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A visual search is a type of internet query where artificial intelligence scours the web for results relating to an uploaded image instead of text. You may be familiar with a similar practice done by Facebook to identify the faces of users in their photos. While visual searching is, at first thought, similar to normal text internet searching via Bing or Google, there exist different trends within the visual search realm.

A brief history of visual searching

Pinterest is an organization that has been on the forefront of visual searches for over half a decade. In 2014 they introduced the ability for users to perform visual searches by highlighting portions of pictures found on the platform, a whole two years prior to Bing releasing their version of the same technology. By 2017, Pinterest refined this service to what is now known as Pinterest Lens. Pinterest Lens is the natural progression of the 2014 visual searches, where users can now submit their own photos and receive results based off of that image.

Search data from Pinterest Lens searches in 2017 indicate that at this time fashion and home decor were at the forefront of visual searches. By stark contrast, the highest searched Google topics (via traditional text) for that same year were Hurricane Irma and iPhone 8. It was through this data that we can draw the conclusion for the potential of this technology in the fashion and home decor industry. However, presently Pinterest is not the only company that provides visual search results.

As mentioned earlier, Bing rolled out a visual search engine similar to Pinterest’s initial swing at the technology in 2017. But in 2020, Bing Visual Search, Snapchat Camera Search, Amazon StyleSnap, Google Lens, and Pinterest Lens all provide very similar services with some filling slightly different niches.

The survey says…

Humans respond very quickly to visual stimuli. In a survey conducted by ViSenze (another image search engine):

  • “Over 80 percent of Gen Z respondents say the look of a retailer’s website impacts their purchasing decisions.”
  • “62 percent of respondents desire visual search capabilities.”

Visual searching helps eliminate the barrier between being interested in a photo and discovering more information relating to it. Where one would initially have to think of words to describe something, now we can simply point a camera at it.

Visual searching is a powerful ecommerce tool, both for companies and clients. The technology’s simplicity makes visual searching effective and versatile. Shoppers are able to find products related to searches they perform wherever they are because everyone has access to a camera in today’s world. The efficiency is highlighted through Google’s visual search engine, where the availability, description, and price of a queried product is displayed to the user without them even leaving the Google website.

Here is a real-world example: Barry is doing home renovation and needs to find a door that matches the others in his house. So, he snaps a picture of one of the doors he already owns and performs a visual search. Barry is then met with results of matching doors and links to purchase them. So, if your company is one that sells the type of door that Barry is looking for it would be very beneficial in this situation to be visual search optimized to ensure that your product is among the first that Barry sees and potentially purchases.

Catering to the requirements of visual search optimization results in being easily accessible to a new generation of customers. The majority of Generation Z is now finding out about brands through social media, and even more of them follow links from those platforms to make purchases. On top of this, young people are using “traditional” search engines less than people who are older than Millennials.

How to optimize for image searches

At this point you are probably thinking, “How does a site become image search optimized?” And the answer is a combination of a few things:

  • Alt attributes are image tags that thoroughly describe an image that is displayed on a web page. These sorts of file details are easily overlooked, as you do not necessarily need to include them when building a website to see the pictures in the end product. Alt attributes are to be adjusted by a web developer, or whoever manages a business’s website.
  • Lazy loading is a method used by web developers to load images onto a website at different times rather than all at once. With this method, the images are loaded as they fall into the part of a website that is being viewed by a visitor. This decreases a site’s load times, but can also potentially negatively impact the visual searchability of a site. Following Google’s lazy loading guidelines can prevent your site from falling victim to accidentally hiding your content from Google.
  • Keeping a steady social media posting schedule enhances potential customers’ abilities to find your business. The images you post are automatically tagged as being associated with your business because they are coming from your page and are categorized based off of hashtags. Putting share links on web images on your site can also increase your business’s reach. Basically, the more traction your social media pages receive and the more images you put on those pages, the easier your business will be to find through visual searches.

As technology advances, so should the strategies involved in e-commerce. Understanding the origin, trends, and proper practices relating to visual searches can allow business owners to benefit from the growing technology. If nothing else, this highlights how businesses that grow with the marketing industry have a higher chance of being noticed by the next wave of consumers.