Everything you need to know about the rise of visual search

The increase in voice search has been well documented, but another search functionality that’s been increasing in popularity too is visual search.

According to research from ViSenze, over 75 per cent of customers have been inspired to purchase products based on image and video content. This highlights the importance image-based search should have for digital marketers.

A report by Jumpshot and Moz in 2017 showed that approximately 27 per cent of all searches across ten major products were images. Additionally, Pinterest saw a year-on-year growth of 140 per cent following the launch of its Lens visual search functionality, in February 2017.

Visual search methods have become increasingly impressive with image search, part image search, cameras and augmented reality. Combine this with the rising number of visual search applications for e-commerce, and you’ll find that this search method has become a powerful tool with huge potential for retailers.

It’s not difficult to see why visual search could continue to become even more popular as it is incredibly useful for shoppers who are looking for an item but don’t know how to find it by doing a regular search.

For these people, visual search will reduce the number of steps they would otherwise have to take to find an item they may just have seen (e.g. typing a keyword, and scrolling through the results to find it).

Already, there has been a record number of images and videos being returned as SERP features this year, and that’s only going to continue to grow.


How are users engaging with visual search?

The top search data for Pinterest Lens in 2017, gives an idea of the most popular type of searches. Based on these results, fashion and home décor brands have the largest opportunity to capitalise on the rise of image search.

Therefore, it’s perhaps unsurprising that brands including ASOS are optimising themselves for image search. By implementing proprietary technology, ASOS allows shoppers to take photos of an item they find in-store, to see a similar (or even an identical match) on asos.com.


One of Pinterest’s primary business focuses is accurate visual search. Pinterest allows users to highlight specific parts of a pin and find other pins that are visually similar – this technology has been around since 2014 (that’s two years before Bing introduced the same functionality to its mobile image search in July 2016).

More importantly, Pinterest has recently introduced a search function that aims to match discovery to images, as opposed to words.

In Pinterest’s own words, Pinterest Lens “lets you use the camera within your Pinterest app to discover ideas inspired by objects you see out in the real world.”

Pinterest Lens is quickly growing as a credible advertising platform, and now this technology is being sold to other brands for them to use on their websites and apps. 90 per cent of Pinterest users use the platform to make purchase decisions, and 78 per cent of Pinners say content from brands on the platform is helpful.

For example, with Shop the Look Pins, users can find and buy products in the fashion and home décor pin category, by selecting a specific part of the image and “shopping the look”.

Unlike Google, Pinterest can focus its entire efforts on the development and monetisation of its visual search engine, which is why it’s becoming the leading name in visual search technology.


Interestingly, Bing has developed a very similar image search technology to Pinterest, offering smart web-based image search, in addition to image search based on images that have been taken on users’ cameras.

Bing visual search is a useful tool, and it’s significantly enhanced their image search product over the last couple of years – which becomes more evident when you compare it with Google’s current offering.

Bing also gives users the ability to narrow in on a specific item in an image, to then search for related objects.


Google has also made a series of moves in recent months to make their image search simpler to use, and more accessible. One of these efforts includes the release of their own camera-based search, called Google Lens.

Currently, the search giant is focusing much of their efforts on further monetising their image results. Since 2016, they’ve been running shopping ads in their image results, and have more recently launched additional features including “shop the look” advertising, and style ideas.

Combined, these efforts have been aimed at enhancing the overall fashion shopper experience – specifically for image search. But Google hasn’t stopped there: they’re also enabling retailers to take advantage of this with an expanded carousel for “similar items” while users are searching for clothes online.

Google has also updated both their app and mobile results to include badges for image search. For searches made in the app, users will see a badge in the bottom left-hand corner depicting an image. This badge is shown if the item the user is looking at, can be purchased online.

E-commerce platforms

Amazon was one of the first companies to give users the option to search by using their smartphone camera. Amazon visual search is specifically aimed at users who are visiting a physical store but are also comparing products online.

Amazon customers can use the camera icon to search for almost anything – for example, you could point the camera at a handbag, and the Amazon app will bring up a list of similar items.


How can brands leverage visual search?

Image search is undoubtedly a massive opportunity for brands, and there are many steps these brands can follow in order to leverage their visibility on visual search results.

Focus on improving organic image visibility

One aspect of gaining traffic from visual search is to ensure that your visual content ranks high in the image search engine results.

When it comes to search engine optimisation, one subset is optimising for image search; and in order to be successful at this, businesses will need to create a strategy that prioritises and measures the effectiveness of their visual search campaigns.

Build image search into your web inventory

Over the last year, Pinterest has rolled out its visual search technology into USA retailer Target’s apps and websites. Part of the deal specified that Target would increase their ad spend with Pinterest and test out new Pinterest ad formats.

Pinterest is becoming a service which can power visual search for other products. L2 recently conducted some research which found that only 8 per cent of speciality retail brands have integrated a photo search capability into their apps, and this is likely to increase over the coming years.

(Increase) advertising on Pinterest

61 per cent of Pinterest users have discovered new brands or products from Promoted Pins, and half of Pinners made a purchase directly after seeing a Promoted Pin.

If you advertise on Pinterest, you’ll enjoy the benefit of having your ad showing up next to a related product based on visual search technology. As a retailer, you’ll have the opportunity to utilise Promoted Pins and Pinterest Shopping.


How brands are leveraging visual search

Some brands are already leveraging the capabilities of visual search to their advantage. We already mentioned Target’s partnership with Pinterest Lens, but there are other brands who are currently investing in this technology too.

American Eagle

American Eagle has invested heavily in chatbot technology which includes the ability to use visual search to query their product catalogue.

The brand is currently developing an artificial intelligence feature that will allow customers to send the bot a photo of an article of clothing, and in return, receive images of matching American Eagle Outfitters products – which are available to purchase directly through Facebook Messenger (6).

Tommy Hilfiger

Back in 2017, Tommy Hilfiger launched their visual search app at their Venice Beach fashion show, working in partnership with visual search tech company Slyce. Dubbed as the first app to feature “runway recognition” technology (7), users could purchase the items worn by models on the catwalk via the app – all users had to do was take pictures of the outfits.


B&Q has invested a lot of time and advertising spend on Pinterest, utilising almost every ad feature available. If you search for interior design inspiration on Pinterest, you’ll likely see eye-catching B&Q advertisements, and it’s these adverts that are no doubt bringing qualified traffic straight to their website.

B&Q has also recently written a co-branded piece with Pinterest on key interior trends, which was subsequently published in The Independent, yet another sign of their close partnership.


To conclude, whilst the rise of voice search may be overshadowing that of visual search, it really isn’t something you can afford to ignore. Start utilising the technology available, and you could soon see an increase in traffic to your website. With several brands already seeing success, visual search is definitely something we would recommend investing time and money in.