3 Ways Visual Search Is Changing the Marketing Industry and Top Tips to Help You Adapt

Ryan Moyce
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Is visual search changing the way you market?

The world is getting faster. Trends and purchasing habits are shifting. Visual search is rapidly changing the way consumers are engaging with the world around them, and the marketing industry is having to rethink its game to keep pace.

The question is, are you keeping up? Here, we will take a look at visual search: its popularity, who stands to gain, 3 ways it is causing the marketing industry to change, and simple steps you can take right now to boost your bottom line.

What is Visual Search?

Visual search is not the same as a traditional, text-based search. While keyword search requires you to type in your search query, with visual search there’s no need for words.

Snap a photo or find an image online, enter it into a purpose-built visual search engine (ViSE), and you’re instantly presented with a list of matching or related image results.

Sound simple? Far from it.

Intelligent algorithms, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning are all needed to make visual search work. Combined with an immense database of images and information, these advanced processes interpret the content and context of your image, crawl the web in search of matching or similar data, and return identical or relevant suggestions.

It’s a technology that has been in development for years and faced many challenges. Now visual search is fast becoming the "go-to" method for searching both digital and physical landscapes alike.

Why Choose Visual Search?

Searching with words doesn’t come naturally. Unless you know a product or have information at hand to help, you may struggle to put into words what you’re after. The results are often vague or unpredictable, so it’s no wonder many find text query searches so frustrating.

Visual search leader Slyce confirms this. According to their research, “74% of consumers say that traditional text-based searches are inefficient in helping them find the right product online."

Visual search, however, is more intuitive. The human brain can process images quicker and easier than text, seeing and understanding images between 6 and 600 times faster than language.

It’s why consumers are finding visual search increasingly attractive. It takes the hassle and frustration out of finding what you’re after, affording a much more enjoyable user experience.

It’s Only a Matter of Time

With any new innovation, it can take time to see results. Either the world isn’t ready, or the technology can’t meet the demands of the market.

Voice search is a perfect example. Just as revolutionary as visual search, it took years for audio search hardware to enter the mainstream market.

Now people are using voice more than ever. Voice search accounts for 9% of all searches and it is expected that voice-based shopping will jump to $40 billion by 2022.

This bodes well for visual search, and the momentum is building. Stats show 62% of Millennials now want visual search over any other new technology.

A recent report predicts, “The rising adoption of machine learning in visual search and the growing use of visual search in e-commerce are expected to propel the growth of the visual search market globally.” It estimates that by 2027, the global visual search market will surpass $28,470 million, with a forecasted Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 17.5% between 2019 and 2027.

The potential is undeniable, but getting visual search to full maturity is vastly more complicated than text or voice.

As Clay Bavo, Virtual & Augmented Reality Lead at Google, explains, “In the English language there’s something like 180,000 words, and we only use 3,000 to 5,000 of them. If you’re trying to do voice recognition, there’s a really small set of things you actually need to be able to recognize.

Think about how many objects there are in the world, distinct objects, billions, and they all come in different shapes and sizes. So the problem of search in vision is just vastly larger than what we’ve seen with text or even with voice.”

The Biggest Players in the Visual Search Arena

Pinterest

It was only logical that Pinterest created a visual search tool. After all, the social app is based almost entirely on visual engagement.

In 2017, they launched Pinterest Lens, allowing users to take a photo of the real world with their smartphone and search the billions of Pins on Pinterest for a match.

With the ability to find results and suggest styles across fashion, décor, cooking, and fitness, Pinterest Lens is now one of the most popular visual search engines.

In early 2018, there were over 600 million visual searches on Pinterest every month. By 2019, 47% of social media users saw Pinterest as the platform for discovering and shopping for products - more than 3 times that of Facebook or Instagram.

Google

In addition to its image keyword search functionality, Google created its own visual search engine. Also called Lens, it uses artificial neural networks to analyze images and determine context and content.

Google’s visual search engine gives customers incredible options, identifying anything from objects to places and even animals.

With Google Lens Style Match consumers are shown items like the one they searched for and are told where they can buy it. Lens also goes one step further and recommends other items based on what you searched.

It also has the ability to transcribe text from hardcopies like business cards and generates usable contact info, such as phone numbers, email addresses, and more.

But possibly the most notable advancement is Google implementation of Lens into smartphones. With Google Lens, customers are easily able to snap a picture and instantly access Google’s native tools like Assistant, Photos, and Maps.

Microsoft

Microsoft’s 2009 charge into the visual search market came to a spluttering halt. The reason? The world just wasn’t ready. After grossly underestimating the demand, they ceased their efforts in 2012. Five years later, they returned with Bing.

Bing’s ViSE is similar to Google Lens in many ways. It analyzes and identifies objects in photos and suggests similar products just like Google’s. There is one big difference though.

Bing has the ability to isolate parts of an image to narrow down the margin for error. Users are able to draw a selection box around any item within an image so Bing can return more relevant results.

With access to all of Microsoft Windows, Bing now allows users to image search when browsing third-party retailers, or use any image saved on their computer.

As well as in its native browser, you can find Bing’s visual search tool in the Bing app, on Microsoft Launcher, and also on Microsoft Edge.

