An article by SearchEngineLand’s Barry Schwartz recounts recent findings that image search traffic may have dropped up to 63% this past January.
The decline appears to be a result of a change made by Google to the way the search engine presents images to users selecting Image Search as an option. Before January, sites containing images accessed through Image Search were loaded into the background; now they are not.
Users can still click on to your site, and, according to an unnamed Google spokesperson quoted in the article, the new interface “doubles” the opportunities for click-throughs. Perhaps this is a good thing. But if the figures are true and Web sites are now seeing substantial traffic declines from Image Search, something serious is going on here. According to Schwartz’ article, certain verticals -- fashion and lifestyle, entertainment, news, and photos -- declined more than 75% as a result.
Image Search traffic has traditionally been a reliable source of visitors to the sites of many publishers, e-commerce sites, and blogs. People -- perhaps at random -- drift into a site through Image Search and some of them may hang around, check out the rest of the site, and perhaps make some kind of purchase or conversion action. Traffic from Image Search isn’t targeted, or paid for -- it’s just there.
Correction: it was there. And whether you agree with Google’s argument that its change was meant to benefit users at no cost to webmasters in “real traffic,” or ascribe the change to Google’s desire to better monetize traffic in Images via PLA ads, which are highly targeted and heavily rely on images, it’s clear that no one can rely on the regular flow of Image Search traffic that webmasters have enjoyed in the past. That day is over.
So what are your options?
1. Continue image optimization. Sure, traffic flow is down, but those visitors who still flow in to your site have gone the extra step of clicking. In other words, they have stepped up to the plate and qualified themselves through that extra click. Make sure you have a site that guides them to your offer gracefully.
2. Evaluate PLA campaigns. Does the decline in Google Image Search traffic hurt your overall conversion rate? Bite the bullet and get up to speed on what it takes to run a PLA campaign. If the products and services you are selling lend themselves to visual treatment, you might find that PLAs are profitable.
3. Think holistically about your image strategy. Google represents the fat hunk of the search market, and marketers need to have a powerful presence there. Image Search may account for the bulk of Google’s image-oriented traffic, but images can be placed using Google Plus in a targeted way as well, Other engines -- vertically-oriented engines, Bing/Yahoo -- have different approaches to image display. Familiarize yourself with what these engines are looking for and make sure your content is optimized for them. Also consider where social media -- especially Facebook, where images reign supreme -- plays into your overall image strategy.