16 min to read

Visual Search: What is and How to Use It?

Visual Search - A blue eye looking into the computure.

Visual Search.

You may have heard of voice search but visual search; maybe you're unfamiliar with this term.

Now, if we go to a 100% literal definition of visual search, we would get:

Visual search is a perceptual task requiring attention that typically involves an active scan of the visual environment for a particular object or feature (the target), among other things or features (the distractors).

 Thanks to our friends from Wikipedia for describing it for us; nonetheless, this definition looks more like a "biological" or "common sense" one, and we're in a Digital Marketing blog, so what does it have to do with our niche?

In its many years of internet evolution, search engines like Google are constantly working on new and more effective ways to ensure their responses match every query of their billions of users. Voice search has been one of the more listened to, but visual search aims to be the preferred one for buyers and consumers, as most of the time, before hearing about a good product, we see it.

But what is visual search, and how is this becoming so popular? Well, this is a preferred method for buying for newer generations, named Millenials and Gen Z, and according to new research from ViSenze Finds, 62 percent of both generations of consumers want visual search capabilities.

If you have heard about Google Glasses or any other visual technology, you may know what all this is about. Nonetheless, it's only a glimpse of it. 

So take a look at this entire article on this topic, and also, if you are in the retail or e-commerce area, take some notes on it because this is the future of your industry.

Without further ado, let's get right into it!

CodeDesign is the leading digital marketing agency in Lisbon Portugal.

What is Visual Search?

The visual search consists of users using photos, screenshots or any visual evidence to be able to search for the products they want.

Suppose a buyer saw the shoes worn by a famous rapper in a video and wants them. Well, he pulls out his phone, takes a picture of the item, and then goes to your e-commerce page to see if you have that item.

As we can see, it's a much more straightforward process than looking for the exact name of the Snickers - which, at their level, have more complicated names than a chemical formula. They show the photo to a search engine and get the exact product they want in a blink of a click.

This modality could place SEO efforts for matching the exact words a step-down. However, it does not detract from them. In the extraordinary ecosystem of the "WWW," it is always better to have all the items and content you have as optimized as possible. Even so, you can see that when it comes to purchasing specific objects, it is a great ally to have an image search engine that helps them match the particular thing they want.

The popularity of this type of search has reached such a level that, according to SEOTroupe, 85% of online buyers give more importance to the visual aspect than the text.

But your curiosity may go further, and you want to know how a computer manages to capture and match images. Well, pay attention to the next point.

Visual Search Definition - A bionical blure eye.

What is Visual Search?

How does Visual Search Work?

How do computers see? Will it be through the cameras? Are they spying on us at all hours? They are watching us!

No, and no, let's put paranoia aside for a moment and get back on topic.

So how do computers see?

Although the concept of computer vision has been around longer than visual search, they couldn't "look" as they do until the advent of machine learning.

For this process, artificial intelligence is "fed" with thousands of images of any object, let's say, a bed. Then, when you put a photo of the thing, it can "see" or understand features to identify the bed.

If you've seen these AI-generated images of celebrities doing quirky things, like Pope Francis wearing Balenciaga, the process is pretty much the same. Through prompts, you can ask this software to combine things as disparate as the Pope's case, and the technology is only responsible for finding images of both themes and mixing them into an "original." 

Read this complete guide on digital marketing funnel and then choose the right digital marketing channel for your business.

What's the Difference Between Visual and Image Search?

Visual search is like a "sensory process" where machines can understand the prompts via text, image or voice.

On the other hand, image search is more of the old-school SEO way to look for visuals, where you must use text to conduct this search.

Source: YouTube.

Visual Search Examples

What brands are entering the visual search game? As we said earlier, visual search will likely be the future for internet search, but to get a feel for what we could do, let's first look at what the big brands are doing.

Google Lens

Launched in 2017 just for Google's Pixel smartphone, Google Lens is available for all Android devices and even integrated into the search engine core search results.

Google Lens has the exact mechanism that allows it to identify the image from its original form to variations of it. Still, also, it can translate metadata, text and our language to get the most relevant pictures within its catalogue. In the specific case of the search platform, Lens pulls information from the Google Knowledge Graph, a database that stores all the data within the platform.

Source: YouTube.

