What in the name of god have they done this time?
OK here’s the theory, those of you who have been avid readers of this blog and my arcane ramblings over the past few years will realise I have no love for Google (oh god here he goes again on one of his “rants” I hear you cry?) because of the cack-handed way they always seem to deliver or roll out their “algorithm updates”.
How can such an organization seemingly filled to the rafters of so called intelligent people so habitually get it wrong but I digress, back to the theory.
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.
OK that’s the theory but funny it never seems to work out that way and especially with their latest developments regarding Image Search.
Now any good SEO Agency worth their salt will advise you that it is advisable to been seen almost everywhere for a client. The name of the game nowadays is all about branding and making sure that your name is found everywhere above all others so as well as making sure you rank in conventional SERPS you need to make sure you can be found in places like Google Blog Search, Image Search etc etc.
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.
“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…”
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.