Is the landscape about to change with Visual Search?

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The way people consume information is changing rapidly, and brands are fast on the heels of these changes – or at least they should be. It’s crucial to look for new ways to get products and services in front of potential customers – and it’s become apparent that things like social media feeds and live streams are what offer inspiration for millenials and gen Z’s. Just look at what Snapchat and Instagram have been doing.

Imagine this scenario: a potential customer finds your product, but it’s in an Instagram photo or featured in a catalogue. The reality is that they don’t know the product name, your brand’s name, or where it can be purchased. Just because your product is out there, it doesn’t mean your customers will be able to find your brand — or the product itself. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, then which of those words do you type into a search engine? It’s no surprise that 74% of consumers find that traditional keyword searches just won’t cut it anymore when it comes to finding products that they’re looking for online.

That’s where visual search comes in. Visual search is a type of search that uses a visual image, rather than text — or any typing at all. The key part of visual search — and what’s driving businesses — is that it’s not just about looking at a photograph or an image. Visual search involves the search engine being able to identify all of the objects in an image — a pair shoes, a couch that you’re looking at in a store, a pair of sunglasses on a model — and search the web to find similar items.

The possibilities are endless, so here’s what’s happening with visual search — and how to get yourself ready.

The Customers Want It — And It’s Already Here

Visual search might sound like something out of a sci-fi film, but it’s very much a reality. Where visual search stands right now is simple: customers want it — and it’s coming at them full throttle. One survey found that 69% of young consumers were interested in making purchases based on visual searches, without ever having to go through the traditional search process. If you want to buy a shirt that looks like your friend’s, you don’t want to type in “red” and “logo” and just trawl through search results — you want to just snap and go.

And platforms like Pinterest know this — which is why they have been investing in computer vision technology since 2014, when they acquired an image-recognition startup. In fact, both Pinterest and Instagram are already monetising with shoppable social media posts.

Visual search is starting to make a splash and, for your business to keep up, you’re going to need to be ready.

Be Ahead Of The Curve With Camera-Based Search

It should be no surprise that the future of visual search lies in your mobile phone camera. More and more companies are now understanding the power of camera-based search. Pinterest is already doing it with Pinterest Lens, and when Google Lens was announced last year, it was a clear sign that camera searchers were already at our doorstep. In fact, Google has paired with certain smartphone brands to put Google Lens into their native cameras — creating a “visual browser for the world around you”.

However the biggest news has come from Snapchat and Amazon who have partnered to offer in-app image-based shopping. The two mega-brands are testing a way to search and buy a product from Amazon right in the Snapchat app. The Snapchat camera will recognise products and barcodes, allowing you to go to straight to the Amazon app and make your purchase.

Image courtesy of Snapchat

And this can translate into real results. E-commerce sites that were visited by camera searches had 48% more product views, 75% higher return rates, 51% more time on site, and 9% higher order values. That means it’s time to think about your mobile site not just as a tangential to your main site, but as its own business centre. It will soon be a stand-alone offering that needs to speak to customers.

For retailers, the impact of visual search can potentially be huge. It will change the way customers search for products — but you need to be ready. Get your images prepared and start thinking about how camera-based searches can work for you —  because they’re going to be here before you know it.

How Do You Make Your Images Ready?

If you’re a retailer, it’s imperative that you stay ahead of the curve when it comes to visual search – like Ted Baker and Net-A-Porter, major fashion brands who are testing visual search with shoppable videos and articles. Much like regular organic search, visual search relies upon rank and prioritisation factors to indicate where it will be placed on the Google images page. As a bare minimum, you should be following SEO best practice, so your photos need to be high-quality, original, and consistent — as well as needing product and metadata information for the product’s name, image, price, currency, and availability.

You can run your URLs through Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to make sure you’ve implemented everything correctly — but don’t forget to test your site on mobile as well before focusing on getting indexed.

But that’s just the basics that are needed to be eligible for showing up in visual search. More information is always better — and establishing your site as an authority through SEO and high-quality content will be crucial to getting your products out there.

Top Tip: If all this sounds overwhelming, getting a consultant or digital strategist on board can help guide you through the process. In the meantime, check out this handy guide by Moz on “How to Rank in Google Image Search”.

Google’s Been Changing — And You Might Not Have Even Noticed

Traditionally most people search for images using text searches that lead to images, Google had been slowly preparing for the rise of visual search behind the scene. From 2013 when they started utilising related image searches to 2017 when the company began offering similar items searches and style ideas, their image intelligence has been readying itself — and driving — this evolution.

And now, it seems that they’re going to force consumers to search that way, too. One survey found that 18% of text-based Google searches have image blocks — forcing users to use Google Images instead. Visual search is coming, whether you like it or not.

We’re always here to lend a helping hand, so if you think you need some expert advice on how to get ready for visual search, get in touch or email us at