Why growing businesses should not ignore Visual Search

Read why growing businesses should not ignore visual search.

Have you ever tried to explain an image or concept, but find that you couldn’t come up with the right words? It’s a common issue that almost everyone faces from time to time, and it’s a good example of why visual search is so useful, and why it’s becoming so popular and widespread. If you find something you’re interested in knowing more about, it’s often faster and easier to query a search engine with a picture of it, than to try and explain what you’re looking for. This means it’s one of the “next big things” in search engine functionality, and that’s a great reason for businesses to learn more about how they can take advantage of visual search.

What is Visual Search?

Visual search is a deceptively simple process. It works just like text-based search, but provides image-based results rather than text-based ones. With a visual search, users can input a text or image query and receive search results containing relevant images, web links, and other media.

It’s deceptively simple because to the user, it looks and functions like any other search engine. On the back-end of things, training a search engine to return accurate image-based results is difficult and time-consuming.

When a user types in a text-based query, the search engine interprets the query based on the words used, the order they’re in, and other factors. Text searches are easy for a sophisticated search engine to handle. It’s much harder for the same search engine to look at an image and its component shapes and colours, and correctly interpret the user’s intent to return accurate results.

Visual search relies on neural networks—computer systems that mimic human brain function. Neural networks are trained on exercises that teach them to recognise objects and relate them to other objects. With each training iteration the network accumulates more data and learns to identify and interpret images more accurately. So, while visual search technology is in its infancy now, it will improve with time.

Visual Search Apps and Options

Google image search is still the most popular offering for browsers. Users can search images using keywords, upload images to look for similar ones, and use images already on the net to look for others like it. The search results allow users to narrow their results down by image size, type, usage rights, and other criteria, making it easy to find images appropriate for whatever purpose they have in mind.

Google Lens is Google’s visual search app, available for Android mobile systems, which allows users to take photos and run them through the app. The app identifies what’s in the photo, and provides links to more images and information about the subject. It works with landmarks, objects, plants and animals, and even items for purchase. For instance, if a user sees an item of clothing or furniture they like, they can take a picture, upload it to the app, and receive information about where the item—or a similar one—can be purchased.

Bing visual search is available on mobile Bing apps for iOS and Android, and for some Android mobile browsers. Launched in June 2018, Bing’s visual search app works in a similar fashion to Google Lens. It works with photos taken in real time, and photos uploaded from a camera roll.

CamFind is an app for iOS, with features similar to Google Lens and Bing visual search. CamFind search results provide a mixture of different information types, including related images, local shopping results, and web links. CamFind users can also save their search results to their profile, and share their results with others.

How can a Business Use Visual Search?

What does visual search mean for SEO and digital marketing? Simply that visual search can make it easier for people to make impulse and instant gratification purchases. With visual search, a user can see an item they like, search for it, and be directed within seconds to one or more places where they can purchase it.

For ecommerce retailers, the benefits are clear. Optimising an ecommerce website for visual search can mean more web traffic, a better user experience, a higher conversion rate, and ultimately more sales. Image search isn’t going to replace text-based search, or eclipse keywords and quality content. But it’s increasingly important to keep visual search in mind as you build or optimise a website.

For local businesses the advantages aren’t immediately obvious, but as neural networks increase in sophistication, visual search capabilities will too. For instance, for pictures of local restaurants or businesses, an app might be able to tell them opening hours, menus or services, and other important information.

Currently, strategies to optimize for visual search are somewhat limited. Right now, it’s all about optimising any images you use on your website—practices which are already more or less standard for good SEO. For instance, adding alt-text to images, optimising image titles, tags, and descriptions, optimising image size and quality for mobile and desktop, and adding images to the site map, are all good ways to both improve a website’s SEO in general, and to improve how the site captures image search traffic.