Update: Google’s Danny Sullivan confirmed that Image Search can be impacted by broad core updates. That matches with what I’m seeing in the data, so it’s great to have that confirmation from Google.
I was asked an interesting question on Twitter about broad core updates from Kenichi Suzuki. He asked if Google’s broad core updates could impact Image Search (in addition to Web Search and Discover). Although I’ve helped many sites with Image Search problems (especially after url migrations), I haven’t focused too much on Image Search from a broad core update standpoint. Instead, I’m usually helping companies that have seen significant drops in Web Search traffic. Also, I don’t remember Google’s John Mueller, Gary Illyes, or Danny Sullivan ever covering this topic before, so I decided to dig in.
Since I have a lot of broad core update data, I fired up GSC and quickly checked some sites that surged or dropped during the last several broad core updates (dating back to May 2020). After quickly checking several sites, I didn’t see much movement in Image Search when those sites were impacted by broad core updates (in Web Search). That’s when I tweeted this:
I replied too soon. :) As I checked more sites, including ones impacted by the recent June and July broad core updates, I absolutely started to see several of them showing impact in Image Search when they were heavily impacted by broad core updates. So down the rabbit hole I went…
But before I provide examples of what I am seeing with Image Search during broad core updates, I think it’s important to cover how Google ranks images in Image Search, as well as how images can rank in Web Search. I know there’s a lot of confusion about that.
Ranking in Image Search: It’s about the image and landing page combination.
When Google ranks images in Image Search, it’s not just about the images alone. That tends to surprise some site owners that see drops or surges in Image Search. Google ranks images in Image Search based on the landing page and image combination. Google has explained this many times and I covered that in my post about image search last year.
Here is Google’s John Mueller about Image Search rankings and the importance of the image and landing page combination (at 14:41 in the video):
Google wants to make sure users can find out more about the content behind the image ranking, so it’s using the landing page/image combination for rankings. In my opinion, that could be why Image Search can be impacted by broad core updates. For example, if a page drops in Web Search, that scoring could potentially impact the calculation for Image Search rankings (based on the landing page content). Again, that’s my opinion and not something confirmed by Google. It just makes sense to me…
Images Ranking in Web Search
In addition to Image Search rankings, images can rank in Web Search as well (and register impressions and clicks that show up in the performance reporting for Web Search in GSC). I covered that in a post about why you might see high rankings and low impressions (since images ranking in image packs, knowledge panels, and featured snippets can often rank highly, but receive very little clicks).
For example, when an image ranks in a SERP feature in the Web Search results, it yields an impression (and click if someone clicks through). If a site is impacted by a broad core update, then those listings in Web Search containing those images could drop (or the images could drop out of certain SERP features). If that happens, those images would not receive the impressions/clicks they once did, so that can yield a drop for Web Search in Google Search Console. And remember, the default GSC performance reporting is for Web Search. To view Image Search data, you need to switch the “Search type” to Image Search.
For example, the images in the knowledge panel below will register an impression in WEB SEARCH and not Image Search. If those images drop out during a broad core update, then that would impact impressions and clicks in Web Search:
Therefore, it’s important to understand that drops or surges in Web Search could include images that rank in SERP features like image packs, knowledge panels, and featured snippets. Again, you can read my previous post about that topic for more information. But that’s Web Search and not Image Search. Below, I’ll cover the impact to Image Search from broad core updates.
Image Search Impact During Broad Core Updates: Data and Examples
Based on Kenichi’s question, and the mixed bag of trending I saw during my initial quick analysis, I decided to take a much closer look. And it was sort of a rabbit hole… I ended up checking many sites impacted by broad core updates to see the impact on Image Search.
Based on my deeper analysis, I absolutely saw impact in Image Search for a number of sites that were heavily impacted by broad core updates. When isolating Image Search, you could see the same trend that Web Search showed (whether that was surging or dropping during a specific broad core update). Not all sites lined up, though, which can make sense… I’ll cover more about that soon.
Here are some examples of sites impacted by a broad core update in both Web Search and Image Search:
Example A: Web Search drop
Example A: Image Search drop
Example B: Web Search surge
Example B: Image Search surge
Example C: Web Search drop
Example C: Image Search drop
Example D: Web Search surge
Example D: Image Search surge
And like I explained earlier, not all sites saw the same level of impact in Image Search after seeing heavy volatility in Web Search after a broad core update. I believe this is due to the landing page and image combination I covered earlier. When sites are impacted by broad core updates, certain areas of a site could absolutely be impacted more than others. For example, maybe a blog is impacted differently from an e-commerce section, a forum, or company pages.
Here are examples of sites that were NOT impacted heavily in Image Search by a broad core update after seeing significant impact in Web Search:
Example A: Web Search surge
Example A: Image Search mostly unaffected
Example B: Web Search drop
Example B: Image Search mostly unaffected
Another way to visualize the impact to Image Search rankings during broad core updates is at the query level. Here are examples of average position dropping or surging for specific queries in Image Search when a broad core update rolled out:
So, the data shows that broad core updates can impact Image Search. I’ll try and ping Google’s John Mueller and Danny Sullivan to see if they can provide more information about broad core updates and Image Search. I’ll update this post with any information they provide.
Update: Google’s Danny Sullivan confirmed that Image Search can be impacted by broad core updates.
I pinged Danny Sullivan on Twitter with a link to this post and asked if he could provide more information (and maybe confirmation) that Google’s broad core updates could impact Image Search. Danny explained that broad core updates can involve Image Search results because they involve Google’s core ranking systems that involve all types of content. You can see his tweet below. This definitely matches what I am seeing in the data, so it’s great to have confirmation from Google about this.
Summary: Check Image Search trending if your site has been impacted by a broad core update.
I hope this post was helpful for learning more about how Image Search could be impacted by broad core updates. Although we haven’t received confirmation from Google about this, it sure seems that broad core updates can impact image search rankings. I have a lot of data showing that happening across sites heavily impacted by broad core updates.
And again, it does make sense based on Google using an image and landing page combination when determining rankings for Image Search. If a page drops in Web Search, that scoring could potentially impact the calculation for Image Search rankings. But, like I explained earlier, not all sites impacted by broad core updates will see a drop in Image Search rankings. Different areas of a site can be impacted in different ways. In closing, if you’ve been impacted by a broad core update, then definitely make sure to analyze your Image Search rankings as well. You might be surprised with what you find.