Visual search has been around in some form or the other for about a decade now, but it hasn’t always been particularly effective. In the past few years, however, new technologies have enabled companies to develop more advanced visual search capabilities. Finally, visual search has become a tool that is reliably useful.
In this article we’re taking a look at the current visual search landscape and outlining the ways this technology can benefit brands, particularly those in the ecommerce space.
The visual search landscape
As visual search technology has improved, it has increasingly become part of the way consumers ask questions and search for products online. Visual search means that consumers use an image as a search query, as opposed to a keyword or set of words. It’s the difference between uploading an image of a short-sleeve red t-shirt and typing the words “short-sleeve red t-shirt” into an app or search engine. The search engine, for its part, will then return a set of related images to the user.
The visual search landscape is growing. Nearly 20% of Google searches now return visual results. Pinterest Lens, a major player in the visual search space, reported 600 million monthly visual searches in 2018.
What’s more compelling is that consumers are open to the technology. According to data from eMarketer, 62% of millennials say they are comfortable using visual search as part of the digital shopping experience. This indicated that they would be more comfortable using visual search rather than using shoppable content, augmented reality, or virtual assistants.
The appeal of visual search makes sense given the fact that humans are, by and large, visual creatures. We’re drawn to anything visual, more readily receiving and interpreting the meaning of an image than, for example, a written word, tagline, or sentence. Simply put, visual search is convenient and it more closely mimics the way we experience the world, making it a satisfying experience for consumers.
How visual search benefits the bottom line
So we know why visual search is appealing to the consumer, but what benefits does it offer brands?
It presents more opportunities to be visible in search results
Visual search does not tend to cannibalize text search because it’s often used to resolve queries that consumers may have difficulty verbalizing. If you see a specific type of plant for example, and want to know what it is, it will be very difficult to come up with a text-based query to satisfy the search. On the other hand, if you have an image of the plant and can conduct a visual search, you’ll find what you want quickly. Brands can expand their visibility through a presence in visual search.
Beyond Google, brands can also optimize for Pinterest and Amazon to improve discoverability in those channels.
It delivers better results to consumers
Retailers in the ecommerce space can and should consider partnering with a visual search technology provider to embed visual search into their websites and apps. The benefit of incorporating this technology into the shopping experience is clear: the easier it is for a user to find what they’re looking for, the more likely they are to complete a purchase. Visual search can help simplify and shorten the path to conversion.
It presents opportunities for more advanced consumer insights
Social listening is a powerful tool for understanding consumer sentiment and intent, and for identifying trends. But in the past it’s been limited to text that was searchable in captions and hashtags. Visual search expands the purview of social listening because it allows for the images themselves to be categorized and contextualized. This allows brands to gain even deeper insights into how their products are being used and to discover new marketing opportunities.
Adapting your brand’s marketing approach to harness visual search
If you’re sold on the ways visual search can benefit your brand, it’s time to take practical steps to make it part of your digital strategy.
Invest in quality product images
Consumers use their own images to generate results in visual search, but as a brand it’s in your best interest to make sure the images you return in the results are enticing. It’s essential to invest in the quality of your images as these images are what’s going to sell consumers on your brand and products in visual search.
One of the simplest things brands can do to stay in step with the visual evolution of search is to optimize their image catalogue according to these new standards. Take the steps required to inventory the existing image catalogue and reconfigure image tags based on the guidelines from specific platforms (Google and Pinterest, for example). Establish a protocol for how new images will be optimized as they are created and published.
Search for partnerships
Consider whether incorporating visual search as part of your website or app experience would benefit your users. Does it satisfy a need? Does it add value to the experience? If so, search for partnerships with providers that will allow you to provide this benefit to users. If you’re not yet convinced of the return, consider a smaller rollout that will allow you to test and iterate.
A new frontier in search
As voice and visual search technology come into their own, it’s inevitable that fewer searches will be carried out using text-based queries in the future. Truly useful and effective visual search is still in its infancy, but brands should harness the opportunities it presents by optimizing now for an increasingly image-based search landscape.