Consider 2019 the year of Google’s Pinterest-ification.
Throughout Q1, Google made a concerted effort to improve product data integration and promote image search optimization across platforms as more users engage in visual search while shopping for products. For clarification, visual search is the act of searching with images, while image search refers to the platform/results of an image-based search.
In January, Google hinted at big changes coming to image search, broadly suggesting their internal data shows that people are no longer looking for only GIFs or stock photos. More people are willing to purchase a product they find through image search, and Google intends to make that process easier to complete.
In February, Google announced significant upgrades to a handful of paid and organic platforms to make it easier for Google to crawl, index, and display product and image content. Updates include:
New Product Schema report. Search Console now includes a report to help monitor structured data and ensure Google is picking it up properly. When implemented, Product structured data enhances features in organic search snippets:
Free Merchant Center (Google Shopping). Google Merchant Center is now open to non-paying websites (no Google Ads campaign required!). Google is encouraging e-commerce sites to submit product feeds to ensure product information is accurate, updated in real-time, and available for display in Google Image Search and standard search results.
Expanded Manufacturer Center product details. Similar to the Merchant Center, Manufacturer Center is a platform that allows product producers to upload product feeds directly. The most recent Manufacturer Center update expands the ability to add detailed product information, including descriptions, variants, images, and videos.
Finally, Google’s PubCon keynote in March heavily emphasized image search as a critical SEO and marketing tactic. Google highlighted image quality, meta data (alt-text), and crawlability as necessities for any website hoping to rank in paid and/or organic image search results going forward.
Each subsequent Q1 announcement/update features the same underlying theme: customers are more willing than ever to buy something they see in image results, and Google knows it.
Visual Search: Customer Behavior Drives Google’s Focus On Visuals
In 2017, Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann predicted: “the future of search will be about pictures rather than keywords.” Two years later, his prediction seems more prescient by the day. Images and visuals are already a staple of any online shopping experience. Consider these statistics:
- 90% of information transmitted to the human brain is visual
- 62% of Millennials want visual search over any other new technology
- Pinterest receives over 600 million visual searches per month
By promoting image optimizations, providing new performance data, and encouraging websites to submit free product feeds to Google, the search engine is tailoring its user experience to mirror that of other visual-based channels such as Pinterest in hopes that customers will start and finish their journey on the Google platform:
Google, to combat search and discovery competition from social platforms, has added social-like features within search. Recently, Google added a feature that expands and pins an image you’ve selected in Google Images to the right of your screen. This allows for easier comparison to like products as you continue scrolling through the image search results.
Moving Forward As A Marketer
Expect Google Image Search and overall results to continue evolving into a comprehensive visual-driven experience (when appropriate). Customers are already browsing and using images to inform their purchase choices.
Visual search is no longer a future trend – it’s here. Gartner Research predicts that by 2021, early adopters of voice and visual search optimization will increase digital commerce revenue by up to 30%. Product resellers and manufacturers with e-commerce stores need to view visual search and image search as top priorities and considerations for current and future marketing strategies.
Make visual assets accessible to search engines and people. Tactically, onsite images should be reachable and readable for crawlers and users alike. Optimized image alt text, URLs, size, and file types are all critical must-haves for image SEO, accessibility, and social shareability.
Connect to Google Merchant Center. Product structured markup (Schema.org/Products) and a Merchant Center product feed should be a requirement for all e-commerce websites. Image SEO and user experience optimizations are also critical for meeting the rising customer demand for high-quality visuals.