Bing Visual Search

As we always see in the world of technology business, competitors will never sit idly by; therefore, Bing, Microsoft's search engine, is also well into the subject of visual search. Still, it's fair to say that Microsoft may have won the race against Google as Bing Visual Search launched in 2009, then decommissioned in 2012 and relaunched in 2018.

This Visual AI has the same reverse image features, the search engine can find products, items and public personalities just by displaying an image. However, a plus for content creators, such as photographers, is that Bing can detect cases of plagiarism on their intellectual property.

Check these Amazon FBA tips to grow your business and see how optimising your Amazon listing could help you grow. 

Pinterest Lens.

We now enter the realm of social media, and while Instagram would like to steal the title of visual platform par excellence, Pinterest has more interesting and beautiful images. Who hasn't used a Pinterest image as wallpaper? Please raise your hands!

Moving on Pinterest lens was launched in 2017 to help users get products and new ideas with visual content.

This software does not have access to the gallery of images that Google or Bing has, only images produced by and for Pinterest. Still, it's fair to say that Pinterest images are a bit more "aesthetic" than Google or Bing images if you know what we mean.

Pinterest Lens added a shop tab that leads to the list of shoppable pins, a differentiator from its competitors.

In the case of the Pinterest lens, it is pertinent to mention how it helped the great retail brand, Target, to make the experience easier for its users and increase its sales.

After launching this visual search option, Target included it on its website so shoppers could get to any product faster. Since Target's catalogue is so extensive, it's logical that this option saves shoppers hours of searching since the platform shows them exactly the product they are looking for and similar ones.

Using Pinterest Lens within your retail store saves you the task of building a visual search engine. In addition, taking advantage of the Pinterest save button allows you to take advantage of the popularity of the social network and its ads. Here is a complete guide on how you could use the digital marketing funnels to expand your customer base and how sell directly on Amazon with a detailed plan on Amazon listing optimization.

Snapchat Scan.

Snapchat, a social network that Mark Zuckerberg never tired of copying also has its visual search feature.

However, Snapchat Scan has features that go more along the lines of entertainment than shopping perce. 

In 2019 Snapchat released this scanner that allows users to identify songs, dog breeds, and plant species. Even so, in 2021, the company added a feature that gives fashion recommendations based on visual search and quality that matches the song that most closely resembles the image you are taking.

Amazon Stylesnap.

And, of course, the kings of e-commerce should also be in the visual search game.

Amazon Fashion first brought out the Amazon Stylesnap to make it easier for shoppers to get clothes and shoes. However, it expanded with StyleSnap Home to target customers shopping for furnishings.

Benefits of Visual Search for E-commerce and Retailers.

Shopping, whether in a mall or on the internet, is a primarily visual process.

In the first instance, you do not get hooked on the items you will buy logically; the first thing is always to see it and then want them.

For this reason, these two niches of direct purchases can benefit so much from visual search, and here we will explain more about their benefits.

Make the Process Effortless

Searching for a product by its name is complicated in writing and even in voice search.

Let's say they want to buy that red gaming chair of a famous streamer. So, they face the arduous task of searching through the entire range of red chairs on the market to see if they can finally find that one precisely.

Refrain from complicating the search for your buyers; this can lower the rush of emotion that leads them to buy.

Make it easy for them by searching only with a reference image and getting everything faster. Read this guide on E-commerce supply chain and voice search optimization.

Less E-commerce Noise.

E-commerce noise occurs when there are many pages within your website that point to the same product; however, none of them is specific.

Going back to gamer chairs, you may have endless options, oversized chairs, miniature chairs with a compartment for drinks, or even typical household chairs.

When searching traditionally, that is, by text, you cannot show those options that match your audience's preferences, which again lowers their purchase intent in the process.

With the visual search, you can show your jewels of merchandise without the others overshadowing the search.

Visual Search is Easier to Track and Measure.

The visual search gives you access to all your users' activities with the software. In this way, you can identify what they are looking for or buying more and thus take actions that become more sales for your business.

Offer Millenials and Gen Z what they Want.

Let's talk about the generation that promoted the high consumption of videos of at least 15 seconds. We can understand how these younger boys' consumption habits are almost immediate.

It's almost straight to the point, and that's why you can't afford to take advantage of their attention span, which is getting shorter every day.

That is why you must have this visual search option available since it is what they will prefer over time, thanks to its immediacy and ease when buying.

