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How to save your website from Google Image Mismatch Manual Penalty

| Posted in category Google Indexation Search Engine Optimization Search News

Google continues its work on cleaning search results from websites that use any kind of manipulation or spammy techniques.

A new type of manual penalty has been introduced to webmasters. It is called Image Mismatch Manual Penalty. That's how Google explains the meaning of it:

If you see this message on the Manual Actions page, it means that some of your site's images may be displaying differently on Google's search results pages than they are when viewed on your site.

Image mismatch penalty will affect how your site's images are displayed in Google.

Many site owners may be wondering if they're using images right, and whether their websites are vulnerable.

We'll explain the meaning of the punishment and give some recommendations on how to avoid seeing another manual penalty message in your Google Webmaster Tools.

The Image Mismatch Update is about cloaking at large

Cloaking is a black hat SEO method in which the content presented to the search engine spider is different from content presented to the user.

The purpose of cloaking is to deceive search engines and sites ranked for keywords they would have never ranked for due to their irrelevance, over optimization etc. For now cloaking can be mostly found on hacked websites.

Websites that use cloaking deliver various content for different users, for example, depending on their IP addresses or the User-Agent HTTP headers.  These actions are performed by a server-side script.

An example like "look, this is how users see the images and this is how they are displayed in Google" would be perfect here, but it's hard to find because the update is not about the results that can be traced easily. It's about the nature of cloaking. So, here's an example of a classic cloaking technique applied to a website.

Search in Google: buy Viagra online.

 image mismatch penalty
Cached result shows a page that is pretty relevant to the search snippet.

When you visit the website you'll discover absolutely irrelevant content:

When you visit the website you’ll discover absolutely irrelevant content:

As you can see from the pictures, cloaking shows different page content for users and Google bots. The same algorithm works for images.

Are you safe if you don't use cloaking?

Not yet. Let's turn to Google recommendations again:

Make sure that your site displays exactly the same images to users whether viewed directly on your site or within Google image search results. This behavior may be caused by "anti-hotlinking" tools. This may require looking through your site's code on the server.

What is hot linking?

Hotlinking is a practice of displaying an image from another web property on your site using a link. Webmasters would resort to it to save on the bandwidth, and here how it works:

hot linking

When the website that hotlinks to the image is loaded, the image is loaded from the source website. Thus, the source website loses bandwidth and money.

Google mentions "anti-hotlinking" tools. Well, 'tools' is a rather general term here, at least we are not aware of the particular 'tools' used for hotlinking. Many webmasters use apache web server and put several lines of code into .htaccess files to prevent hotlinking. The code inserted into .htaccess may look like that:

RewriteEngine on

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http(s)?://(www\.)? [NC]

RewriteRule \.(jpg|jpeg|png|gif)$ - [NC,F,L]

Also hotlinking may be prevented with these nginx web server settings:

location ~* (\.jpg)$ {

  valid_referers blocked;

  if ($invalid_referer) {

      return 405;



Hotlinking can also be used for file types other than images, including documents and videos.

Now we know what Image Mismatch Penalty is. Let's find out which websites are at risk and what you should do to save your website from this manual penalty.

Your website can be at risk if:

  1. You use cloaking for a purpose; you should know it's a method that you can be punished for by Google and you're at high risk.

  2. You use settings that prevent images from showing on Google as they are shown on the website.

  3. Your website has been hacked and used for manipulation and cloaking.

How to prevent a manual penalty for Image Mismatch

Go through this list to check whether your website is at risk of a penalty. Don't forget to do this if you've bought a new website.

  1. Make sure your .htaccess or your nginx settings do not have any code that shows different images to Google bots and users.

  2. See your page as Google bot sees it (the feature can be found in Google Webmaster Tools) and search for the difference between image displays for users and Google bot.

  3. Switch user agent in the browser and see if there's any difference between image displays for various user agents.

  4. Compare a cached copy of your website and what you can see actually visiting the website so there's no dissimilarity between image displays for different user agents.

In case you're 'lucky' to receive this new kind of penalty you need to remove the code that causes difference in how your pics are shown on the website and on Google and send a reconsideration request.

The news has raised significant webmaster discontent as hot linking prevention saved them from stealing images or bandwidth from their websites.

What do you think about the Google novelty? Have you faced this kind of penalty yet? Share your opinions in comments.

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