If you have eyes, you’re able to look across your room and identify the objects that are familiar to you. You can recognize your laptop, phone, desk and everything else that you own.

The same applies for visual search. The difference is the image is uploaded on the computer, and the image itself is used to perform a search query.

Its important to note that visual search is different from image search. The latter is used to find images based on text. For example, you type “Starbucks lattes” and click search to find pictures on Google Images. The computer doesn’t use the image itself to find the image, instead it uses structured data associated with the file.

visual search

Meanwhile, visual search relies on the image itself to conduct a query. Imagine taking a picture of the shoes of your friend. With a visual search tool, you can find the name of the product, where it can be bought, the sizes available and product reviews, based on the image file alone.

visual search

Here’s an example of a visual search via Pinterest Lens:

visual search

The app can identify the items in the image such as the coffee table, décor and living room.

For the uninitiated, Pinterest Lens is a mobile app that uses a smartphone’s camera to recognize physical objects and find related items on Pinterest. After that, it presents a series of tags that can be associated with the image.

The social media giant also introduced its Shop the Look feature, which makes items in pins appear as products that people can shop. Products are identified with a blue circle.  Users can find information about these products and tap an image to buy it. Clothing brands such as Macy’s, Target and Wayfair have used this feature to sell their products online.

visual search

Google Lens works in the same way. It uses your smartphone camera to identify additional information on the image. For example, you can take a photo of a restaurant and find its name and star ratings in the Knowledge Panel.

visual search

So what’s the implication of visual search for the future?

Imagine seeing a picture of a resort or a pool and finding out where its located, reviews and prices. Imagine snapping a picture of a shoe in an ad, and being able to shop it.

How to Leverage Visual Search

Visual search is a relatively new technology, but there are a lot of ways you can prepare for it to get ahead in the game.

Visual search, like text-based search engines, rely on schema markup and metadata to find related images. This is why you should optimize your images so visual applications can easily find and recognize them.

Here’s some image optimization techniques you can use:

  • Add  descriptive alt + text to images
  • Optimize images for mobile
  • Use targeted keywords to describe the title, caption and description of the image
  • Submit images to an image sitemap
  • Utilize appropriate schema markup for images
  • Set up images badges and run through structured data sets

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