Hyper Personalization.

Personalization is almost an obligation for any sales business and even services.

Each user needs something that suits their needs, not the same template. That's over, and now customization is the law.

With visual search capabilities, it's easy to deduce that your customers can get the best options suited to their tastes since they search for everything with the reference image they have in their heads.

To add more points to this personalized experience, if your recommendations are accurate enough with what they are looking for, you will see how even what was a purchase of two items is extended to extra items.

Text Search VS Visual Search.

Is this even a fight? Is there a winner among these two?

Spoilers ahead: no, there is no winner, BUT one might be troubling the other.

In this study, "Deconstructing E-Commerce Search UX: The 8 Most Common Search Query Types," by Baymard Institute, we found exciting insights that reinforce why today's e-commerces and retailers are failing to deliver relevant results to users and how visual search might be the solution for it. In the study, we found that.

  • 71% of sites need users to search by the same product type jargon the site uses. We touched on this issue before with the sneakers example, where users might find it challenging to identify the exact shoe model they want, but indeed, they have the image in mind.
  • 36% of sites don't support thematic search queries. This thematics can go from seasonal topics like "winter jacket," but can make it even more difficult for users in examples like "office chair," as the site doesn't understand this prompt as we humans do.
  • 22% of users have trouble with "feature search queries, " meaning a product with a characteristic. For example, if you want to find a jacket, but not any but a blue one, these sites will deliver all the options except the specific one you want.

As you see, it's frustrating for users to be unable to explain to search engines what they specifically want, which that's why visual search becomes a more viable option for them to accomplish their true purchasing wishes.

Now, although text search may need to be updated, it isn't that you could displace strategies like SEO, as search engines still need written content to redirect users to suitable sites.

We often think SEO could be out of the game, but it isn't. If you want more information about this topic, find out if AI is the end of SEO.

Text Search vs Visual Search - A robotic eye with a turn on bottom.

Text vs Visual Search.

Visual Search Optimization

And now, we have arrived at the place we wanted so much, which is how we can enhance our visual search.

We have already touched a lot on Search Engine Optimization and even Voice Search Optimization, but let's see what tips you can apply to achieve Visual Search Optimization.

Add Alternative Text.

This is a widely used strategy in SEO, so we emphasize that you cannot dispense with this strategy within your visual search.

Known as "Alt Text," these are written descriptions of the image you post. The search engines need these descriptions to understand what these images are that you place on your website, and thus, in the same way, redirect people to it when they search for terms associated with it.

This is even necessary for users who use screen readers to understand your websites or writings fully.

To do this well, you must describe what appears in the image.

Do a Keyword Research.

SEO is our friend, so you must know how to use it.

Among the basic practices of this discipline is to investigate keywords that people usually use when looking for your products. The internet is full of high-quality tools such as HubSpot or Answer the Public that will help you study what those words are in high demand within your business niche. Still, before choosing the most popular ones, you will take the advice we already mentioned above.

You see, if you want to sell a variety of your products, you cannot target the most basic word since you will frustrate those users who want to search with a feature.

So, instead of describing your products as "jackets," you turn them into long-tail keywords that help differentiate each option in your arsenal.

This way, you can put "blue jackets," "purple jackets for training," or whatever option you have in your inventory.

Take Multiple Photos of your Products.

The first impression always matters, especially when discussing visual search.

That is why it is necessary to focus on taking enough high-quality photos to show your product's quality when you produce images for your products.

A bad image can scare off your consumers and make them choose your competition, even when your product is superior.

So take the time to shoot your products well, or even hire a professional photographer if possible.

Optimize Image Size and File Types.

Placing high-quality images on your site brings another task to hand: optimizing the site and file type for each device on which people use your platform. This aspect goes for desktops, PCs and even smartphones; all images and pages should be seen in the same quality.

For that, you must adapt all these images to each format so that the omnichannel experience between different devices is not interrupted by loading times that are too slow since high-quality images can cause this or product images that look pixelated.

Final Thoughts.

Technology doesn't stop looking for ways to make our lives easier, and this visual search reaches levels of what we saw in sci-fi movies ten years ago.

Before getting stuck in the methods that we already know and master, the right thing to do is to turn around the news that is coming out and broaden our vision to new ways to sell more quickly and effectively.

