One of the most exciting AR modalities we’re tracking is visual search. Represented by tools such as Google Lens, Pinterest Lens, and Snap Scan, it’s all about pointing your phone at physical world objects to contextualize and identify them through informational overlays.
Google calls it “search what you see” – a use case that carries a practical and high-frequency value proposition like web search itself. Also like web search, it’s naturally monetizable given its high-intent use case. Leaned-in users actively engage to identify real-world objects.
In fact, it could be more monetizable than web search in certain cases. Fashion discovery and design inspiration are among the use cases gaining traction. Point your phone at a jacket you see on the street, identify it (or visually similar items), then buy it right on the spot.
The Curse of New Technologies
However visual search is just as challenged as it is opportune. This is the curse of new technologies: the more disruptive and innovative the greater the burden of educating consumers and altering deep-rooted habits. Though visual search is compelling, it still has a learning curve.
This consumer acclimation is progressing, especially with camera-forward Gen-Z, which continues to gain purchasing power. But it’s otherwise a slow process of weening users off established search habits. Typing text into a search box is the modality we grew up on.
But if anyone can accelerate visual search, it’s tech giants. Snap is popularizing its Scan tool for “outfit inspiration” among its camera-forward user base. Pinterest is likewise a logical home for visual search, given that image-based discovery is already baked into its core product persona.
But Google could be the most impactful. Not only is search its raison d’etre, but its massive reach can help expose and accelerate visual search adoption. It’s been slowly doing just that by planting Google Lens buttons in high-trafficked places like the search bar on Google’s iOS App.
It’s a Start
Now, Google has taken the latest step in this campaign to introduce Google Lens to the world: its desktop homepage. You can now find the Google Lens logo on Google’s homepage, right next to the voice search icon. Any product or feature couldn’t ask for better exposure.
To be clear, this desktop deployment of Google Lens isn’t the same as the mobile use case characterized above. Rather than pointing a camera at real-world objects, the desktop version involves uploading an image or pasting a URL to prompt a reverse image search.
But though it’s a watered-down version of Lens’ mobile functionality, it could still help achieve Google’s main goal: Getting people accustomed to it. It’s all about normalizing the Lens logo so it’s recognized wherever it shows up. And Google’s home page is a good place to do that.
In fact, Google rarely changes its homepage. “The google homepage doesn’t change often, said Rajan Patel in a Tweet. “We’re always working to expand the kinds of questions you can ask and improving how we answer them. Now you can ask visual questions easily from your desktop.
The google homepage doesn't change often, but today it did. We're always working to expand the kinds of questions you can ask and improving how we answer them. Now you can ask visual questions easily from your desktop. pic.twitter.com/p9ldYvXnTK
The google homepage doesn't change often, but today it did. We're always working to expand the kinds of questions you can ask and improving how we answer them. Now you can ask visual questions easily from your desktop. pic.twitter.com/p9ldYvXnTK— Rajan Patel (@rajanpatel) November 1, 2022
The question that remains is why is Google so keen on visual search? In short, it wants to future-proof its core search business. Seeing the camera-based affinities of Gen-Z it wants to maintain a dominant search market share, whether it’s text, voice, or visual. It’s blitzing all three.
Beyond future-proofing, it’s about boosting query volume. As one of several factors in Google’s monetization (along with CPCs & CTRs), it all starts with query volume. And with voice and visual inputs, Google increases the surface area for search beyond typed queries.
To that end, expect to see visual search promoted throughout Google’s well-traveled properties. Its homepage is the Holy Grail and Google Lens’ inclusion is telling of Google’s ambitions for visual search. Next up for Google: Refining and optimizing visual search monetization.
Meanwhile, it’s taking other steps. Words matter, as they say, and Google is using plain-spoken language like “search what you see” rather than “AR,” as noted. But meanwhile, the most impact comes from planting Google Lens on the world’s most traveled web page.