click!​
    Right - but will people make that extra click to see it? I will, because I'm often interested in the data associated with a photograph, but I am not sure that most searchers are.
  20. This redesign was not about a better user experience but about the bottom line for Google.
    Back in the day Google played fair and we as photographers allowed Google to display our images in exchange for traffic to our websites. Many would use Adsense to monetize their websites (making Google 32% of profits).
    Sounds fair and everyone was happy but then Google began to put the squeeze on publishers in the name of corporate profits and retaining traffic. They deployed expanding images and most recently (1/24/2013) displaying images high resolution. And by adding "view original image" link users don't even need to visit a publishers website to see the full image.
    It will be interesting to see what the future holds but I wouldn't base your business off Google traffic in the future.

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