Have you ever had a situation where you knew what something you wanted to buy looked like, but you didn’t know the name? What do you do then? Most likely, you describe the item to a friend or shop assistant – and then they help you find the item.
That works well for regular brick-and-mortar stores where you can find a shop assistant – but what about online shops? Technically, you can simply type a description of the item you need into the search box. But if the description is long or vague, finding the product you are looking for would probably take a lot of time (and energy, too) to find the correct description and browse all the available results. So is there any other option?
Well, how about using a visual or image search to help your own customers find the product they want much faster and easier? This is exactly what we’ll be talking about today – what image and visual search is, how it works and how brands can use it to their advantage.
What are image search and reverse image search in e‑commerce?
We all know what the regular search works like – we write what we need in the search box and then browse the results. If we know exactly what we are looking for and can type the full name, then we can easily find the product we are looking for.
But what if we don’t know the name or don’t know what terms we should use? Or when we look for a very specific product? Then finding it through a regular search might be quite tricky. So here’s where these kinds of searches come in.
A reverse image search is exactly what it sounds like: you can search for products using an image of this or a similar object. Once an image (or image URL) is uploaded to the search bar, the search engine powered by artificial intelligence will attempt to find the best products to match the image. It can also give the user additional information and suggestions, like showing the nearest shop where the item is available, products from the same line, or items in a similar style.
This method of searching is ideal for people who either struggle with describing what exactly they are looking for or don’t exactly want to browse thousands of more or less related results.
Putting this into a story example:
A woman once spent three months looking for a meringue cake she ate at one party. She knew exactly what the cake looked like but forgot to ask for the name. So to find it, she was describing the cake to her friends – none of them knew the name, though. Putting “meringue cake” in the Google image search didn’t help much either, as she got several thousands of pictures of a “meringue cake.”
However, if she had a picture of the actual cake, then the reverse image search app (like Google Lens) could help her find the cake’s name – along with a suggestion where is the nearest bakery where she could buy it. Wouldn’t that be much faster and easier?
So are the image search and reverse image search the same thing?
Before we get to how the reverse image search, known also as visual search, works and why e‑commerce businesses should add it to their stores, let’s get one thing straight – visual search is not the same as image search.
Although both visual and image search are related to visuals, there is a crucial difference between them. In image search, people type a description of an item or picture they are looking for and ask the search engine to find it. When using visual search though, the text description is replaced with an image type of said object.
So basically, in regular search, people type keywords to find an image of an object, and then the browser gives them result based on what items it thinks most matches the keyword. Visual search meanwhile starts from a photo – the search engine analyzes it and then gives a list of results closest to what’s on the original type of image.
Visual search is also far more advanced than regular image search. You don’t just get a list of results that might or might not match your request, you also get plenty of additional information.
With reverse image search applications such as Google Lens, Pinterest visual search, or other image apps or image search platforms that support visual searching, you simply need to point your camera at an object, and the app will tell you everything you need to know about it. For example, if you point your camera at the dress you see someone wearing, the app will not only help you find an identical or similar dress but also tell you how much it costs, where you can buy it, and even help you pick matching elements! Google Lens is not the only tool that can be used for getting reverse image search results, though.
Obviously, since this method of searching is more convenient for the customer, visual search is only growing in popularity – 62% of millennials prefer using visual search over any other method. Fashion, home decor, and other e‑commerce sections are also embracing visual search as more than 55% of UK retailers now use it, with big brands like Amazon, Macy’s, Ikea, ASOS, and eBay leading the way.
of UK retailers use visual search (predictly.co)
How does visual search work?
The regular Google image search has been with us for over 20 years, can you believe that? It was launched on July 12, 2001, after Google developers noticed a huge demand for an image search feature (all because many people were typing in the search bar their queries for pictures of the green Versace dress Jennifer Lopez wore in February 2000 for the Grammy Awards). That posed a challenge for Google Photos but got us where we are today – with Google image search.
Google Image search wasn’t the only one powered up with this feature as soon enough, also Bing image search and Yahoo image search came into play trying to make the most of reverse image lookup tools for product images, and not only.
Since the image search feature has been with us so long and we use it almost all the time, most people know how it works. First, you type your search query into a search box, and then you get a results page with (often thousands) images matching your query. To narrow down the number of results, you can also use a number of search filters.
Image search works a bit differently, as it relies on a combination of computer vision and machine learning technology rather than just keywords.
Computer vision can be described as the technology that lets computers “see” the picture. And not just see it but also understand what is in the photo and what they should do with it. But before the computers can recognize the picture’s context, they need to be trained – and here’s where machine learning comes in.
Machine learning aims to teach a computer to understand what is on the pictures using a training set. First, the algorithm is shown a set of images centered around a broad concept, and then the pictures get increasingly detailed, so the computer can learn to spot and interpret the differences between pictures.