Although throughout the article, we focused on demonstrating how this can help retailers and e-commerce, we are sure that within any niche you are in, you can find a valuable use for this technology. You just need to figure out how.

If you need more help with your business or marketing strategies that make your business take flight, contact us and let's talk business!

FAQS- Frequently Asked Questions

What is visual search and how does it differ from traditional search methods?

Visual search is an innovative technology that allows users to search using images instead of text. Unlike traditional search methods, which rely on keywords and text-based queries, visual search understands the content of an image and finds related information or similar images on the web. This method of search is particularly useful in fields where visual details are more descriptive than words, such as fashion, home decor, and retail. For example, a user can take a photo of a piece of furniture and use visual search to find where to purchase it or explore similar styles, significantly enhancing the user's ability to find what they are looking for without the need for precise textual descriptions.

How does visual search technology work, and what role does AI play in it?

Visual search technology leverages artificial intelligence (AI), specifically machine learning (ML) and computer vision, to analyze and understand the content of an image. When an image is uploaded as a query, the AI examines various attributes of the image, such as colors, shapes, patterns, and even text within the image. It then compares these attributes to a vast database of images to find matches or similar items. The role of AI is crucial because it continuously learns and improves its understanding of what each image represents, enabling more accurate and relevant search results over time. AI algorithms are trained on large datasets to recognize millions of objects and their characteristics, making visual search increasingly efficient and effective.

Can you provide examples of applications or platforms where visual search is currently being used?

Several applications and platforms are harnessing the power of visual search to enhance user experience and streamline search processes. For instance, Google Lens allows users to search for what they see through their camera app, enabling them to identify plants, animals, and products, or even translate text in real-time. Pinterest Lens offers a similar functionality, allowing users to discover ideas and products through images they find online or in their daily life. E-commerce giants like Amazon and ASOS have integrated visual search into their apps, enabling customers to snap a photo of an item and find similar products within their inventory. These applications showcase the wide-ranging utility and growing adoption of visual search technology across different sectors.

What are the main advantages of using visual search for consumers and businesses?

For consumers, visual search simplifies the discovery process, making it more intuitive and efficient. It eliminates the need for complex textual queries when users are unsure of how to describe what they're looking for. This technology also enhances the shopping experience by providing personalized recommendations based on the visual elements of a user's search. For businesses, especially in e-commerce and retail, visual search can significantly increase engagement and conversion rates. It enables retailers to offer a more seamless and interactive shopping experience, directly linking visual discovery to purchases. Moreover, visual search provides valuable insights into consumer preferences, helping businesses tailor their offerings and marketing strategies more effectively.

How can e-commerce and retail businesses integrate visual search into their online platforms?

E-commerce and retail businesses can integrate visual search into their online platforms by incorporating AI-powered visual search APIs or developing their custom solutions. These integrations allow customers to upload images to search for products, compare prices, and find similar items within the retailer's inventory. The process involves setting up a visually searchable product database, ensuring images are high-quality and metadata is accurately tagged. Businesses should also consider user interface design that makes the visual search feature easily accessible and user-friendly. Providing clear instructions and examples of how customers can use visual search can further enhance adoption and usage. Collaboration with technology providers specializing in AI and visual search can expedite the integration process and ensure the technology is effectively tailored to the business's specific needs.

What steps should companies take to optimize their content for visual search?

To optimize content for visual search, companies should focus on high-quality, clear images with minimal background noise. Images should be tagged with accurate and detailed metadata, including titles, descriptions, and relevant keywords, to make them more discoverable. It's also important to use structured data to provide context and additional information about the images, enhancing their visibility in visual search results. Implementing an image sitemap can further aid search engines in crawling and indexing the images more efficiently. Companies should also consider the mobile-friendliness of their content, as many visual searches are conducted on mobile devices. Regularly updating images and metadata to reflect current trends and consumer preferences can keep the content relevant and improve its performance in visual search results.

How does visual search impact SEO and content marketing strategies?

Visual search significantly impacts SEO and content marketing strategies by emphasizing the importance of visual content optimization. To rank higher in visual search results, businesses must ensure their images are of high quality, properly tagged, and accurately described. This involves using relevant keywords in file names, alt tags, and surrounding content to improve image discoverability. Content marketing strategies must adapt to include more visual elements and consider how images can be used to capture the audience's attention and convey information effectively. Additionally, integrating visual search capabilities on websites can improve user engagement and provide new data insights, informing content creation and optimization strategies. Businesses should also monitor developments in visual search technology to stay ahead of SEO best practices and leverage new opportunities to reach their target audience.

