What is visual search and how will it benefit shoppers?

What is visual search and how will it benefit shoppers?

Posted November 18, 2019 by Lee

You may have started to hear about a tool called visual searching, which is just now starting to really become popular. It has been around for a few years in a quieter sense, but is steadily being picked up by consumers who want an easy way to find what they want. Here’s a quick guide to all you need to know about visual search, and why it works.

What is visual search?

Visual search is the term for a search which uses an image, rather than a keyword. You may know it from Google Reverse Image Search, which once required a whole separate site (but can now be done right from the main Google page). In this instance, you drag and drop an image onto the search bar in order to see images which are visually similar. Google attempts to bring exact matches.

This is a great tool for finding the original source of an image or other sizes, but it is now expanding to other places. Pinterest has long had a visual search function in which visually similar results, and those also using similar keywords, are brought up underneath pins which users show an interest in. Now, with Pinterest Lens, you can even snap a picture of something in real life and upload it to search for matching products.

The search algorithms work in much the same way they do for a keyword, but this time the data is taken from the physical arrangement of pixels in the image and the shapes or colours it contains. The technology is getting smarter and more accurate – with facial recognition as well as Google’s ability to take photographed text and convert it into text characters – and this is driving it to become more mainstream.

How will it benefit shoppers?

This is a great tool for shoppers and will absolutely revolutionise the way that they shop. Younger generations are already shown to do most of their shopping online, and through social media. Now, they have the power to take any image – or even snap a photo on the street – and find out where that must-have item comes from.

The ability to shop any item that you see, without having to know where it came from, is extremely powerful. It will also be a tool that brands can exploit to good effect. Imagine that the latest hot item cropping up in a lot of visual searches is a unicorn backpack created by a trendy yet expensive brand. Other companies will be able to quickly create their own, visually similar version and put it on the market at a lower price, thus appearing in the same search results and tempting shoppers to try their product instead.

Will it replace SEO?

Probably not – at least not entirely. People are still going to type in keywords for their searches, especially when they don’t know what exactly they want and are looking for inspiration. But we are expecting to see a rise in visual searches going forwards, as well as a larger number of websites incorporating this tool in some way. When you have a large site like Etsy selling plenty of similar items, visual search will quickly begin to make sense as a way to make shopping easier for their customers – so expect to see that kind of online store adopting more visual search tools soon.


Visual search is still in its relative infancy, especially compared to more traditional search methods. This means that it is a great time to start utilising it in your marketing strategies, to get ahead of your competition.

Categories: SEO

You may also like...