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WMT shows many more 404s for hotlinked images. Why are they 404?

 11:17 pm on Feb 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

Webmaster Tools has always showed a handful of 404 errors for my site: pages that Google still has in the index that no longer exist, or every so often a link from another site that wasn't written properly.

In the last week or two the number of 404's has increased to a couple of hundred. They're coming from hotlinks to images on my site. What's interesting is that, although they all come from different URL's, the structure of the link to my site is the same:

http://www.mysite.com/ABrandName/Model_XYZ.jpg" width="76" height="50" alt="image"/></a> </div> <div class="c0 r"><a href="/m/imgres?q=word_A+word_B

q=word_A+word_B is a query that varies with each link, just as the images on my site vary.

So there's obviously one person or company using the same type of hotlinking script on a couple of hundred different sites to link to images on my site and tie those into another site. But they don't work. Why? I have no idea.

I can't imagine that these would hurt my site, but they can't help, either.

Any ideas as to what might be going on?

[edited by: tedster at 11:24 pm (utc) on Feb 8, 2011]
[edit reason] un-hide the example URL [/edit]



 1:54 am on Feb 9, 2011 (gmt 0)

I've seen these same kinds of entries in the logs of two of my sites. They seem to be specifying particular image dimensions, which could explain the 404s. I haven't seen them in WMT, but only in my logs. They may be trying to hotlink images that fit on to the screens of mobile devices.


 9:50 pm on Feb 9, 2011 (gmt 0)

I started topic on GWT , but they dont have dignity to give us proper answers ... still.
[google.com ]

Yes, mostly problem is with hotlinked images but with extra spice - original page/image are linked on malware/virus/troja pages and making epic disaster on google images and google search.

There is more and more webmasters which conforming this situation , maybe it is big issue but How The Hell malicious page are ranked over Google Sreach Engine ?

I got today over 12k crawl error pages ! WTF ?! I dont even have that much pages on website.


 9:57 pm on Feb 9, 2011 (gmt 0)

I was going to start a thread on this exact topic. I have many of these errors under the Soft 404's tab.


 10:42 pm on Feb 9, 2011 (gmt 0)

I see a whole bunch in my web stats as well. Looks like someone is scraping and not nesting tags right causing errors.


 4:56 am on Feb 10, 2011 (gmt 0)

I can understand getting many 404's from hotlinked image URL's that aren't properly written. What are the odds, though, that all of the many different sites generating these 404's are all using the same syntax? It would have to be the same person or company doing this across many different sites and, if that's the case, why?


 10:15 am on Feb 10, 2011 (gmt 0)

I too am seeing what the OP has posted... will this damage our rankings?


 11:19 am on Feb 10, 2011 (gmt 0)

@ Macas

Just read your post on GWC and have replied.. I too saw an entry from one of the same sites you have listed (currently only one).

I can't see any evidence of hacking in the code.. all seems present and correct.

Do you think this ultimately damage our rankings?

Any response from your sources?

Thanks - Pudders


 3:35 pm on Feb 10, 2011 (gmt 0)

They're coming from hotlinks to images on my site.
As I mentioned in this thread:

The domains involved are even hotlinking to copies of my site images stored in Google's tx.gstatic.com domains.
Check the source of the images you may find they aren't hotlinked to your site but to Google's gstatic.com domains.

Has anyone noticed this from the sites in question? (Using google's domains for the images?).

If you download WMT "all sources of errors" the spreadsheet has a nice column listing all the domains and pages involved in this mess.

So can Google file a DMCA telling these domains to cease copying Google's copies of our image files?


 3:49 pm on Feb 10, 2011 (gmt 0)

Personally? I'd be blocking ALL hotlinking of images right now. There comes a time when you just have to take extreme measures and stop them from doing it.

I've seen spoofed emails using hotlinked images. In fact, I have a client who was the unlucky recipient of a hotlink that was used in a major bank spoofing campaign. Talk about a mess that created! We won't use bank logos on a website again.

Would it affect rankings? If your concerned about your image rankings, then yes, I'd say it probably has a negative impact on them. I'd be more concerned about how those hotlinked images are being used and/or abused. Are you being associated with a network of miscreant activity that could send the wrong signals about your site?

I believe there's a patent from Google floating about that discusses the finer points of image hotlinking. In many instances, it can be a good thing and you want to allow and promote it. But, you have to maintain finite control over what is going on with your images.