Who’s Benefiting the Most from Visual Search

Image content is consumed at an incredible rate every day. So, it's no surprise that visual search is becoming ever popular, especially among social media platforms.

Instagram, for instance, has over 100 million images posted daily and has integrated the technology into its platform to capitalize. But accurately monetizing visual search on social media is still a massive grey area.

And while social platforms are finding their feet, it’s retailers who are seeing the greatest gains from visual search.

Companies like ASOS, WayFair, Neiman Marcus, Argos, and IKEA, to name but a few, have all built their own Visual Search tools.

With visual search’s simpler purchase process, consumers can forgo the headaches of traditional keyword searches and get straight to checkout, quicker, and with less friction.

The results: Retailers are seeing increased customer satisfaction, reduced drop-off rate, increased engagement, and higher conversion rates across the board.

And it’s not just online. Retailers are seeing the power of visual search in physical stores.

By utilizing visual search, consumers are able to compare products and retailers as they browse in-store, experiencing a much smoother and informed decision before buying.

3 Ways Visual Search Is Changing the Way We Market and Tips to Help You Adapt

Image Catalogs

How does your catalog stack up? With visual search, imagery is everything, and optimizing your images for visual search engines has become a must.

Even though the technology is still being developed, it’s important your image catalog is up to par, to maximize the chances your products will be found.

1. Focus on Quality

Ensure your product imagery is high quality. The higher the image resolution, the greater the detail. This makes it easier for visual search engines to read what’s in your image and match your product.

2. Future Proof

Standardize your image creation process so that it’s scalable and ready for when visual search technology matures.

3. Keep Images Clean

Make sure your images are free of distraction. If you’ve got an image that is very busy, then visual search engines may struggle to focus on the right part.

The solution? Photograph or render your products on solid backgrounds free of clutter to reduce the chance of background noise confusing search results.

4. Keep an Eye on Image Size

Make sure your images are the optimal size and resolution for ViSEs. Be sure to balance the demands of load time and speed.

5. Create Multiple Product Shots

Don’t rely on a single image of your product to do the job. Shoot multiple images of your product from various angles to cover your bases.

Social Media

Social media is a visual landscape. Users want quality content and instant gratification, and companies are always looking to acquire new followers and purchasers of their brand. Step forward with visual search.

Every image posted is one more chance to win new customers, and visual search is fast becoming the way for marketers to do just that.

Want to capture new leads? Switch up your social strategy for visual search.

1. Make Pinterest Your Friend

Pinterest dominates visual search on social media. Share your product catalog so that it can build product pins, tag them, and even track details, like availability and price. Be sure to share quality content with pinners to engage and drive traffic to your store.

2. Invest in Social Influencers

Influencer marketing on social media can be tricky. But it can also do wonders for your brand or products when you get it right. Send influencers your product or outfit, and with a single snap, visual search will be able to tag your items and make them shoppable for followers.

3. Listen More

By combining visual search tools and social listening, you can tune in to your customers and observe their behavior. What you learn can be invaluable for your marketing campaigns going forward.

4. Look for New Trends

Take advantage of image analysis and machine learning to identify future trends and changes. By doing so you can market your products to customers and give what they want before they know it themselves.

5. Prepare Your Chatbots

Watch this space. Integrating visual search into chatbots has been a hot topic for years. Although there’s been a degree of radio silence lately while visual search efficiency improves, the potential is still there.

Use images to enhance your chatbot experience and be ready for visual search when it lands.

Better Image SEO

Traditional Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tends to veer towards quantity and quality of text-based content. With the emergence of visual search however, the need to SEO your imagery has become paramount.

If you’re guilty of not giving your images the attention they deserve, it’s important you start now. Make sure you check off these SEO best practices to ensure your image content appears in visual search engines.

1. Use Image Sitemaps

Upload your images to Google XML image sitemaps. It will help search engines easily access your images and increase the chances they will appear in the search results.

2. Do Keyword Research

SEO experts know the importance of keyword research. By focusing on finding long-tail keywords, to better describe your products to your audience, you’ll improve the quality of your leads.

3. Optimize Image Titles and Descriptions

Include your keywords into the title and descriptions of your images. It will help consumers find your products faster and feature your content in relevant search results.

4. Add Alt Text

Including alternative text to images is standard practice. Accurately describing the makeup of your image in your alt tags will help ViSEs understand your image content and better rank it.

5. Create Captions

Including captions and describing what’s happening in your image will further improve your image’s ranking. It will also add context and help customers process the image more easily.

Summary

Visual search is quickly changing the way industries market to customers. The technology is still being developed but the tide is rapidly turning, and the effects are being felt.

To stay ahead of the game, the marketing industry is having to:

  1. Optimize their product catalog to have better image quality, quantity, and composition.

  2. Develop smarter and more engaging strategies on social media.

  3. Pay greater attention to image SEO for superior ranking and accessibility.

Not sure how to optimize your marketing for visual search? Copywriters.com can help.

From creating compelling social media content to managing your SEO, our experienced copywriters are well equipped to handle any of your digital marketing goals. Book a call today to see how we can best serve your needs.

Ryan Moyce

Ryan Moyce is a copywriter with a background in graphic design & branding. He has over a decade of B2B & B2C marketing experience and loves to pen creative, customer-centric copy guaranteed to make your brand sing.

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