How Visual Search Will Affect Online Visibility

Visual search: A fun new way to Google yourself? There’s more to it than that. Image search tools have advanced beyond the point of novelty. It now must be taken seriously as a digital marketing and online visibility factor.
  • Image optimisation will go beyond alt titles and take into account the objects in the image itself.

Reverse image search, next generation image search or, simply, visual search refers to a user being able to use an image to conduct an online search. Search engines now recognise objects, colours, patterns and more, and images deemed similar are then returned as results.

As the technology is still relatively new, thoughts about next generation image search as a ranking factor remain speculative. However, there are trends we can already predict and should start to prepare for.

John Lewis are already trialling the technology

Visual search is a huge gamechanger for e-commerce. John Lewis are currently trialling Cortexa software to allow Ipad users to search for store items visually. John Lewis see “visual search as being the prominent trend by which retail businesses and consumers interact with each other going forward.”

Other businesses, such as US-based Macy’s, have also been trialling visual search options. As the technology advances, it is likely that this will become a much more popular option among shoppers. Playing into the on-demand economy, searchers will be drawn to the simplicity of being able to simply photograph something that they like and, through the technology, find options online, with little further effort needed.

The future of visual search in Google shopping

Google is advancing its algorithms with the aim to include visual search more prominently in its functionality. They are a part of the ImageNet Large Scale Vision Recognition Challenge (ILSVRC). The challenge is an incentive for many companies to submit algorithms which are then tested, both in relation to how accurately they recognize objects, as well as whether they can locate the object in an image.

This allows companies to learn from each other and create a database of tens of thousands of fully categorised images. With machine learning, a fully functional image search option should become popular in the near future.

A natural progression with Google is for visual search to bring up both Google shopping options as well as Google image options in search engine results pages (SERPs). This further highlights the already noticeable importance of images to Google search visibility. Image optimisation will go beyond alt titles and take into account the objects in the image itself.

The effect of visual search on online visibility

The prominence of visual search on e-commerce sites is obvious. But it will almost definitely affect a whole host of industries and websites.

For example, if you provide a painter and decorator service, having quality images of your work can help secure clients through organic visual search alongside direct visitors to your site. If someone is redecorating their home they may use image to search for companies that have produced something similar, if a photograph from your portfolio comes up that can drive traffic to your site and increase potential for conversions.

This same rule can be applied to many industries, from graphic design to platform lift providers.

Optimising your site for visual search

The best way to optimise the images on your site for this kind of search remains speculative. However, it is highly likely that having original images of products, or services with a visual aspect, will help your site. Ensuring that your image title and alt title corresponds with the objects in the image (and importantly isn’t trying to stuff in keywords that don’t strictly belong – think “buy cheap red handbags, get your red handbag now” vs. “woman with a red handbag”) should help avoid Google penalties.

Similarly, avoid ‘object stuffing’. Much like ‘keyword stuffing’ mentioned above, inserting an inordinate amount of images into your site that represent the object you’re optimising for will likely not please Google either .

Though it is early days for image search SEO, we can safely assume Google will turn to its usual rule of thumb – optimise your site for user experience.