Google’s ‘improved’ image search wipes out site traffic

Google announced and implemented changes to the way their image search works around the end of January 2013. This updated interface was supposed to increase the amount of users visiting websites that serve the images.

In our tests, we’ve seen a net increase in the average click-through rate to the hosting website.

It seems the opposite has occurred. Now, instead of pointing users to the host site, Google serves up the entire image from within the search page. While this change is more convenient for those searching, it drastically reduces the amount of visits the site that owns/hosts the image receives. Here is a chart of Google Image traffic to my site before and after the change.

google_image_search

As you can clearly see, traffic to my site via Image Search has dropped dramatically since the update. Overall traffic to my site has been reduced to around half the normal amount, while visits in February were lower than they have been in three years.

Many others are reporting the same problem, and many of them generate income from visitors to their websites. Imagine income-generating traffic dropping by 50% or more and you can understand why people are angry. Not to mention the fact that Google is effectively hotlinking images and stealing bandwidth while circumventing clicks to sites.

Although I don’t use advertising on this site, I am a stats queen and I find this kind of thing very interesting. Google’s claim that their changes will increase the click-through rate is preposterous, and since Google makes their money off of advertising placed on individual sites, they are biting the hand that feeds them.

And we’re back

stats_burjdubai

During a chat session yesterday morning with my friend, Wei, I learned that the Burj Dubai Skyscraper would be officially opening to the public later in the day. I hadn’t been keeping up with the structure as much since it topped out, so this was news to me and I almost immediately shared it on my blog. Little did I know that my blog, which I recently moved to self-hosted, was already being swamped with traffic related to the skyscraper.

My previous entries about it had apparently been indexed quite well by search engines, so I had accumulated around 3,000 hits by lunch time. Considering that my site normally gets less than 500 hits per day, this was most unexpected. Upon reaching 6,000 hits around mid-afternoon, my site went down and was replaced with a “This site has been suspended” message.

I quickly contacted support and found out that the unexpected spike in traffic was wreaking havoc on my web host’s servers and they shut the site down in response. Not only that, but they had decided to close my account for good and refund my money. Bummer. So, I spent all evening transferring my blog and images back to WordPress.com.

Although I loved the freedom of self-hosting, I never dreamed that a sudden increase in traffic would result in my site being shut down – especially when I was far below the bandwidth usage that I had purchased. Since I never had that kind of problem on WordPress.com, it just seemed to make sense to come back. Although my site was inaccessible most of the night because of domain changes, my blog has already been visited over 5,000 times this morning without a hiccup. Gotta love WordPress!

Moving on up

You may or may not have noticed, but I’ve been working like a mad dog to get my blog moved to its own server recently. I made the switch from a free (and restricted) blog at WordPress.com to my own web host and an installation of WordPress’ blogging software.

Why? Simply put, because I have wanted to do this for a long time and recent difficulties with support on WordPress.com forced me to take the plunge. I contacted them a week ago because many of the images on my older posts weren’t loading. I even provided an example post, but have gotten no resolution or even further contact from them. At least with my own server, I won’t be held hostage when a problem arises.

I still have a few kinks to work out – namely with the images. Although the export/import process worked fairly well (who am I kidding, it was painful), there was no way to pull over the aforementioned missing photos. I will have to manually go through and either re-upload them or delete the broken links.

Another thing I’m a little bummed out is losing over three years of stats. My free blog on WordPress had over 400,000 hits, but the statistics engine on this installation is starting from scratch.

I’ll comfort myself in the knowledge that I can install and uninstall as many plugins as my little heart desires, or maybe place a few contextual text ads to cover the cost of my hosting – both things that weren’t allowed on WordPress.com.