At the end of January, early February Google began launching a new design for its image search, since the update there has been a substantial amount of backlash from webmasters around the web claiming that the updates have decreased the amount of traffic they are getting to their sites.

Now webmasters complaining any new changes made by Google is nothing new. Every time Google releases a major algorithm update like Penguin or Panda, the whining doesn’t ever seem to stop. Love them or hate them, that’s Google trying to make their algorithm better, and ultimately improve its search results. You could also make an argument that any traffic 1 site loses, another site gains. So in the end somebody wins.

The Google Image Search story is a slightly different. This is not an algorithmic change designed to point users to more relevant images or higher quality image results. It’s just a cosmetic change. While some users may find the experience to be an upgrade, it’s clear others have yet to welcomed the redesign.

In the message forums I’ve been on I’ve seen  thousands of comments and not many were positive. In fact, most were webmasters complaining about the traffic they lost almost instantly.
Here are a few examples:

[list square]“55% dropped for websites with images…”

“My traffic has dropped to 1/5 of what it was before the new Google Images search roll out…”

“My traffic was cut by half overnight…”

“My image based website has lost 2/3 of the visitors after the change…”

“Google image traffic has dropped by 50-70% on my site…”[/list]

That was all from February, and it doesn’t appear that things have gotten much better.

I’ve recently read an article on some findings from a recent study. According to the research, you might as well spend your time in other areas of search engine optimization and online marketing, and not worry so much about optimizing for image search anymore.

“We analyzed the image search traffic of 87 domains and found a 63% decrease in image search referrals after Google’s new image search UI was released,”.
“Publishers that had previously benefited the most from their image optimization efforts suffered the greatest losses after the image search update, experiencing declines nearing 80%.”

“In the eleven weeks after Google’s new image search was released, there has been no recovery – which means for image search, the significantly reduced traffic levels we’re seeing is the new normal,” he adds. “In the aftermath of the new image search experience, image SEO has been severely compromised, and we have no choice but to recommend deprioritizing image SEO when weighed against other search traffic initiatives.”

Of course, there’s always the chance that your images could turn up in universal search results on Google’s web results pages, but even then, personalized “Search Plus Your World” results tend to get the emphasis when applicable.

What’s made things interesting is that Google pitched the changes as good for webmasters, saying that they would actually drive more traffic to their sites.

“The domain name is now clickable, and we also added a new button to visit the page the image is hosted on,” wrote associate product manager Hongyi Li in the announcement. “This means that there are now four clickable targets to the source page instead of just two. In our tests, we’ve seen a net increase in the average click-through rate to the hosting website.”

“The source page will no longer load up in an iframe in the background of the image detail view,” Li added. “This speeds up the experience for users, reduces the load on the source website’s servers, and improves the accuracy of webmaster metrics such as pageviews. As usual, image search query data is available in Top Search Queries in Webmaster Tools.”

I personally am seeing more traffic from the Image Search changes, especially one of our clients specifically. But there has been an overwhelming amount of complaints since the redesign, and this new study isn’t defending Google’s case.

Of course, Google is all about placing webmasters to blame, and they’ll continue to do what they think is best for the end users. And from a user perspective the changes aren’t awful I think I just need to get used to them. And this is coming from someone who recently had a nice spike in traffic since the changes.