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The Future of Search is Visual

On the ninth day of Christmas Honchō gave to me visual search… Anthony Madden, our Junior SEO Executive, explores the impact visual search can have on your SEO strategy.

We are entering a new era of search where visual content is at the forefront of Google’s strategy. Google is rolling out new updates that make SERPs more visual than it’s ever been before. There are lots of image search technologies entering the search space and it has become easier than ever to use search engines.

What is visual search?

Visual Search is the process of using images such as photographs of places, products, and things on the internet as a way to search for things on a search engine or website. Visual Search technology now has AI that understands the context of an image and returns results that are relevant. AI is changing the face of retail as we know it, and this could just be the beginning.

Visual Search technologies allow a user to take a photo of a product they are interested in and then relays information back to them. These are known as image search lens, they are basically the Shazam for image search. So if you see a bag you like, you can take a picture of it and then a search engine can send back places you can buy that bag and what the bag is such as the make and size etc.

You can even find images and highlight specific parts of the image to find out what it is. For example on a picture of a garden, you like one of the little plant pots in the corner of the photo, you can highlight that and then Google can find product pages where that plant pot is sold.

What is even more impressive is it even works as a way to activate services. So for example, if you take a picture of a router with a sticker with the wifi password on it, it can then connect you straight to that router (provided the wifi password hasn’t changed from the default).

Visual search

Pinterest leading the way in visual search

Pinterest is leading visual search with 600 million visual searches a month, according to Pinterest.

Pinterest shared some stats of their lens technology earlier this year. Fashion is the most popular category for lens searches. Home Decor, Art and Food are amongst the most popular categories. They have stated that in the past year, their technology now understands 5 times more types of images such as more ingredients, clothes and home decor.

Business insider states that 5000 categories can be targeted through visual search on Pinterest now. This is a testament to how advanced visual search could become, and how fast it is growing.

The power of visual

MIT conducted a study around visual content. MIT states that the human eye can process an entire image in 13 milliseconds. It can take longer than this to understand the image, but the brain can recognise an image in well under a second.

Within this study, they also stated that 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual.

If images are such a powerful type of information procced by the brain, naturally if an image stands out, it should have higher engagement. Google Shopping is very image based on the SERPs. Merkle reported that in the third quarter of 2018, Google Shopping Ads generated 87% of Google search ad clicks for retail and eCommerce sites. Google shopping ads grew 33%, whereas text-based ads only grew by 3%.

It’s no surprise that Google is making SERPs so image focused.

Visual SERPs

Google is making the SERPs more visual than ever. Google cards now organise blog content into visual thumbnails. Google shopping lists products from e-commerce sites in little thumbnails.

When entering a query on Google especially on mobile, it almost always displays something visual. If the query is of a product or anything transactional, google shopping often appears. List queries often come up with images at the top. Wiki snippets with a photo usually comes up on informational queries on things like landmarks or locations. Guide queries come up with blog content in thumbnails. Google is pushing heavily for a more visual experience. I have talked about the new features Google is rolling out here.

Google lens

Google Lens is Google’s own visual search technology. It’s integrated with Google Images which means if you take a picture of something, it can find information already on Google about that image.

How smart is visual search?

Google has been testing their new AutoML Vision service… with a robotic arm. This device is able to point at printed out where’s Waldo photo’s, it’s able to find Waldo in seconds.

This displays how efficient and accurate visual search technologies are.


The future is definitely visual. With technologies showing huge potential and Google making the SERPs more visual, search behaviour is inevitably gravitating towards a visual experience.

Tweet Honcho_Search and share your thoughts on visual search. Happy Christmas!

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