Study: Google Image Search Referrer Traffic Drops 63% Since Upgrade

google-image-traffic-downDefine Media Group released statistics from 87 different websites on the images the new Google Image Search design features have impacted on publishers websites.

Overall, sites in the study saw an average decline of 63% of their traffic from Google Image Search. Industries hit the hardest, according to the report, were Fashion & Lifestyle, Entertainment, News and Photo verticals seeing about a 78% decline in Google Image Search traffic.

Google will likely say the decline is due to a decline in “phantom visits” where publishers counted impressions in the old design even when the searcher did not click through from Google to the website. When we asked the founder of Define Media Group, Marshall Simmonds, he said “we actually never saw any instance of the ‘phantom visit’ phenomenon and none of the publishers we work with and data we reviewed revealed evidence of it occurring.”

The 78% high and 63% average is not far off from what I’ve heard from other publishers. Shortly after the change, I’ve heard from many publishers about the decline in image search traffic from Google.

Here is a chart from the Define Media Group study:


Here is image search traffic by industry:


Let me be clear, your image SEO had no recourse on the downgrade in traffic. The way the new image search works, where you have to explicitly click “visit website” to see the image has changed from the old design to the new.

Here is the old interface, which loads the website in the background:


Here is the new interface, which does not load the original site in the background:


Have you seen a huge decline in your Google Image Search traffic? If so, let us know by how much in the comments.

Postscript: A Google spokesperson has sent us a statement:

As we’ve noted before, there are no more phantom visits and actual CTR to webmaster pages, i.e. real traffic, is up 25%, so real visits are up. As you know, we doubled the way users can reach the host website.

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Google: Images | Top News


About The Author: is Search Engine Land's News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry's personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here. For more background information on Barry, see his full bio over here.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • David Veldt

    To all the people complaining about a loss in traffic: Did conversions go down as well? What happened to your bounce rate, time on site, pages per visit, etc.?

    My point is people browse image search to look at images! Your website loading in the background before they clicked the back button did little more than inflate your traffic numbers. That wasn’t “useful” or “engaging” traffic by any means.

    Also, give me a break about Google stealing your content. They are serving up images in image search, simple as that. Once you click to enlarge the image, you have two links to view the page and one link to view the original image. The old experience was clunky and annoying.

  • Wendy Piersall

    Cowboydroid clearly needs a little lesson in what the copyright LAWS actually *are*, rather than what he would like them to be in his idyllic world in which everything is free for the taking.

    Information is everything. It points the way to advances in science and medicine, innovations in business and technology and achievements in education and the arts. The cost of research, writing and editing is substantial and the efforts often Herculean. Some books are the result of years of individual effort; others are the product of ground-breaking collaboration. Either way, without the protections guaranteed by our copyright laws, many of the works we enjoy and rely upon today would never exist.

    Supreme Court Ruling Kelly v. Arriba Soft Corporation, a U.S. court case between a commercial photographer and a search engine company:

    Kelly sued Arriba for copyright infringement for both use of his thumbnail images and use of the full images. The court found this factor to be neutral: “Copying an *entire work* militates against a finding of fair use … It was necessary for Arriba to copy the entire image to allow users to recognize the image and decide whether to pursue more information.” Effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

    This requires considering the effect if the actions were widespread, not solely the effect of the particular user. A transformative work is less likely to have an adverse effect than one which merely supersedes the original: “Arriba’s use of Kelly’s images in its thumbnails does not harm the market for Kelly’s images or the value of his images”. The thumbnails would guide people to Kelly’s work rather than away from it and the size of the thumbnails makes using them instead of the original unattractive.

    In other words, what Google is doing is illegal. Full size images = NO. Thumbnails = YES.

  • Wendy Piersall

    Source of income and level of income are two different things.

  • Mathias Burmeister

    completely agree with you. if visitors only stayed for the overlay “visit” then they can definitely be classed as a phantom visit, while if they had actually clicked through to additional pages, they should then be considered actual visitors.

  • Andy Kinsey

    Just from my personal point of view – i think that this move is a good one from the fact that if users do come through to the site they will be “qualified” / actually interested in that image or your page – previously even if they were not interested and just liked the image they came through and went back out increasing bounce rate and your bandwidth bill… thoughts?

  • Michael Colart

    Yeah. I had tons of traffic to one of my sites scoring skyhigh with “greeting card images” on Google Image search for about 6-7 years but lately traffic has gone down about 80%.

  • amir

    My personal client’s targeted traffic drop down considerably and even rebound
    rate has been improved badly in Style and Lifestyle Niche. I think all
    webmasters should be stand against Bing & Google pictures search insurance

  • Igniva Solutions

    It is natural with the present design. People searching for a specific purpose should visit the site now…

  • Cowboydroid

    Sorry, information cannot be owned. It can be hidden, but not owned. You cannot own an abstraction. Abstractions are not property.

  • Cowboydroid

    They can either react to the market, or suffer the consequences. They make their information freely available for anyone to look at, including Google. Google is really just another viewer, on a different scale.

  • Cowboydroid

    HA! There is nothing in my name associated with Google. Sounds like you have guilty conscience.

  • Jonay Pelluz

    We give Google the cake, we eat the crumbs, it is the way, … until another cake eater comes along …

  • Andrea Moro

    The CTR you’ve seen is a total different beast, but in the majority of the circumstances people are complaining about the lost in impressions.

  • Andrea Moro

    Sorry Wendy, but your right click protection is a protection that flows everywhere. Any person with a bit of IT knowledge can grab your images. Thus without considering how annoying thee right click limit is and how detrimental it is for the site usability.

  • Bodas en Margarita

    I loved it, great post very interesting.
    greetings …

Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide