Search keeps getting smarter, offering us more ways to find exactly what we’re looking for. And marketers keep finding ways to make the latest developments work to make sure our content is what they find. Visual search is the latest innovation in the search arena, and it paints an interesting picture of where the future of search is headed.
What Is Visual Search?
Simply put, visual search lets users search for content using images rather than text. Instead of typing text into a database to find an answer for a query, users upload or submit an image they’ve taken in real time from a device, selected from their device’s camera roll or pulled from an online source.
Once users enter the image, the search engine’s software selects the most relevant information about the image to display. Depending on the engine, the software could rely on a combination of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and computer vision. Computer vision uses AI and ML to help the machine see and interpret what it sees. Finally, search results display what the search engine determines to be the most relevant results.
Visual search works similarly to image searches, but with one key difference. To complete image searches, users type text into a search box to make their query. Visual search doesn’t require the user to type a single word.
The technology is in its early stages, with more work to do particularly in computer vision’s capabilities to determine searchers’ intent. Watch some of the key players in visual search for continual innovations:
- Pinterest Lens. Introduced in 2017, this platform already has tremendous usage. To commemorate its one-year anniversary, Pinterest announced that the platform could complete 600 million visual searches per month. And in 2019, Pinterest announced that the platform could recognize 5 billion home and fashion objects.
- Bing Visual Search. This platform provides users both with answers and with products related to those answers. When certain categories of images are returned for query results, users can click on different parts of the image to learn more about what’s in it. Bing Visual Search also hosts a platform for developers.
- Google Lens. This platform was also introduced in 2017 and its usage has exploded. In addition to being a standalone technology, Android users have access to Google Lens capabilities in multiple applications. In 2019, Google announced that the platform had reached 1 billion searches, and a Perficient study found Google Lens to be more accurate than other visual search platforms in the market.
Why Visual Search Matters
Visual search offers some compelling benefits to marketers who can successfully harness its capabilities.
Connect with the next generation of buyers.
Generation Z and Millennials are increasingly turning to digital methods to shop. One Accenture research study found that 69% of Generation Z buyers are purchasing directly from what they see on social media. These visual search habits will influence the way the next generation of buyers researches potential products and solutions to help them do their jobs.
Connect with new customers.
Buyers are increasingly looking for personalization when they visit websites to make purchasing decisions. They don’t want a cookie-cutter message everyone sees. They want to see their concerns addressed, and they want to see products and solutions that will help them address those concerns.
Amy Vener, the Retail Vertical Strategy Lead at Pinterest, says that visual search can help marketers build this connection. “[Visual discovery] allows the consumer to generate a more emotional connection, which translates into less price sensitivity, less bottom-of-the-funnel activity and, therefore, bigger basket sizes.” Pinterest can speak from experience on this point; the company generated over $1 billion in revenue in 2019, which leads to the next benefit…
Expand your revenue opportunities.
Once marketers have a solid understanding of visual search and believe it will help them reach their content goals, they can experience revenue increases because they’re tapping into another revenue stream. One Gartner study estimates that companies that adopt virtual and voice search could see as much as a 30% increase in revenue, and Forbes estimated that the visual search market could be worth at least $25 billion.
Optimize for Visual Search
If visual search makes sense for your marketing efforts, you can start by investigating a few different tactics to make your images appear in visual search and bring more potential buyers to your website.
Keep following SEO best practices. The logic for optimizing for search engines, whether visual or text, remains the same: You want to make it easy for potential buyers to find your content. If you want to try visual search to take your marketing efforts further, continue implementing SEO best practices for your website. This includes ensuring that your content is fresh, your site loads fast, your site is easy to navigate and that your content—text and images—is high quality.
Mark up images with schema or structured data. Schema and structured data give the visual search engine information about the images you want to appear in results. Learn about the different kinds of schema and the types of structured data to determine which approach will best achieve your goals and how to implement these markups.
Include alt text for images. Alt text tells the search engine what the image is and what’s in it, and it appears when your images don’t load. Your alt text should be detailed, concise and—most importantly—honest.
Create an image site map. If you’ve been experimenting with visual search and you’re seeing positive results, consider building an image site map to increase that success. An image site map is like the site map you should already have for the text-based content of your website, and it serves the same purpose. Search engines can use these site maps to “crawl” the information on your site, and then use that information to display in search results. This will require collaboration with your IT or webmaster teams.
Marketers always want to make it easy for potential buyers to find our content, and visual search is yet another tool we can use to help that happen. So far, the technology is best suited for the product world where images already play an important role in search.