Every time you use your Google Lens camera to find an unknown object, you are conducting a visual search query. Whenever you upload an image and use Google’s Reverse Images to find similar content — yep, that’s visual search.
If you use a style match app to creep on fashion bloggers’ outfits, that is also a visual search. Parallel with voice search, visual search has been gaining momentum over the past few years. Here is how search works and how it may impact your SEO efforts.
Defining Visual Search
How many times has this happened to you? You know how an item looks like, but you do not know its name.
In the past, googling such items was complicated, as it involved the traditional image search. You needed to go to Google and try to describe the characteristics of the item you saw. Unsurprisingly, the results were often unsuccessful and imprecise.
Fortunately, with the rise of artificial intelligence, the way we perform visual search has changed. Unlike image searches that use text as a starting point, visual searches use real-life images. All users need to do is take a photo to identify locations, foods, animals, or clothing items to get instant results, without having to type anything.
How does Visual Search Work?
Visual search is powered by sophisticated AI technologies, such as neural networks, machine learning, and computer vision.
The mere name of the term “computer vision” is self-explanatory – those technologies help machines see images and, most importantly, understand them. Without machine learning technologies, computers would see visual content as a pile of random digits.
Types of Visual Search
There are three major visual search processes you should be familiar with.
Traditional Image Searches
Just like I have mentioned above, those are traditional image search queries. Namely, searchers use text-based queries and Google’s filters to find the right images.
Reverse Image Searches
In this case, an image is your starting point. You upload an image to find the same or similar content. This process is supported by content-based image retrieval (CBIR) that focuses on content similarity.
Using a Smartphone Camera to Search
That is one of the most innovative visual search methods. Namely, a user needs to take a photo of an item and the search engine will provide them with the desired information.
Now, once you take the photo, it goes through three phases – scanning, matching, and filtering.
The Benefits of Visual Search
The number of brands investing in visual search optimization is growing. According to some recent statistics, 35% of marketers are planning to optimize for visual search in 2020.
Now, your website may benefit visual search in multiple ways.
Appealing to Younger Generations
Statistics say that 62% of Millennials prefer visual searches over any other technologies.
To perform visual searches, users rely on social networks. Namely, 75% of Millennials and 60% of Gen Z customers use social networks to discover brands.
Moreover, almost 70% of them want to purchase products directly off the platform, without having to visit the website.
That is where Pinterest steps in. Pinterest has more than 600 million visual searches monthly, while its image-based ads drive an 8.5% conversion rate. Marketers are starting to see the potential of this social network. For example, in 2019, IKEA launched its first Pinterest-embedded catalog to improve shopping experiences.
Building Relationships with New Customers
Humans are visual beings. Quality images on your website will engage your visitors, boost brand awareness, and generate more emotional relationships. When created strategically, images can evoke customers’ emotions and inspire them to purchase faster and stay loyal to your brand.
Online users rely on apps like Pinterest Lens, StyleSnap, or Google Style Match to find outfit inspiration. Once they find the items they were looking for, they will be more likely to make a purchase faster. Your goal is to use images to build trust with customers and shorten their buyer cycle.
Keep in mind that online users cannot touch or feel your products. That is why you could use 360-degree images and 3D images to show your products.
Optimizing your website for visual search may also improve your bottom line. Gartner estimates that, by 2021, early adopters of voice and visual search could boost their revenue by 30%.
Optimizing a Website for Visual Searches
Now that you know what visual search is, show it works, and what benefits it brings to the table, let’s see how to optimize your website for it. Your goal is to help search engines understand your images so they can rank high for relevant search queries.
Write Clear Alt Tags
Alt tags are descriptive text pieces that show up if the image is not available to a website visitor for any reason. They play a major role in multiple scenarios. For example, if a user’s browser cannot load your image, alt text will describe it and make sure no information is lost. The same applies to visually impaired visitors that use screen readers. As screen readers do not understand images, they rely on alt tags. Above all, alt tags help Google understand what’s in the image so it can show it in related searches.
Precisely because of that, you need to keep your alt tags informative, natural, concise, and well-written. They should be optimized for both search engines and readers. Remember that Google’s algorithm updates prioritize user experiences over keyword-stuffed content. That is why you should insert keywords organically and make sure they align with the context.
Create Informative Filenames
Choosing the right filename for visuals is the foundation of image SEO. Similar to alt tags, image filenames tell Google what your image is about. Therefore, if you still use generic filenames, such as DSC5896.jpg, it is time to rethink your strategy.
Keep your filenames easily understandable, descriptive, optimized for keywords, and unique to the image. Above all, keep them as informative as possible. For example, if the photo shows a winter morning in New York, then your image filename should be something like “new-york-winter-morning.jpg.”
Use Structured Data
Structured data provide search engines with as much information as possible about images. If Google understands what an image is about, it will be more likely to show it in its rich snippets.
In its Structured Data Guidelines, Google specifies that the image needs to be related to the category you specify. “For example, if you define the image property of schema.org/NewsArticle.image, the marked-up image must directly belong to that news article,” Google reminds us.
Most importantly, to show up in rich results, all image URLs need to be crawlable and indexable.
Add a Sitemap
If you use WordPress or Yoast, images will be added to your sitemap automatically.
Choose the Right File Types
In the world of image SEO, there is no perfect image format. They depend on a type of image and its purpose. For example, JPEG is ideal for large photos and illustrations, as it keeps them sharp and clear. PNG allows you to maintain background transparency, while SVG is a great option for logos.
Optimize Image Sizes
Large images may affect your page load speed and, therefore, harm user experiences. Remember that users will not stay on a page that takes more than 3 seconds to load.
That is why you should resize images. Many tools may help you reduce image sizes without compromising their quality, including TinyPNG, CompressNow, Kraken.io, and Optimizilla.
Once you optimize images using these tools, it is time to test their performance. That is where tools like WebPageTest.org, Pingdom, or Google PageSpeed Insights may help you.
Keep Images Responsive
In the mobile-first era, optimizing images for both mobile and desktop devices is critical. To ensure images can load impeccably on all devices your visitors use, you should use the srcset attribute.
Srcset is a piece of HTML code that tells the browser what version of the image to load, based on the screen resolution of a user’s device.
Over to You
By optimizing images for visual search, you may boost your organic presence and drive more traffic to your website. Above all, well-optimized and unique visual content will help you build stronger relationships with customers, engage them, and inspire their loyalty in the long-run.
How do you use visual search to boost your online presence?
Image Credit: rawpixel