With three confirmed algorithm updates this year alone, a recent, sizable deindexing bug, and numerous small tremors in the SERPs, there is never a dull moment for SEOs.

Yet, beyond these updates, actual SEO performance may be determined by the presence of another, hidden competitor – one that most SEOs still haven’t paid as much attention to as they should.

It’s Google’s own search features, also known as SERP Features, like News, Images, Videos, Local Listings and other specialized SERP units that play a huge role in determining the performance of sites – especially those that are transactional in nature.

Recommended Reading: Google SERP Features Today: The Rabbit Hole Is Deeper Than You Think [Webinar]

At seoClarity, we track and analyze the changes in Google and visibility for billions of pages across the globe. Looking only at the data in the U.S., at the time of this post in 2019, we typically saw about 20% of keywords containing images within in the results. 

(Revisiting this post in 2021, more than 55% of the keywords contain an image result!)

Imagine our surprise when our alerting systems started flashing red all at the same time. A major change in rankings occurred, but it was not due to an algorithm update – at least not in the traditional sense.

The chart below displays the count of keywords where Google Images was ranking in the Top 10 positions (across an analysis set of approximately 100k keywords).



This shows a huge jump in the number of keywords with Google Images in the Top 10 between April 12-13, 2019 and another jump from April 13-19, 2019.

All in all, images in the Top 10 leapt from an approximately 24% occurrence to a 34% occurrence.

More than one third of all keywords now contain Google Images! 

Here is another graph that shows the occurrence of images in the Top 3 positions. Looks similar to the above, right?  With this display, however, it appears a jump in image rankings in the Top 3 positions occurred around February 20, 2019, again on April 13 and most recently on April 19.



What is most amazing is that nearly 50% of the time when images are in the Top 10, they are in the Top 3 rank positions!

This prominence of Google Images results is clear when looking at the Share of Voice.



MozCast appears to support the same observation.

MozCast data(Source: MozCast)

What Does This Mean for SEOs?

Starting March 19, 2019, there was a MAJOR change to Google’s algorithm for ranking the image carousel. The charts above clearly show that not only are images more frequently appearing in the Top 10, they are showing up HIGHER in the SERPs than ever before.

The result is a significant increase in the visibility for images and, consequently, a decline in the visibility for everyone that was previously in one of those Top 3 positions.

If you’re tracking web rankings alone and are perplexed as to why your traffic has suddenly dropped, this may explain it.

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Why Would Google Do This?

Matching user intent is a significant part of optimizing for keywords today and something Google does better than any other search engine. It is easy to attribute this change to Google’s RankBrain and various tests telling it that users prefer images over standard web results.

I wonder, however: is the real truth somewhat murkier? Google has been making significant moves in trying to create a path to monetize image searches. Introduction of stock information, prices, and “Buy on Google” buttons in the mobile image search results are just some of the tests we’ve observed.

Just check out the difference in the SERP results for this keyword "hoodies". Here's the SERP on March 2, 2019 compared to a more recent SERP from April 21, 2019. There are three SERP features with Google Images as the first.


Yet, images drive an incredibly low amount of real traffic to as our recent U.S. Real Traffic Market Share Report had shown. Providing more visibility to images may just be the kind of traffic boost to a Google Images search to drive eCommerce related queries to a more visual purchase path. 

What do you think? Share your thoughts with us below.

What Can You Do About This?

SEO has evolved so far that the original term “search engine” optimization fails to accurately describe it anymore. There are far more search engines through which your customers are seeking out your products and services, and, at the very least, Google itself is promoting and channeling your customers to specialized engines such as Google Images, News, Local Listings, and more.

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No matter what Google’s true intentions are, winning in SEO involves developing a holistic approach to addressing and optimizing beyond just web pages. It involves building a strategy around Search Experience Optimization – an approach that is core to seoClarity and one around which we’ve built a framework to help enterprise businesses operationalize.

I look at the rise of Google Images as an incredible opportunity for smart enterprises to leap frog the competition that is singularly focused on web results. Similar to how smart hotel chains were able to leverage the rise of Google Local Pack by improving their management of Google My Business listings, the increase in images is a golden opportunity for the nimble enterprise to be able to capitalize on what is a blind spot for many. 

If we assume that this is a permanent change (time will only tell) and not simply a test, this is one area to start including in your plans for 2019 and beyond.

For seoClarity Clients

To start: We have added Google Images rank tracking to Rank Intelligence — the rank tracking portion of our platform.

You can now enable Google Images as an engine and:

  • Track the performance of your keywords on Google Images Desktop and/or Mobile
  • Reveal who your true competitors are within image search
  • Understand your own performance relative to competitors
  • Identify opportunities for optimization
  • Track changes day by day

seoClarity clients can also easily compare the Web Rank of their domain (the rank calculated by counting only web pages) and compare it to their True Rank, or the rank calculated by considering the position of both web pages AND Google’s own universal rank types.

Using the powerful Rank Intelligence feature, they can instantly answer:

  • Whether ranking and traffic changes are correlated to a change for a traditional competitor or if it’s due to Google changing the visibility it provides its own Universal Rank types;
  • How the visibility of each universal rank type is trending;
  • How their own domain is performing WITHIN the Universal Rank types;

… and more.

Using Rank Intelligence, it's extremely simple to identify the growth of universal rank types.

RankIntelligence Visual


Step 1: Set the date range from February 1 to the current date.
Step 2: Switch Rank Intelligence to True Rank.
Step 3: Add images.google.com, videos.google.com, ll.google.com (local listings), and news.google.com as the domains you’d like to analyze.
Step 4: Check out the graph!

Interesting Insight: seoClarity’s True Rank relates most closely to how Google itself reports rank positions in Google Search Console (with only minor differences). Contact your Client Success Manager or check out the Knowledge Base to learn more about True Rank.

 Google SERP Diagram
Source: Search Console Support

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