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Is Visual Search The Next Big Thing?

  • Written By Ali
  • Posted February 9, 2018
  • 6 minutes Read Time

The buzz around Voice Search in recent years has gone from a niche gimmick to a fully fledged booming industry, with all of the major players in the tech world offering some form of voice recognition service to help customers verbally search the web. From searching at the comfort of your home with Google Home and Amazon Alexa to searching on the move with your mobile device with Apple’s Siri and Samsung’s Bixby, voice search has never been so accessible or so easy! Search marketing specialists might have started seeing voice search terms arriving in their search term data and may have begun to construct unique ways to use this data to help further improve various account metrics, but are they also aware that there is a new up and coming way for users to search the web through their phone camera and images? We are of course talking about the newly emerging technology that is Visual Search.

Having recently taken the all illusive jump from an Apple iPhone to the new Google Pixel 2 (which after a month of doing so I am having no regrets at all because this phone rocks!), I was instantly interested in the new Visual Search function that was now on offer to me; being able to take a photo of something and then be shown relevant search results of the photo’s content made my digital marketing mind run wild, thinking about all the potential possibilities that this new function could bring. As I started using the Visual Search function on multiple objects around the office I began noticing a similarity in the information that Google will display after analysing the content of the photo; firstly showing the name of the object, followed by a brief description of the object (normally taken from Wikipedia), and then it uses the name of the object as the search term used to generate the Google search results, and for me this was the most interesting part of the process as it might offer new opportunities for us PPC enthusiasts to take advantage of, or it might not as of yet.

Being able to take a photo of something and then be shown relevant search results of the photo’s content made my digital marketing mind run wild, thinking about all the potential possibilities that this new function could bring!

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The Visual Search function seems to scan all areas of the photo and then check the internet for anything that looks similar. After doing so, it shows what it deems to be the most relevant name for the object you scanned within the photo (most probably taken from the image alt tag applied to the photo(s) scanned) and will use this as the search term for the web results it generates. From a PPC perspective, this doesn’t really offer any new opportunities for keyword targeting in Search campaigns, but what if the object in the photo was something that you could purchase online? Do the search results also include items found within the Google Shopping network? The answer is… sometimes. After testing this multiple times on different products (a packet of crisps, a book and a mobile phone) it did allow me to shop via the Google Shopping tab but the results were very temperamental, which again doesn’t highlight if this is a valid reason to improve various product metrics to generate more Google Shopping impressions.

However, this all changed when analysing a photo of a product barcode. The Visual Search read the EAN/GTIN number of the barcode (a standard describing barcode symbology and numbering system used in global trade to identify a specific retail product type, in a specific packaging configuration, from a specific manufacturer) within the image and was then able to generate the correct shopping results for both search and shopping tabs, therefore highlighting the importance of the EAN/GTIN metric within your product data.

As digital marketers, we all relish the opportunity of using data to our advantage, giving justification to all our strategic actions, but as things stand there is little data for us to benefit from with either Visual Search or Voice Search. Of course, we can test and experiment with incorporating phrases such as “Show me the…” into our targeted keywords to see if this helps improve search positioning and conversion rates, but apart from that, there is little we can currently target. I would like to hope that across the next few months, Google introduces new data categories into Google Analytics, Google AdWords etc which shows the data generated via these two new search methods so that we can learn more about site visitors acquisition data.

As digital marketers, we all relish the opportunity of using data to our advantage, giving justification to all our strategic actions, but as things stand there is little data for us to benefit from with either Visual Search or Voice Search.

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We asked Grace, our in-house Google Analytics specialist, what she thought about Visual Search and how she thinks it could impact data in the near future. She said…

“Before Ali had bought the new Google phone, I had only heard and read about Visual Search and was curious to know how well it would work. After using the feature myself, I found it to be quick and easy, showing me relevant search results to the item within the photo. As things stand, Apple and the iPhone dominate the marketplace meaning there would naturally be a lack of data from this feature as it is not incorporated into their latest devices. Saying that though, I do see it as one of the go-to search options available in the future as it is so fast and reactive. Regarding the data, it will be interesting to see if this feature further increases the number of site visits via mobile as it becomes more accessible. Alongside this, will we see more users arriving at sites directly from the image link that was shown on the results page? If so, how will this affect the engagement rates on that page?

Without the Visual Search feature being widely accessible, it is hard to tell how it will affect current strategies, but all in all, it is a very exciting time for search and I expect these new search methods will boom in the next few years!”

In conclusion, what started out to be an experiment into the discovery of new possibilities for using Visual Search as a targeting method for PPC campaigns, it soon became apparent that the most important thing for us to be focusing on was SEO, as this appears to be the most relevant aspect of marketing to take advantage of with this new technology. We would advise everyone to start working on improving onsite SEO to help increase the chances of Google deeming there site the most relevant on the internet, alongside ensuring that your brand/client/product is up to scratch for when this technology evolves (and I am sure it will) as it will make you one step ahead of the rest. For now, though, I’m going to have fun with my new phone and utilise all the amazing features that all the iPhone fanboys wished they had 😉

We would love to hear your thoughts on this new piece of somewhat unknown technology, so if you have any thoughts about using Visual Search to help aid your digital marketing efforts, simply enter them in the comments section below.

Ciao