Visual Search – A Primer for the New Search Age?

Traditionally, visual search has referred to strictly image searches. Search engines simply scanned the web for keywords in the ALT attributes attached to images, similar to a text search. Lately, however, visual search has begun to embody the entire presentation of search results.

These new visual search engine startups are constantly being portrayed in the media as ‘going up against’ Google. I certainly don’t feel this is the case. These engine platforms are more concerned with allowing users to create their own user experience, pulling results from their preferred engine/data sources. Clearly, Google’s strength is relevance and rather than attempt to compete with their powerful algorithm, these visual search companies are looking to enhance and/or build upon what’s already there.

To paint a better picture, I’ll focus on one of these startups. SpaceTime is a 3D browser application which organizes your Google, Yahoo, Ask, eBay and other search results into a 3D tabbed view.

As online shoppers and information seekers, we’ve been trained over the last decade to visually recognize quality web pages. Personally, I’ll disqualify pages I know will not contain the information I seek from a quick glance. SpaceTime allows users to quickly browse through screenshots of top results. The added value here is eliminating those additional clicks. There is no need to click through to each of the search listings or click through to additional search engine results pages (SERP).

Here are a few screenshots of SpaceTime search results:

Searchme, a similar startup, takes it one step further and actually highlights keyword density within the screenshot. We’re all interested in finding what we’re searching for with the least amount of effort possible. That’s what these visual search engines are attempting to do; take away some of that effort.

Ultimately, SpaceTime and Searchme are inventing an entirely new category of search, which can, in turn, create new and innovative online marketing opportunities outside of text and display advertising. Despite these startups having a long way to go to catch up with some of Google’s even smallest competitors, they’re something you may want to keep your eye on.