To increase the knowledge of its own visual search engine, Google linked it to its knowledge graph (a repository of millions of descriptions of real-world elements). That made it much easier for the algorithm to “connect the dots” and understand what’s on the image and how it’s related to other similar ones,
Why is visual search so popular?
Thanks to thorough training, the Google Lens search engine can now detect over 15 billion objects and is used over 3 billion times per month. That’s pretty impressive for a reverse image search tool, isn’t it?
But what should really catch the eye of all store owners is that 61% of consumers say visual search can significantly enhance their in-store experience.
Why is that? The reason for this is simple – image search engines are incredibly convenient for users, way faster than traditional site search, and return much more relevant results.
With visual search, all an online shopper needs to do is take a picture of the product they are interested in and upload it – the search engine will do the rest. There is no need to figure out which keywords might give us the results we want, how we should describe the item we are looking for, or look through thousands of more or less related pictures. One picture, and you can find the same or a similar item almost straight away.
Thanks to how fast and smart this method of searching is, visual searching is incredibly popular among younger generations who barely do anything without their smartphones. Especially Pinterest users are fond of visual search – 80% of Pinners start with visual search when shopping vs. 58% of non-Pinners.
For retailers and e‑commerce owners, the fact that the young generation favors visual search is one big reason to invest in visual search – but not only.
Why should brands think about implementing visual search?
As any shop (whether it’s e‑commerce or brick-and-mortar one) can admit, customers really got demanding nowadays. The faster and smoother their shopping experience is, the bigger the chance they will buy something and return to the store again. But if it’s not, then they might quickly lose interest.
And the low attention span is a massive problem for all retail and e‑commerce stores. Since the market is so crowded, they have to fight for every second of attention, or they risk losing the customer. So here’s where giving them the visual search option might be just what might convince the customers to stay at their website, especially since not many brands have yet added the image search plugin to their stores.
Visual search can also increase sales as it makes discovering new products as quick, fun, and efficient as possible. If shoppers can quickly locate the products they spotted and want to have on your website, they are more likely to buy them – and return to your store later.
What are the most significant benefits of using visual search?
Using visual search in the retail and e‑commerce world can make the shopping experience much easier, faster, and more pleasant for customers — and this can generate some major benefits for retailers and store owners alike. Let’s look at some of the biggest benefits brands can get from implementing visual search engines.
Benefits of using visual search
Faster, easier and more fun product discovery
Combining online and offline shopping experiences
Gaining sales from social media
Standing out from the crowd
1. Faster, easier, and more fun product discovery
When it comes to describing the item they are looking for (whether it’s clothes, furniture, or an electronic device), most customers do struggle. And while at a store, we can count on a friendly shop assistant to help us find the correct product, it’s far harder to find something online if we don’t know the actual name.
But by allowing people to search for products via images, visual search can tremendously improve their chances of finding (and buying) the item they are looking for. Rather than sifting through countless results that might or might not be what they’re looking for, customers are given only a couple of search results that match the original image they added the most.
And most importantly, the search engine can also direct them to the store where they can purchase said item (based on the image library).
2. Increased conversions
The easier it is for customers to find the items they want to buy, the higher the likelihood they will purchase them. And for brands, that means far better conversion rates and revenue. Let’s look at the CCC group as an example. As the largest footwear retail company in Central Europe, they implemented the visual search option in 2020. Since then, they have improved their conversion rate by 4X compared to traditional keyword searches. In addition, their mobile app, which has a visual search feature as well, has recently crossed 7 million downloads.
Boohoo, a fashion retailer, meanwhile noticed an 85% conversion rate for shoppers using camera search compared to those who used traditional search methods.
3. Combining online and offline shopping experiences
Customers are also increasingly expecting a multichannel shopping experience, which will allow them to buy as easily online as in the store – and switch between those two channels easily.
Using visual search is one way in which brands can give their customers exactly that – for example, by adding a visual search option (reverse image search app) to their mobile apps and compatible with mobile browsers. This way, customers can search for the products they like whenever and wherever they want – and quickly locate which online or retail store might have the item they are looking for having only an image online. With a reverse image search tool, getting recommendations close to the source image is made straightforward.
4. Gaining sales from social media
Where do most people find new products in current times? On social media. In one Instagram research, 60% of peoplesaid they are learning about a new product through this platform. How about making buying the new shirt they just saw an influencer wearing or even getting their entire look much easier than ever?
The visual search tool can scan the exact image of an influencer and tag the pieces of her outfit, so the user can find and buy the item to recreate the look. And they can even use the search app to find outfits similar to those in the pictures – or match other items to it.
5. Standing out from the crowd
With so many e‑commerce stores and competition only getting fiercer, standing out can be tough. However, as visual search is a relatively new technology, and most brands have not yet added this feature, early adopters of this technology can use it to attract new customers.
