Every month there is more than 12 billion searches using Google Lens
Visual search has been around for a while, with Google adding their ‘search by image’ feature as early as 2011; since then, using imagery as a way to search for content has only increased in popularity. Now, it is not only search engines that are incorporating visual search technology into their platforms, many brands are also building visual search features into their apps or websites – and are certainly reaping the benefits.
With today’s technology, visual search has evolved beyond simply using an image – we can now scan objects, signs, landscapes, plants, buildings & so much more in the physical world, and visual search technology can pull up information on the object.
This new way of searching has quickly gained traction in recent years, and marketers are having to adapt their strategies to accommodate.
Why is visual search increasing in popularity? 62% of millennials state that they would be more likely to buy products that they can search for using images
Studies have shown that our minds process images faster than they do textual information; alongside this there have been numerous surveys conducted where many people share their opinions on visual versus textual content, and most state they find visual content both more intriguing and interactive.
How is visual search impacting SEO? Image optimisation Marketers need to ensure more than ever that they are optimising the textual elements of their images. This includes:
Optimising the file names of the images Including image captions Insert alt text for all images Ensuring images are not having an impact on your core web vitals Keyword strategy While keywords are a crucial part of any Organic Search strategy, SEO specialists will need to begin identifying keywords relevant to the image and associated content.
Approaching content creation Search engines are starting to include more video and image content in their search results – including video and image carousels, featured videos, and video results. For this reason, it is important for brands to create high quality visual content to engage users, and is optimised to rank in the search results.
What brands have incorporated a visual search feature into their app or website? Target Target was one of the earliest adopters of visual search, when they partnered with Pinterest in 2017 to incorporate their visual lens into their registry experience – and eventually fully integrated this with their app.
Now Target shoppers can take pictures of products in store, and their app will pull up similar products that users can compare, instead of having to browse the entirety of their extensive catalogue.
Forever 21 Forever 21 have built an innovative way of searching for clothing products within their app, by allowing users to search based on imagery representing clothing length, colour, style or pattern.
Sephora On their mobile app, Sephora uses an element of augmented reality with their ‘virtual assistant’ allowing brands to ‘try’ different types of make-up; the technology virtually scans the users face using their mobile camera, and allows them to choose and compare product colours, shades, and placements before deciding which one to purchase.
How can businesses adapt their SEO strategies to these changes? Organic image visibility As previously mentioned, images need to be optimised for search discoverability. Marketers need to ensure that they prioritise the following elements when using an image within or alongside their content:
Keywords: Keywords are words or phrases that represent the main topics or themes associated with a piece of content. Try to ensure that you use keywords in all of the following…
Alt text: Alt text, short for alternative text, is a descriptive attribute added to HTML code to provide a textual description of an image. This text is displayed when the image cannot be rendered or is read aloud by screen readers. This not only helps individuals with visual impairments to understand the content and context of the image, but also gives search engine robots this same context – allowing them to share the image and the associated content with users
Captions: Captions are brief textual descriptions or explanations accompanying visual content. Like with the Alt text (above), Captions provides additional information that allows search engines to better associate your image with relevant queries.
File names: File names refer to the unique names assigned to digital files. Accurately naming files (for example, Pink_childs_shoes.jpg instead of image1.jpg), give search engines this additional context needed to associate images with relevant content.
Image size: Image size refers to the dimensions of a digital image. Image size is crucial for web design, as larger images may impact loading times, which not only affects user experience but it is a ranking factor for Google. For images, the best formats to use are JPEG, PNG, and GIF. For videos, host them elsewhere (YouTube for example), and then embed them into your website.
Metadata: Metadata is additional information embedded within a file that provides details about its content, origin, creation date, and other relevant properties. In the context of digital media, metadata for images may include information such as camera settings, authorship, and geolocation. Again this gives search engines additional information that helps them associate visual content with relevant queries.
Image URL: An Image URL is a web address that specifies the location of a particular image on the internet. Using keywords that give context about the image and the content it represents to search engines.
Schema markup: Schema markup is a structured data markup language that webmasters use to provide search engines with additional information about the content on their web pages, including images and videos. It helps search engines better understand the context of the content, leading to more informative and visually enhanced search results.
Build your own visual search platform into app or website eCommerce brands that introduce their own visual search platform can increase their digital revenue by a third – Gartner
Brands such as Target, Forever 21, and Sephora (see above) have incorporated a visual search platform into their mobile apps or websites, either through building their own, or by partnering with a third-party platform such as Pinterest. These brands have seen huge successes with these implementations, and have since evolved or expanded these platforms since initial launch.
An initial investment in a visual search platform can be costly, particularly if you want your platform to be particularly interactive or unique (see Sephora’s Virtual Assistant above) – however, if you do not currently have the funding for such an investment, simply adding a visual search bar or button, or partnering with already established visual platforms such as Pinterest can be just as effective.
Build a social presence on visual search platforms such as Pinterest & Instagram Recently, social media platforms are becoming increasingly popular as a tool to search for products and services. TikTok famously began to establish itself as a search engine in early 2023, and many other visual platforms are following in their footsteps – making it easier for users to search for products and services on their platforms. Whatsmore, with the predicted rise in social commerce, social media is not just becoming a platform to search for products, but to purchase them too – giving users a seamless experience from research, to discovery, to purchase.
Building a social presence on popular visual search platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest will help users find, and connect with your brand, encourage them to learn more about your products, and eventually entice them to make a purchase.
Monitor Visual Search Trends Marketers should continuously monitor visual search trends to understand how their audience is engaging with visual search, and how they might adapt their visual content to these audiences to keep them
Benefits of optimising for visual search Increased visibility Optimising your content for visual search algorithms makes it discoverable by different means than traditional text-based search – this widens your target audience, and therefore chances of finding new custom.
Enhanced User-Experience As mentioned earlier, users find visual content more captivating – meaning they will engage longer, and connect more with your website content. This increase in engagement will translate to extended interaction with your website, leading to an increase in statistics such as ‘time spent on page’ – indicating to Google that your content is useful to users, and increasing the likelihood it will rank higher.
The impact of this goes beyond more than time spent on your platform – it also improves the overall user experience. When individuals find content visually appealing, they are not only more likely to linger on your site but also find it a more satisfying experience. This positive experience contributes to a sense of enjoyment and fulfilment, creating a favourable impression that can influence their perception of your brand or message.
More opportunities for conversion Optimising for visual search means that users trying to find a product visually similar to another – that potentially only differs in price, quality or is from another brand – will be able to find these closely matched products with ease. This gives users another way to discover your products, and increases the likelihood they will move to purchase.
A boost in page statistics Some page statistics are Google ranking factors, such as time on page, or bounce rate. For example, if someone lands on your page – but leaves shortly after – this tells Google your website content is not relevant to the query it was displayed for, which can have an impact on your rank. Having visual imagery or videos can help users remain on your webpages longer.
Increased shareability Visual content improves accessibility and digestibility, making it more engaging for your audience; visuals serve as a powerful incentive for increased shareability – thereby extending reach and impact.
Summary & final remarks The rise of visual search is transforming the way users interact with digital content, prompting brands and marketers to adapt and optimise their strategies. Brands that have integrated visual search features to their apps and websites have seen success by offering users a more engaging and efficient way to discover products.
In order to navigate the changing search landscape, brands must prioritise image optimization for Organic Search, build a social presence of visual platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest, and remain informed on the latest visual content trends.
In a digital landscape where visuals play a significant role, businesses that embrace and adapt to visual search technologies are poised to thrive in the evolving online market.