Google image¬†search was once a mainstay of photographers, attempting to drive¬†traffic to their sites. But no more. In the last year, Google has implemented changes that have reduced referral traffic from Google’s image search to web sites by as much as 80 percent.

Thanks to Shazad Abbas of Define Media Group, we have some before and after pictures of Google image search:

Google Image Search

The thumbnails are bigger in the new search and there are more on each page. Arguably, the new page is easier to navigate. But there’s a disconnect with the source site. When you clicked on a thumbnail in the old Google image search here’s what you saw. Notice the source site in the background.

Old Google Image Search

And here’s what you see now. It’s a higher resolution shot and requires an additional click to get through to the originating site. It thus discourages traffic. It also might encourage piracy. When you see a picture on its own, the temptation to click, copy and paste may be just too much. Google does add the warning (in small letters at the bottom) that images may be protected by copyright. That carries about as much weight as a suggested speed limit.

New Google Image Search

It is interesting that this new format has not been adopted by Google in all countries. There are regional differences. In France and Germany the originating page is present in some way. In Britain, the format is the same as in the U.S. This suggests that differing copyright provisions (or lobbyist influences) may be at work.

Google+ May Be the Motivating Force

What’s the motivation here? We’re not cynical enough to suggest that Google is messing with photographers for sport. Clearly there’s a financial incentive somewhere. That incentive may well be to encourage photographers (as well as everyone else) to establish themselves on Google+, Google’s social media platform. By using a Google+ account, users set themselves up to be ranked higher in Google Searches. A Google Authorship account also enables users to link content from their own websites directly to their Google+ accounts. The million dollar question is what does Google get from Google+. The answer is simple: information. More information about you. Information that it sells to others.

The transformation of Google’s image search and the motivation behind it might be distasteful. It’s meant essentially to funnel users to Google+. One response to the changes is to adapt and to use Google+. That assumes you’re not averse to playing in the Google ecosystem. That may not be a desirable option, but given the state of search, there may not be too many viable options.