19 April 2017 | Joe Paul

The Future of Image Search

There’s always a lot of chatter in the search community about the future of SEO: “What effect will AI have on search?”, “Is the future of search keyword-less?” SEO is an ever-changing industry, mainly because search engines such as Google and Bing are constantly using new technologies in order to improve their user’s experience.

This constant state of evolution can cause some challenges, but it certainly keeps things exciting. One of the most exciting developments at the moment is the increased focus that both Google, Bing and other big tech companies are putting on image search. Not just searching for images, but searching with images. This is what Microsoft maestro Purna Virji describes as “keyword-less search”, but what does this really mean? And what does it mean for the future of search?

the future of image search

“What building is this?”

Visual Search

‘Visual search’ isn’t a particularly new concept. This is the idea of taking a photo and getting an answer, where you don’t have the words you need already. As Virji explains; “visual search addresses both convenience and curiosity.” The app CamFind uses object recognition to do exactly this. Take a picture of a dog and be told what breed it is; take a photo of a food and find out what food it is.  Similarly, Google Reverse Image Search allows you to search with an image and it will show you a ‘keyword match’ and a number of possible source URLs.

There are useful tools and features out there when it comes to object recognition, but this is not revolutionary, and it hasn’t changed the game.

Where does ‘reality’ fit in?

What could really have an effect on our everyday lives is VR (virtual reality). Tech giants such as Google and Microsoft have been working for some time now on ‘visual-centric technologies’. It’s VR and AR (augmented reality) that could have a very real effect on the retail industry.

Microsoft’s HoloLens mixes both VR with AR – a headset that can be programmed to make any kind of environment interactive over the actual reality. There are a number of ways this could be used, both on a marketing level and a consumer level.

The impact on retail

It’s easy to see how technology like Microsoft’s HoloLens could have a massive impact on the retail industry, especially e-commerce. The last twenty years have seen the popularity of online shopping grow massively, but it’s fair to say that there are limitations. For example; knowing how an item of clothing will look on you, or knowing how something will fit in with the rest of your kitchen.

AR shopping



These developments have been around now for a while, so it will be interesting to see how this technology and seemingly limitless reach can cross over into mainstream use. One would imagine that it might come down to whether the everyday person will need no more than just their mobile phones to get involved. This was the key to the increased use of voice assistants and will probably be the key to a more general use of VR and AR.

Let’s take it back to search

It seems as if these Mixed Reality technology advancements will definitely have an impact on retail in the future, but what about how people actually search online? Pinterest is a social platform built on visual sensibility, so it’s not particularly surprising that it already has a visual search tool for ‘visually similar results’. It will return ‘pins’ of other posts that are similar in look. Clearly, there is a lot of commerce potential in this.

Also, just this week Google released a new image search tool, which in some ways is quite similar, but takes things one step further.  Search for a jacket you like in the new ‘Style Ideas’ features and it will not only show you similar items, but attempt to inspire you with different ways to style the product. This could, of course, cut out the need to even type a search query.

With ‘Generation Z’ being visual and communicating with emojis and photos, it’s not a surprise that visual technologies are being so heavily invested in, both with time and money. A completely keyword-less search in the near future? We don’t think so, but it seems that very soon visual search will be fully integrated with traditional search, and there will be huge opportunities for brands to get involved.

Joe Paul

Joe Paul

Digital Marketing Specialist