Keeping an Eye on Visual Search Technology

Humans, for the most part, are visual creatures and study after study has found that images grab our attention more quickly and are simply more engaging than text alone. It is true that there has been an increase in the use of voice search but there has also been an increase in visual searches.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, visual search combines images from the cameras on mobile devices with augmented reality applications. The technology for visual search is quite complex as a query is only an image. The advances in AI and computer learning are helping search engines improve their ability to comprehend components of images which is providing more reliable results.

It seems fitting that the next step in search technology would allow us to use images as we search instead of trying to come up with the words to explain exactly what we are looking for. Visual search will allow brands to offer a completely new level of user experience and consumers are apt to get more on-target results than they do with a text-based search.

Branded apps and websites are incorporating visual search technology and platforms like Google, Bing, and Pinterest are building in improved visual search functionality. Visual search saves time and provides a tremendous convenience level to shoppers. Recent improvements in visual search technology are making it simpler for consumers to take a picture of an item and either search for similar items or buy the item captured in the image.



While the technology is fairly neophyte, it has been quickly advancing. In addition to platforms like Amazon, Google, and Bing, a number of retailers have also developed visual search capabilities. Please know the following list is not exhaustive!



Pinterest developed Lens which “lets you use the camera in your Pinterest app to discover ideas inspired by objects you see out in the real world.” This visual search tool that allows platform users to take a picture of something to see pinboards with related items, to search for similar objects or to find out where the item can be bought online. Recently, Pinterest introduced its visual search technology into both Target’s website and apps. In return, Target will increase its advertisement spending on the Pinterest platform and be a guinea pig, of sorts, for new ad formats.

90 percent of purchasing decisions made by weekly Pinterest users was found to be influenced by things they’ve seen on the platform. In February 2018, Pinterest reported their users carried out more than 600 million combined monthly searches using their Lens technology. As such, Pinterest is not only using visual search technology to build its user numbers, it is also leveraging the technology as an advertising platform. Advertisers can now utilize Pinterest’s “Shop the Look” pins that allow users to select specific parts of an image and shop for that look.


Google’s effort in the field is called Google Lens and was launched to help meet the goals of making image search more accessible and simpler. Google Lens is a visual search engine that recognizes visually, through a camera app, various objects, landmarks, and other things. For example, you can take a picture of a business card and save the information to a contact. You can also take a picture of a building or museum artifact and get more details about it. Google Lens is available in Google Photos on both Android and iOS, in Google Assistant, and in select camera apps on flagship Android devices.



The search engine Bing has augmented its image search offerings with the development of image search based on pictures taken on users cameras as well as smart web-based image search. Bing users can further focus a search by selection portions of images which yields search results of related images. The platform is still working on their technology that seeks to detect shopping intent for the purpose of providing related products along with pricing information.



CamFind is another visual search mobile app that lets users use their mobile phones to search for things instead of typing a query into a search engine. The user just takes a picture and the CamFind app will tell what the object it is. For example, you can take a picture of a movie poster to learn more information about the move, at which local theaters the movie is showing and available show times.


Home Depot

Home Depot caught the visual search wave in 2016 when it added the camera icon to the search bar of its mobile app, enabling customers to complete a visual search. A Home Depot customer can upload to the app a photo (or take a picture while in the app) of something they may need. Then a combination of computer vision technology and machine learning scans each of the thousands of products in the Home Depot product catalog to deliver the products that most accurately match the image. The customer is also provided the store location of the item or is sent to the online page where that item can be seen.



Visual Search Statistics – There is a reason for the growing popularity of this technology.

  • Researchers at MIT found our brains can identify images seen for as little as 13 milliseconds.

  • Pinterest reports having over 600 million visual searches on their platform every month.

  • Moz reports that images are returned for 19% of Google search queries.

  • Gartner predicts that by 2021, digital commerce revenue for early adopter brands that redesign their websites to support visual and voice search will increase by 30%.

  • It is anticipated that the image recognition market will grow to $25.65 billion by the end of 2019.

  • Visenze found that 62% of millennials prefer visual search over any other new technology.

  • The Intent Lab found that 3 out of 5 consumers when shopping online, believe that visual information is more important than textual information.



How to Make the Most of Visual Search?

Optimizing images should move from being an afterthought to being a priority to best leverage SEO. Competition in visual search results will continue to grow, increasing the need to boost the visibility of images. Help the search engines by making it easy to isolate and identify specific items in your photos and, if you use stock images, adapt them a little to make them stand out from the other thousands of times they are used.

Acknowledge Pinterest’s efforts in visual search technology and take advantage of their advanced image recognition by utilizing the “Shop the Look” pins and whatever other opportunities are offered by the platform.

Keep an ear to the ground about new developments by other companies. Competition always brings out the best in technological advancements. Visual search capabilities will continue to increase in popularity and accuracy as we see an increase in the accuracy of the interpretation of images and the usefulness of related search results.

We must also acknowledge the gap between consumer behaviors and visual search technology. Similar to the lag we saw in voice search, it will take time before consumers are accustomed to using the cameras on their smartphones as search input tools.


The team at Strategy Driven Marketing is excited to incorporate new best practices for visual search into our SEO toolbox. We can help you organize your brand’s presence across platforms and better understand how your images are performing. For all of your marketing needs, contact SDM today!