According to Gartner, those who adopt visual search early will see 40% revenue increases by 2022. In addition to that, brands that leverage searching through images can also see an increase in customer satisfaction and loyalty. After all, what customer wouldn’t like a brand that makes things easier for them?
How can you add visual search to your store?
After reading the long list of potential benefits of searching by images, you are probably now interested in how you can take advantage of image search engines yourself. Here are a few quick tips on how to integrate visual search into your site and attract the new generation of visual-first buyers:
1. Prepare high-quality images
Your first step should be to take high-quality photos of your products.
Search engines favor high-quality image sources, so using blurry, stock, or not-optimized photos can hurt your SEO score. Additionally, potential customers are more likely to click on images that clearly show how the product looks and what they can expect from it.
You should also make sure that you have added multiple images for your products showing them from different angles. Why? Because the photos your customers take might be from different angles – for example, from the back.
2. Optimize all your photos
While working on your photos, keep an eye on their size and weight. When a source image is too large, it takes a lot of time (and bandwidth) to load. And that will obviously negatively affect the user experience. Plus, this will harm your search rankings in the long run, so changing the image size is crucial.
With the right image compression plugin, you can reduce your file size (even the biggest image) while maintaining quality – making your files load much faster and taking up much less space on your server. After uploading the file types, you should also check how your website and the images look on mobile devices – plenty of smartphone users might abandon your store if it loads too slowly or the photos don’t look right on their device. Try to also search images on mobile browsers. And with the majority of people now preferring to use their smartphones instead of desktops, you can’t afford to neglect your mobile store.
3. Be sure to name your images correctly
Apart from the images themselves, search engine bots will be scanning your image file names as well. To make it easier for them to rank your picture, each image should have a short description, an alt text, and a unique, relevant name that describes what’s the picture about. In this way, even if the bot cannot recognize what your image contains, it can refer to your file name and alt text to categorize the image.
Using your keywords in your title and description will also help the crawlers better understand your image and make your images appear in the right search results. Don’t add too many keywords to the name though – the search engine might mistake your content for spam then.
4. Add images to your sitemap
Once you have your product images (fully optimized and named), you can add them to your sitemap to make it easier for visual search engines to scan them. Organizing them, for example by URL, will also make it easier for the search engine to find the correct image.
A detailed image sitemap will provide Google crawlers with more information about the photos – and increase their chances of showing up in searches.
5. Always add a caption
Besides the image name and alt text, a caption (a short piece of text under a picture that describes the image) can also aid the search engine in understanding what’s on an image. These can also be used to describe your product or the action in the picture, adding context to your image, which will help your audience, vision algorithms, and the search engine to understand it better.
Visual Search Checklist
Prepare high-quality images
Optimize all your photos
Name your images properly
Add images to your sitemap
Always add a caption
In the ever-evolving business of e‑commerce, keeping up with the latest marketing trends is a matter of survival. Despite being relatively new to the market, reverse image search engines are gaining popularity, and soon most stores will offer them. Google image search is no longer enough, Google Lens is great but not the only solution available, and as a trendsetting content creator or image editor, you want to give your customers a chance to use their original source in reverse image lookup tools embedded in your business.
So why wait with adding a visual search to your brand when you could reap the benefits of being an early adopter?
Frequently asked questions
What does image search do?
Image search is a tool that allows customers to find products faster and easier. It can help improve customer experience, increase sales and conversions, and give you a competitive edge over other e‑commerce businesses. With the right image search solution, you can make it easy for your customers to find the products they need when they need them. And with extra advanced features, such as options to browse through images by size, use reverse search, and more image identification technology solutions, you can simply stand out from the crowd of so-so e‑commerce businesses.
Why should I implement visual search in my e‑commerce business?
A visual search is an essential tool for any e‑commerce business. It allows customers to find products faster and easier, and it can help you increase sales and conversions. Bearing that in mind, here are a few reasons why you should consider implementing image search on your e‑commerce website:
- Reverse image search capabilities can help improve customer experience and satisfaction
- Reverse image search functionality can increase sales and conversions when a simple Google image is not sufficient
- Reverse image search process can help you better compete with other e‑commerce businesses – when you can offer something that reflects each perfect image of your customers via image search options, you give your shop a chance to stand out
Is visual search necessary for my business?
Not every business needs visual search engines. If you have a small e‑commerce website with only a few products, then an image search may not be necessary – you may simply ask your clients to send you an image URL or a set of Google photos and you’ll help them further. However, if you have a large e‑commerce website with hundreds or even thousands of products and a huge photo library of visual content, then image search can be extremely helpful for your customers. Giving them a powerful search bar and image reverse tools they can use to search by image can boost your results in no time.