Visual search might never replace text-based search, but in an industry that relies on images to appeal to its audience, it’s a trend to watch out for.
Earlier this year, Nemanja Darijevic, Creative and Development Director of Pixel Road Designs, joined SEJ ThinkTank to talk about the future of visual marketing. In his talk, Darijevic gave us a powerful reminder of just how important great visuals are to SEO and e-commerce in 2016, with facts such as:
- Our brains process images 60,000x faster than text.
- After three days, customers still retain 65% of visual stimuli versus just 10% of auditory stimuli.
- Consumers are 80% more willing to engage with content that includesrelevant images.
- Content with relevant images earn 94% more views than content without images.
- Images are the most important deciding factor when making a purchase, according to 93% of consumers.
Of course, marketing experts have known for a long time that compelling images are necessary to increase conversions. This isn’t news. And Google continues to prove how important great images are to SEO by re-emphasizing its image searching and reverse image searching features year after year.
However, one problem continues to plague consumers and e-commerce retailers—it’s exceedingly difficult to find specific products using a text query. This is especially true when users lack certain information or don’t know how to describe a certain product. Keywords only take you so far when descriptors like “black dress shoes” apply to hundreds, if not thousands, of products.
Enter visual search, which aims to change the way we find products online. Unlike image search (which returns images for a text-based query) or reverse image search (which often relies on metadata to matching results), visual search uses pixel-by-pixel comparisons to return results with similar brands, styles, and colors.
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As Linda Bustos says in her GetElastic post, “Visual search ‘reads’ images to identify color, shape, size and proportions, even text to identify brand and product names. This offers an advantage over keyword-matched search, in which results are only as good as the searcher’s ability to describe them.”
Visual Search on Pinterest
Visual search isn’t new. Google bought Like.com back in 2010, and even before that the technology was being used by Zappos. But one platform that’s quickly become a favorite haunt of e-commerce sites didn’t adopt visual search technology until late 2015. Naturally, I’m talking about Pinterest.
For many online retailers, Pinterest is a home away from home. With more than 100 million monthly active users, a built-in “Buy” button, and its “promoted pins” advertising unit, Pinterest has expanded the reach of numerous brands and introduced them to an entirely new audience.
Now Pinterest has also implemented a visual search feature: “Sometimes you spot something you really love on Pinterest, but you don’t know how to find it in real life, or what it’s even called… Well, now we’ve got a new tool that lets you find all those things you don’t have the words to describe.”
This new search method allows users to click on the visual search icon at the top of their screen and then click on any object in an image. Pinterest then automatically filters through similar pins, showing users where they can purchase products related to the one that caught their eye.
As Kate Ahl says in her Q&A Friday Podcast, “For those who sell products, this is [a] great way for you not only to be encouraged to pin your product pictures, but pin your products in a lifestyle picture as well. Imagine these boots on someone with a pair of jeans and a really cute jacket. I could hover over the boots in the picture and Pinterest would pull up matching related searches for those boots.”
Showing customers examples of what to wear, how to decorate a room, or otherwise use your products will help them envision life after making a purchase. These images are also useful for cross-merchandizing other products that complement your main offering.
Visual search has plenty of benefits for e-commerce sites outside of Pinterest as well. Here are three big advantages that visual search has over text-based search when it comes to on-page and off-page SEO:
1. Reduce Extra Steps
The checkout process is one of the biggest killers of e-commerce conversions. The typical checkout process asks customers to do a variety of things, such as sign-in or create an account, fill in personal information, fill in payment information, and make choices regarding gift wrap, coupons, etc.
KISSmetrics warns that most online shoppers don’t make it past your checkout, because “[each] option creates an unnecessary disconnect between the user and their goal—buying the product.”
The same is true for the buying process. The more hoops a customer has to jump through to find the product they want, the less likely they are to click the “Checkout” button at the end of the process. Visual search eliminates the tedious querying by bringing users straight to the products that match their image.
Visual search also aids users who are “spear fishing,” i.e. searching for one specific product. Visual search general yields more targeted results that appeal to these highly qualified leads.
In the end, visual search translates to better usability. Assuming that your visual search results are accurate, your users will enjoy a more positive experience on your website. Eliminating unnecessary steps for your customers should be an integral part of your usability testing.
2. Refine On-Site Search
Qualified leads looking for specific products usually want more control over their search parameters. Visual search technology allows users to refine their searches beyond keywords, by recommending products based on visual similarity, complementary styles, and other items that customers have viewed.
There are multiple benefits to refining your on-site search functionality, including:
- Increased customer satisfaction: Make browsing your site painless and easy.
- Increased engagement: Customers intuitively narrow their searches to find the perfect fit.
- Simplified buying process: Customers spend less time searching through menus.
- Higher conversion rates: Customers hit fewer dead ends on their path to your checkout.
- More sales: Cross-promote products by suggesting complementary pairings.
3. Eliminate Dead Ends
There are two dead ends that customers might face when searching for your products.
The first dead end happens off-page, and it can occur long before customers ever find your website. For example, on websites like Pinterest, users can see your products without ever visiting your home page.
Visual search solves this problem, by allowing users to find items that visually fit and continue searching for products that match their selection. According to Ahl, “The great part about [visual search] is that this prevents the dead links that we all dread—when we click on an item and we click through and we can’t find it.”
The second dead end occurs on-page, when users can’t find what the product they’re looking for, so they leave your website. While you might not have an exact match in stock, a cleverly implemented visual search program might show customers a suitable replacement for their query. By matching their style, color, and size preferences, you can ensure that your users always find something they like.
How to Get Started With Visual Search
If you want to add visual search to your e-commerce site, there are numerous options available, such as Slyce , Visenze, and Cortexica. You can also find more niche offerings, such as Snap Fashion, which focuses exclusively on clothing, but has its own app and marketplace featuring more than 16,000 brands.
However, as with all applications designed to improve user experience or augment your SEO, there’s no point to these changes if you don’t measure your results and continue tweaking. After you’ve implemented visual search on your e-commerce website, make sure you monitor:
- Conversion rates
- Click through rates
- Abandoned shopping carts
- Product views
- Bounce rates
- Inbound links
Pay close attention to how your customers find you, e.g. Pinterest, Google, or your other paid channels. The end goal is conversion, but visual search and an amazing user experience won’t help you if customers can’t find your website in the first place. Using a tool such as LinkAssistant (disclaimer: my tool) will help you improve your outreach and chase down high-quality link opportunities.
Will Visual Search Replace Text-Based Search?
Text keywords remain an important part of how search engines find and catalogue your images, so it should go without saying that even if you implement visual search, you’ll still need rich keywords and detailed metadata. That said, the basis of a truly great visual search platform is compelling images.
As David Amerland says, “As a marketer or a business owner, you should be building your identity on the visual web with the same care and attention that you are building it in the more conventional text-driven one.”
Visual search will probably never replace text-based search, but in an industry that’s already wholly reliant on beautiful images to appeal to its audience, it’s certainly a trend to watch out for.