Google Updates Image Search, Artists to See Changes


Google Image SearchArtists and photographers tend to have mixed feelings about Google Image Search. Though Google’s use of thumbnails of images was ruled to be a fair use in 2007, many feel that Google doesn’t do enough to prevent misuse of their images and that the service caters to individuals who are looking to infringe (knowingly or unknowingly) on copyright.

As such, every time that Google announces an update to Google Image Search, there’s bound to be some controversy and concern and Google announced one such update yesterday.

Since the changes haven’t rolled out yet, it’s impossible to know for certain how they will impact artists but it’s clear looking at the screenshots and changes that there’s going to be some good and some bad with them.

While I doubt many webmasters will be thrilled about the changes, there isn’t that much new to worry about either.

What Google is Changing

According to Google, they’re responding to feedback on their current image search, which launched in 2010, and are aiming to make the service faster and more image-focused.

Currently, when a user searches for an image, they are presented with a grid of thumbnails. Upon hovering over a thumbnail, they are given information about the image.

Nasa Google Image Search

When they click on it, they are taken to a landing page with the full image (as near as possible) with the original page in the background and meta information on the right.

NASA Google Search 2

The new system, however, displays the entire site in one page, when a visitor clicks a thumbnail, the large(r) image displays in a pull out in the center of the page with metadata to the image’s right. Users can then scroll through the images using their keyboard or select a new thumbnail if they wish.

New Google Image Search

Gone is the loading of the main site in the frame behind the image as well as the entire landing page. Google, to compensate some, made the domain clickable in the metadata and added buttons to take the reader to the original page, the original image or the image details.

But are these changes good or bad for artists? It really depends on how you feel about the tradeoffs.

The Deal for Content Creators

The new revisions aren’t going to do anything to change the mixed feelings people have about Google Image Search. The issues of Google hotlinking larger images or encouraging others to misuse images aren’t going to subside.

Google’s “Image may be subject to copyright” warning has been moved down to the bottom of the right-hand panel, even farther away from the metadata, making it even harder to see. However, Google is doing a better job attributing the images, including the title of the page, the domain and multiple links to the page.

That being said, Google doesn’t load the site any more behind the image, which previously was the biggest “targets” a user could click on to visit the original page. However, that loading also caused problems with false positives and visits in traffic reports and resulted in a lot of wasted bandwidth for some sites.

Still, most likely, the larger image will still be hotlinked and with the easier scrolling its likely that sites will see more hits on their images through Image Search, even as their site itself sees a drastic reduction.

Realistically, how you feel about the changes is likely going to come down to how much benefit you get from Google Image Search. These shifts aren’t likely to draw many skeptical of the service back into the fold and it won’t push those who admire it away.

Bottom Line

While, obviously, I’m reserving final judgment until it launches, it will be interesting to see how artists and photographers react to these changes.

I don’t see anything particularly good or particularly bad with these changes. Though there are some moves I find questionable, such as the moving of the copyright notice, most changes are balanced (somewhat) by other shifts.

As a result, it’s going to be a long time after it launches before we can fully appreciate how these changes impact sites.

Until then, everything is mere speculation and conjecture.

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  1. Hi Jonathan – long time, no see! 🙂 I’ve been watching this update like a hawk since it first rolled out, and I can confirm that the change has devastated my traffic. My blogs are very image-heavy, and the loss has been dramatic. Yahoo has made a similar change – in fact, theirs is worse because they are displaying a FULL SERIES of photos in a tutorial straight in their SERPs, which is eliminating any real need for the surfer to visit the source site. If you look at the web results on Yahoo for a term such as ‘how to make a paper snowflake’, you’ll see what I mean.

    Aaron Wall of SEOBook put out a post today highlighting just how bad this has gotten – I’m already losing hundreds of dollars every month. So, I have to wonder: if the search engines are pulling full tutorials, and are displaying full resolution large images directly in their results, how is this not copyright infringement? Especially when it is so easily proven that this is causing a huge loss in revenue for publishers?

    I’ve personally started contacting the press about it, because there are 14 pages of complaints about the change in the Google product forum, and they are being completely ignored: If you wanted to cover the topic again… there’s tons more info out there now to prove this move has been devastating to publishers – and the only ‘weapon’ we have against them is bad publicity. 🙁

      • Oh, Jonathan, it’s been even worse since my last comment to you. Google Images used to give preference to small size images because they loaded faster from their own servers. Now that they are hotlinking full size high-res images straight from publisher sites, they are giving preference to much larger images in their result pages. The impact? My worksheets, coloring pages, and other printables – which are protected by a right click preventative mechanism on my sites – are now getting stolen by other websites straight from Google in huge numbers. So not only have I lost thousands of visitors from the Google change, but I’m now losing even more as my content gets illegally spread out all over the web, creating massive duplicate content problems for my own rankings. It has been devastating. :'(

  2. Would love to see the day where a large group of copyright owners band together and fight the Google Image, Pinterest, etc scurg hiding behind DMCA law. While they make money off us we do the work to protect our copyright.