SEARCHING WHAT YOU SEE: A COMPLETE MARKETER’S GUIDE TO VISUAL SEARCH

An image is worth a thousand words – who knew that, with time, this saying would become the essence of visual search; its backbone.

Pinterest’s CEO, Ben Silbermann, did. In his own words:

“The future of search will be all about pictures, not keywords.”

With visual search, you search for images with images. That’s different from the traditional image search that relies on textual queries to find images.

Let’s use Google Lens as an example. Say you’re walking down the street, window shopping. You see a bag that you like; you take a picture of that bag using Google Lens. This is how your search result would look like:

google-image-search-functionality

[Gif source]

So, what is it about the visual search that makes it so appealing? How can marketers like you capitalize on it to maximize performance? As a leading performance marketing company with a stellar reputation in SEO, we couldn’t leave these questions unanswered.

Back to Basics, or Where Does Visual Search Come From?

Technological Advancements – visual deep learning algorithms identify searched items, dissecting every image into smaller elements to help search engines recognize what’s in an image. What’s more, these algorithms constantly learn to retrieve relevant results based on visual similarities like color and contrast.

Gina Сasangrande, a senior Adobe Experience Cloud evangelist, notes:

“The value of visual search technology grows as the customer returns to the site. On that next visit, it’s a more personalized, powerful targeted search.”

Take Google Lens, for instance. Aside from acting as a basic visual search engine recognizing objects in an image, it can match these objects to local retailers, display reviews, and sort listings. That way Google Lens takes the concept of search to the next level. Say you see a band poster and you take a picture of it, the tool can not only identify the band but also play music videos.

Here’s a quick demonstration of how visual search algorithms work in contrast to text-based search tech:

Text search vs visual search

Changing Consumer Behavior – we live in an era when ‘see-snap-buy’ behavior is becoming dominant. That is, people crave to find a fast and easy way to get more info, and they want that info to be relevant.

What Does Visual Search Hold in Store for Businesses?

The change in behavior has opened up a myriad of opportunities for businesses to conquer the user funnel with an image as a query.

To illustrate, here’s a short story for you – which is very likely to become a reality in the nearest future:

exotic fruit
Where can I find this exotic fruit?

 

[Image source]

Imagine a John Doe walking down the street. Suddenly, he sees an exotic fruit poster. He takes a picture of the poster and receives recommendations on where to buy/eat the fruit, along with explicit instructions how to get to the place that has it and a few special, tasty recipes featuring that fruit.

You can see that visual search allows businesses to really step into customer’s shoes, be part of their journey.

It’s no wonder that by 2021, early adopter brands that make sure their websites support visual and voice search will boost their conversions by 30%.

For many businesses and brands, visual search can become the ultimate tool to practically eliminate the distance to the moment a customer buys a product. Macy’s does it through visual search capabilities on their mobile app. Macy’s customers can snap a photo of a product to find analogous products on Macy’s website.

From the consumer’s perspective, if an image is worth a thousand words, visual search is worth hours of saved time and thousands of accurate searches that fit the exact users’ preferences at a specific moment.

If you think about it, visual search offers users much more than traditional search, turning into a shopping/travel/ [anything else] buddy for customers.

Beyond Google Lens; or Where Else Can You See Visual Search?

Pinterest

Users can find pins featuring similar content by highlighting specific sections of their saved Pins. This is how it works:

How Pinterest works visual search
[Gif source]

Since then, we’ve seen the birth of Pinterest Lens – which happened only a year after Bing introduced its mobile image search. The idea is to let users “use the camera in [their] Pinterest app to discover ideas inspired by objects [they] see in the real world.”

Pinterest lens visual search

[Image source]

According to Pinterest’s report, their users carried out over 600 million combined monthly searches using Pinterest Lens in February 2018.

Capitalizing on its users’ craving for more, Pinterest went further and brought ‘Shop the look’ pins to life. The feature adds little white dots to images when they are expanded. The dots are clickable so that users can discover more details about selected products in the images. The user funnel is enriched with extra cues to click through and buy a selected product.

Google lens at work
[Image source]
Facebook

The social network is aiming to enhance its Marketplace platform with visual search. It’s been experimenting with Artificial Intelligence to make product recommendations to users based on photos submitted to the Marketplace. For instance, you can upload a photo of your computer and get recommendations for similar products being sold near you.

To incorporate visual search into its platform, Facebook has acquired a visual search startup GrokStyle.

Amazon

Just six months ago Amazon teamed up with Getty to enrich its searches. As Getty described it: “.’” What it means is any search on Amazon Echo devices with a screen will display visual results from a vast collection of Getty’s photographs. Industry players see this union as Amazon’s step towards creating its own app based on the visual search for all its devices.

Aside from making moves on Getty, Amazon has been working with Snapchat on a new visual search feature. The idea is to use Snapchat’s camera to “send images of a product or a barcode scan to Amazon, which then will display search results.”

The fact that big shot giants like Amazon are doing their best to catch the wave of visual search should not stop other marketers. On the contrary, marketers should use the big shots’ knowledge and experience with the visual search to maximize performance.

What Can Brands Do to Get Noticed in Visual Search?

To get the most out of visual search brands and businesses should concentrate on the challenges their customers face and polish their digital assets to fit visual search. How? Your traditional SEO image optimization tips can help:

  • It’s Not Only the Size That Matters – To make it easier for visual applications to process your images, ensure that your images can be displayed easily. Pay attention to image size, file type, appropriate titles with relevant keywords, and device type (desktop/mobile) when working with images.
  • Include Images in Your Sitemaps – for Google to identify an image, it must be part of your sitemap. To feed Google info about images, using Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool and add info about the images in those URLs, including image type, subject matter, caption, title, location, and license. You can find more info on image sitemaps here.
  • Schema Markup for Images – add product markup that meets the basic metadata requirements. Ensure your product has a name, price, description, currency, availability. The more details you add about your product, the better, as it will make your product more appealing and your results more clickable.
  • Don’t Forget About Alt-Text – descriptive alt-text can help images to get indexed in search engines. It’s what search engine crawlers use to understand the meaning of your images.
  • Setting Up Image Badges – in 2017, Google announced that they added badges over image thumbnails to help users “identify the type of content associated with the image.”

google_image_badges_in_action

[Gif source]

The badges work only on mobile (for now) and include the following categories: recipes, products, videos, and animated images. While Google algorithms can automatically detect animations (GIFs), if you want your products to get noticed in other categories, you’ll need to add special markups and structured data fields. For more info, check out this article.

Where is Visual Search Headed?

It seems like the industry that’s benefiting the most from visual search is eCommerce. As technology becomes more advanced and widespread, we can imagine visual search expanding into other sectors as well, but it’s highly likely that eCommerce and retail will still dominate.

There are a bunch of visual search evolution scenarios that we can think of, starting with Google allocating resources to incorporate visual search into its other products like Google Maps; and other giants will follow.

With chatbots being a thing right now, it’s fair to say that we can expect to see visual search and chatbots becoming one. That is, it’s going to be possible to start a conversation with a chatbot using visual search.

Will visual search put an end to traditional SEO?

Short answer – the two will coexist peacefully. As mentioned above, you’ll still need the magic of traditional SEO optimization techniques to get ranked in visual search. Some industry players argue that we’ll even witness brands and businesses utilizing both text and images “to increase their visibility and reach.”

If you need a hand, our performance marketing and app promotion experts are ready to leverage our data from over 2,000 exclusively owned and operated websites and cross-channel analysis to deliver high-value users to your online business or mobile app. Contact us today for more details!