Insight September 24, 2020

Visual Search: What It Is, Who’s Using It, and How You Can Implement It Into Your Marketing Strategy


Visual search has been around for a number of years and is built into several popular search engines and social media platforms, including Pinterest, Snapchat, Amazon, and Google. Yet, visual search continues to grow. According to the data, 62% of millennials and members of Gen Z prefer visual search over all other search types.

If you’re not familiar with visual search, we’re here to get you up to speed. Let’s look at what visual search is, how it’s being used, and how you can harness its advantages.


What is visual search?

Visual search uses artificial intelligence to help people search using real-world imagery rather than text. Visual search falls under the umbrella of what is known as “sensory search,” which includes searching via text, voice, and vision.

Although both visual and image search is based around imagery, the crucial difference lies in the fact that people use words to conduct an image search, whereas, with visual search, a user employs an image to conduct the search.

So, when a person snaps a photograph of an object, using Google Lens, the software identifies the object within the photo and provides information and search results to the user. Visual search is particularly useful for eCommerce stores and brands, and with the implementation of well-optimized content, these companies have a better chance of being the winning search result for a user.


The players in visual search

While there are many players in the world of visual search, let’s take a look at two platforms making big moves: Pinterest and Google.


Pinterest Lens

Introduced in 2017, Pinterest Lens boasts more than 600 million searches each month, and it was announced in 2019 that the technology has the ability to recognize more than 2.5 billion items. With Pinterest Lens, users can snap a photo of almost anything and be able to find, save, or shop for the items captured within the picture.

Image credit: Pinterest

So, what’s in it for you? As a platform known to inspire the latest trends from fashion brands, retailers, and home decor companies, Pinterest states that 90% of users’ purchasing decisions are informed by the results attained through the use of Pinterest Lens. Thus, this means that Pinterest is helping retailers make more sales.

Another facet of visual search present on Pinterest is the “Shop the Look” feature. Advertisers can place “shop the look” pins so that users can, for example, identify and research individual products they are interested in, such as a pair of sunglasses worn by a model in an image. It can also identify similar items if you decide you don’t want the exact product but would like something similar.


Google Lens

Google Lens, which was announced and launched at Google I/O in 2017, has quickly become the most popular visual search platform in the world, thanks to its advanced visual search capabilities.

If an individual took a picture of a restaurant they stumbled upon with Google Lens, they could instruct Google to provide them with reviews, hours of operation, and menu options. They could also see if people from their social network have been there.

Image credit: Google

You can also translate text and recognize photos in real time. For example, a road sign in a different language or a pic of your friend’s sofa to search for one just like it.


How companies can prepare their content for visual search

There are numerous benefits for getting involved in visual search. One that’s most important to note is that, after an initial investment, companies can look forward to the opportunity of vastly increased revenues.

For example, image-based ads on Pinterest have an 8.5% conversion rate. This means that out of more than 600 million searches each month, 51 million conversions are taking place. Ben Silbermann, Pinterest CEO and Co-founder said that the company’s plans for 2020 are to focus on “delivering relevant content, ads and shopping experiences.” Visual search is only getting better, and now is the time to jump on board.

We won’t give away all of our secrets and tactics around visual search, but we’ll leave you with a few best practices when it comes to using this technology.


Add Alternative Text

Otherwise known as “alt tags” and “alt descriptions,” the alternative text appears in place of the image in case it fails to load on the screen.

Alternative text is also read by search engines to help them understand the context and meaning of a picture. When adding alternative text to your website, ensure it’s concise and accurately depicts what’s happening in the image. For example, if your business sells baked goods, specifically cupcakes, the alternative text on your image might read: “Strawberry cupcakes in Memphis.”


Use Descriptive Filenames

Context is everything, especially when you’re trying to distribute your images to the widest audience. Although it’s common to see image files named something like, “IMG_901901.jpg,” this neither looks professional nor does it provide much information about the image. While it’s important to be clear and concise, you must also ensure the filename is unique to that image.


Use Appropriate Image Sizes and File Types

To ensure your content is as optimized as possible, it’s important to think about the file size of your image, which can affect how quickly your site loads for users. If your site has a slow loading speed, you run the risk of turning away potential customers.

It’s also important to remember that each file type has its own advantages and disadvantages, and some types, including GIFs, might not be appropriate for some commercial websites.

As search expands beyond its traditional forms and new technologies continue to be introduced, it’s important to understand and take advantage of it as quickly as possible. With 35% of marketers planning to optimize for visual search in the future, it’s never too early to get ahead of the competition.

Talk with our team to see how you can get your brand discovered outside of traditional search fields.