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Images disappear from Google Image Search - Could it be due to Copyright Issues?

Frank Holub , Jul 29, 2004; 02:02 p.m.

I'm sorry if this is the wrong forum to post this, but I wasn't sure where it should go...

For the past 6 months a number of my images have had some very good placements in the Google Images search. These images were driving 200 to 400(!) page views (not just hits) per day to my site! Last week I noticed that my images had completely disappeared from the Google Images site - That's ALL of them - from the listings AND the cache! My web pages (html) are still in the same place so I know that my whole site isn't missing from Google's database.

I do not have any images that are "mature" or would cause a problem with thier "Safe Search" filters so I find it kind of odd that every image dropped off. But, Here is my theory...

A few months ago I embedded a copyright notice in the EXIF data of each of my images. I suspect that last week Google started filtering out all images that contained data in the EXIF copyright field... This is likely due to the fact that Google has been getting a lot of flak for caching images...

For more info see...

http://news.com.com/2100-1032_3-1024234.html

Has anyone experienced anything similar?

Frank http://www.my-spot.com

Responses


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Stephen Bay , Jul 29, 2004; 02:47 p.m.

Frank,

Doing a "site:www.my-spot.com" search yields about 100 photos (300 estimated) on google's image search. I downloaded one image to check the IPTC data and it had your copyright info there.

Google constantly plays around with their algorithms so it may be that your images just dropped in ranking because of some tweak. Of course, they might be removing copyrighted images and I just hit an older server in which hasn't been updated.

David S , Jul 29, 2004; 03:04 p.m.

I don't think google is removing images based on copyright notices in the exif information — my web logs indicate Googlebot doesn't retrieve the image files, which means that they can't use exif information to make their decision. My belief is that the image search is based primarilly on the value of the ALT label and text surrounding the <img> tag, as well the off-page ranking information that Google uses for text page searches.

I'm going to guess that it is one of the following:

  • You changed the text in some of your web pages
  • Google updated their algorithm, causing your images to appear much lower in the rankings
  • Some link or series of links to your page were removed and/or penalized by Google as a ‘link farm’

Bob Atkins , Jul 30, 2004; 02:35 p.m.

I wondered if any of my images (on www.bobatkins.com) were listed by google, so I did a bunch of searches on suitable keywords with the searcg restricted to my website and I was surprised to find that NONE of my images are listed!

I'm well indexed by Google for the main (text) portion of my site which has a Google page rank of 5/10 and some of my pages are at or near the top of Google searches. Even a couple of my gallery pages get a 4/10 page rank, so Google knows they are there and so that fact that I could find NONE of my images was somewhat surprising.

Does anyone know (or have a good guess) at what criteria Google use to index images? Do they have to be on a page with lots of relevant text. Does Google index via the "alt" tag in the image display HTML or by the filename (I notice many images don't have the search terms in the file name, so I doubt it's that).

David S , Jul 30, 2004; 06:40 p.m.

Bob Atkins wrote:
Does anyone know (or have a good guess) at what criteria Google use to index images? Do they have to be on a page with lots of relevant text. Does Google index via the "alt" tag in the image display HTML or by the filename (I notice many images don't have the search terms in the file name, so I doubt it's that).

While Google's actual algorithm is a trade secret, and I haven't seen much in the way of experiments to figure out how their image search works. I don't think that Google depends on any one source of information, such as filenames. I think that they look at several factors in page where the image is embedded or linked to, and then make a decision based on those. For example, I notice that pages which rank high in google's image search tend to have the following properties:

  • The text on the page contains the search term multiple e times and some other text.
  • The ALT and/or TITLE attribute of the <img> tag contain the search term
  • The image file name and/or directory name contains the search term
  • The page which the image is on has links from outside the site pointing to it

A good example of this is when you search for site:bobatkins.com chart. This brings up http://bobatkins.com/photography/technical/testing2.html, a page which contains a lot of text, repeated references to the word ‘chart’ a link to a file named ‘chart.gif’

In a similar vein, searching for great egret brings up http://www.naturegraphics.net/animals01.htm, which contains lots of text, the words ‘great’ and ‘egret’ several times, and contains an <img> tag with the title containing ‘great egret’ and points to a file with ‘great egret’ in its name. In addition, there are several easy to find links to the page containing the image — you can get there from the home page in two clicks without needing to wade through a database.

In contrast, a search for site:bobatkins.com polar bear turns up nothing. The obvious page http://bobatkins.com/photography/images/lores/slides/06_IMG_0021.html contains only one picture of a polar bear. Neither the file name, nor the ALT and TITLE attributes of the <img> tag contain the words ‘polar bear’. There is little text on the page, and most of what there is happens to be automatically generated. The actual words ‘polar bear’ are some of the least visible words on the page; they're in a small hard to see font, instead of in something like an <h1> tag or the title. Finally, I don't think that there is anybody in the world who is linking to your web polar bear page except you, and your link doesn't contain any descriptive text.

A few other examples of searches which turn up images on your site: Notice that these are all pages with text talking about the search term.

Bob Atkins , Jul 31, 2004; 02:45 a.m.

