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How can you get out of Google Image SafeSearch Hell?

 2:25 pm on Sep 11, 2007 (gmt 0)

I have a website, about one year and a half old and it has been moving steadily up in Google's rankings. In April, just around Easter, the site made it to Google Images, ranking on the first page for hundreds of keywords. This meant a growing number of hotlinkers who used a few mature keywords in their pages around the images, although the images do not containt mature content.

Everything was great, lots of uniques and great targeted traffic. However, three months later, the visits dropped, and I discovered that all the images were somehow marked as mature, they turn up in the SERPS on the first page when SafeSearch is turned off, but they are nowhere when SafeSearch is on.

So, do you know how someone can get back in the white side of G's Images index? It seems that the whole domain is suffering, no images shown with SafeSearch on when doing a site: search. I thought of a simple way to make it back: renaming all the images and wait for another 3 or so months to make it back into the SERPS, but if the whole domain is suffering, it's not going to solve the problem.

Looking forward to hearing your opinions on the subject.



 1:12 am on Sep 12, 2007 (gmt 0)

We've had several reports like this over the past few months, but no definite fixes so far. Obviously check your on-page text content and image filenames for potentially adult words - if you suspect one, change your SafeSearch preferences to "high" and then search on the term. If it's an adult stop word, you'll see that message.

Other possibilities people have looked at include outbound links to potentially adult neighborhoods, and even sharing an IP block with adult content. Still, as I said, news of positive results has so far not been heard here.


 3:47 am on Sep 12, 2007 (gmt 0)

For a moment there, I thought this thread was going to provide an answer as to a problem I'm having with one site... Namely it was getting a lot of traffic from Google Images and that suddenly dried up.

What I did was go to images and use Site:mydomain.com with safesearch off, note the number of images, and try it again with safesearch on. The results were 149/147 which means only 2 pics apparently got pinged for safesearch parameters.

thanks for bringing it up though. I'm going to do the same thing with the web search and see if there is a problem there.



 5:33 am on Sep 12, 2007 (gmt 0)

There are a couple of ways of labelling your own content, such as PICS labels. I don't know if Google uses these tags anywhere, but I don't see how it could hurt.

There's a whole questionnaire you need to go through in order to build the tag, and obviously you have to label your site accurately.


 8:31 am on Sep 12, 2007 (gmt 0)

I went through this two years ago with one of my sites and I have successfully restored all my images to Google Image Search.

To me the solution seems surprising but it definitely worked.

I researched all the sites this site link too! For a given site linked to I checked if this site had images that would not show in safe image search. If this was the case I removed my link to that site.

Basically it's guilt by association.

Some sites seemed innocent to me. One was plastic surgery related, perhaps their images were too graphic? Really not in my opinion.
Another site was related to electronics and had lots of pictures of connectors. And what do connectors have? Sex! Male, female, oh my.

Anyway with these links to sites that fail the safe image search test removed. My site now passed the safe image search test completely.

Today this site has perhaps 4% of images not showing in safe search. So the problem creeps back.

It is an arduous task tracking all these links and then doing the safe search test! Google really has to do better. This problem begs for a script that Google would hate, a script that automates this test. Perhaps with Googles API it could be done without breaking their Terms of Use. I don't know whether the API supports image search.


 11:30 am on Sep 12, 2007 (gmt 0)

Thanks for your interest in the subject.

@tedster: I am quite sure there aren't on-site adult words, however, I wandered if there was a way I could check this. Perhaps you could point out a list with common adult words so I could check the website using a "site:example.com word" query. I will definitely recheck all my outbound links to make sure I'm not linking to bad neighborhoods (as bumpski also suggested).

@jomaxx: I've read a bit about PICS labels, but it seems a bit to complicated and I haven't heard of search engines supporting it. Speaking about labels, after the website was marked by the SafeSearch filter, I enabled The Google Image Labeler from Webmaster Tools. I hope this would help.

Thanks bumpski for your tip, I will start checking all outbounds against the SafeSearch filter.

I've decided to investigate more and to find the real cause the website was marked and I've taken the access logs for the last 5 days (500MB each) and I've created a parsing script in C, to show the referrals for each .jpg file. I've found a disturbing number of hotlinkers(hundreds and hundreds), as my current hotlinking script (in .htaccess) works with a list of blocked domains and it's hard to maintain that list.

I've thought of a possible solution to my problem and I would like to hear if you guys think it makes sense. These are the steps I'm about to take:
- check all pages from my website for adult words
- check all outbound links to make sure the websites I link to aren't marked in SafeSearch and that they don't contain adult words
- create a .htaccess which allows only white-listed domains (as opposed to how it is set up now); however, I think I should add domains like images.google.com or msnscache.com and many others (I will try to extract them from the access logs, but I hope you know where I could find a list)
- rename all my images so that the existing hotlinkers will get 404s and the new hotlinkers would see the "don't hotlink" image (with the new .htaccess)
- wait perhaps for at least 3 months and hope things get sorted out

Do you think this makes sense?

