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Mobile shopping has become the new standard and norm for retail, with customers purchasing anything from new clothes to their weekly groceries through a quick, keyword search in a search engine. It is for this reason that visual search has skyrocketed in popularity over the last few years, with one of its most popular apps, Pinterest Lens, reporting 100% year-over-year user growth—and accounting for up to 600 million visual searches monthly.

This consistent activity has deservedly caught the attention of retailers, who noticed a surge in visits to their own websites through customers utilizing visual search. Those same businesses then began to implement visual search capabilities into their own websites for customers in order to capitalize upon this new engagement tool.

Visual search only has room to expand, especially as the technology for it continues to steadily improve and numerous companies begin to present their own, new version of visual search technology. But what exactly is visual search? How does it differ from image search? Those questions and much more will be answered below, so that your business can be at the forefront of the visual search trend.

What is visual search?

When a customer utilizes visual search, they are looking for a product with a photo or other image instead of the keywords that they would normally use in a search engine. The shoppers can take a picture of something they want to buy, then upload it to their visual search engine of choice, like Pinterest Lens or Google Images. After uploading their image, they are immediately presented with visually similar items that are available to be purchased.

Who are the main players in the visual search game?

With the considerable rise of customers using visual search, it’s no surprise that many companies have hopped onto the bandwagon and begun to produce their own version of visual search applications. Below are the three most heavily utilized and widely recognized visual search tools that are being used by shoppers.

Pinterest Lens

Pinterest Lens debuted in 2017 as an online/offline visual search tool that utilizes AI to identify objects captured from Pins or by a smartphone. The image generates other visual suggestions of related themes or products. Nowadays, Pinterest Lens dominates the visual search game and the product is smarter than ever. In fact, according to a GroupM study commissioned by Pinterest, 80% of Pinterest users start with a visual search when shopping.

Amazon Spark

Seeing the success of Pinterest Lens, Amazon quickly launched Spark for Prime members. Spark has the appearance of an Instagram feed, but the images presented to customers are shoppable and once tapped, take the customer back to Amazon’s main website to directly purchase the item.

Google Lens

Similar to Pinterest Lens, Google Lens allows a customer to pull out their phone and take a snapshot of an item in front of them and receive suggestions of shoppable, related items. However, Google Lens does much more than this. The application also allows for scanning, translation, and much more. You can even take a picture of the SSID sticker on the back of a Wi-Fi router and your phone will automatically connect to the network.

How does it differ from image search?

Since image search has been around for nearly 20 years, you may be wondering: how is it any different from visual search?

According to Semrush, the difference lies in how the search is conducted. While both image search and visual search are based around imagery, people use words to conduct image searches, whereas, with visual search, the user uses an image alone to conduct the search.

Visual search works through a combination of both computer vision and machine learning technology, whereas image search works more closely to a regular, keyword search engine. Similarly, while an image search may lead to objects available for customer purchase, visual search applications are usually produced specifically for the purpose of shopping and will provide better, more relevant results for customers.

How can your site benefit from visual search?

Now that you understand visual search and know who is using it, how is it helpful for your business?

Well, to start, visual search will open you up to a much wider audience, in particular the next generation. No less than 60% of Generation Z is discovering brands purely through social applications and 69% of them are looking to purchase directly from those platforms. With this type of statistic in mind, there has never been a better time to get your business discovered outside of traditional means in order to reach the next generation of shoppers.

With properly optimized visual search tools, your businesses’ products and website can gain more engagement from prospects who may have otherwise never known about you or your product. To ensure that your website’s products are being properly optimized for visual search, Semrush suggests the use of “alt tags” and “alt descriptions” for images. Not only are these already used for SME purposes, but the smart technology integrated into visual search applications also utilizes these tags. They also suggest descriptive filenames, so ditch “IMG_7978.png,” and instead try to provide as much information as possible in the filename.

As the eCommerce industry continues to grow and our old ideas of retail are steadily replaced for faster, better, and online alternatives, now is the best time to give visual search a try.

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