The Ultimate Guide to Visual Search

You probably remember the moments in the movies when the girl with whom the main character is in love rejects him for a more beautiful and successful guy.

The main character is embarrassed, he cries, and we all feel sorry for him.

Does this relate to the world of business? Should anyone in business have the right to take offense at customers who decide to go with more attractive and successful companies?

This can happen with any enterprise that delays the development and implementation of new technologies.

After all, why should customers stay with an outdated company when they can turn to an enterprise that will make their life much more easy and comfortable?

One such technology on which customer satisfaction nowadays depends is called Visual Search.

The truth is that not that many CMOs know how useful it is for business, and how it can help their companies remain competitive.

In this article, I will share what Visual Search is, how it is applied, and exactly what it can provide for businesses.

What is Visual Search?

Encyclopedias will tell you that Visual Search is a type of perceptual task that involves an active scan of the visual environment for a particular object or feature among other objects or features.

Simply put, this technology allows a machine to understand what kind of object it is seeing, and to select it from a number of other objects.

To clarify, there are some differences between things like Image Search, Reverse Image Search, and Visual Search. Because of the similarity in names, sometimes people confuse them.

  1. Image Search is a simple process. You type a keyword or follow a link, and that takes you to the picture.
  2. Reverse Image Search is very similar to Image Search. You input an image and that leads you to a result that is related to the picture.
  3. Visual Search is a more complex technology. While image search technology is based on the simplest search algorithms, Visual Search actually imitates the processes occurring in the human brain.

The machine parses each image by pixels and performs a comparative analysis at a micro level.

Visual search technology is constantly becoming more and more complex, and experts are attempting to get closer to imitating the neural connections of the human brain.

When you think about it, our brain performs visual searches every day without much discernible effort.

Imagine that you are standing in the street and you need to find a particular building amongst a variety of other buildings. Or you are trying to find a blue sock in a heap of socks of different colors.

During this process, neural connections activate, and our brain identifies the necessary object by color, shape or size.

This is natural visual search technology in action.

Why This Technology Is Important and Needs to Be Known

Because Visual Search has already had an influence on the world of business and commerce for almost 20 years.

Since the realization of how the visual search mechanism works, businessmen have managed to achieve the strongest tool of psychological influence on customers.

One of the best examples of this can be found in a book called “Visual Attention During Brand Choice” by Rik Pieters and Luk Warlop, both of whom are European scientists and professors of marketing.

Pieters and Warlop used eye tracking devices to analyze eye movement and fixations of consumers while they looked at an array of products on a supermarket shelf.

They concluded that certain shapes, colors, and sizes of products attract the eyes of consumers, and the more visually distinct a product is from the surrounding products, the more likely the consumer is to notice it.

This study confirmed the idea that producers of goods should attempt to alter their product's appearance so that people will be more likely to choose it instead of competing products.

The results of research like this have eventually led to an evolution in the world of business. There are now new types of interaction between businessmen and consumers.

Because Visual Search is very popular, it continues to develop rapidly, and will remain strong going forward.

If we are talking about the technological trends of recent years, then immediately things like Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, or Internet of Things come to mind.

Visual Search deserves to be included in this group – this type of technology is rapidly gaining popularity.

According to Markets and Markets, the image recognition and visual search market will grow to $25.65 billion by 2019, a growth of 216 percent from $9.65 billion in 2014.

Moreover, it has attracted the attention of the largest and most innovative corporations for several years, and continues to do so.

Everyone knows the good old Bing search engine from Microsoft.

In 2009, the company experimented with Visual Search within the Bing framework. But it didn't catch on.

This year, Microsoft plans to return to Visual Search and make it better and more useful.


Source: (Bing’s current interface)

For example, with the help of Bing’s visual search, it is possible to choose any piece of an interior in the photo of the apartment a user likes, and the search engine will give him or her all the nearest shops where they can buy that item.

This video shows how it works.

One of the companies most closely related to visual search technology is Pinterest.

In March, they released their new product, Pinterest Lens.

Users of the program can direct the camera on their phone to any item; the program will scan it, and provide any useful information connected to it.



This product has became so popular that the number of Pinterest Lens users has tripled from April to May.

These two companies are not the only ones who are working with visual search technology.

Entire articles can be dedicated to Google’s work with Visual Search.

To conclude, it is safe to say that a great number of companies plan to continue to develop their use of Visual Search because it is beneficial for them and their customers.

Real Life Uses of Visual Search Technology

Let's look at a few specific examples of how Visual Search can help a consumer using large E-commerce businesses.

  • The “Search by Image” option. This feature allows consumers to use image search instead of keywords.

Ali Express

Source: (Here's how it looks on AliExpress)

The introduction of this feature makes the search for products much simpler and more concise.

  • The “You May Also Like” option

A very handy feature that shows similar products next to the product that a consumer is currently looking at.

The machine reads the visual characteristics of the product and offers similar examples based on external similarity.



There are two advantages to this feature.

First: The consumer will always have something to consider for purchase. Second: There will never be a situation where the consumer reaches a “dead end” in a webstore.

  • The “Find Similar” option

This feature allows a consumer to ask the program to show him products similar to the product he likes.

It also increases customer satisfaction, because the consumer can narrow down his/her search and have a much better chance of locating exactly what they need.

Let’s see how it works with a real example.

FindSimilar is a searching website that offers searches for similar items based on visual search technology.

Users can simply put the mouse on the object they like and ask to find similar ones:



The program gives users a list of similar items with links to the stores where they can be purchased:



There are many additional examples – it depends only on the sphere of an enterprise or CMO’s imagination.

How Enterprises Can Benefit From Visual Search

In the last section of this article, let's discuss in general how companies can benefit from visual search technology.

Enterprises can become more competitive

The first and most obvious advantage that visual search provides is that an enterprise will be ahead of companies still offering people the old text-based search system.

According to the “Visual Search: Who Uses It, How & Why?” survey, 74% of consumers say text-based keyword searches are inefficient in helping them find the right product online.

It is logical to assume that if these consumers have a choice between an enterprise offering innovative search algorithms and an enterprise using outdated text-based options, they will choose the former.

Of course, if it should be understood that in all other respects these companies are operating on the same level.

Visual Search greatly facilitates the consumer search process and shoppers will appreciate any enterprise that makes life easier for them.

A survey from Business2Community says that consumers process images 60,000 times faster than text.

So why should they choose an enterprise that uses slow and outdated search technologies?

Enterprises can attract many new customers

It is a fact that most customers search for images to make a purchasing decision, so an enterprise that uses visual search technology will immediately expand its customer base.

According to an eMarketer survey, around three-quarters of U.S. internet users regularly or always search for visual content prior to making a purchase, and only 3 percent do not.

Thus, after implementing visual search technology, the company's website might receive all the customers who previously used only the sites of competitors that had already implemented visual search.


CMOs who do not want to get left behind and see potential customers go to competing enterprises should at least familiarize themselves with this technology.

Here are the main thoughts of this article:

  1. Visual Search allows a machine to understand what kind of object it is looking for, and to select it from a number of other objects.
  2. Sometimes people confuse the ideas of Image Search, Reverse Image Search, and Visual Search. In reality, these are all different things.
  3. Visual Search has had a strong influence on the world of business and commerce for almost 20 years.
  4. We can conclude that visual search technology is trendy, it is developing rapidly, and it is the future.
  5. This technology can be actively used in E-commerce. Such features as “Search by Image”, “Find Similar”, and “You May Also Like” increase consumer satisfaction by making it easier for users to find the product they want.
  6. Visual Search benefits enterprises by making them competitive and attracting new customers.