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I have a site with several thousand images. All those images are included in the sitemap submitted to Google Webmaster Tools. The number of 'submitted' images is OK, but the number of 'indexed' is significantly lower and it is going down!

I'd understand if not all of my images got indexed (however that is also not clear and very frustrating for me) but I can not understand how the indexing can go in the negative direction?!

All the images stay in their place and the pages containing them remain unchanged. At least, that is the intention.

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If Google has been aggressively spidering your site lately and the number of pages (I am assuming images in your case) drop significantly in the index, this can be an indication of a refresh for a lack of a better term. Google has several triggers that can cause a refresh of your site which includes rapid spidering then a refresh in the index. I went through this a while ago with over 500,000 pages. It was only a few weeks and I ended up better off with my pages performing much better in the SERPs without changing them. It may be something similar in your case. –  closetnoc Mar 11 at 13:28
    
Are any of the images duplicates? –  nathangiesbrecht Mar 11 at 14:42
    
@closetnoc, Thank you for sharing this... Could you make more clear: the indexing become much better as well after those several weeks? –  Roman Matveev Mar 11 at 14:43
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[In my case...] Google did an algorithm update that caused my site to be not only be re-indexed (at least in part) and update the SERPs. I saw a dramatic increase in traffic after my pages reappeared in full. It took about 2-3 weeks. The decline in the index was severe but not complete (maybe %50). You never know what updates Google will do or what triggers they may make. It maybe that internal changes or changes on your site (even a small one) triggered a re-index to better understand your site which will be reflected in a refresh at some point. Just a thought. It does happen sometimes. –  closetnoc Mar 11 at 14:52
    
@nathangiesbrecht - There CAN be some duplacates. But the most of images are unique. –  Roman Matveev Mar 11 at 15:21

2 Answers 2

up vote 1 down vote accepted

It is very rare that Google indexes 100% of any large sitemap. I'd estimate that Google only indexes no more than 50% of the content that it crawls. It often doesn't include content in the indexes because of:

  • content duplication
  • low quality (or lower quality than something else that it is making room for)
  • low Pagerank
  • low site reputation
  • crawl errors

I have some 20,000 URL sitemaps where Google is not indexing 5 to 10 URLs at any given time. Those are usually the ones where it got some sort of error (such as connection timeout) when Googlebot last tried to fetch them.

In the case of images, there are two main things you can do to make them better indexed and ranked:

  1. Make them larger. Google loves very large images for image search. Google views large images as very high quality. Any dimension less that 400px is probably hurting you quite a bit. 600px, 1000px, or even 1600px would be a much better size for image search.
  2. Use the images on higher Pagerank pages. Images accumulate Pagerank just like pages do. Using an image on a popular, well linked page will make the image more likely to be indexed and will make it rank better. It doesn't matter if you <img src= the image or <a href= the image. Either way counts for Google's ranking algorithms. Just like with pages just having a sitemap isn't sufficient to get an image indexed and ranked. It has to be used somewhere that Googlebot can assign link juice to it.
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One reason for the decline could be that Google cannot find enough information about these pages in the surrounding text or in the alt attribute. The more specific and descriptive the text is, the easier Google can match these with queries.

Another possible factor is that Google has detected that your pictures are not that interesting enough to users.

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