What is Visual Search – Guide

By Aileen Padua - Published on June 17, 2020
Visual Search Guide

It’s been said that by 2021, early adopter brands will increase digital commerce revenue by 30%(1) if they redesign their websites to support visual and voice search.  It’s only natural that our minds can easily recognize pictures a lot quicker than verbal information. If you consider adapting and optimizing your website with visual searches, then you’ve come to the right place.

What is Visual Search?

Visual search is when realistic images such as screenshots, photographs, and other images you find on the Internet become used as stimuli for online searches. When it comes to retail, visual searches thematically suggest related items to online shoppers, making it easier for people to scan through products faster. However, we will delve into this subject later on. Stay tuned!

The Importance of Visual Search

To simply put,  it is one of the technological advancements that society has ever experienced. The other top trends include voice and video. Hence why AI also plays an important role when it comes to using search engines! When using a visual search for your business, keep in mind what your consumers will want next. After all, one of the roles of running a business is researching about what keeps a consumer on their toes.

How it Works

Imagine using your phone camera to help search up something on a search engine. That’s exactly how it works! When you use visual search as a tool, the camera on your phone can analyze the photo you just took and give you results based on the subject in the photo. It’s that easy!

Uses of Visual Search 

As previously mentioned, retailers commonly use visual searches to help advance search results for online customers. With that being said, there are other industries that use visual search as a helpful tool for optimizing their business website. According to Business Insider, at least 39% of apparel businesses tend to use visual search more often as a resource when it comes to engaging customers. The second category that top off apparel is home décor and electronic businesses, which is 55% of consumers today.

How are Users Engaging with Visual Search? 

There are so many ways that users engage with visual searches. One way is using platforms such as Google Lens, and simply viewing products on retail websites. When users engage, it normally increases revenue and optimization for businesses who have already redesigned their sites to assist users with visual searches. Furthermore, other ways that help is through artificial intelligence, or A/I. A/I can help with search engines, especially if typed searches fail to process specific things that users look for.

Visual Search Engines/Platforms

Here are the top platforms which include the following:

  • Pinterest Lens
  • Google Lens
  • Instagram Shopping
  • Snapchat
  • eBay
  • Bing Visual Search

Curious to learn more about these platforms? Read all about it in our article about “A/I? Powered Visual Search Tools”.

Why Visual Search Differs from Image Search

Now let’s explain the difference. Yes, there is a difference between an image search and visual search. Even though our minds assume that the two are the same things, it’s actually not. When using visual search, users are looking at things up through sensory search, which consists of voice, vision, and text.

As for image search, users simply type what they are trying to search for, by using the search bar of a search engine. Typically, this is what you would do if you need to search something up on Google Images. There is no camera required, but rather takes a slightly longer process than visual search.

Benefits of Visual Search

It’s no secret that internet searches have gotten easier. Let’s take a look at the benefits.

  1. The power of the Next Generation

    With the next generation being Millennials and Gen Z’s, the use of technology deems as a part of daily life. With a younger demographic using social applications, it’s likely that these young consumers will discover your brand a lot faster. If retailers currently thrive with it, then it’s safe to say that you should make your brand known during this day in age.

  1. Product discovery made easy

    As mentioned before, there are lots of online stores that benefit. It allows consumers to look at what they want without having to immensely type what to look at. When using a visual search for your site, it allows your brand to become more optimized and increase reach as well as more customers!

  1. Alternatives to products out of stock 

    This will probably save you an email marketing strategy. When providing ways to replace out of stock items, it decreases the rates of customers having abandonment carts online. Hence, why visual searches can be a great assistant to offer other alternatives when other products go out of stock. 

  1. Quick delivery when text-search fails 

    Since technology just gets easier and easier over time, text-search fails will begin to decrease. Users can quickly find the answers that they’ve been looking for, which can allow simple decision making for consumers.  

The problems with Visual Search

Luckily, there are not a lot of problems. This tool is almost as efficient as it sounds. The only setback that can be thought of behind visual search would be clarifying the quality of an image. When taking a photo, make sure it’s focused and taken at a good angle. Other than that, other problems that would entail seems to occur less often than you would think.

Best Practices for Visual Search 

  • Using structured data 

    When adding any type of content to your website, it’s important to provide search engines with as much information as possible. By doing so, applying structured data for images will allow your site to appear on search results on Google. Structured data will include licensed details with images as a badge in the Google search results.

  • Adding Alternative Text 

    Adding alternative texts, or “alt texts”, will help out users to view descriptions of the image in case it does not show up in the results. When applying this to visual searches, this allows a user to know what’s being described in case an image does not pop up normally. Hence, the importance of alt texts allows it to provide context for an image.

  • Using Descriptive Filenames 

    Because context is everything, it’s essential that images need to reach a wider audience. When using descriptive filenames, try using common names that images are typically labeled as. For example, files can have underscores, dashes, and end with the name “jpg”, which is typically the file name for most images.

  • Having an Image Sitemap 

    Creating image sitemaps will allow your images to have more reach in discovery through search engines. In order to do this, your images should be identified and indexed by Google. This can really help optimization if your images were uploaded with programs such as JavaScript.

  • Using Appropriate Image Sizes and File Types 

    Another important tip when optimizing is finding the right image sizes and using the correct types of files to upload them. When finding appropriate image sizes, use file platforms such as:

    • JPEG (.jpg)
    • PNG
    • SVG
    • BMP
    • GIF

“Does this mean the text-based search is dead?”

No, it does not. Text-based searches will never die. As stated before, visual searches can have problems too. With every perk, there’s always a setback that comes with it. Although it still remains a new technological trend, text-based searches will continue to stick around until there are massive technological developments being made. When all else fails, text-based searches will always remain as a dependable source.

Final Thoughts

The use of visual search can allow your brand to flourish throughout this era of technology. Be aware of the types of search engines and platforms that can assist you with it such as Google Lenses, Instagram Shopping, and Pinterest Lens. Allowing your company to adapt to visual search can benefit in tons of ways.

For instance, it can help you earn more conversions, and allow more people to easily view your products. When redesigning your brand, you are not only going to set yourself up for success but also becoming part of an era that took the advantage of this featured opportunity that’s been considered innovative for the past couple of years.

It’s also important to keep in mind about any setbacks that your business may experience if a visual search does not work out for your business. Every business needs to find its mold for the perfect solution. In hindsight, it has become a trend, and it’s never too late to start embracing it with your brand.


Aileen Padua | Aileen Padua is an aspiring social media coordinator. She is currently majoring in Advertising at Fresno State University. With her understanding about the power of social media, Aileen is passionate about preserving and enhancing the image of one’s reputation in the public eye.


Aileen Padua | Aileen Padua is an aspiring social media coordinator. She is currently majoring in Advertising at Fresno State University. With her understanding a...

Related Posts