Thanks again for your interest and looking forward to hearing your thoughts.


 1:07 pm on Sep 12, 2007 (gmt 0)

I have done a check in Google images for one site. Without safe search = 205 images, with moderate search = 201, with strict safe search = 194. Several of the 11 filtered images are hot-linked from MySpace. Is MySpace considered a bad neighbourhood?


 10:45 am on May 8, 2008 (gmt 0)

I have the same problem. All of my images are filtered. There is no adult content at all on the site.

What I have found out is that an adult forum is linking to one of my pages. I suspect that this is the problem. But then again, should it be possible for other webmasters to ruin my image search traffic?


 12:29 pm on May 8, 2008 (gmt 0)

I remember hearing, I believe during the Google Webmaster Live Chat session that if you move any images that might appear to be adult related into a different folder, Google will better be able to apply the filter only to those images. Google basically recommended to move pictures that might trigger the filter into a folder like /adult-images/ and have a different folder for /safe-images/.


 12:35 pm on May 8, 2008 (gmt 0)

Thanks a lot, rustybrick. If that is what it takes, I'll do it. Even if it does not help, it might be a good idea.


 6:49 pm on May 8, 2008 (gmt 0)

In addition to hotlinks from adult websites, another place I'd pay some attention is the new technical approach outlined in Google's Jan 2008 patent application, Method and apparatus for automatically annotating images [searchengineworld.com]

I doubt that all of this is currently in place, but some of it may well be getting folded into the mix. The main focus of the patent is breaking down images into tiles, scoring those tiles according to shape, color and texture - and then looking for similarly scored images around the web, using probability models.

The keywords associated with those similar images can then be used to help score the original image. So there's a chance that an image might be filtered even though the real issue is with sites that host technically similar images.

The process outlined in this patent has a kind of safety valve built in:

[0037]After the multiple similar images are identified, the process obtains text surrounding these images...

[0038]The process then expands the set of keywords associated with each identified image by adding synonyms for the set of keywords (step 114). In one embodiment of the present invention, intelligent thesaurus tools are used to add synonyms for each keyword in the set. For example, keywords "sea" and "ocean" may appear in two sets of keywords for two identified images, respectively. After expanding the keywords this way, both images will be associated with both keywords.

[0039]Next, the process performs comparisons between sets of keywords for those identified images, to identify intersecting keywords (step 116). Note that adding synonyms to the keywords increases the probability of identifying such intersections.

So a technical similarity of images alone would not cause the filter to kick - but add in some intersection of the keyword sets and that could do it.

I'd suggest a close look at keywords, image names, etc, with an eye to "synonym surprise." For example, it sounds like a photo filled with a pig's pink flesh and tail, coupled with a comment about the pig's "kinky" tail, just might tip the balance with this technology.


 2:33 pm on May 10, 2008 (gmt 0)

Check for imbedded words that could be parsed out and misinterpreted: repairsexchange, parrotsexchange, worksofart, etc.


 6:38 pm on Jun 15, 2008 (gmt 0)

Even im facing this issue from last 2 months. This has affected my business a lot.

I have implemented the following things to get back to regular image search results:
1. Removed all outbound links from my website
2. Removed all potential adult keywords from websites & image urls
3. Removed all hotlinked images

Still my images appear in google images when safe search is Off.

Just wondering if an email to google would be of any Help?
If yes, then whom should i contact?

Secondly i was curious to know if google will ever reconsider my domain for regular image search.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.


 5:16 am on Jun 16, 2008 (gmt 0)

There are a couple of ways of labelling your own content, such as PICS labels. I don't know if Google uses these tags anywhere, but I don't see how it could hurt.

I use :

PICS-Label" content='(PICS-1.1 "http://www.classify.org/safesurf/" L gen true

and have done for years, yet my site has been *heavily* hit by it.

I have a hotlink filter in place.
P1551ng me right off.


 5:17 am on Jun 16, 2008 (gmt 0)

Still my images appear in google images when safe search is Off.

Google images is not updated as quickly as google search. So any changes you make can take months of waiting before you know if it has worked or not.


 5:26 am on Jun 16, 2008 (gmt 0)

Other possibilities people have looked at include outbound links to potentially adult neighborhoods,

At worse, one or two sites had either closed down or were landing pages. One or two pages like that out of about 7000. None were adult.

and even sharing an IP block with adult content.

I am on a dedicated server.


 8:10 am on Jun 16, 2008 (gmt 0)

Ok, now I think I found something. As you can see, when I first commented this thread I had the same problem. About that time I did a change and I have been waiting since then (About a month)

I had some sort of third party tracking/toplist script on every page. In that script there was a link to the third party site(not an adult site). But I assume that a few adult sites also have the same script. That means that both my site and a few adult sites (and others) had a link to the same site, which may have been classified as an adult site because of the IBL from adult sites.

I removed the script and now, one month later, the site is back in Google images when safe search is On.

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