Visual Search - SEO Tips For 2021 | W3 Lab

Visual Search – SEO Tips For 2021

In this article, we are going to take a look at what visual search is, how does it work, how to optimize your images for this type of search, and many more.

As you probably know, humans are visual beings. This means that sight is the primary sense we rely on. This claim is supported by science, as it has been proven that a third of our brain cortex is in charge of visual processing, while for other senses less than 10% of the brain cortex is engaged.

These findings have inspired web developers to make a new form of search, which is visual search.

Even though the it is not so new and has existed for years, it has only recently become widespread, although not yet like some other forms of search which are less complex.

SEO experts are predicting that this search method will be one of the biggest trends of 2021.

Visual search is growing every day, and the number of its users and searches is increasing rapidly especially among younger generations like Millenials, Gen Z, and even among upcoming Gen Alpha.

Ben Silbermann, a famous Internet entrepreneur and CEO of Pinterest, said a few years ago that “the future of search will be all about pictures, not keywords”.

We can agree with him on this issue, and it is the huge success of Pinterest that tells us that visual search will be the main one in the future.

But before we kick off into statistics and technicalities, we think it is necessary to explain to you what it actually is.

visual search
Visual search makes everything easier. | Source

It’s easy to understand because just as voice search uses voice, visual search uses images.

Simple as that. If you are wondering if we truly need this type of search when we have voice search or text search, our answer is that we definitely need it. First of all, because it is much easier and simpler.

Before voice search, we could only type. This search method is not only tedious but also cannot always yield good results and most of the time, it’s not convenient to type. Then voice search became a thing and enabled us to search for things while doing other things. But visual search is even more advanced.

It is especially useful for e-commerce stores because with its help they can provide incomparably better search results compared to, for example, text search.

We want to clarify one more thing that may confuse you. Perhaps some of you who are reading this article thought that visual search is the same as image search.

And then you were probably surprised why you would write about something you’ve been using practically since you’ve been using the internet, and that’s since the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Yet visual search and image search are completely different types of search.

visual search - magnifying glass - blue background
Visual search is not the same as image search. | Source: Unsplash

This type of search falls under “sensory search” while image search is something you use words for. So it’s not a “sensory search”.

When conducting a visual search you use the image during a search, and for image search you use words.

How does visual search work?

To make it as easy as possible for you to understand, just look at what you see around you at the moment. Everything you see, your brain will recognize because it will do a visual search.

This is exactly how the visual search we are talking about today works, except that the search is not processed by the brain but by the computer.

It will help you when you can’t use words to define exactly what you want to search.

This type of search is constantly advancing as artificial intelligence is increasingly involved. Artificial intelligence itself also advances daily with the help of different types of machine learning.

gears - gold gears - mechanism
What are the gears that power the visual search? | Source: Unsplash

In this way, the search engine analyzes increasing number of different images and then the search becomes more comprehensive and accurate. We can say it is the same process as with our brains. When we are young, our “visual search” is not as nearly advanced as in later stages of life.

For a search engine to perform such a sophisticated search, it must analyze shapes, colors, and other characteristics of an image, and not the image as a whole.

Otherwise, with today’s processor speed, it would be impossible to find a suitable match.

Maybe one day, with the development of quantum computing, the way of image analysis will change, but for now, this is the only way that has proven to be very successful in practice.

Why is visual search important?

Visual search is becoming something that needs to be implemented as part of a digital marketing strategy.

It is not an exaggeration to say that it is changing users’ search behavior and thus the way you interact with them. Imagine all the possibilities you have with visual search.

The fashion industry is the first industry to notice how useful it is to adapt to it. And then everyone else. Because think about it, when you shop at a brick-and-mortar store, you conduct a visual search.

Why would online shopping be different? That is why it is something that brings improvement to e-Commerce in general.

Visual search allows you to link two things that you would otherwise never be able to.

Following are the primary benefits of implementing visual search:

  • Better contact with new generations
  • Having new customers
  • Increasing profits
  • Cross-selling

Better contact with new generations

The artificial intelligence company ViSenze has conducted a study, whose results showed that 62% of Gen Z and Millennial consumers prefer visual search to all other types of searches.

gen z - letters  - visual search
Visual search is right up Gen Z’s alley. | Source: Flickr

Also, these are the generations that focus on shopping through applications and platforms, so it is necessary to give them the option to conduct a visual search.

Since Millennials are now the generation that is becoming the primary consumer, and the situation will be the same with all future generations, the focus must be on adapting to them as much as possible.

You won’t benefit from someone who is 60 years old and is accustomed to going to a brick-and-mortar store.

New generations tend to give up a brand or store that is not optimized for their requirements very quickly. Lack of patience, as well as a huge offer, affect this. Older generations are more loyal unlike them.

Why would they waste time on you, when someone else will offer them all the options they want?

That’s how they understand things and you have to adjust to that.

Having new customers

Attracting new customers is one of everyone’s primary goals.

To succeed, you need to offer them as much as possible and build trust with them.

When you offer a visual search, it will allow potential customers to search your products much easier and better.

Also, since the picture is worth a thousand words and because 90% of the information transmitted to the human brain is visual, potential buyers will find it easier to make a certain type of emotional connection. And that will cause them to not pay attention solely to price, but more to what they like and need.

Increasing profits

For a business to be profitable, new ways to increase profits must be constantly sought.

Research conducted by Gartner says that all those who implement visual and voice search in 2021 can expect 30% higher revenue compared to their previous revenue and compared to the revenue of all those who have not implemented these advanced options.

Forbes has also come up with similar results.

Cross-selling

According to Wikipedia “Cross-selling is the action or practice of selling an additional product or service to an existing customer.” It is important not to confuse cross-selling and upselling as these are different sales techniques.

You must have encountered cross-selling many times. For example, when you go to McDonald’s you will always be offered another juice or pie.

In many cases, the customer decides to buy an additional product when it is offered.

Algorithms in charge of visual search can be very useful for cross-selling. Based on the original search, they can offer the customer something similar to what he or she is looking for.

It doesn’t even have to be the same type of product, but something that would be useful for the buyer to buy alongside the product he/she has already decided on.

For example, the customer has chosen running shoes, and the algorithms will offer him shorts and a T-shirt that are an ideal fit with those running shoes.

Which search engines are used for visual search?

As visual search is a constantly growing trend and an increasing number of companies are implementing it as one of the features in their search engines.

Each search engine has different search functionalities. It’s not even perfect yet, but it doesn’t affect popularity.

We will take a look at the following visual search engines, apps, their use, and differences:

  • Google Lens
  • Pinterest Lens
  • Snapchat Visual Search
  • eBay Image Search
  • Bing Visual Search
  • Amazon camera search/Amazon StyleSnap

Google Lens

Out of all the named visual search tools, Google Lens is certainly the most popular and most used one. Developed by Google, this app aims to allow you to search what you see.

google lens - visual search
Google Lens

It can scan and translate text, scan restaurant menus and search through their Google reviews to tell you about the popular dishes.

It can tell you more about landmarks and their hours of operation, it helps you identify plants and animals, and also does what is the focus of this article: visual search.

If you’re in public and walking past a boutique window and you see a bag or shirt that you really like, you can take a picture of it and run it through Google Lens.

It will display similar articles of clothing, some maybe even cheaper and prettier. You won’t have to open your browser and type ‘black button-up with a flower pattern’ and scroll for hours trying to find anything similar to it.

After Google Lens was released, Google revealed that this visual search app had more than 50 million downloads in just 16 months. Mind-blowing, but not surprising; it is a quite useful app.

Pinterest Lens

A day doesn’t go by that I don’t hear someone talking about how useful and great Pinterest is. And they made it even more useful by introducing the Pinterest Lens in 2017.

Pinterest realized how many people use this website for inspiration whenever they’re making something, so they added a visual search option to help them.

pinterest lens
Pinterest Lens

If you’ve ever used Pinterest a few years back, how many times did you see a product that you wanted to purchase but couldn’t find it?

Pinterest Lens enables people to find and purchase anything they see on the website and their statistics show that over 85% of users who are looking to purchase clothes or furniture use visual instead of text search.

Additionally, they also revealed that there are more than 600 million of these searches performed every month.

In September 2018, Snapchat announced that they teamed up with Amazon and that they’re rolling out Visual Search.

It works similarly to Google Lens: if you point your camera at a product or barcode and then hold the button on the screen, the google lens will try to find it.

Once it finishes, an Amazon card with a link to the item will appear, enabling you to follow it and purchase the item.

There are no official stats about its use, but we can only guess that it’s used a lot since Amazon is the biggest eCommerce company in the world.

amazon visual search - snapchat visual search
What the Snapchat Visual Search looks like. | Source

Here’s another eCommerce giant that decided to utilize this type of search to improve the shopping experience.

In July 2018, they introduced eBay Visual Search, and today, the AI has learned more than 130 million images. Even though we don’t know how many people use this feature daily, we do know that eBay has more than 177 million active daily buyers.

We can say that Microsoft was a little behind the competition when it comes to implementing visual search on Bing. However, during 2018, they also added a this option.

Although in some features Bing is behind Google Lens, it still has some features like the ability to search within images and then expand this out to related objects which leads to some users preferring Bing, and above all, it is a common choice of developers.

Using Bing visual search you can explore nearby places, identify plants and animals, find similar items, and so on.

Amazon camera search/Amazon StyleSnap

Of course, we must mention Amazon separately. They introduced visual search back in 2009 and since then it has been significantly improved.

Amazon StyleSnap is a visual search app that has been around since 2019 and this app allows you to get relevant search results after you take a picture. It is very useful to navigate through the million products available in the Amazon store.

They have also implemented augmented reality, so you can see what a product would look like in your environment.

How to optimize your images for visual search?

By now, it is completely clear to you that visual search is a very important thing both today and in the future. And that it will probably become even more important than text search.