What future developments can we expect in visual search technology?

Future developments in visual search technology are likely to focus on further enhancing accuracy, speed, and usability. We can expect advancements in AI and machine learning algorithms to improve the recognition of complex images and the ability to understand context and intent behind visual searches. Augmented reality (AR) could be integrated with visual search, allowing users to visualize products in their own environment before making a purchase. There's also potential for more personalized search experiences, with AI using historical data to tailor search results to individual preferences. Furthermore, as the Internet of Things (IoT) expands, visual search could become a key component in navigating the physical world, identifying objects, and accessing information instantaneously through wearable devices or smart home technologies. Overall, the future of visual search is poised to further blur the lines between the digital and physical worlds, offering more immersive and intuitive search experiences.

How does visual search improve the shopping experience for users?

Visual search enhances the shopping experience by making it more efficient, personalized, and engaging. It allows users to find products instantly using images, reducing the time and effort spent on textual searches. This immediacy helps satisfy instant gratification desires, particularly important in today's fast-paced consumer environment. Visual search can also uncover items that users might not have found through traditional search methods, leading to a more exploratory and satisfying shopping journey. By providing accurate and visually similar product recommendations, it enables a more personalized shopping experience, tailored to the individual's tastes and preferences. Additionally, visual search can facilitate price comparisons and feature discovery, further empowering consumers in their purchasing decisions.

Are there any privacy concerns associated with visual search, and how are they addressed?

Yes, visual search technologies raise several privacy concerns, primarily because they involve the collection, processing, and storage of potentially sensitive visual data. These concerns include the unauthorized use of personal images, the risk of sensitive information being extracted from images, and the potential for surveillance. To address these concerns, companies employing visual search technologies are implementing a variety of measures:

  1. Consent and Transparency: Ensuring users are fully informed about how their data will be used and obtaining their explicit consent before collecting images or other visual information.

  2. Data Anonymization: Anonymizing collected data to remove personally identifiable information, thus reducing the risk of privacy breaches.

  3. Encryption: Employing strong encryption methods for storing and transmitting visual data to protect it from unauthorized access.

  4. Compliance with Privacy Laws: Adhering to stringent data protection regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union, which sets the standard for data privacy and security. This includes providing users with the right to access, correct, and delete their data.

  5. Data Minimization: Limiting the collection of visual data to what is strictly necessary for providing the search service, thereby reducing the amount of data that could potentially be compromised.

  6. Security Measures: Implementing robust security measures to prevent data breaches, including regular security audits and vulnerability assessments.

By taking these steps, companies aim to mitigate privacy risks associated with visual search technologies, ensuring user trust and compliance with global privacy standards.

About Bruno Gavino

Bruno Gavino is the CEO and partner of Codedesign, a digital marketing agency with a strong international presence. Based in Lisbon, Portugal, with offices in Boston, Singapore, and Manchester (UK) Codedesign has been recognized as one of the top interactive agencies and eCommerce agencies. Awarded Top B2B Company in Europe and Top B2C company in retail, Codedesign aims to foster personal relationships with clients and create a positive work environment for its team.  

He emphasizes the need for digital agencies to focus on data optimization and performance to meet the increasingly results-driven demands of clients. His experience in digital marketing, combined with a unique background that includes engineering and data, contributes to his effective and multifaceted leadership style.

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About Codedesign

Codedesign is a digital marketing agency with a strong multicultural and international presence, offering expert services in digital marketing. Our digital agency in Lisbon, Boston, and Manchester enables us to provide market-ready strategies that suit a wide range of clients across the globe (both B2B and B2C). We specialize in creating impactful online experiences, focusing on making your digital presence strong and efficient. Our approach is straightforward and effective, ensuring that every client receives a personalized service that truly meets their needs.

Our digital agency is committed to using the latest data and technology to help your business stand out. Whether you're looking to increase your online visibility, connect better with your audience, get more leads, or grow your online sales. For more information, read our Digital Strategy Blog or to start your journey with us, please feel free to contact us.

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