Visual search is among the most popular uses of tech novelties that consumers can see and experience firsthand. It’s changing the ways in which we search for information and products online, make purchasing decisions, and share digital assets with peers. 

Technology is often ruling the headlines these days, with new frontiers constantly being surpassed, especially in the field of Artificial Intelligence. 

In a nutshell, visual search technology allows people to look for information online not on the basis of text queries, but by providing an image of the item they’re searching for. This is a tremendous change, as it shifts the focus from keyword-based queries and makes the process of searching online much more vigorous and flexible. 

A major application of visual search that we can already see in motion is in the field of e-commerce businesses. With its help, users can easily upload a photo of the item they’re looking for — and get purchasing suggestions. This has been a major attracting force for younger customers — Gen Z and millennials — because of the convenience, ease of product discovery, and high level of personalization. 

But AI visual search is being employed in other cases too: such as in search engines like Google, in websites, and more. 

Then social media comes in the mix: how do visual search and social media join forces to boost user engagement?

Let’s get started with the basics first and go over the way visual search functions and where it’s already being used. Then we can dive into its intersection with social media and the exciting opportunities that it presents to both businesses and individuals. 

What Is Visual Search?

Visual search entails performing an online search by using a visual query instead of a text-based one. 

By employing AI, search engines are able to ‘understand’ the images and videos that users provide for their queries. Computer vision allows search engines to grasp the content, as well as the context, of the visuals in the blink of an eye — and then provide relevant visual and text content to the user. 

The implications of visual search in terms of user experience are immense: it makes online searching a completely different and improved process. It brings a high level of flexibility and convenience to users, especially in cases when people can’t remember or define their query in text form. 

Visual search has proven quite attractive for younger people who are highly tech-savvy and are used to operating with visuals in their everyday digital use. At the same time, the new technology is becoming prevalent and more and more people are discovering its perks — such as the speed of searching and ability to get much more robust results from visual queries. 

But how exactly does visual search work? It’s all about AI, obviously, or more precisely — image recognition and computer vision. By using machine-learning algorithms, visual search engines are able to recognize and understand what an image contains. 

Image recognition is, in fact, the powerhouse behind this capability. It allows the identification and categorization of objects, backgrounds, and various details about an image. The most interesting aspect of image recognition, being based on AI, is that it improves with use due to the use of machine-learning algorithms. The more images it processes, the better it becomes — and its accuracy and speed increase. 

Let’s consider an example. When an image recognition platform processes images of clothes, for example, it examines each pixel and compares the new data with its previous knowledge gathered from identifying images of clothes. With each new image, it improves its ability to recognize colors, size, styling, and other details about clothes. Thus, through image recognition, the search engine is able to provide search results of similar clothes to the user’s query from its database. 

The Practical Uses of Visual Search Today

Visual search is already abundantly used online — from Google search, Amazon and Microsoft through a myriad of e-commerce websites to image-based social media platforms like Pinterest and Instagram. 

The visual search functionality in Google is available through Google Lens. Users can select an image or a segment of a website to start their visual query. The search engine will yield results connected to the visual query in the form of relevant websites, images, products, and text content. 

E-commerce companies are already using the opportunities of visual search extensively. Some of the fields in which it has become quite prominent include fashion and home decoration, among many others. 

For example, users can provide a screenshot of a sofa they like — and the search engine of the e-commerce platform would provide them with similar products from its database. Or, users can upload an image of a fashion outfit they want to have, and they get matching suggestions for products they can buy immediately. Thus consumers can easily make their purchasing decision without a lengthy search process.  

Visual Search and Social Media

At the intersection between social media and visual search, Pinterest has been a clear trailblazer. Being one of most popular visual social media, it has long been experimenting with the power of visual search — and has seen high levels of user engagement because of this. 

Pinterest has been employing visual search capabilities since 2017, when it released

three visual search tools. With Pinterest Lens, users can take a photo with their phone’s camera and get related pins on the platform. Instant Ideas allows users to control the relevance of their Pinterest feed by selecting their most preferred pins and thus getting more accurate results in their feed. Last but not least, with the Shop the Look capability, Pinterest users can select items inside a pinned visual and search product listings to find that item for purchase. 

While Instagram does not support reverse image search, when combined with Google Lens, it does provide a powerful visual search combo. On Instagram, you can perform a visual search on a computer with a right-click, which makes a Google search on the basis of the selected image. 

In this respect, it’s worth mentioning that Google Lens has brought an immense advancement in visual search overall, particularly in terms of how social media and visual search interact. While Pinterest was the main force with its three visual search tools, Google Lens has been key in making visual search popular in a general sense. Beyond e-commerce and shopping, with Google Lens users also get quick and easy access to QR code identification, item recognition (like identifying plants and animals), location identification to provide business spots, reviews and more, and even translation of street signs and restaurant menus on the basis of photos made on the go. 

Bing Visual Search, Snapchat Camera Search, and Amazon StyleSnap are just a few other examples of prominent uses of visual search at the cross-section of social media, search engines, and e-commerce. 

Boosting User Engagement by Searching Visually

Visual search has clearly revolutionized the way people are interacting with social media platforms — and both brands and digital marketers are trying to catch up with the technological advancements. 

It’s apparent that the only way forward is through visuals — and companies from all industries are aiming to adapt to this new digital reality. In order to stay ahead of the competition, brands can tailor to the specificities of visual search so they can provide seamless, intuitive, and personalized experiences to online users. 

The main goal for businesses that want to grow their user base and engage with existing and future customers is proper optimization of content for visual search — both on social media and beyond. 

In the case of visual social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, the optimization process for brands entails inclusion of appropriate hashtags and using the features for visual search to expand the company’s presence. Products can be included in single social media posts and promoted for better visibility — and the images used can then be included in various visual search queries. 

But there’s much more that can be done to unleash the potential of visual search. For example, brands can put effort in creating high-quality visual content that is both visually pleasing and informative —  including infographics, product visuals, videos, and much more. These visual assets can then be shared on social media where they can reach a wider audience through the visual search capabilities and thus engage more users. Visual search also opens up numerous new possibilities for influencer marketing, especially for fashion and home decoration brands. 

Brand discovery can also be boosted through visual search optimization of the company website. More specifically, brands can bet on good images in optimal size and format, accurate image titles, adequately written alt texts, and informative descriptions and captions for CMS platforms. Using geotagging and long-tail keywords for images are also recommended techniques.

All of these aspects would allow for better search engine indexation. In turn, the more a brand’s visual content is understood by visual search engines, the higher would the discoverability of its products and engagement with end users. 

Use the Power of Image Recognition with Imagga 

At Imagga, we are helping businesses in various industries reap the benefits of AI-powered image recognition. Our solutions offer unprecedented accuracy and flexibility in image categorization, tagging, and visual search, among others.  
Get in touch today to explore Imagga’s robust image recognition solutions and see how we can help your business grow.