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Is Your Website Ready for More Image-Search Traffic?

Lori Halley 20 October 2008 7 comments

If you’ve checked your website statistics lately, you may have noticed an increase in the number of visitors who come to your site by way of image search results pages — Google Image Search, MSN Live Image Search, and so on. Webmasters are of mixed opinions about image search traffic, but there are some things you can do to make the most of the growing trend for image search, and its potential to bring new website readers.

But why is the quality of image search traffic even a topic for debate?


1. Phantom traffic

It’s common for image search visitors to click on the direct link that lets them view your original image file, rather than the link to your web page. If so, they might never see or read the web page where the image was meant to appear. That creates a “hit” on your web server and costs a bit of your bandwidth, because data is being transferred even though you don’t benefit from a true visit to your site.

2. High bounce rates

When visitors do come to our websites, we hope they’ll take some time to look around and see what it’s all about. If a large number of visitors quickly leave the site without viewing any more pages than the one they came in on, that’s a bounce. And because image searchers tend to focus on finding one particular piece of information (or one type of image), they have a high tendency to bounce away if they don’t immediately find what they’re looking for.

3. Image theft

Some people may save or copy a photograph to use on their own websites or blogs, or for other purposes, and they may not always credit the original source or link back to your site it came from. Those who are specifically looking for images to “borrow” will often use an image search to find a suitable photo more quickly.

Of course, you might take measures to keep your images out of a search engine’s index in the first place, such as “hotlink protection” to prevent their display on any other domain but your own, or a line of code in a “robots.txt” file to keep search spiders out of the directory on your site where the images are stored.

But here’s my question for you:
Why make it harder for people to find your website?

Sure, we’d all prefer to get those truly targetted website visitors who have searched specifically for our organization or cause... but there’s no need to “throw the baby out with the bath water”!  Be ready for those image search visitors -- to mitigate whatever problems may come up, and make an effort to convert those accidental visitors into readers and supporters for your organization.

Let's just go back to those three issues that make some people reluctant to see image search traffic as a potential benefit:

1. The question of phantom traffic, apart from a possible slight skewing of your stats, is really only of concern in terms of bandwidth quota. If you’ve got a web hosting package that puts a very narrow restriction on the amount of data transfer allowed each month, it might be something to keep an eye on — but, realistically, few of us are likely hit that wall because of the growing trend for image searchs.

A much greater concern about the bandwidth demands of large image files is the effect on page load times. Large image files take a long time to display on the page, and Internet users are notoriously impatient. And if your readership tends to have slow connections, or to pay by data transfer (as is the case often the case with mobiles, and still common for regular Internet access in many parts of the world), they’ll thank you for having a lightweight, quick-loading page.

So, image search hits aside, it’s always wise to “optimize” your images for the web, to reduce the file size (which is not the same thing as the size on the screen) — and there are countless tools to help you do that. I like the new free SmushIt for its convenience. As well as the online image uploader, there’s a SmushIt extension for those who use the Firefox browser.

2.  High bounce rates are a fact of life online, and I can only think of a couple of ways to address this. For one thing, your fast-loading pages will come into play here too: get your message in front of your visitors quickly, and you increase the odds that something of interest will catch their eye and tempt them to stay and look around.

And that leads to the second point: Put out the “welcome mat” for new visitors. Show them what you’ve got, and show it fast!

Take a look at the names of the links in your navigation menu, for example: Do those words communicate clearly and quickly a sense of what’s offered on your site? Keep the design clean and neat, with plenty of white space to guide the eye. Highlight any special features. Use well-chosen graphics to brighten the page, and break up long blocks of text — well, you know the drill.

And don’t forget that most search engine traffic won’t come in by the front door (home page), so look at every one of your web pages with a critical eye, to see how it will guide an accidental visitor to explore more of your site.

3. To prevent image theft, some webmasters choose to set up “lightbox” applications and codes to disable right-click menus, among other tricks. These methods are easy to get around by even the moderately tech-savvy Internet user, however.

Lightbox applications may not work in all browsers, and may shut out your visitors who are on older machines or go online with a slow-speed or dial-up connection. Disabling those useful right-click menus only serves to annoy your website visitors who are accustomed to using right-click for a legitimate purpose (to open a link in a new browser tab or window, for example). And any simple screen-capture utility can let someone save or copy any image that appears online, after all.

sample photograph with watermark More commonly, these days, we’re seeing webmasters take a page from professional photographers and media outlets, putting a watermark on each image as a way to claim copyright and protect it from unauthorized use.

But there is another use for watermarks — website promotion!

If your images are going to turn up in search results anyway, unattached to your website, why not use them to create more awareness of your site and perhaps attract new visitors?

Turn your images into online “business cards” for your organization

Almost any simple graphics program will let you add text to an image, and the more sophisticated programs will allow true watermarking (a semi-transparent overlay of words or images on a photograph). PicMarkr is one free online tool that lets you easily add watermarks to uploaded images (or those you have stored at Flickr.com), and even re-size those photographs while you’re at it.

When your image includes a line of text with your website URL or the name of your organization, each picture can be an advertisement for your website — no matter where it travels online!

Do you have a suggestion for a free or low-cost web-based image tool that’s useful and easy to use — or other ideas for making the most from your image search traffic? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Monday, 20 October 2008 at 6:38 PM


  • Karen (miscmum) said:

    Monday, 20 October 2008 at 12:33 PM

    Hi - I followed your link from twitter and this was great. Am PicMarkr-ing as I type! Thanks :)

  • Free iPhone said:

    Monday, 27 October 2008 at 1:01 PM

    Does google search by image IPTC data?

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Monday, 27 October 2008 at 4:41 PM

    @Karen, glad you found it - and found it useful!

    @Free, that's a good question. I haven't yet found a conclusive answer as to whether Google reads and indexes the IPTC data encoded with images. There is some online speculation (based on how the Google-owned Picasa service operates) that Google Image Search might use IPTC in future, but I've yet to see eveidence that it does so now. If more information comes up, however, I'll certainly post it here.

  • Christine said:

    Sunday, 02 November 2008 at 3:32 AM

    What a timely and useful post. I'm off to check out PicMarkr. Thanks.

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Monday, 03 November 2008 at 9:52 AM

    @Christine, while you're playing with images, have a peek at Picnik.com as well: it's a great free (and fun) way to edit and improve a "disappointing" photograph and also to apply quite a wide range of special effects. You can send your edited pictures directly to Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, etc., too, as well as re-size them and download directly to your computer. I'm finding that I use it almost daily.

  • Kredyty said:

    Thursday, 22 January 2009 at 10:07 PM

    IPTC  - what is that?


  • Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot] Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot]

    Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot] said:

    Friday, 23 January 2009 at 2:35 AM
Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.

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