New Google Image Update Stings
Sometimes, Google algorithm updates and changes enter with a bang, as was the case with the Panda update of early 2011 that affected around 12% of search results. Usually, it’s just another day in the life of the world’s biggest search engine that puts out over 500 algorithm updates annually. You’re not alone if you’ve experienced a dramatic decrease in your blog referral traffic from Google images over the past month. The image search changes have hurt website analytics all around the web.
Google Images Redesigned
The change we're referring to is the new redesign of Google Images, which rolled out in increments starting January 23, 2013. Previously, when you typed in a query, you received a page of results that resembled the following image:
image credit: Danny Sullivan
If you were intrigued enough to want a better view of the image, you could click through directly to the hosting website, which provided a view of the image file over the page. Even if you were just there for the picture, this counted as a website view in the site’s inbound marketing analytics:
In essence, Google has completely redesigned its image search results. The new layout may be optimized for user experience, but not your company’s total pageviews. Web searchers are now able to view a large version of the image without ever actually clicking through to the website:
The result? Web searchers on the hunt for images can save around 3 seconds, and your website’s total pageviews may have plummeted since the final week of January. It’s no secret that many SEO experts and small business owners were a little steamed about how this change affected their analytics. Google released an official blog post stating that the redesign would “provide a better search experience” for web browsers and that the update would effect website owners in the following way:
“The domain name is now clickable, and we also added a new button to visit the page the image is hosted on...In our tests, we’ve seen a net increase in the average click-through rate to the hosting website.”
If the 300+ comments on the blog post can be taken as an indicator about whether the Internet believes they’ll see an increase in click-through rates, most webmasters are righteously dubious. People are particularly angry that Google is using their servers’ bandwidth to host images without automatically providing pageviews as an associated bonus. Some have even gone as far as blocking Google’s search spiders from indexing their images, claiming the new search makes them feel like their visual content is being scraped from the website without any benefit. If you’re interested in doing the same, information on how to block the search engine’s bots from indexing select aspects of your content can be found in Google’s Webmaster Tools here.
The Bright Side
Is there a bright side to any of this? There’s a good chance that your website’s traffic is significantly down since January, but there’s also some good news. The people who are still visiting your website are more qualified to convert to leads and share your content on social media channels than someone who just clicked through because they were intrigued by your image. In fact, Google’s team of engineers believe they made the right move for just that reason.
Website visitors who solely land on your website to view images are known to some SEO experts as “phantom visitors,” and Google webmaster trends analyst Pierre Far believes the issue is now solved. He even went as far as to describe the image search redesign as a “net win” for webmasters. Whether or not your inbound marketing analytics seem to agree with Far, it’s certainly just another piece of evidence that indicates that inbound marketers need to be among the most nimble and flexible professionals on the planet.