Visual Search – Images and SEO

In the world of digital marketing, we often talk about missing out on various optimisation opportunities, and visual search is a prime example of this.
Visual Search
Visual Search

In the world of digital marketing, we often talk about missing out on various optimisation opportunities, and visual search is a prime example of this. Visual search is something that not a lot of companies consider, but it may be able to boost your traffic. Especially as few other businesses will be competing against you, when it comes to this method of search. 

Most of us think in images and visuals, and companies like Instagram and Amazon have capitalised on this. Kevin Systrom, one of Instagram’s Co-Founders, when discussing imagery, stated that ‘people have always been visual; our brains are wired for images. Writing was a hack, a detour. Pictorial languages are how we all started to communicate; we are coming full circle.’

Amazon too understands the significance of imagery – they promote visual search for two main reasons. Firstly, a lot of shoppers know what sort of thing they’re looking for, but don’t know the name. And secondly, many customers are of the mindset that while they don’t know what they want, they’ll know it when they see it. 

Of course, it’s much more difficult to search using images, as machines don’t think the same we do. Advancements have been made in recent years, but the technology is not yet on par with voice and textual searches. However, as the demand grows, particularly within ecommerce brands, the more resources will be invested into visual search technology. 

What is Visual Search?

Visual search is when you use an image as your starting point, rather than a text query. This image is used to find further details, or similar results, through artificial intelligence. For example, if you were to take a photo via Google Lens, the software would use this image to not only identify the photographed object, but also provide information about it. 

Visual search is particularly useful for ecommerce websites and brands, as having the option to search using images can be incredibly lucrative for them. Of course having optimised written content is also essential, but with any marketing strategy, it’s a good idea to cover as many bases as possible. 

Is Visual Search the Same as Image Search?

While similar, visual search is not the same as an image search. Google introduced the latter in 2001, after a huge spike of searches for a particular image – Jennifer Lopez in a particularly revealing green dress, which she wore to the 2000 Grammy Awards. The main difference between the two types of query is that image searches still rely on words. With a visual search, your starting point is an image, whereas with an image search you use words in the initial query.  

what is visual search

Which Platforms Use Visual Search?

Various platforms use image recognition technology which allows people to search using an image. Most of them have slightly different search functionalities, as on each platform, the user will have different needs and requirements. More and more businesses are introducing this technology, so it’s difficult to form a comprehensive list! We’ve outlined the main four visual search platforms below:

Google Lens

When it comes to visual search, Google Lens, just like the search engine, is the most popular platform in the world. It has the power to combine multiple Google apps, so with one search, you could translate the name of a product into another language, learn more about it, and be presented with similar items to buy. The image recognition technology that Google uses is also said to be better than that of any other platform. 

Bing Visual Search 

As with Google Lens, the Bing Visual Search tool doesn’t just provide photos of similar products – it also gives the user information about the object. And if a business uses Bing’s developer platform, they can instruct the engine to offer particular information or actions to a user, such as the pricing and a ‘buy now’ option. Though if Bing detects an intent to purchase, they may provide things like pricing details anyway. 

Amazon StyleSnap

With Amazon StyleSnap, you can upload a photo or screenshot and be presented with similar items to shop. The process is incredibly simple, and according to a review from Insider, fun to use. 

Pinterest Lens

Pinterest Lens was introduced in 2017, and within two years, could recognise over 2.5 billion objects. The platform has over 600 million visual searches a month, and these searches often influence purchase decisions. A user can take a photo of just about anything, and then find identical or similar items to ‘pin’ or buy.  



Images and SEO

Identifying Visual Search Opportunities

If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to visual search, there is a simple way to find opportunities. First, you’ll need a tool that can track search features, such as Moz, Semrush, or Ahrefs. You’ll then need to filter your current projects, showing only SERPs with images. They may also have the icon representing Google Shopping. These keywords will have amazing potential in terms of organic visual shopping. 

The Benefits of Visual Search

There are a huge number of benefits to incorporating visual search in your marketing strategy. And if you run an ecommerce business, it’s more important than ever to get ahead of the competition. Generation Z in particular are discovering brands through social media, and are then looking to purchase them using the image alone. You could reach a whole new audience through visual search. 

Another advantage of this method of searching is that it encourages impulse buys, as the shopping process is speedier. Visual search can remove a lot of the steps between a customer coming across an object and then buying it online – they don’t have to scroll through endless pages looking for a similar product. 

Essentially, the main benefit of visual search is an increase in revenue. You can boost your sales by marketing to people who have already made a purchase decision. Visual searches drive 6.4% of ecommerce revenue, so it’s essential for online retailers to start using this software. 



Visual Search Best Practices

To make sure that your results are appearing in visual search, there are a few best practices you should follow. We’ve listed the main things to consider below:

  • Your images must be original, clear, and of good quality
  • Use structured data (Google recommends JSON-LD)
  • Make sure you use alternative text for images (also known as  alt descriptions or alt tags) as well as descriptive filenames 
  • Think about the size of your images, and compress larger images where possible, to improve loading speed
  • Consider creating an image sitemap, to help search engines like Google crawl and index your images

You will also need to ensure that your website is optimised for SEO in general, which includes things like engaging content, site speed and performance, as well as your site’s accessibility. Digital marketing strategies can’t be looked at in isolation – you have to take a holistic approach to ensure you see the best results.