Image-based searching – it’s a game-changer

The two biggest players in online advertising – Facebook and Google – are leading this charge, working on new, advanced tools that can identify and categorise an increasing number of objects in photos. You can even see for yourself how far this has come – go to Facebook and type in ‘pictures at the beach’ or even ‘pictures of [insert name here] at the beach’ and it’ll show you results based on those parameters.

Snapchat, meanwhile, is working on image recognition triggered ads – focus your camera on an object and tap the screen and you’ll get an ad based on whatever it is you see. Twitter’s also working on similar functionality. Pinterest has even added a new tool which enables you to take a photo of something in real life then get relevant product matches as listed on their platform.

Right now, this is more of an interesting option, an addition that advances technological capacity, but it’s still a way off changing how we discover and buy products.

But that change is coming, and it’s worth considering the impacts of that shift and how you might get ahead of the curve.

Here are three ways advanced image recognition will change online marketing.

1. SEO moves beyond text

Since its inception, search engine optimisation has been text-based – the back-end systems at Google and the other search platforms need text data to be able to categorise and provide relevant search results.

Google Images changed that, enabling users to search by image, but it’s a fairly simplistic system that doesn’t offer the refinement that users would need to be able to use it for product discovery.

But that will soon change.

Rather than simply analysing text, search and social platforms will be able to categorise content by image, and users will be offered more ways to search by image content. Pinterest’s new function is a good example – people will soon be able to take a photo and find relevant matches, which could have a huge impact on how they find and purchase products.

As these new tools come into play, it’s worth considering the opportunities of visual search.

Do you provide relevant images on your sites and social properties to ensure you’re maximising your opportunities to be found?

Are you considering the context in which people use your products in your photos? For example, if you sell beach wear, showing up in photos when people search for ‘pictures at the beach’ might be a consideration.

Images add a new SEO element that’s worth considering in your future plans.

2. More data

It’s not just search that will benefit from this new visual resource, but businesses will also be able to target people based on visual data.

That might not sound like a big deal, but consider this. Imagine you run a café that’s just opened and you’re looking to maximise your exposure in your local region. Imagine if you could target users who not only like coffee, based on the text of their posts, but who also regularly take photos of themselves drinking coffee.

This gives you the double boost of reaching the right people, but also reaching people who are increasingly likely to promote your business within their own networks by taking photos of your products and setting.

The same applies to people who take a lot of photos of their kids, their pets – by being able to single out these users you can help further your message by getting your products into photos that they’ll subsequently share, boosting your message organically.

3. Find better examples

Creating content is a challenge in itself, but creating engaging content adds an extra level of difficulty.

But what if you could search for items similar to what you’re looking to create and see how they’ve performed on social?

For example, let’s say you’re doing a photo shoot for your business at an event – using advanced image search, you could look up photos using the same elements (beach, park, red dress, etc.) and check out which have generated the most engagement.

This could help give you more ideas on what to shoot to boost engagement, as you’ll have concrete, specific, examples of similar posts that have succeeded in the past.

It’s not here yet, but it’s coming, and we’re going to see more and more image based search tools evolve in 2017.

This article first appeared in the Sensis marketing tips.


As Australia’s leading marketing services company, Sensis engages consumers with Australian businesses through websites, search engine marketing and optimisation, online advertising and its directories businesses.

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