Google Image Search Redesign and How This Affects Webmasters

As a owner of multiple websites it happens to have an image-based site too. Like most of the webmasters – photographers or design artists that publish their images on their site, my site depended for most of its traffic from the Google image search engine. On the 24th-25th January I saw high decrease in traffic for that particular site and also its AdSense revenue more than halved.

I first believed it has to be that the weekend is close, and during weekends the traffic is reduced by 20% in some cases, but I was wrong…

The thing that really happened is Google redesigned their image search engine, keeping most of the traffic for themselves by using a good tactic. The new design now shows bigger images downsized from the original full-sized image on our sites, which previous to this update they could not be seen, thus leaving the opportunity for the user to download the image right from inside the Google image search, and ending in not even visiting our site.

Google backed up this update by stating the new design greatly improves speed and usability for the users.

Many upset webmasters and artists started raging forum threads and blog posts after the update, many considering this is a copyright infringement, while the other part says you should block Google bot to visiting your site if you don’t like it. In my opinion, Google has gone too far with this update and this is why I’m writing this post too.

I’m not that moved because my AdSense revenue on that site is down to 80%, because luckily I have other stable streams of revenue, but because the images I spend months to edit and upload now can be downloaded without users even knowing who made them, Google leaving just a small door for the users to visit your site.

This is how the new image search look, you can see that puppy right at Google and save the relatively bigger image in your computer, without even visiting the originating site (or you have the option to view just the original size image). Now most of the users will not be motivated enough to click on the picture or on the “visit page” button to land at your site:

Google image search redesign

While me and other webmasters can’t do too much in making Google considering to rollback the changes, in the past days I searched for various methods of redirecting visitors to my site before they will be able to download the bigger sized images directly from Google. Thus directing most of the traffic where it should land – at the owner gallery, and not on the new Google’s one.

I found a few redirect methods that implies some lines of PHP code and modifications at the .htaccess file in the domain root, but I’m still to find a viable solution for this particular site of mine, which is pure html, lacking a database. In the next days I’ll update this pot with the solution I found (for WordPress too), so others can direct most of the visitors to their site.

I have a feeling this was a bad step for Google.

UPDATE 16 February 2013:

I’m back with some new data and a positive experience. After days of researching and trying various redirect and watermark methods with my site I finally got something good put in place: A no-hotlink script that places a watermark on my images only on requests from other sites. So while my full resolution images remains intact if accessed from my domain, if any site is hot linking my images, the script will automatically add a layer over the image, with whatever transparency watermark file (saved as transparency png) you want to add.

Here is a screenshot of the adsense income before and after the Google image update, as my traffic increased back (half of January – half of February):

Adsense earnings recovery

And here is the code and the instructions on how to place it on your site (please pay attention when playing with the .htaccess file on your domain and always have a backup of it, so you can place the original file if something fails – your domain can become inaccessible)

The method will add a (transparent) watermark over the images embedded by Google, the watermark should contain a text instructing visitors to click on the image (so you get back most of the traffic if the user wants to get rid of the watermark and also see the full size resolution of the image). Credits for the code goes to this site: Brandintellect.in – Prevent Image Hotling

Step 1:

Add the following lines of code into your .htaccess file from the root directory of the site you want to modify, make sure to replace yoursite with your domain name, and the .com with your domain termination:

<IfModule mod_rewrite.c>
RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http://www\.yoursite\.com/ [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} !Googlebot [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} !Googlebot-Image [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} !Mediapartners-Google [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} !Mediapartners [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} !Googlebot-Mobile [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} !Googlebot-Video [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} !Googlebot-News [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} !msnbot [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} !slurp [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} !Bingbot [NC]
RewriteRule (^.*\.(bmp|gif|jpe?g)$) /watermark.php?src=$1 [L]
</IfModule>

Step 2:

Create a watermark.php file and add it to the root directory of the site, the file should contain the following code (exactly):

<?php

header(‘content-type: image/jpeg’);

$image = imagecreatefromjpeg($_GET[‘src’]);

$watermark = imagecreatefrompng(‘watermark.png’);

$watermark_width = imagesx($watermark);
$watermark_height = imagesy($watermark);

$dest_x = imagesx($image) – $watermark_width;
$dest_y = imagesy($image) – $watermark_height;

imagecopymerge($image, $watermark, $dest_x – 25, 25, 0, 0, $watermark_width, $watermark_height, 80);

imagejpeg($image, NULL, 85);

imagedestroy($image);
imagedestroy($watermark);

?>

Step 3:

Create a transparent .png image (I do it in Photoshop) with a text instructing visitors to click and visit your site, and also place it in the root directory too.

How to create a transparent .png image in Photoshop: You can create a new image with the background set as transparent, (make the size of the image like 800×600 pixels, or whatever size fits you after checking the Google image search on how the watermark looks, at first you can start with any reasonable size) and then add a text of your choice, then use the “save for web” option and select png from the dropdown menu in the right upper corner before saving, make sure you check the transparency box.

If my instructions were too short you’ll find plenty of info on the Internet on how to create a transparent .png image and add text over it in Photoshop.

This is just one of the methods to recover some of the traffic from the Google images search. I hope this will help some of you.