Imagine you’ve spotted a hat in the window of an airport boutique. You won’t be back to this airport, and you’ve got a flight to catch. You’re never going to be able to type in enough keywords to find that specific hat again.
In the past, you would have had to resign yourself to a sad, hatless existence. Or you’d have had to buy some lesser bit of haberdashery when you got home, hoping that you found something that was at least similar enough to excite you.
Today you’ve got a different option. You can snap a photograph, let search engines figure out where you can purchase that specific hat online, and complete the purchase while you’re boarding the plane (as long as you have time to do so before you have to turn on the dreaded airplane mode). And while visual search hasn’t reached its full potential yet, it’s nevertheless here to stay.
As marketers, we must find ways to engage with and capitalize on this exciting new trend. Fortunately, we have all the tools we need to do that right now. Other minds have provided the apps which make it possible. All we need to do is make sure our client sites can interact with those apps.
More pictures, please.
Adding more pictures to each client site is going to be our very first task.
It would be tempting to think these efforts should only be confined to e-commerce sites. However, visual search is about more than cool hats. For example, some people are snapping photos of plants in the hopes of identifying them. One can imagine a future where one snaps a photo of a bridge or a building to learn its history, too.
In a world where photos can be a search term, we must assume that some photos will lead to some knowledge sites. It would be great if some of those photos could take customers to our client’s blog posts, guides, and learning centers. Photos won’t get customers to those sites today, but preparing for tomorrow’s capabilities, is, simply put, a smart way to do business.
Encouraging client participation will be very helpful to this endeavor. Stock photos aren’t nearly as useful here as client-generated images. We’ll do all we can, of course, when customers are unable or unwilling to share their own images.
Incidentally, visuals have become a lot more important to marketing efforts for a host of other reasons, namely that customers are less likely to read than ever. So, don’t neglect to include charts, graphs, and infographics either…though you are probably not going to get a photo match from those sorts of searches they will have more and more utility as end users continue to grow more impatient with the idea of reading long blocks of text.
The Photo Finish
Once we’ve done the hard work of sourcing photos and placing them, we need to make sure those photos are ready to interact with photo search programs. This means we need to provide algorithms with the information to make decisions about whether our content is relative to the visual search that’s been presented.
Start with descriptive file names. Don’t upload media that has a file name like “1234589999982_41111.jpg” when you could rename it to something like “12WhiteRose-Bouquet.jpg” to help algorithms understand they are looking at a photo of a bouquet of one dozen white roses.
Next, make sure you’re vigilant about the alt text. It needs to be more descriptive than ever before.
Finally, consider adding a caption like, “One dozen white roses makes a perfect anniversary gift.” People read captions. Algorithms read them too.
Incidentally, this makes your page friendlier to verbal search as well. When the customer says, “Ok, Google, where can I buy 1 dozen white roses in Houston,” Google’s going to know right where to go…especially as many of our client’s competitors will not be so vigilant…at least, they won’t now, when visual search is relatively new.
Is Text Search Going Away?
Though visual and verbal searches are becoming more prevalent, it’s unlikely the good old text box will be going away any time soon. We shouldn’t look for a time when visual search completely replaces keyword searches. That time is probably coming, but it’s a decade away or more. Instead, we should be looking for ways to improve our strategy on all three fronts: visual, verbal, and text.