Google Image Search Changes Have Not Been Kind To Webmasters

    April 30, 2013
    Chris Crum

Earlier this year, Google launched a new design for its image search, and ever since, there has been a substantial amount of backlash from webmasters claiming that the changes have decreased the amount of traffic they get to their sites.

Have you seen less traffic from Google Image Search since the redesign? Let us know in the comments.

Webmasters complaining about changes made by Google is nothing new. Every time Google releases a major algorithm update like Penguin or Panda, the outcry is everywhere. But, like it or not, that’s Google trying to better its algorithm, and ultimately improve its search results. You could also argue that any traffic one site loses, another gains. Somebody wins.

The Image Search story is a bit different, however. This is not an algorithmic change designed to point users to higher quality images or more relevant image results. It’s a cosmetic change, and while some users may find the experience to be an upgrade, it’s clear that many webmasters have not welcomed the redesign.

We got over seventy comments about the changes on a previous article we published. Not many were positive. In fact, most were from webmasters talking about the traffic they lost almost instantly. Here are a few examples:

“55% dropped for websites with images…”

“My traffic has dropped to 1/5 of what it was before the new Google Images search roll out…”

“My traffic was cut by half overnight…”

“My image based website has lost 2/3 of the visitors after the change…”

“Google image traffic has dropped by 50-70% on my site…”

We could go on. See for yourself.

That was back in January. It doesn’t appear that things have gotten much better.

Define Media Group published some findings from a recent study on Monday (hat tip to Search Engine Land). According to the firm, you might as well spend your time in other areas of search engine optimization and online marketing, and not worry so much about optimizing for image search anymore.

“We analyzed the image search traffic of 87 domains and found a 63% decrease in image search referrals after Google’s new image search UI was released,” explains Shahzad Abbas. “Publishers that had previously benefitted the most from their image optimization efforts suffered the greatest losses after the image search update, experiencing declines nearing 80%.”

“In the eleven weeks after Google’s new image search was released, there has been no recovery – which means for image search, the significantly reduced traffic levels we’re seeing is the new normal,” he adds. “In the aftermath of the new image search experience, image SEO has been severely compromised, and we have no choice but to recommend deprioritizing image SEO when weighed against other search traffic initiatives.”

Of course, there’s always the chance that your images could turn up in universal search results on Google’s web results pages, but even then, personalized “Search Plus Your World” results tend to get the emphasis when applicable.

It’s all made even more interesting due to the fact that Google pitched the changes as good for webmasters, indicating that they would actually drive more traffic to sites.

“The domain name is now clickable, and we also added a new button to visit the page the image is hosted on,” wrote associate product manager Hongyi Li in the announcement. “This means that there are now four clickable targets to the source page instead of just two. In our tests, we’ve seen a net increase in the average click-through rate to the hosting website.”

“The source page will no longer load up in an iframe in the background of the image detail view,” Li added. “This speeds up the experience for users, reduces the load on the source website’s servers, and improves the accuracy of webmaster metrics such as pageviews. As usual, image search query data is available in Top Search Queries in Webmaster Tools.”

It’s possible that some sites are seeing more traffic from the Image Search changes, and just aren’t being as vocal, but there has been an overwhelming amount of complaints since the redesign, and this new study is not doing anything to defend Google’s case.

Of course, Google is all about placing users first (even over webmasters), and they’ll continue to do what they think is best for them. From a user experience perspective, the changes aren’t bad. But that’s little consolation for those who now have to find other ways to get their content in front of an audience.

Do you see Google’s recent Image Search changes as a positive or a negative? Let us know in the comments.


Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.