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.
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.