Pros and cons of watermarked images

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What's our take on watermarked images for Image Search? It's a complicated topic. I talked with Peter Linsley—my friend at the Googleplex, video star, and Product Manager for Image Search—to hear his thoughts.

Maile: So, Peter... "watermarked images". Can you break it down for us?
Peter: It's understandable that webmasters find watermarking images beneficial.

  • Photographers can claim credit/be recognized for their art.
  • Unknown usage of the image is deterred.

If search traffic is important to a webmaster, then they may also want to consider some of our findings:

  • Users prefer large, high-quality images (high-resolution, in-focus).
  • Users are more likely to click on quality thumbnails in search results. Quality pictures (again, high-res and in-focus) often look better at thumbnail size.
  • Distracting features such as loud watermarks, text over the image, and borders are likely to make the image look cluttered when reduced to thumbnail size.

In summary, if a feature such as watermarking reduces the user-perceived quality of your image or your image's thumbnail, then searchers may select it less often. Preview your images at thumbnail size to get an idea of how the user might perceive it.

Maile: Ahh, I see: Webmasters concerned with search traffic likely want to balance the positives of watermarking with the preferences of their users—keeping in mind that sites that use clean images without distracting artifacts tend to be more popular, and that this can also impact rankings. Will Google rank an image differently just because it's watermarked?

Peter: Nope. The presence of a watermark doesn't itself cause an image to be ranked higher or lower.

Do you have questions or opinions on the topic? Let's chat in the webmaster forum.