However, what you need to know is that images need to be optimized in the right way to be visible for this type of search. Although algorithms have their ways of processing each image, the whole process will be much more effective if you know how to optimize them.

That will help you become more visible and relevant.

Even if you don’t run a company as large as eBay or Amazon, you can still benefit from it.

In this part of the text we will draw your attention to the most important steps for optimizing images for visual search:

  • Size and file types
  • Image titles
  • Alt tags
  • Descriptions
  • Structured data and sitemaps

Size and file types

High-quality images are an absolute must.

However, it is very important to keep in mind that you have to strike a balance between high quality and the size of the file.

If you ignore the file size, it will probably have a bad effect on the loading speed of your website, which you must avoid.

There is a solution on how to optimize a big file for the website. You need to compress the image, which will not significantly impair the quality, and the load speed will be fast.

This way you will have high-quality images on your website, but also you will be able to offer a great user experience plus a positive impact on SEO.

Another thing to pay attention to is the file type.

BMP, GIF JPEG, and PNG are among the most used types and are also supported for search on Google Lens and other search engines.

Each of these types has pros and cons, and in addition to knowing these pros and cons, also always check if that type is supported for visual search before implementing it on the website.

Image titles

Make sure to add a title attribute, as well. This is what appears when users hover their mouse over an image. Don’t let users see a key smash, instead, write something coherent.

Also, the search engine uses the title to determine the content of the image. That is why the titles must be descriptive.

You shouldn’t leave generic titles like “1234.jpg”

Alt tags

Alternative text called both “alt tags” and “alt descriptions” may be the most important part of image optimization, so it’s good to spend a few minutes working on it.

Add alternative tags to every product image you upload on your website. Make sure they’re detailed and contain the appropriate keywords. No matter if you’re selling furniture or clothes, include the colors and designs in the tags, because this is what people care about.

Also, make sure the descriptions are as coherent as possible, you don’t want to confuse the search engine with incorrect grammar and similar mistakes.

Fan fact: Domino’s pizza has even lost a lawsuit because they didn’t have enough alt tags on its website.

choosing the right alt tag
The alt tag for this image would be something similar to “White desk with a desktop computer, a black notebook, a pair of glasses and a mug”. You can be as detailed as you want.

Descriptions

Not every platform allows you to add an image description. But if you use a content management platform like WordPress, then you will be able to display an image description to the user.

This is an option you should take advantage of because it will positively affect your visibility and rank on search engines.

Make sure the description is effective, which means it has relevant keywords and other substantial information.

Structured data and sitemaps

Structured data is essential to any content found on your website.

It is a code that especially emphasizes certain parts of the content, and thus facilitates the job for search engines and increases the quality and preciseness of the obtained results.

This also applies to structured data for images.

Sitemaps are used to indicate the structure of a website to the search engine to help better understand the exact link between image and content.

When you implement a sitemap, it will improve the image’s ranking because the search engine will be able to find images and index them.

Trends are always changing, it is no surprise.

To end this article, we will briefly tell you about some of the main visual search trends for 2021 and beyond:

  • Smartphones
  • Influencer marketing
  • Chatbots
  • Image-controlled browsing

Smartphones

Smartphones are an integral part of our daily lives.

So it should come as no surprise that one of the main visual search trends for this year is the use of a smartphone camera.

smartphone - hands - holding smartphone in hands - typing on a phone keyboard
Smartphones are ideal tools that will help you do visual search. | Source: Unsplash

All you have to do is turn on the camera and take a photo of a certain thing or product, and then the search engine you use will find a similar product all over the internet.

Influencer marketing

Influencer marketing has become the type of social media marketing and marketing in general that we must use, and you can read more about it in our influencer marketing guide.

How you can use visual search as part of influencer marketing is so that the influencer promotes all shoppable products and not just one product at a time.

Bloomberg explained this precisely in their article, saying “Instagram is letting people buy a handful of brands from a select group of influencers.”

Chatbots

All major e-commerce sites but also sites in general have implemented a chatbot which is a computer program that simulates a conversation between two people to solve a problem. A very useful thing which will provide 24/7 help to your customers and also reduce workload for your employees at customer service.

If you implement a chatbot on your website, you can use the chatbot and visual search together to create the best possible shopping experience for your customers.

Image-controlled browsing

It will become increasingly popular for internet browsing to be fully image-powered.

Although text search will probably always remain available, more and more companies will launch web browsers that will be based entirely on visual search.

The goal is to provide the most relevant and accurate possible results, much more accurate than using text search, and also more convenient than voice search.

Conclusion

Visual search helps people save up a ton of time and helps them in the process of shopping. It is equally beneficial to all the owners of e-commerce stores.

It’s been gaining in popularity for the last few years, and SEO specialists predict that in 2021, it will be used even more.

We told you why it is important and how to get the most out of it.

The engines can find your images and display your products when someone is looking for something similar to them, so you have to be sure to optimize your images.

Pay attention to image quality, file size, alt tags, descriptions, sitemaps, and other things.

We wish you good luck with the visual search in 2021 and thank you for taking the time to read our guide!

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