A Kink in Google’s New SafeSearch Filtering?

I think there’s a kink in Google’s new SafeSearch filtering.

I blogged the other day about new image related search quality highlights being rolled out by Google. One of those changes was improved detecting of adult content in image search, which should provide better filtering of objectionable material when SafeSearch is selected. It’s likely a welcome change for many users, but I suspect some expert SEOs would claim Google’s algorithmic changes, near always result in innocent website casualties.

In the example for this post, we see that types of hairstyle images can get caught in Strict SafeSearch filters, resulting in significantly different images displaying for users.

hairstyles unfiltered google image searchA hairstyles image search with SafeSearch off

Take a look at where the green arrow points to see the particular hairstyles searched. The screen shot shows a collection of 18 hairstyle related images, all that I’d consider safe to be viewed. At least 5 of the images appear to be of children, and it looks to me like a good representation fitting the search query. Note that SafeSearch off is selected. Look what happens when SafeSearch Strict is turned on.

google safesearch hairstyles filteredHairstyles image search results

A single keyword has been filtered from the search because Google SafeSearch is active, and the difference in results should be obvious to anyone. Among the innocent victims here are the 304,000+ results that have been filtered, none of which now likely appear among the 47 million plus results when hairstyles is searched.

You could argue that all one has to do is turn the SafeSearch filter off but schools, librarys, government offices, and many corporate environments, may have the safe version of image search locked at the strictest setting.

To correct this issue, Google can either further tweak the SafeSearch algorithm, or those wanting to appear in safe search will have to begin using different terminology when naming hairstyle photographs and images.

brown auburn gold corkscrew hairstyle Misty StoneMisty Stone Corkscrew Hairstyle

Model Misty Stone, has a brown and auburn (with highlights of gold) corkscrew hairstyle, and a great smile. If I want this image to have a chance appearing in safe image search, I’m going to have to be careful how I title and describe it. Believe it or not, some of the images filtered in the example I shared, were removed because a comment was left using the term Google filters as offensive.

Alternatives terms one could use include:

  • Springy Corkscrew Curls Hairstyles
  • Natural Curly Hairstyles
  • Natural Hair Curly Hairstyles
  • Type 4B Hairstyles

For more on the topic of non-adult only content being filtered by SafeSearch, read the 2003 Harvard Law School Study Empirical Analysis of Google SafeSearch, it’s old but covered in great detail.

5 Image Related Google Search Quality Highlights

Google announced on their blog today that 40 Search Quality Highlights had been made for the month of February 2012. While I am very much interested in the improvements to ranking for local search results (btw: I love Venice as a launch codename), I noticed 5 of the 40 updates are image related.

My interests in photography may be no secret but my study of how Google handles images is something I have not typically blogged about (I’ve covered image search in WordCamp & PubCon presentations). For me, image search is fascinating, and I was very pleased to see the 5 image (or at least 4) related updates Google announced.

I’d like to share my thoughts and you’re welcome to ignore them or disagree.

1) More consistent thumbnail sizes on results page.

We’ve adjusted the thumbnail size for most image content appearing on the results page, providing a more consistent experience across result types, and also across mobile and tablet. The new sizes apply to rich snippet results for recipes and applications, movie posters, shopping results, book results, news results and more.

My thoughts: Setting and following standards for image resizing and cropping (on your site/blog) is more important than ever. My advice is to stick to standards similar to those on your digital camera and/or camera phone. Google will adjust images regardless of how you size them but why not shorten the steps it takes to do so?

2) Expand the size of our images index in Universal Search. [launch codename “terra”, project codename “Images Universal”]

We launched a change to expand the corpus of results for which we show images in Universal Search. This is especially helpful to give more relevant images on a larger set of searches.

My thoughts: Image Search will increase so watch analytics for changes (increase or decrease) in image related traffic and make adjustments accordingly.

3) Improved detection for SafeSearch in Image Search. [launch codename "Michandro", project codename “SafeSearch”]

This change improves our signals for detecting adult content in Image Search, aligning the signals more closely with the signals we use for our other search results.

My thoughts: Hurrah Google! Allow me to share a real world example as to why this is important by sharing a photo I took recently of Actress and Model Capri Cavanni while in Las Vegas.

Capri Cavanni

I would argue that this Capri Cavanni photo (one of many I shot while in Las vegas) is safe for work and should therefore be OK to appear in a SafeSearch Google image search. However, an image search for the name Capri Cavanni most certainly doe not display safe images (trust me on this) even when settings are set to strict.

I have an image search keyword query theory on this best saved for another day. I could share numerous examples (not today) where unsafe images get triggered when searching peoples names. I’ll watch to see what improvements take place algorithmically and hopefully there’s good news to report in March.

4) Fresher images. [launch codename “tumeric”]

We’ve adjusted our signals for surfacing fresh images. Now we can more often surface fresh images when they appear on the web.

My Thoughts: This should greatly improve the user experience. A good recent example were images that appeared when searching SOPA. While I did not take a screen shot, searching SOPA (up until recently) would exclusively return images related to soup (spelled sopa in Spanish). Today I see Stop Sopa and Blocked Content images prevail.

Stop SOPA eat SOPASOPA Image Mix Disambiguation

5) SafeSearch update.

We have updated how we deal with adult content, making it more accurate and robust. Now, irrelevant adult content is less likely to show up for many queries.

My Thoughts: Although not related directly to image search I’m including this since I think it’s closely related to number 3. I think most of us would agree that adult content (when not specifically searched for) shouldn’t be appearing in regular search results (images, text or video). Searches for bananas should be safe for all to view, even when the search query is food porn.

On the topic of food and photos, checkout this mean cheeseburger I stacked up in Hawaii. Cheers!