Foreward by Michael Ehline, Esq. – Personal injury attorney. This piece is the first step that Jeff Nadrich, and indeed, Nadrich and Cohen, a California negligence attorney law firm, has taken to become a prospect into the the vaunted Circle of Legal Trust. Nadrich assists law students and newly minted lawyers in getting into and understanding the basics of law firm management and the practice of law itself. With the internet being more and more, an integral part of any accident law practice, Jennifer Poole, a Juris Doctor, brings us this exciting piece that definitely covers a hole that many of us COLT members have in our game. Check it out!
By: Jennifer Poole, J.D.
One of the latest manual action penalties to be rolled out by Google is the Image Mismatch Penalty. The Image Mismatch Penalty is a response to the widespread practice of “hotlinking.”
What is Hotlinking?
Hotlinking is the practice of populating images on one’s own site with images from another website. Hotlinking was used primarily as a means to conserve bandwith and as a means to hijack images (copyrighted or otherwise) from other websites. When an image is hotlinked, the image returned by the SERPs is not the same image that appears on the website. Hotlinking is now an outdated and frowned-upon practice for which Google is now dishing out manual action penalties. This provides a poor user experience, hence, the reason behind the penalty.
How do I know if my site is subject to the Image Mismatch Penalty?
First, you will want to log into your site’s Webmaster Tools account and view “manual actions.” These penalties can be a site-wide penalty or a partial match penalty, depending upon the extent of hotlinking used by the site. This penalty will most typically carry the following warning:
“This site may not perform as well in Google results because it appears to be in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines.”
A common site-wide match penalty will be explained as follows:
“Reason: images from this site are displayed differently on Google search result pages than they are when displayed on this site.”
If I am not hotlinking, can my site still be subject to the Image Mismatch Penalty? Unfortunately, yes. There are four common practices that can trigger an Image Mismatch Penalty.
1. If you have anti-hotlinking protection scripts in place, you need to have your Webmaster review the scripts’ settings. There may be a very good reason to have these scripts in place, based on the type of site, e.g., copyrighted photography. These protective scripts intended to prevent hotlinking, can now trigger the Image Mismatch Penalty.
An anti-hotlinking script checks each image against a “trusted referring source” url, typically a “whitelist” of friendly urls selected by the program and/or the webmaster. If the image is not associated with a trusted url, then an error message is displayed instead of the hotlinked image. Google reads the error message as a form of hotlinking because a different image is returned to the user.
- If you have not been into your C-panel lately for your hosting account, you should review it immediately to make sure that you do not leave yourself open to this manual penalty. Many hosting companies offer a “no hotlink” setting as a value- added service to its customers. The no-hotlink setting runs a series of anti-hotlinking scripts as noted above.To find out if your hosting service is running anti-hotlinking scripts on your site, simply log in to your C-panel and review settings for anything described as “Anti-hotlinking,” or “Hotlink Protection.” If you find that an anti-hotlinking feature is enabled, you may want to disable the feature to prevent being subject to a Google Image Mismatch Penalty.
- You should also have your Webmaster review your .htaccess URL rewrites for images. URL rewrites are another anti-hotlinking setting and can trigger the penalty. Specifically, your webmaster will be looking for the following code rewrite rule in the .htaccess files:rewrite engine on rewrite rule/.(gif)$http://www.domain.com/nohotlinking.gifIf the rewrite feature is “on,” you will likely want to disengage the feature so as to prevent being subject to this manual penalty.
- Watermarking scripts can also trigger an image mismatch penalty. Watermarking scripts are most commonly used on artists’, photographers’, and various stock photo websites to prevent unlicensed use of the artwork or images. Watermarking scripts can be created using various software and add-ons, such as WP-PICSHIELD. Merely displaying watermarked images on one’s site can trigger the penalty because the website shows a different image than the one displayed in the SERPs. The watermarked image is seen by Google as an altogether different image, making one’s site subject to the Image Mismatch Penalty.
What do I do if my site has been the subject of a manual Image Mismatch Penalty?
You will need to submit a reconsideration request via Google Webmaster Tools as you would for any other Google Manual Penatly. You would only submit your reconsideration
request after the offending practices have been discontinued. Remedial actions that your webmaster will need to take include the following: remove or disable any anti-hotlinking scripts, add google.com and no http_refer to the whitelist for any anti-hotlinking scripts. If you utilize a watermark script, you will also want evaluate other ways to protect your image and/or remove the script altogether.
Once the reconsideration has been requested and Google has revoked the manual penalty, you will receive notification via message in the Google Webmaster Tools.
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