Our society is visual. Video is one of the most popular means of building a brand because 90% of customers report that product videos help them make purchases. So it stands to reason that video search, already on the rise, will take up a greater chunk of real estate in the search engine stratosphere. Businesses who capitalize on visual search early on will likely see a rise in the effectiveness of their online marketing tools.

What is Visual Search?

It’s pretty simple. Right now, when we want to find something online, we type the words into a search engine like Google or Bing. That won’t be the case forever. Companies like Pinterest and Target are already putting tech in place for users of their apps to take photos of an item and search based on the photo’s contents. For example, a shopper interested in a particular TV can snap a photo with their smartphone and text based information will pop up about that particular model, such as specs, product reviews, and pricing at various retailers. Related products may also pop up, so shoppers can compare more efficiently than ever before.

The tech is somewhat limited at the moment thanks to machine learning having a steep curve to climb. The programming must understand the way the human mind processes shapes, colors, sizes, and patterns to scan for that product image and related items. This is no simple reverse-image lookup like Google has provided for years. The tech must distinguish a water bottle from a travel coffee mug, a yoga mat from bedding, and so on. But search engines are improving their understanding of image components, which leaves the results more reliable now than ever before.

Retail Opportunities Abound

For retail businesses, the sky’s the limit. In particular, the related products feature shows great potential for competitive advertising and leveraging ad space for more click-throughs. But how does a business harness this potential?

  1. Provide greater attention to the SEO placed on images. The more data you can provide the search engines in sifting through the millions of images available, the more likely yours will make the cut. Optimizing your images for the best SEO you can provide is the minimum you can do to build a competitive advantage, and it’s not that hard. Choose more original, high-quality images over stock images where you can. Keep your images relevant to the text around them. When selling handbags, don’t concentrate on the shoes. Proper file formats help with load times, as well as keep your images sharp. Compress where you can. If your images takes too long to load, the shopper will have selected your competitor’s product before yours is finished de-pixelating. Add descriptive captions. People will still scan words for the highlights.
  2. Keep image searches in mind when building your website inventory details. Don’t just consider the images themselves. Think of the way people will look for them. Sticking with the water bottle example, take product photos from multiple angles. Someone interested in a wider-mouth bottle will take the photo from an angle that illustrates the bigger opening. The more you provide in the way of images, the more searches you’ll reach. Put relevant image badges on your photos. If users know what information is available about your products immediately, they’re more likely to click. If your competitor’s images only have an “purchase locations” badge listing their brick-and-mortar stores, but you have a “buy now” badge, which photo do you think someone interested in purchasing immediately is going to click on? Get creative with your badges, too. If you’ve got User Generated Content showing how the product works in the real world, share that far and wide.
  3. Advertise on Pinterest. While it may sound narrow to pick only one place to advertise, Pinterest has been on the forefront of visual searches since 2014, allowing their millions of users to zoom in on specific items within images to find related items. They’ve since rolled out search programming to scan images, not keywords. Pinterest knows how their users search for photos, and they can help you capitalize on them. With 600 million searches every month, and half of Pinners making a purchase from promoted pins, advertising with them is really self-explanatory. Because of their core technology and prime image recognition capabilities, companies buying ad space on Pinterest will automatically benefit through visually related search returns.

Given the dedication with which Google reconfigures their most useful search algorithms, it stands to reason visual search will become much more widespread the more time goes on. The more consumers rely on sight-based shopping, the more we’ll see visual search incorporated in our everyday lives. It could even end up paired with augmented reality for a truly enhanced shopping experience.


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