More ways to search for recipes. Photo courtesy of Pinterest. More ways to search for recipes. Photo courtesy of Pinterest.

On Tuesday, Pinterest announced a new feature that lets users search food recipes by various specific filters, including food restrictions and dietary types. It’s a feature made possible by Pinterest’s earlier acquisition of Punchfork, a visual recipe discovery engine. 

Over the past few months and several other recent acquisitions, Pinterest has shown that its priorities lie less with creating a robust social network and more with building a strong visual search engine. Sometimes called “The Anti-Social Network,” Pinterest is less about connecting with all your friends, and more about collecting images that speak to you the most, and the strongest.

The way millions of users curate their favorite visuals on Pinterest is not unlike an enormous visual search engine indexed by people instead of machines. Through rich pins, which add useful text data to images, and the new Punchfork feature that can best be described as “rich search,” Pinterest is working on ways to unearth helpful data to browsing users.  

However, as Pinterest positions itself as the Web’s premier visual search engine, some inevitable side effects are beginning to surface. Mainly, the way Pinterest lets users search is changing the way people blog.

“A search engine optimizer walks into a bar, pub, tavern, saloon…” 

We still don’t know who coined the term Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but we do know that it changed text blogging forever. Beginning in the late ‘90s, SEO made website content less of a guessing game and more of a repetitive formula for getting to the top of Google.  

Even though Google keeps its indexing secrets close to prevent users from gaming the system, there’s no denying that we’ve figured out many of these SEO strategies by trial and error. We know Google will give priority to pages with multiple synonyms of the same concept, making this section title less of an unfunny joke and more of an unfunny reality for many corners of the Web. 

Now, Pinterest is discovering that visual search engines also need to stay one step ahead of human ingenuity. For example: At one time, Pinterest’s internal search engine was dependent on textual cues around the photo. If a user wanted to make any photo show up as the top Pinterest search result for “cat,” they’d just have to write “cat cat cat” in the description to cheat the system

Pinterests acquisitions like Punchfork, and another company called Visual Graph that identifies actual objects within images, are making it possible for Pinterest search to become less and less dependent on text. But that doesn’t mean that SEO wars are going to disappear; only that people are going to optimize their visual content to show up on top of Pinterest. 

Visual SEO is big business. Curalate is a company that exists primarily to help brands optimize their content on Pinterest. The marketing and analytics suite works with more than 300 brands, like Saks Fifth Avenue and Gap, and charges customers anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 for a month’s access to their analytical tools. 

As Pinterest grows up, Curalate has also shared general advice for getting your images to rise to the top. According to their infographic, warm toned images do better than cooler ones, and multicolored beats grayscale any day. Armed with Curalate’s analytics and Photoshop, it’s easy to beat the Pinterest competition and develop a popular pin. 

But now that Pinterest has introduced this first instance of “rich search,” it’s not just third parties that are telling users how to best perform in Pinterest's search engine. By making search more specific, Pinterest is already telling us the best ways to optimize.

Pinterest's latest feature encourages its users to search in a different way—by ingredients and cuisines, for example. It’s a signal that Pinterest wants discovery to work in a certain way, and hints as to what its internal search is looking for. 

In response to Pinterest's new search feature, food blogs are almost certainly going to start changing how they present their images. Expect images to include even more metadata than before, labeling food by its dietary restrictions or included ingredients, with the better-tagged images to be featured prominently on Pinterest. And as Pinterest provides more specific instances of “rich search” for different verticals (after all, they did it for rich pins), these options are going to change the way lifestyle, design, and art bloggers present images, too. 

Search engine optimization is inevitable, even on a visual search engine. But as long as Pinterest is making the rules of the game, at least it's going to be useful and pretty.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.