David - many thanks for your comments here. They all make perfect sense of course. I'm fairly familar with optimizing text pages for good Google placement and I've done that for both photo.net articles and articles on my own website.

However I've pretty much ignored the same rules when it comes to images. Most of the images do have descriptive tags, but like you say, they're not prominant on the page, they rarely appear in the "alt" tags and they don't usually appear in the file names.

Looks like if I want to be indexed, I'm going to have to restructure the gallery section of my site - which is BADLY in need of restructuring anyway since it "just grew" out of several different experiments and has no overall theme or consistancy. They're not even a very representative sample of what's in my files. Clearly change is needed.

Google is indeed a mystery at times. They shift around their ranking algorithms with no warning, leaving webmasters scratching their heads as to why pages can shift ranking positions overnight. There seems to be an industry selling "Google ranking secrets", but mostly it looks like snake oil.

So thanks again for putting me on the right track. Time to get down to creating a "Google Friendly" gallery section!

Eric Merrill , Jul 31, 2004; 10:05 a.m.

I've been surprised how some of my pictures are indexed by the Google image search.

This one has dropped a few spots in the standings since I first discovered it. Click on the thumbnail for a larger version:

Fistful!

It used to be #1. It's now #6. Go to http://images.google.com and type: most danger. No quotes. Or go here: http://tinyurl.com/4k2k2

I'm guessing images are starting to be indexed in part through this project: http://www.espgame.org/. I have never linked to the above image using anything resembling "most danger" so I'm at a loss otherwise. :)

Marc Epstein , Aug 01, 2004; 12:48 a.m.

I had noticed that my site was getting abundant hits from google searches, but you know, I have never had on sale that resulted from those hits. I suspected that they were just 'people' looking for images, for whatever reason. I did a google search about 3 weeks ago and found that most of my images were there and, that googled had cached them. I didn't like that idea, particularly since there was COPYRIGHT written everywhere on the pages and images, or the fact that the images were being used, without sales, and could be potentially copied. So I did an investigation on the google site and found that there are html codes that you can place on your web pages that will tell the google and other search robots not to copy or cache your images. I would rather visitors to my website come through the front door rather than a window and browse around. The front door of my site explains copyright. Based on sales, someone that is looking for images to just copy will use whatever means while if someone is looking to buy, it doesn't matter that they use the front door.

BTW, my webcompany is raising the rent in a month so I may not be there after August, and will find a new host.

Marc Epstein www.marcepstein.homestead.com

Scott Robertson , Aug 01, 2004; 06:36 p.m.

Image pages disappear from Google Index

I have had a similar problem with Google recently. A week ago several of my image pages (big images with H1 titles, long descriptions, proper ALT tags and keywords for my own site search function) were still appearing near the top of Google searches. A search on "photo of atlanta skyline", for instance, had placed my Atlanta Skyline at Night photo at #1 for months, maybe even the past year or more. This weekend I noticed a sharp drop in traffic to my stock photography site and decided to check Google keyword searches and sure enough, ALL of my big image pages have been dropped from Google's index! A week ago I had virtually every one of the 2-3K pages indexed, and now they've all been dropped. In fact, when I try "site:slrobertson.com" and then "repeat the search with the omitted results included", Google reports 2,370 pages indexed, but will only list 154 of them. I haven't made any changes to most of my site in a long while and many pages have been indexed with decent PageRank for months. It's most frustrating, to say the least.

Just for fun, I checked another site with similar content and structure: danheller.com. I swear Dan used to have most of his big image pages indexed as well, but I can't seem to turn one of them up today. I'm hoping that this is just a transient problem with Google's index and cache.

David S , Aug 02, 2004; 07:23 p.m.

Marc Epstein wrote:
I had noticed that my site was getting abundant hits from google searches, but you know, I have never had on sale that resulted from those hits.  I suspected that they were just 'people' looking for images, for whatever reason.

I wonder if the lack of sales is simply because your visitors don't realize that you sell prints. The pages where search-driven visitors land doesn't say anything about being able to buy a print, so adding that information might result in sales.  Copywriting is an art, and one which you need to carefully hone by making modest changes to your web pages and tracking the corresponding impact on your conversion rate.

Marc Epstein later wrote:
I would rather visitors to my website come through the front door rather than a window and browse around.

People can and will bookmark your pages and forward links around.  You could theoretically enforce something like this using cookies, but it would be a fair bit of work.  My intuition is that you're probably better off making it easy for potential customers to buy images directly from the page they land on.  An alterative, which could work if you really are getting enormous numbers of users, would be to sell advertising.

Scott Robertson wrote:
A week ago several of my image pages (big images with H1 titles, long descriptions, proper ALT tags and keywords for my own site search function) were still appearing near the top of Google searches.

You still are appearing near the top of Yahoo image searches for many of your chosen keywords.  I suspect that the Google ranking change is because that engine now prefers a larger amount of natural prose than it used to.  Unfortunately the folks at Google have a huge incentive to keep tweaking their algorithm: it forces businesses to run a pay–per–click advertising campaign to bring in traffic.


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