After five years, Google still doesn’t know how to rank images

  • 0
  • May 13, 2013

As a Data Analyst with my own blog; naturally, I’m always intrigued to check out some of the keywords that bring people to my site.

Focusing on video games, my blog attracts some pretty random keywords, take a look at this one I found the other day:


photo emo pretty boys google analytics

So, I decided to check it out for myself. By using the Google image tracking filter AJ Kohn wrote about, I was able to tell this came from image search. So before long, I was searching for photos of ‘pretty emo boys’ to see what image was ranking.

photos of pretty emo boys google image search

The picture is of Squall, the main character from Final Fantasy VIII. It seems unsurprising, because I wrote a review of Final Fantasy VIII some time ago.

However, this picture doesn’t appear anywhere in the review. But in this paragraph I do in fact link out to that picture.

Final Fantasy VIII review screenshot

The link is to this image of said ’emo’ pretty boy, which is not hosted on my blog.

So, why am I ranking in image search for an image I don’t even host?

Of course, Patrick Altoft comes up with the answer in about a second after seeing the question.

You don’t need to have the image on your page, a link to the image is enough for Google to think the image is there.

In fact, he wrote a post about this… back in 2007!.

So now you have it, nearly six years on, and Google still has no idea how to credit images to the right people.

I know this is a lame problem to have in the grand scheme of online marketing, but it’s not exactly clever on Google’s part. My blog receiving the traffic means that the original owners of the image are not getting the traffic. Not only that, but if a user clicks through to my site, they’ll see that the image isn’t there, and think “what am I do on this page?” and bounce right back.

If anyone else has seen this, I’d like to hear about it. I’m on Twitter @ejbarnes89 or you can leave a comment in the section below.


Emma Barnes

About Emma Barnes

With a strong mathematical background and a passion for all things data-related, Emma is an essential member of our Insights team. Even outside of work, Emma doesn’t stray far from the numbers and formulas and loves logic-based gaming.

  • Kevin Wiles

    I can actually relate to this post a lot, when you search my name “Kevin Wiles” a lot of NSFW images come up. These images are of an american stage name Kevin. I have tried all of the usual to change this with no success.

    I have also done a small experiment on the best site to use to rank images –

    I’d love some feedback :)

    • Emma Barnes

      Hi Kevin, nice to see you here :)

      That’s incredibly awkward about your name – I wish you the best of luck with changing that. Google HAS been getting better at leaving NSFW terms out of the SERPs without specific indicators (such as the word “naked”). Running a game blog, it used be be incredibly easy to search for [character name game] and Google would throw back LOADS of NSFW stuff which is… not what I wanted… but now the same term returns a lot better results. So there is hope.

      Will take a look at your post :)

  • charliesaidthat

    Actually I have seen a lot of “related” users avatars in my personal search images.
    So friends that I chat to on Twitter seem to get pulled in as well.

    I’ve never seen misattributed images that don’t appear in posts though. How bizarre.

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