What Signals Are Google Sending About Image Search? | White.net

What Signals Are Google Sending About Image Search?

By Gillian Cook / January 12, 2012

In recent months, Google has made a distinct effort to publicly communicate the small changes they have been making to their algorithms.  In a bid to appear more transparent, Google has published monthly updates on its blog with regard to these changes. With special attention on these updates, and taking into consideration yesterday’s big social search announcement, this post ponders the signals being sent to us around Google Image Search.

The first mention of these subtle changes came in November, when Google cited one change as:

  • “Retiring a signal in Image search: As the web evolves, we often revisit signals that we launched in the past that no longer appear to have a significant impact. In this case, we decided to retire a signal in Image Search related to images that had references from multiple documents on the web.” It would appear that by Google is trying to reduce issues of duplicate content by making sure the same image doesn’t appear twice.

It was during this month that Google also rolled out the +1 button to Image search. Its social media offering opens up to integrate photos, allowing +1 users to highlight favourite images. This marks the start of a personalised web experience and reinforces the growing sentiment that social and search are becoming increasingly intertwined.

In December’s post, Google mentioned:

  • “Image result freshness: We made a change to how we determine image freshness for news queries. This will help us find the freshest images more often.”

A month earlier, Google announced its freshness update to search, which prioritises recent, relevant and timely results.  Joe Crowther, of Metro news site explains, “The quicker you get the image up the better. Google tends to assume that the first to break a story or image is the source. As the story develops, it will re-adjust, dependent of other signals”. As image search succumbs to the freshness update, we can deduce that Google is continuing to include image search within all its major algorithm updates.


Last week, Google announced 30 subtle algorithm changes. This ‘monthly series’ instalment was different to any previous one due to Google publishing the codenames attached to each change. In its newfound approach to communication, Google mentioned three updates specific to image search.

  • “Image Search landing page quality signals. [launch codename “simple”] This is an improvement that analyzes various landing page signals for Image Search. We want to make sure that not only are we showing you the most relevant images, but we are also linking to the highest quality source pages.

This update is rather reflective of the Panda update, which favours high site quality.

  • “Better spam detection in Image Search. [launch codename “leaf”] This change improves our spam detection in Image Search by extending algorithms we already use for our main search results.

SEOptimise’s Matt Taylor explains the possible implications of this for an SEO campaign: “When Google rolls out something from the main search to image search that wasn’t there previously, it may be possible to spot patterns on what Google deems as spammy by noting which sites disappear from the search results. If you notice images from your site disappear from the image search, this gives you an indication that Google thinks you are spammy”.

  • “Improvements to image size signal. [launch codename “matter”] This is an improvement to how we use the size of images as a ranking signal in Image Search. With this change, you’ll tend to see images with larger full-size versions.

The improvements to image size present opportunities for ecommerce sites. Bigger images will rank better, and if these sites have good size images of their products, they may be able to pull traffic from image search for products that may be difficult to rank for normally.

These changes not only signal that image size is now important, but also that the quality of a landing page (or the page on which the image sits) determines how an image is ranked. Along with added spam detection, all these updates point to a “cleaning up of image search”.

Yesterday Google announced its “+1 Your World” project, which confirms and further enhances Google personalised search for users based on their social circles. Search queries will now deliver results from the anonymous web and results from the user’s own personal networks (providing that the information has been shared with that user). Image search will be no different. However, the personal image results will only be truly useful depending on the information that is attached to the images. Images posted with the original JPEG filename will not rank well in personal search, just as you would expect in a public search.

This update strengthens Google’s previous attempts to clean up web images by rewarding well classified image information.  It is apparent that Google Image Search is being targeted with algorithms that reflect the ideas behind the major  Google algorithm update, which would suggest that this area of Google’s business is becoming more important.

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