Posted by Kristine Jacobson

Visual Search BenefitsIt's a running joke that marketers have declared every year "the year of voice search" since 2011 when Apple first launched its voice-assistant Siri for iOS devices. Seven years later, the "year of voice search" is finally here...sort of?

In 2019, one in five adults use voice search at least once a month, while two in five use it on a daily basis. This is impressive progress, and - according to various sources - the volume of voice relative to text searches will reach 50% by 2020 (though there is reason to take this projection with a grain of salt).

Taking those numbers for granted, there are reasons you shouldn’t dump your budget into SEO optimization for voice this year. While other marketers are still jumping on the voice bandwagon, another technology is creeping up to take its place: visual search.

The Image Blitz

In one sense, image search is an old and familiar technology. Plenty of marketers use Google on a daily basis to find stock photos, profile pictures, web themes and other visual assets. However, there are actually three kinds of image search and one has only come to fruition within the last two years:

  1. Traditional text-based search: this is what everyone uses already. By entering keywords into a search engine, users can find images tagged with those keywords by a human or by an AI.
  2. Reverse image search: a little more recent than traditional image searching, reverse image search allows users to find duplicates and sources of images they already have. Usefully, Google also allows users to find “similar images” with this feature.
  3. Snap-and-search: this is the most recent development in image searching. Snap-and-search uses a combination of databases and artificial intelligence to match parts of images with results. For instance, a user can snap a picture of a lamp and return the brand website or similar products.

Surprisingly, snap-and-search is one area where Google is not leading the search market. Launched in 2017, Pinterest Lens is the most popular snap-and-search platform: 600 million searches are conducted by users every month.

Not convinced this is important? Consider the following numbers:

It’s fair to say that visual search is growing faster than voice search did in its early years, and it’s worth asking “why?”

Voice Search is Text Search

New search technologies have always served one purpose: make it easier to find things. While it’s not that hard to use a text-based search engine, voice search is obviously more convenient because it depends on natural speech and doesn’t require any typing.

But at the end of the day, voice search is just text search with an added layer. User queries are formed with language and translated to search terms which are processed just like any other text search. Users must have a certain amount of knowledge to submit a query in the first place.

On the other hand, snap-and-search is a completely new approach: users don’t need any prior knowledge of the object, business or item they wish to inquire about. Searching is as quick and effortless as pointing and tapping a button. It’s hard to imagine an easier form of search, short of translating thoughts directly into queries (maybe some day).

Use Cases

The simplicity of visual search creates significant opportunities for marketers to capitalize on. Here are a few ways that snap-and-search is already connecting prospects with businesses:

  • Intelligent object recognition can isolate any part of an image and connect it with a related product or business. Users who see something they like can immediately pull up a sales page and buy it on the fly.
  • Users can inquire about a business simply by snapping a logo, a storefront or one of its products. Gone are the days when you had to ask a friend where she bought that dress: Pinterest, Google or Bing will tell you effortlessly.
  • Snap-and-search turns photography – including user-generated photography – into a valuable form of content marketing. When users can extract information from any image on the fly, every nice image of a company’s product is an advertisement.

While visual search is still a side-quest for many marketers, this is a good time to get in early and prepare your brand for the future. Let’s discuss some ways to get started.

Optimizing for Visual Search

Going forward, visual search will be more dependent on artificial intelligence than any other search method. While traditional SEO will remain a key ingredient in ranking/drawing traffic to your site, new optimization techniques geared towards AI algorithms should be on the forefront of your mind.

  1. Start using structured data throughout your site, especially on product pages. When search crawlers find images on your site, they depend on a combination of automatic recognition and contextual information to identify what these images actually represent. Structuring your site to clearly identify images involves schema markup which we have written about before. Consider testing your site with Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to ensure optimal compliance.
  2. Use basic visual SEO techniques to improve targeting: search engines will still rely on the metadata encoded in an image’s HTML tags including alt-text, filename, description, etc. You should also format your images for optimum size to ensure higher rankings.
  3. Use image sitemaps to ensure that web crawlers correctly identify every page and image on your site without leaving anything out.
  4. Consider devoting more of your ad spend to visual platforms like Pinterest where the popularity of snap-and-search will give you a leg up.
  5. Concentrate more of your content marketing techniques on visual platforms. By building a presence across Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and other popular social media choices, you will have a future-proof presence that will pay dividends as visual search increases.

Conveyance Marketing Group is a team of bright, innovative and talented veteran marketers dedicated to big ideas, fresh insights and measurable results. We pride ourselves on taking challenging marketing issues and turning them into opportunities for our clients, on pointing brands in the right direction, and on getting our customers noticed both online and off. From branding to websites to digital marketing, and public relations, we handle all your marketing communication needs! Web Design and Development | Brand Strategy | Inbound Marketing | Social Media | SEO | PR

Kristine Jacobson

Kristine Jacobson

Kristine Jacobson has more than 25 years of marketing and communications experience with notable corporate leaders as well as emerging market contenders. She offers expert marketing strategy with a touch of creative flair. Her extensive knowledge of strategic marketing, marketing plan execution, and branding illuminate the big picture without losing sight of the details.