Don't forget, you have final control over that hotlinked image. There are many things you can do with that referrer - I call it Referrer Jacking. Fight back! :)


 6:51 pm on Feb 10, 2011 (gmt 0)

Don't forget, you have final control over that hotlinked image.
In my case Google itself is serving the hotlinked images. Google has copied my images, and in this case the "thief" is hotlinking to my images on t0.gstatic.com. I can't stop hotlinking to Google itself.
Below a sample link on Google's servers. This is my image.

The websites in question are stealing copies of images right from Google itself.

The thief is crawling Google images, finding highly ranked images, for various keywords and then creating pages with the keywords, and the stolen images, which are sourced by Google itself.


 6:59 pm on Feb 10, 2011 (gmt 0)


Hmmm, you may want to block whatever it is that Google is using to index those images from your site. This is a matter of disallowing access so you can stop the hotlinking which in this case may be a bad thing.

Any time I see 404s in GWT, I stop what I'm doing and investigate all of them. In many instances, there is usually an action required on my part to stop those 404s. In this scenario, I'm going to block Google from getting the images to begin with. It's a unmonitored source of activity that if left unchecked may have some impact somewhere, who the heck knows. I prefer to be proactive and just stop it from happening instead of trying to figure out if it is causing any damage.


 7:57 pm on Feb 10, 2011 (gmt 0)

If you download WMT "all sources of errors" the spreadsheet has a nice column listing all the domains and pages involved in this mess.

I have 3 entries (All dated 1st Feb )from one domain trying to hotlink one of my images and all three page links from that domain are "not found"

They are targetting one image on my site only and I have since renamed it!

Good or bad?


 9:32 pm on Feb 10, 2011 (gmt 0)

Good or bad?

If your not concerned about the image ....

I have a buddy who would replace these hotlinked images with another of the same name. Typically the image was enormous, which would take a long time to render. Also the subject matter of the image may not have been that desirable! (There may have even been text in the enormous image). Hmmmm ...


 11:20 pm on Feb 10, 2011 (gmt 0)

I have been busy reporting the scrapers as spam to google, hopefully they will pick up on the sites and ban them from their index soon.


 11:26 pm on Feb 10, 2011 (gmt 0)

I'm seeing a bunch of these as well. The funny thing is that they're coded wrong, so presumably the images are not actually being hotlinked. I'm not going to worry about it much, but if I see a spike in bandwidth I'll disable hotlinking for a while.


 7:26 am on Feb 11, 2011 (gmt 0)

I'm seeing a bunch of these as well. The funny thing is that they're coded wrong, so presumably the images are not actually being hotlinked. I'm not going to worry about it much, but if I see a spike in bandwidth I'll disable hotlinking for a while.

Sorry for being naive... but how do you disable hotlinking?

Be gentle as I am always learning and what better place to learn - lol :)


 3:40 pm on Feb 11, 2011 (gmt 0)

Pudders, that depends on your platform. In cpanel on Apache, there is actually a tool for it -- you just hit the link that says "hotlink protection" in your control panel and turn it on.

This actually adds lines to .htaccess that basically tell Apache to redirect any request for an image file, other than requests referred from your own site (images on your own pages, that is), to some other page on your site. I like to redirect to my license terms. This will show up as a broken image on the hotlinking site, because the page is html rather than an image. You don't have to use cpanel, you can code the redirect by hand in .htaccess if you prefer.

Other platforms presumably have their own ways of doing this.

I don't like to do this, as I acually want people to hotlink my images if they are doing it in a reasonable manner and also giving me a link. I'll disable it if it eats too much bandwidth though.


 3:58 pm on Feb 12, 2011 (gmt 0)

Google's attempts to fetch these improperly-hotlinked images may have ended. Starting about Feb. 1, I saw 5 to 10 of them per day in the logs for two different websites. But I haven't seen any at all during the last two days.


 4:48 pm on Feb 12, 2011 (gmt 0)

We've noticed a lot of these too and they began on Feb 1st for us as well. We currently have 109 of them reporting. They are all coming from different websites, low quality, templates, loaded with repetitive keywords.

The content of these sites seems suspicious. For instance, we noticed one of our images on a religious site and the product it was linking to couldn't possibly be any more unrelated and there were even links to #*$! types of sites.. on a Christian website. the whole thing seemed very odd to us.. It's as if these pages with these long lists of links shouln't even be a part of that particular domain... yet they are..

