Have you heard about Google’s new image search that shows viewers full-sized images? If you haven’t already experienced it, you should go check it out. I noticed it before I even knew about it…my Google Image Search referrals dropped precipitously from between about a half to two-thirds of my blog’s traffic down to an almost negligible amount within a matter of days. In other words, my blog is visited by fewer than half the amount of just a few days ago. I did some research and found that many webmasters, and particularly those with image-rich blogs, are feeling the hit. I had hoped that WordPress could do something to prevent Google from displaying the full-sized images, but the request died a quick death.
Sat Nav and Cider is an image-rich blog. Even so, I initially didn’t really worry about copyright infringement, because my blog was just supposed to be a way for me to stay connected with a handful of friends and family back in the States. But, once I started receiving referrals from the search engines based on my images, I knew my images were “out there” and thought it might be a good idea to start applying watermarks.
Although I purchased software, it took me some time to sit down and figure out how to apply the watermarks. I hadn’t felt a critical push until one of my images was literally stolen (but, sadly, only one of many). For several days after I published a blog post about the Christmas “Tree” in Brussels, I was receiving a lot of traffic from one particular image that, at least in my image search results, was appearing on the Google Image Search results page in the second or third position on the very first line. Wow! But then, very abruptly, all that traffic stopped. Why?
A blog with several million views had stolen my image shown above. The ranking of this image stayed the same, but the thumbnail then directed traffic to his blog post instead of mine, and this continues still. (If you are wondering, I contacted him and he did add proper attribution in his blog post regarding my image, but the damage had already been done as, at last count, that image has proliferated to some 50-odd websites with many, I believe, originating from his blog). Lesson learned. From that point on I started watermarking my images before uploading for publication.
The image theft was disappointing because of the theft of the image, but also because of the hijacking of traffic that should have been directed to my blog, which is exactly what Google seems to be doing now. Thank you, Google, for “stealing” my traffic and my images (which it displays full-sized and which a viewer can download directly from Google, so why would a viewer need to visit my blog?). Perhaps Google is not stealing in a strictly legal sense (although I’m looking into it), but even if Google isn’t violating the letter of the law (which remains to be determined to my satisfaction), I think it certainly is violating the spirit of copyright law.
So why does this matter? You may wonder why I, such a small fish in such a massive ocean, am putting up such a fuss. Why am I even writing about this on a blog that leans towards the peaceful and tranquil? Because I CARE! Argh! I care about right and wrong. I care that so many other original content producers will suffer in lost revenue and time, at the very least. I care about the preciousness of one’s time and how it is spent.
I have worked on this blog for almost a year now, doing my best to provide quality content both informationally and visually. This blog is akin to an unpaid, part-time job. I spend hours taking and selecting photos; post-processing images; reducing, watermarking, uploading, and labeling images; and researching and writing relevant text. I do not make any money from my blog; I do it because I enjoy doing it and because I get a kick out of the positive responses and blog-community interaction that result from my work. But the opportunity cost is large and getting significantly larger.
If I dedicate several hours a day to my blog only to have images stolen and traffic diverted, I wonder why I’m spending all this time only for someone else to take large chunks of what is or should be mine. I’m feeling very disheartened right now, especially as I realized that I must now go back and watermark all of my images, which are contained within some 250-odd posts. I need to do some thinking about how I’m going to proceed as I take care of this housekeeping. I expect that I will continue to post, but at least for a little while I expect that it will be less frequent because I only have so many hours a day that I can dedicate to my blog’s feeding, care, and maintenance.
If you have an image-rich blog, are you feeling an impact from the new Google Image Search? If you are someone with wisdom or knowledge to share, do you have any insights or suggestions or food for thought about what is happening and what I or we, the blogging community, should do about it? Please share your thoughts about anything and everything related to the issues discussed in this post (or anything else, what the heck).
I suppose one good thing came out of this Google traffic theft…if I’m not getting traffic from my images, then I suspect that the bloggers who stole my images aren’t getting much traffic from my images anymore either. Small comfort, I say.
Sidenote: I’ve read on the Internet that some think most image search traffic doesn’t convert; a person clicking on a search-result thumbnail usually isn’t coming to browse or buy, but just wants to view or download the image. If this were true, then I would have expected that without Google Image Search referrals my visitors-to-views ratio should have gone up, but it hasn’t; it’s done just the opposite.