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Vis­ual search was ex­pected to be one of the dom­i­nant themes at Dmexco 2018 in Cologne. Why does it mat­ter?

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Vis­ual search is com­ing of age. Two ex­ec­u­tives from IMG Me­dia­brands’ Reprise ex­plain what it means and why it mat­ters.

Imag­ine you’re on the Tube and the per­son in front of you is wear­ing a re­ally nice pair of train­ers. To find them, you could search for “black suede train­ers with off-white soles” and leaf through hun­dreds of pos­si­ble re­sults. Or, in a world of per­fectly ac­cu­rate vis­ual search, you could find and buy the ex­act pair in­stantly from a pic­ture.

Three-quar­ters (74 per cent) of con­sumers agree that text-based key­word searches are in­ef­fi­cient in help­ing to find the right prod­uct on­line. This op­por­tu­nity gap was due be ex­plored at Dmexco ear­lier this month in a num­ber of ses­sions ded­i­cated to smarter search, and it em­pha­sises that brands need to pre­pare them­selves for vis­ual search.

As the old adage goes, “a pic­ture is worth a thou­sand words”. Hu­mans process vis­ual data bet­ter than any other type of data – 90 per cent of in­for­ma­tion trans­mit­ted to the brain is vis­ual. We process in­for­ma­tion vis­ually, and so it fol­lows that as soon as tech­nol­ogy al­lows, we will search vis­ually too.

As op­posed to tra­di­tional im­age search, where search en­gines re­trieve im­ages re­lated to a text-based search, vis­ual search uses an im­age as the search in­put in or­der to find more in­for­ma­tion around the re­lated im­age.


Vis­ual search works by us­ing ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to recog­nise pat­terns within the im­age and by match­ing these pat­terns to im­ages it has pre­vi­ously learnt from. It then out­puts its best un­der­stand­ing of what is in the im­age, nor­mally a text de­scrip­tion of the main ob­ject within the searched im­age.


In­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion: Vis­ual search en­ables peo­ple to dis­cover in­for­ma­tion about their sur­round­ings in­stantly by point­ing their phone at any­thing. It’s “like a vis­ual browser for the world around you,” says Aparna Chen­napra­gada, vice-pres­i­dent of prod­uct for AR, VR, and vi­sion-based prod­ucts at Google.

Ef­fort­less dis­cov­ery: Vis­ual search al­lows con­sumers to ef­fort­lessly find the ex­act prod­ucts they’re look­ing for or prod­ucts sim­i­lar to them that they might be in­ter­ested in buy­ing, with­out hav­ing to leaf through hun­dreds of prod­ucts fol­low­ing a search.

Fric­tion­less con­ver­sion: Vis­ual search cuts out the mid­dle­man when con­sumers are look­ing to pur­chase. Rather than search­ing for a key­word in Google, and find­ing the prod­uct within the web­site Google rec­om­mends, con­sumers can sim­ply search vis­ually through the Ama­zon app to add an item to their bas­ket. Emo­tional con­nec­tions: For re­tail­ers, vis­ual search brings the op­por­tu­nity for big­ger bas­ket sizes. Amy Vener, re­tail ver­ti­cal strat­egy lead at Pin­ter­est, writes, “Vis­ual dis­cov­ery al­lows the con­sumer to gen­er­ate a more emo­tional con­nec­tion, which trans­lates into less price sen­si­tiv­ity.”


There are al­ready big play­ers in vis­ual search who are all mak­ing moves to get ahead. Firstly, there’s Google with the Google Lens, which is a su­per-pow­ered, app ver­sion of Glass. Point it at things and it will tell you about them. For ex­am­ple, it pro­vides restau­rant re­views and can de­tect ev­ery­day ob­jects, text and ar­ti­cles of cloth­ing.

Pin­ter­est is also in the game with the Pin­ter­est Lens, which of­fers cam­era search that rec­om­mends ideas based on things peo­ple see off­line. Pin­ter­est’s Shop the Look fea­ture en­ables con­sumers to click into ob­jects they see in an im­age to shop the items and find sim­i­lar prod­ucts. There are now more than 600 mil­lion vis­ual searches ev­ery month across Pin­ter­est Lens.

Then there are the re­tail­ers. Asos is one brand that has al­ready im­ple­mented a vis­ual search func­tion in its Asos style match. The style match al­lows shop­pers to find clothes they see out­side the shop in the Asos cat­a­logue. Just like the Pin­ter­est Lens, the Asos style match lets you take a pic­ture of some­thing your favourite celebrity is wear­ing and find

Brands should also be op­ti­mis­ing their im­ages to im­prove search engine vis­i­bil­ity by en­su­ing all im­ages have de­scrip­tive meta­data in the form of file­names and alt tags that are rel­e­vant for vis­ual search.

sim­i­lar prod­ucts in the Asos cat­a­logue.

Given the preva­lence of vis­ual search nearer the bot­tom of the path to pur­chase, a pres­ence on Ama­zon will also be crit­i­cal in nail­ing vis­ual search be­cause of its abil­ity to di­rect po­ten­tial con­sumers di­rectly through to pur­chase. There­fore brands will need to also cater to Ama­zon’s vis­ual search plat­form.


Just as they did for tra­di­tional search en­gines and more re­cently with voice search, any brands that are con­sid­er­ing align­ing them­selves to vis­ual search have to con­sider the mea­sures that must be taken to en­sure that their con­tent ap­pears to con­sumers across vis­ual search.

Im­ages have al­ways helped brands to sell prod­ucts, but now with im­age search if a brand isn’t com­pre­hen­sively rep­re­sent­ing prod­ucts through im­agery, it risks not get­ting found in the dis­cov­ery and in­spi­ra­tion phase and fail­ing to ef­fi­ciently con­vert users. It’s now even more crit­i­cal to give vis­ual search tech­nol­ogy the best chance of sur­fac­ing im­age con­tent ap­pro­pri­ately against vis­ual searches. For ex­am­ple, by mak­ing your prod­uct pack­ag­ing stand out and hav­ing a wide range of prod­uct im­ages to help search en­gines pick out your brand.

Brands should also be op­ti­mis­ing their im­ages to im­prove search engine vis­i­bil­ity by en­su­ing all im­ages have de­scrip­tive meta­data in the form of file­names and alt tags that are rel­e­vant for vis­ual search. In a world where con­sumers will de­mand in­for­ma­tion wher­ever and when­ever they point their cam­era at a brick and mor­tar lo­ca­tion, lo­cal search strat­egy – such as ad­dress de­tails, open­ing hours, con­tact de­tails and re­views – also has to be up to scratch.

As with voice search, vis­ual search is an­other nat­u­ral evo­lu­tion in how we search for in­for­ma­tion, to which brands must now re­act. With voice search this means help­ing to build a con­ver­sa­tional in­ter­face with the an­swers to re­spond to all cus­tomer queries. For vis­ual search this means go­ing back to the fun­da­men­tals of SEO and pro­vid­ing search en­gines with as many prod­uct im­ages and as much in­for­ma­tion as pos­si­ble to make their job eas­ier.


Not just yet. In the same way that it feels strange ask­ing your phone a ques­tion in pub­lic, it also feels awk­ward tak­ing pic­tures of a stranger to find out what they are wear­ing. But when an im­age is eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble, the abil­ity of vis­ual search to pin­point an ob­ject from an im­age will be un­be­liev­ably at­trac­tive for con­sumers, and some­thing brands should start cater­ing for in their search strate­gies. Char­lie Dav­i­son is EMEA SEO di­rec­tor and Rowan Sul­li­van is EMEA growth man­ager at IPG Me­dia­brands agency Reprise

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