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Google Images Penalty for Hotlink Protection?



8:46 am on Aug 23, 2013 (gmt 0)

I noticed my image-focused website has taken a heavy hit in impressions (and thus, clicks & traffic) for Google Images keywords from Aug 14 onwards, according to Google WMT. The average positions for keywords that have been stable for months have dropped signiicantly.

Incidentally, I made no change to the website whatsoever this month and 2 weeks prior to the change.

For the past months, I have been using a referer-based switch to deliver a hotlink warning image (of same dimensions) if the image is not requested within the html of my domain - preventing Google Images from misusing my fullsize images (and users from downloading these images all too easily).

As I have not made any other change, I can only suspect this hotlink switch is the reason for the downranking. Has anyone else made a similiar observation, or are rankings holding steady for people who use similiar hotlink protection? I could not find any info on a respective Google update.

What would you suggest to counteract this problem? Blocking hotlinking outright, instead of delivering another image? Letting Google Images crawl smaller versions of the image only?


4:58 pm on Aug 23, 2013 (gmt 0)

Same here. I was scratching my head to understand the drop of image impressions. I am also adding a watermarked warning on the served images if not requested from web domain. If there are more people with similar image impression drop this may prove that Google took action on dynamic watermarking.


12:14 am on Aug 24, 2013 (gmt 0)

If Google can't fully rip your images, then why would they index them? I hate to sound so harsh, but Google has taken more than one step beyond the line of safeguarding user rights to instead take an approach that appears to monetize a user's hard work and images/photography.


11:31 am on Aug 24, 2013 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

i have seen decline in August, but the decline has been steady over past few months.

the site doesn't add any watermark or dynamic protection from hotlinking.


6:26 am on Aug 25, 2013 (gmt 0)

About Google not being able to fully rip the images, I forgot to add I have a bot switch for that. I know this may be dubious in terms of their "webmaster guidelines", but quite frankly Google is violating *actual* laws of my country in terms of appropriation of full size images (only thumbnails are allowed) so I don't give a damn! It may be the reason for the downranking though. If so, it must be an algorithmic (automatic) mechanism though, since I don't see any manual action displayed in WMT.

So what do you guys do about keeping Google from appropriating your full size images yet still ranking well in image search? I heard you also rank very low if you only allow indexing of very small images.


8:27 am on Aug 25, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member lucy24 is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time Top Contributors Of The Month

There's an interesting quirk to most versions of image search:

When a user clicks on an image in search results they get the image in some type of lightbox, and there's an immediate request for the image file. But the image the user sees at this point is not the image google just fetched; it's an older cached version. (This is easiest to see when you've recently changed an image file.) Users don't see the actual image unless they click one more time.

The first request is always identifiable in some way, such as a referer in "blank.html" (literally) or the "rarely used" UA for some mobile apps. So you can serve up a one-pixel gif with an immediate expiration time. It will have no effect on what the user sees, but will save you a bundle in bandwidth.

Does your hotlinking routine also apply to empty referers? Probably not a good idea. Some humans don't send one; search engines never do; and malign image-scraping bots are best handled by other means.

At one time I experimented with rewriting large jpgs to smaller versions of the identical picture. This turned out disastrous because users then see the small jpg blown up to the pixel size of the large one, making it look as if you have crummy images. This is probably even worse for your site than not being indexed at all.


10:57 am on Aug 25, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

Users don't see the actual image unless they click one more time.
Actually Google replaces the cache copy with the requested copy instantly, right in the lightbox, as soon as your browser finishes loading it. It's a slick switcheroo that Google uses because they want instant images and know that their cache will be fast but that our copy will be higher resolution, if not as fast.

I came here looking for a reason as to why my image traffic was off a good 20% since yesterday from Google only. I do use hotlink protection but it blocks 3rd party sites from displaying images inline and Google has been whitelisted for several months.


5:19 pm on Aug 26, 2013 (gmt 0)

I've tried removing dynamic watermarking for the last 2 days and realized this actually hurts incoming traffic more than Google's penalty. Therefore I've decided to continue with watermark. After all the watermark is there to discourage other web sites to steal my server's resources and it's not just for Google intention. Briefly I just follow what Google says: design your web site as if Google is not there.


9:53 am on Aug 30, 2013 (gmt 0)

serkantkar, how does removing the watermarks hurt your incoming traffic? You can actually measure a drop in direct traffic after that? Why not keep the watermarks on permanently for all visitors?

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