Google Local Image Photos – Let’s Link Anywhere but Your Site

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Google invites image spam and pisses off business owners once again.

Google, while ostensibly giving business owners control over which images show, has always usurped that role and done so without any guidelines or clear communication. Now though it has become possible for a third party with good web design to leverage a listing’s photos display for their gain (i.e. spam).

And while businesses are clearly upset about this Google seems to condone it.  When I asked Google I was told that the imagery complies with their guidelines. While it may comply it strikes me as a dumb and arrogant policy. (In case you were wondering my opinion).

Google looks far and wide for images to associate with local businesses; they ask the owner, incent top contributors, encourage users to post and scrape photos from sites where they can clearly identify the business with which it is associated.

This last method of scraping the web for location images has been around for a while but seems to have been recently been updated and in the current incarnation they have become a new favorite vector for stealing traffic, highlighting porn and generating weird results like linking to competitors. And they are but one click away from the main search result.

This links directly to the booking page for this hotel at Oyster.com
This links directly to the booking page for this hotel at Oyster.com

Unlike images that are uploaded by the business or the community, images that Google scrapes link back to the originating site. Weirdly they not only link back but they also allow for some amount of additional messaging and subtle calls to action to encourage users to click through. Google notes in their Guideline :

Advertising and Attribution

Small, discreet copyright notices (such as a business name or logo) are allowed. Email addresses and phone numbers cannot be included in your images. Acceptable attribution must be limited to the bottom 10% of photos and the bottom 36º (bottom 20%) of photo spheres.

Hotels across the US have been impacted by this as OTA aggregator Oyster.com has done a “great” job of getting their photos picked up, shown and linked to their site, often as profile photos, for many, many hotels. It is totally bizarre to me that a searcher could or should be diverted from the business photo to a site that only looks to extract money by virtue of having their images scraped.

Why should a 3rd party get a link when the actual business doesn’t?

Why should a third party be allowed to not just brand the images but create a subtle call to action?

Why should these images ever be used as the profile image when there are perfectly adequate business uploaded images?

Why would Google dis-incentivize a business from uploading images directly?

Why would Google highlight non-paying OTA sites to the disadvantage of both the local listing business AND their advertisers who pay for the privelege?

What should a hotel (or any business for that matter) do?

Firstly regularly check your photos to be sure that they have not been hijacked (gag me with a spoon… as if you need one more Google maintenance job).

Secondly I would add my logo to the lower right of all of my photos. You might not be able to add your logo as a profile photo but you can apparently add it to each photo. (let the fun begin!)

And finally you might want to rethink your photo strategy on your own website to see if you can get Google to scrape your photos rather than those of a site that is clearly not in your interests. At least you would be controlling the images, the links and the logo that appear on the images.

Doing so would likely entail being sure that each image is clearly marked up on your site (oyster.com provides a model) so as to make the location clear on a page that has strong NAP signals. If successful I would cut back on directly uploaded images in the Google My Business Dashboard.

Hey you might even consider doing so against your competitors.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Local Image Photos - Let's Link Anywhere but Your Site by

12 thoughts on “Google Local Image Photos – Let’s Link Anywhere but Your Site”

  1. Oyster… I have nothing polite to say about Oyster. They’ve been a pain in my ass for years thanks to Google Maps.

    1. Couldn’t agree more. Spammy, tacky, childish behaviour from oyster.com. A cheap, lame company.

      If anyone reads this page, avoid oyster.com. Best advice… use their site to find a hotel, then Google the hotel directly. That way, you pay unnecessary commissions.

      If any hotel owners are reading, contact oyster and have them remove your listing. If you can.

  2. So no luck going through your contacts then? I was really hoping you would have better luck than we’re having. We keep getting canned responses no matter who we involve at Google.

    1. @Florent
      I was told it was an acceptable use case…I think you should
      1- add your own logos to your existing photos
      2- structure your site so that most of them come from your site and link back to you.

  3. You Go, Boy!!!! Let em have it. I suppose if one doesn’t want to describe these kinds of intentional misdirections a la Oyster as the permissions of a monopoly that controls search….one could at least label it as arrogant. Certainly arrogant.

    Google has a very long history of giving the OTA’s (on line travel agents) free rein to steal business. (Oh and btw, did you happen to notice that google makes a boat load of money from the OTA’s by highlighting/featuring their booking opportunities (which google profits from) …at the top of all search results.

    Why the big hotels and the government doesn’t contest this is beyond me.

    Meanwhile on the other side of the photo world, what I’m seeing for different smb’s wherein Google has not yet horned in on the third party internet booking industry….. all types of businesses are having their profile photos rotated. The profile photos are from all kinds of sources. They may not be manipulative as are Oyster’s. They could be from magazines. They could show in the google profile of photos for a business one day….and be gone the next (as you and I recently saw).

    Arrogant. At this stage. Possibly more problematic, once google aggregates data that nobody or no other entity in the world can get.

    Bet you they’ll figure out a way to start charging for it–mighty soon.

    Google is getting away with stuff that not another business in the US is allowed to do….without oversight and potential penalties.

    Nice write up Mike.

  4. Thank you for the head’s up, Mike. It is so frustrating – what is the point of me taking the time to upload all those 2016 exterior images for my client if they then decide to just show one from 10 years ago from a third party site to which we have no access! 🙁

  5. Hmmm makes me think I should have added watermarks for all the hundreds of photos I uploaded plugging my travel site. I spent a heap of time capturing those photos and submitting them as a local places editor but I don’t get any traffic from them.

    If I had of uploaded them to my site and Google scraped them I would have got something more from them…

  6. Curiously, I just got a congratulatory email from Google – Your photo is a big hit!
    Your photos helped people over 1,000 times, a new record for you on Google Maps
    1,061 views
    And it was one that I had put up myself!
    It does feel a bit like having salt rubbed into a wound :O

  7. HI Mike,

    How do you check photos to be sure that they have not been hijacked?

    In addition to adding your logo to the bottom right of every photo would you recommend adding the latitude and longitude of your business so at least you get GEO credit?

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