I also noticed that on all of these links pages (well, not all but most) the keywords are directed at 'Christmas' as well as a particular item, in the example I gave it was 'baby clothes'.

This clearly has nothing to do with the domain...Just thought i'd mention in case this is similar to what others are seeing as well.

[edited by: tedster at 6:18 pm (utc) on Feb 12, 2011]


 5:29 pm on Feb 12, 2011 (gmt 0)

What I was seeing in the logs were attempts by Googlebot to fetch hotlinked images, but the hotlink code was improperly-formatted. Since the link syntax was incorrect, the servers always returned a 404 (not found) error. These eventually showed up in Webmaster Tools as crawl errors.


 11:13 pm on Feb 15, 2011 (gmt 0)

Guess I'll have to start checking my GWT more often. I had these same 'crawl errors' from hotlinks from other sites reported on Feb. 6,7, and 8 just like the ones mentioned here. Why in the world would these even be reported as crawl errors? Anyone ever get an answer out of the know-it-alls on the Google Webmaster Central forum?

I have a humor site and get link exchange requests from a funny picture site almost every day. I swear someone must be holding seminars on some sort of get-rich-quick scheme from these things...


 4:01 pm on Feb 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

Why in the world would these even be reported as crawl errors?

Because they're coded wrong, in such a way that the end of the img, anchor and div tags and the beginning of the next div and anchor are included in the URL. Presumably they have the wrong number of ".

Because of that, the img tag is requesting a URL that doesn't exist. Therefore our sites return 404. Googlebot tries to crawl this link and gets a 404. 404s are reported in WMT as crawl errors.


 4:49 pm on Feb 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

My point being that we can not be keepers of other people's websites who 'borrow' our content without our knowledge. Their bad coding should not be held against us, much less reported as a crawl error on out site.

And if you want a real mystery on January 7th GMT reported a crawl error on my site from a Word document in Chinese linked from something on a Chinese government mail server (I have a screen capture of the GWT page that reported this if anyone's interested). I have no idea why a Chinese government email would link to a non-existent Word Document on my website....


 12:22 am on Feb 17, 2011 (gmt 0)

we can not be keepers of other people's websites

And you're not being asked to. Webmaster Tools is just giving you information, not berating you ;) Sometimes that information can be helpful.

I'd like to see a "suppress this error" option, so it no longer appears in the report or appears in a separate section of the list.


 2:00 am on Feb 17, 2011 (gmt 0)

Thanks tedster. I hadn't thought of it from that angle.


 5:22 am on Feb 17, 2011 (gmt 0)


I am experiencing the 404 errors for hotlinked images too. I have over 200 crawl errors and also 3,000 or so new links reported in Google Webmaster Tools.

The links showing are the same as examples given here, from spammy sites, some with malware.

I have posted in the GWT forum and have not got any help from Google as of yet.

My main concern is Google going to penalize my site for this crap? Should I be concerned or just ride it out?

Any ideas,


 10:41 am on Mar 30, 2011 (gmt 0)

Sorry to reopen this thread but I have just checked WMT and am seeing my old 404 "hotlink" errors reappear, interstestingly with the same dates as before (Beginning of Feb 2011)!

[url.co.uk...] width="66" height="50" alt="image"/></a> </div> <div class="c0 r"><a href="/m/imgres?q=hot+rental+girl+vol
[url.co.uk...] width="66" height="50" alt="image"/></a> </div> <div class="c0 r"><a href="/m/imgres?q=big+rental+girls
[url.co.uk...] width="66" height="50" alt="image"/></a> </div> <div class="c0 r"><a href="/m/imgres?q=hot+rental+girls

I am also seeing a couple of legit 404 errors that have re-appeared that I cleaered up at the time in Feb... so not sure what is going on there!

Do you think this is a WMT glitch or has the "Hotlink" problem of Feb, that was seen by a lot of people, come back? Anyone else seeing any issues?



 4:40 pm on Mar 30, 2011 (gmt 0)

Sorry for the bump but really keen to know if anyone else from this thread has seen any issues again!

Thanks - Pudders


 5:08 pm on Mar 30, 2011 (gmt 0)

Is it possible these 404s are being generated due to JavaScript generated links? I've been reading recent topics that revolve around Googlebot crawling JS and misinterpreting the syntax. One of those topics recommends Disallowing the crawling of JS.

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