On January 23 Google announced changes to image search. Web publishers, particularly photographers and artists, are angry and disillusioned as they believe the changes are diverting traffic from their websites and encouraging image theft.
Says Google: “Based on feedback from both users and webmasters, we redesigned Google Images to provide a better search experience.” This means image results are “displayed in an inline panel so it’s faster, more beautiful, and more reliable”.
“The domain name is now clickable, and we also added a new button to visit the page the image is hosted on. 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.”
It’s Google’s claim – “we’ve seen a net increase in the average click-through rate to the hosting website” – that’s hotly disputed by publishers, whose traffic stats are indicating the exact oppposite – a substantial drop in visitors from image search.
While there may well be more links to the hosting website, the new layout certainly doesn’t encourage searchers to click on any of them.
After you click on a thumbnail, a larger images opens within the search results against a full-width black background with the rest of the thumbnails showing above and below. To the right of the image, there’s some related text, including original image size, plus the URL of the website.
But – and more importantly – below that you can click on links to “Visit page”, “View original image”, and “Image details”. If you click on “View original image”, the full size image opens on its own in a new window, with no link to the originating page.
This means that searchers can view the full size image and copy it without ever visiting your site.
Google also makes negligible effort to dissuade visitors from copying images. After clicking on a thumbnaiI, I had to look really hard to find a tiny proviso, in nearly invisible text at the foot of the black background where the image is displayed, saying: “Image may be subject to copyright”. When viewing the full size image, there’s nothing at all about copyright.
The net result is that if the original image on your site is 1600 x 1200 pixels, the searcher can see and copy the full-size image without ever needing to visit your website.
As usual, Google claims these changes are for the benefit of users. While it may make image search quicker for a casual browser, power users who do research online say it’s slower with more clicks required, while publishers in general are furious.
Or, as one disgruntled publisher explains, “When clicking on a thumbnail, the original image is hotlinked and embedded into Google’s result page. This costs bandwidth and the user has less incentive to visit the webpage of the original creator.”
There’s already speculation on various forums that this is a first step by Google to monetize image search, possibly including ads within the search results, as in the mock-up image above.
Meanwhile Mia PcPherson, on her blog On the Wing Photography, questions the legality of the new set-up, asking “Is Google’s New Image Search Violating Their Own Policies? The Law?”. Other disgruntled publishers are suggesting a class-action lawsuit could be justified.
Programmers and website publishers are working on ways to thwart Google. I’ve found one WordPress plugin that directs users to my original blog page instead of just the image on a black screen when they click on “View original”. I’ll discuss this in my next blog post.
Are you a photographer or artist? I’d love to know how you feel about Google’s new image search and whether this has had any impact on your traffic and revenue.