Seeing Is Believing: Why Visual Search Works

Gen Z and millennials have embraced this way of shopping, and it’s time brands did too

Instead of text-based searches and sifting through pages of results, visual search enables enhanced, modern interfaces that help curate and review buying options faster, which comes naturally to Gen Z and millennials. Thanks to the convergence of computer vision, machine learning and neuroscience, visual search is helping marketers meet these customers where they are by returning the most relevant search results based on similarities (e.g., color, style, shape, etc.)

With 90% of information processed by the human brain being visual, and that brain’s ability to identify images it’s viewed for as little as 13 milliseconds, brands using visual search are definitely onto something. These companies are not only feeding the new generations of shoppers’ craving for automation, they’re also opening the window for all generations to test the visual search waters.

The ‘easy’ button
Research shows that 62% of millennials are more interested in visual search capability than any other new technology, and that over 600 million visual searches are done on Pinterest every month. The process finds customers looking for products with a photo or other image versus keywords that are typically used in search engines. They can simply take a picture of the item, upload it to a visual search engine and be presented with the similar items available to purchase. It’s as easy as that.
For example, using an uploaded image of a blue prom dress, a visual search would enable someone to shop for an identical or similar dress online. And because visual search engines rely on neural networks that leverage machine learning, these engines are constantly expanding their fields of experience. As they become “smarter,” these search engines deliver more accurate, relevant results to shoppers.

From Pinterest to Bing to Amazon
Many online brands are successfully using visual search. Pinterest Lens allows customers to use their photo of an item to find out where to buy it or search for similar products, all while viewing ads for options for sale on other platforms; Google Lens recognizes objects and details via a camera; and Bing Visual Search allows consumers to search for specific elements within images (versus having to sort through a list of results) by clicking “visual search.”
Amazon has been in the visual search game since 2019, when it introduced StyleSnap. Shoppers click the camera icon in the upper right hand corner of their Amazon app, select the StyleSnap option, and then upload a photograph or screenshot of the desired outfit. StyleSnap presents recommendations for similar items on Amazon that match the look in the photo, factoring in parameters like brand, price range and customer reviews.

Putting visual search to work
For performance marketers, visual search provides a new channel for reaching Gen Z and millennial consumers who either don’t want to use text-based searches or are seeking new, automated ways to find stuff online. With these new highly visual consumers, and many search engines already offering visual search capabilities, this capability has become an opportunity that direct marketers can’t afford to ignore.
Consider this: Visual results are going to show up higher in a search engine’s rankings. That means your results appear faster, are seen more often and get better conversion rates than non-visual results. Younger generations of shoppers already love visual search, but it won’t be long before all consumers take to it and come to expect it. With 35% of marketers already planning to optimize their own websites for visual search, one can assume that number will only continue to grow in 2021.

As companies look for new ways to harness the attention of younger, tech-savvy shoppers, visual search may rise to the top as an effective way to align the creativity of the human brain with advanced technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence. And with visual search conversions providing 85% higher returns than textual search results, the more “visualized” your brand becomes, the more customers you’ll be able to attract and engage online.

5 Things Every Business Needs To Know About Visual Search And Ux

Visual search is a great marketing tool that helps consumers find what they’re looking for faster. Rather than trying to describe a specific item in words, they can simply snap a quick photo and upload it to find a close visual match.

Visual Search and UX

Brands like Pinterest and Google have already implemented visual search functionalities, and other companies are starting to follow suit. If you haven’t yet incorporated this useful feature into your user experience design, now is the time to start looking into it.

To help you, we asked a panel of Ad Age Collective members what companies should know about the impact of visual search on marketing. Their best answers are below.

1. Metadata still matters in visual search.
With nearly 25% of all internet searches occurring on Google Images, this is the second largest search category. Creating high-ranking metadata is an important SEO strategy to show up and index on the front page. Also, XML images are powerful for creating sitemaps. This step ensures that crawlers can easily access your images and show them in search results. – Warren Jolly, adQuadrant

2. You can maximize your reach with a multi-site visual content strategy.
Search engines pull image results from multiple sources. Brands can maximize the potential for their product images to top the search results by building out visual content on other websites. Strong visual content strategies on Pinterest, Amazon and specialist sites like Houzz can drive more eyes on your products and ultimately increase sales. – Kerry Curran, Catalyst

3. It will take time to gain traction, but you should start preparing now.
It’s tempting with new trends to go all-in without addressing the current business climate. For brands that are used to investing in SEO to gain visibility, this shouldn’t stop with the advent of visual search, as it will take time to gain traction. Regardless, carve out a portion of your SEO budget to dedicate to visual assets and you’ll be ready for the arrival of mass adoption of visual search. – Patrick Ward, Rootstrap

4. Your images should give consumers a reason to click through.
As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Make the image of your product quickly stand out and be visually appealing. Show the features and benefits of the product as they would appear as part of the consumer’s life to give them a reason to click through and learn more. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

5. Don’t wait to get started.
As mobile usage grows, mobile-friendly features like the vertical-video content format and visual search will become the norm. AI is developing rapidly and making it easier to carry out visual search accurately. Businesses need to get their foot in the door fast and build their audience from the outset of this new trend. It will be a lot harder to compete and stand out later. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner