Google Plus alters the landscape of Google Image search

Google Plus alters the landscape of Google Image search

Every month or so ago, I search my name on Google Image. I do this mostly because I’m curious if and when a particular photo of Raven’s Alison Groves and me at a 2010 PubCon party will drop to, say, page 13. After checking every month for nearly a year, I was pretty used to the results:

  • My Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Gravatar and other profile photos tend to show up the most.
  • Photos from that damn PubCon party never die—my first SEO lesson in using one’s personal name in image file names.
  • Images I’ve used on popular, often shared or linked Raven blog posts rank for my name.

Basically, 50 results like this line were pretty common:


Then Google Plus happened, and it all changed. Now my results look a little more like this:


The second, third and fifth photos in that line? Those are all related to Google Plus.

Public circles, sharing and photos

This week, I started noticing that:

  • Images from articles I shared or reshared as Google+ Public posts rank for my name.
  • Google Profile images of people who simply commented on my Google+ Public posts rank for my name. In some case, a person has only commented one time on a Public post of mine.
  • Google Profile images of people on whose Google+ Public posts I have commented rank for my name. In some cases, I have only commented once on the Public post of another person.

I wondered if search personalization had anything to do with these results, so I tested it. On Safari on another laptop at another IP address on which I have never logged into Google services, I see the same results.

Okay, then, are these just the results of social search? I checked, and some of these are people not otherwise in my online social circles—and my circles, I mean the traditional sense of the networking word. We only know each other via Google+.

It’s hard to believe that one comment could influence what shows up in Image Search results. That said, this is all Public sharing and commenting, and we all use and have Google Plus profiles, and I’m searching on Google Image, so how surprised can I really be?

Limited circles, sharing and photos

Oh, I can still be surprised. Like when I figured out that images I re-shared from others’ Google+ Public posts, even if I re-shared them to a very Limited circle of my own, rank for my name.

That photo joke I thought I would share privately, to a Google+ circle of my closest 7 friends? Not so private at all, if the original poster shared it to Public.

When Google reminds you to “be thoughtful about who you share it with,” they’re not talking just talking about the privacy of the original poster…they’re talking about your privacy, too.


Things I don’t know

  • If I share a post with an image to a Limited group, and no one in that Limited group reshares it, or if they only reshare it to other Limited groups, will the image rank for my name? What if they comment on it? (If you would like to help me test this, please email me at
  • If I comment on a post that’s shared with a Limited group, and no one in the Limited group reshares it, or if they only reshare it to other Limited groups, will any images rank for my name? (Again, this can be tested.)
  • Will simply +1ing a Google Plus Public or Limited post with an image influence its likelihood to rank for my name? It doesn’t seem like it, so far.
  • What influences which photos from posts I share Publicly to rank for my name? I suspect that widely shared articles—regardless of number of comments they get in Google Plus—is more of a factor here, based on my own results.

Even with all the things I don’t know, I see two lessons here based on what I can observe:

First, the obvious: be very careful if you’re fond of salacious, sensational or outre images and reshare them from a public post—or even comment on them. Out of context in an image search, no one will know if you were shocked, joking, sarcastic or flabbergasted. All they will know is that you saw an image you wanted to talk about or show other people… and they can make judgments accordingly.

Second, I’m pretty small potatoes online. While I see similar results for Raven’s Jon Henshaw (a photo of Bas van den Beld ranks for Jon’s name in Image search, for example, because of Plus), the ratio of Jon’s Plus images to other images of him online is very different from mine. But for the small potatoes of the world, this could be very important. If you’re—bless you—monitoring a personal brand as a speaker, thought leader, marketer, influencer, etc. then commenting and sharing on Google Plus could be very significant to your reputation.

What am I missing?

What kinds of Image Search results are you seeing now that Plus is around? Can you replicate any of my results? Am I wrong anywhere, or can you clarify things? What kinds of SEO implications are there?