Google Giveth and Google Taketh Away

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?

2012 Christmas Tree in Brussels Grand Place/Grote Markt, Belgium

One of My Stolen Images With Its Brand-Spanking New Watermark on Steroids

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.

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About satnavandcider

An American expat living in England, exploring the United Kingdom and Europe through five senses and a camera lens.
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17 Responses to Google Giveth and Google Taketh Away

  1. RMW says:

    Thanks for this post, I had no idea this was happening….. I was about to make the copyright tag on my photos smaller as I thought it was rather obnoxious, but now I am going to make it bigger! Also, I need to go through all my thousands of photos and include a copyright on the back end. A couple of weeks ago I received a curious email from a stranger asking about one of my photos posted to my Flickr account that I have set to PRIVATE… at least the email came to me but how did this happen? From now on I plan to be very paranoid about posting photos anywhere on the ‘net. Thanks again!

    • Thanks for your comment, RMW. The size of the watermark on the photo I posted was, more or less, to make a point…I don’t plan on my watermark being that large, but it will definitely be at least double or more of the size I have been using since I started watermarking. I think the copyright watermark is obnoxious and that’s why I didn’t want to do it and thought I shouldn’t have to given that copyright is automatic AND I have a very clear copyright notice in my sidebar. How naive of me, no? Even if the first person who take a photo and reposts it without attribution is doing so out of innocence and ignorance, without attribution (and possibly even with attribution), the likelihood of anyone ever checking to find the source and determine an images copyright status is slim to none, I think.

      As for your photos showing up even though your account is set to private, I read a few people’s comments on discussion boards that even though they put explicit instructions for the Google bot to NOT index images in certain folders, the images contained in those folders still ended up in Google search. I’m not techy so I hope I summarized what they were saying correctly. Either way, you are not alone.

  2. Lutz Braum says:

    I thought about watermarking my pictures as well, but unless the watermark is in the center of the picture, it’s so easy to simply crop the watermark out (in your example, that would barely affect the picture since the watermark is over a dark part of the picture, at the bottom). And I’m not willing to put a watermark in the middle of the picture – I feel it ruins the visual impact and I feel it makes me look paranoid (or worse: conceited enough to think that my pictures are so good that everyone wants to steal them). So is it really worth going through my entire blog (I have about the same # of pictures as you do) and watermarking them all?

    • I agree that non-central watermarks can easily be cropped, but I think most of the offenders are just looking for images to use. I expect that those individuals wouldn’t take the time or bother to crop or they understand that the copyright notice should stay. I also think the central watermark is counter to the whole point of me posting images, which is for people to look at them and enjoy them. So I think I’d stop posting images at all before I started centrally watermarking images. This would be different if I were selling images, in which case it might be a good idea so as to preserve the market for unmarked images.

      I should probably add that I don’t consider people using my images as stealing if it is for personal use only and if proper attribution is included. However, if someone takes my image(s) and posts them without proper attribution, even if on a non-commercial blog, then they have stolen (plagiarized) my image. I think the watermark, although not ideal (a link to the source post would be), it is much better than nothing.

      I’d say that if you care about your pictures being distributed without any attribution to you, then you should watermark your images. My concern is as much about protecting my copyright as it is about my brand…letting viewers know that I am the creator of my images.

  3. Google has been shaking up the whole way its search engine works apparently, in response to the endless complaints that the same old sites always came up top because they paid, or because their programmers knew how to manipulate things so that they were favouried by Google. I have a friend whose site lost a heap of trafic (nearly all) because lots of other sites had linked ot his, and that now has a negative impact in Google searches rather than a positive one.
    Anyway I didn’t realise this impact of the Gogle search even though I had noticed the new full size images that Google shows.
    I do agree with Lutz Braum that people will crop out your watermark unless you put it in the middle, but I have to say I still think it is worth putting them on, as this may make someone think twice about stealing the image.
    Maybe you should also put “Do not reproduce without permission” as the caption of every photo?
    It may not stop those with really wicked intent, but I still like to think most people steal images just because they haven’t thought it through very well.

    • I agree with everything you’ve written. I did try to add “This is my image!” (for purposes of this post) before the copyright notice, but Photoshop Elements wouldn’t allow me to use two lines and I’d rather it have been large, to make a point for this post anyway. I’m still considering options, and I like your suggestion. I’m also wondering about using the web address to my blog. I’m not sure yet.

      As for the cropping, I expect that it could or will be done, but I can only do what I can do. If they want it that badly…then I’ll file a DMCA take-down notice (as I’ve already done once and will likely do many more times in the future) or just accept that I can’t control completely what happens to my images once I post them on the Internet.

      I’m sorry to read about your friend’s website. I remember reading something about the change Google made. I hope you’re friend’s website has recovered from the switch.

  4. leiah says:

    Well, I have to say I am happy the famous image is one you took with us 🙂 Glad something worthwhile came out of that rainy, forever in the car night! I think you are the right person to decide if google is legally in the wrong! Very sorry about the loss of traffic. I know my blog doesn’t get nearly as many hits as yours, but it IS exciting to see how many visits and from where they are!

  5. Sally says:

    It would be useful if Google invested some of their profits into a way to make this sort of theft impossible or at least traceable. A sort of tracking device for images. They continue to take the benefits of sharing without any of the responsibility however. Excellent post – and I’m in agreement that a) this is just wrong b) very disheartening. Hope it doesn’t put you off posting your beautiful and inspiring images.

    • Thanks for your comment and compliment, Sally. I don’t expect that it will stop me from continuing with my blog, because I enjoy doing it, but it will make me think more carefully as I do.

      Google does have something like tracking in that you can see where duplicate images are posted. However, it is not necessarily an easy thing to get those posters to either give proper credit or to remove the images altogether. I wouldn’t mind a simple button to report that an image is an unauthorized copy directly on the search results.

  6. Pingback: Hail Google! So much for freedom | Serendipity

  7. Teepee12 says:

    I am so seriously pissed off about this I can barely breathe. The last little corner of freedom, stolen because Google wants to take over the world and we are just gnats, to be brushed aside. I don’t know if we can do anything, but DO NOT cross post to Google or share to Google. That just give them a way to steal you stuff. I’m really pissed off about this and everyone should be! Great blog!

    • I’m glad to read that you thought this post was worthwhile. I’m not so pleased about the situation, obviously. I can understand your anger as I, too, was angry when I first learned of the change and realized just what it means to us content originators. That and frustrated at feeling helpless to do anything of consequence. Thanks for sharing. Let’s hope Google hears the roars and does something about it.

  8. Thanks so much for writing about this. I had come across the new google image search yesterday but had no idea that this was the reason my blog views went way down. Searching for images DOES convert – particularly for food bloggers like myself. I blog about old Italian recipes, and generally my audience is searching for a photo of food they remember as kids and find their way to my site. I’ll be looking around for more advice on this….wow.

  9. thanks for this information, never heard about this…

  10. Pingback: What Google Did — Undid — and Why | Serendipity

  11. Jayne says:

    Great post, I hadn’t realised this problem and have never thought (or know how) to watermark my pictures, I guess Id better look into it. Thanks for the information!

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