The Image Search Query & What it Means for SEO

Not long ago, I came upon an article that demonstrated the idea of image search queries on mobile phones – that is, performing a search using an image rather than text. With this technology, the user would actually perform a search, for example, by inputting an image of a labrador retriever to find online resources, instead of simply typing “labrador retriever” into a search engine. After a little research, I found that this idea spreads further than just the mobile camera phone arena.

Admittedly, my first thought was a technical one – specifically, how do they do it? Secondly, because I work in SEM, I thought, what does this mean for SEO? What does it mean for the hours spent optimizing title and meta tags, and content, and what does it mean for companies who rely on their site as a source of business?

The technology of image based queries is actually quite intuitive. To search for an image in a vast database, the engine doesn’t look at the entire image, but focuses on zones, colors, patterns, and spacial qualities as a way of identifying similarities between the searched images and the images in their database. Looking back over years of research, we can conclude how databases of images evaluate the searched images using content, spacial qualities, and a combination of both. Current Yahoo literature refers to the analysis of pixels, the size of images, and many other factors in its comparison.

I understand that this isn’t going to change the overall function of searching. First of all, users have to actually have a picture of what they want to search in order to perform the function, and also, they would have to spend the time to find the image in order to search it. Instead of searching the term “picasso,” the user would have to already have a image of a Picasso in order to perform the image query. Wouldn’t you just search “picasso”? Either this, or they would have to have a photograph already on their computers.

So do I think this significantly effects the SEM industry and companies that have invested in SEO? Probably not. Overall, because of the limited coverage on this topic, it seems that the SEM industry and companies relying on it can rest easy for awhile. When I searched “google + image query”, the results I received had to do with Google Images rather than image queries. Because of their prevalence, their lack of information on this topic is comforting. Yahoo does have some information on it, as I stated above, but it seems to still be in the developmental stages. MSN refers specifically to camera phone searches.

With that said, I believe that the industry should not completely ignore this technology. Even though there is limited information on the technology and its overall popularity is still wavering, there is something to be said for it. What that something is right now, I am not sure. I just think it is one of those things that needs to simmer on the back burner for awhile as programmers toy with this idea. One area I do see this tool becoming useful is the mobile marketing arena. The popularity of mobile devices will likely spur development of this technology… just something to think about.