“With these new features, Image Search may be your best new accessory. Or at least a useful tool to find apparel that suits your style and your wallet.”
— Julia Enthoven, associate product manager at Google
Google is constantly refining its SERPs to make sure it is providing search users with more organic results, not merely websites that contain the right keywords.
We see examples of this through the company’s various algorithm updates that target semantic search and other crucial components of the SERPs.
Google has also become increasingly interested in the eCommerce space. Over the years, consumers have seen a variety of purchase-focused additions including Google Shopping, Shop the Look and the company’s partnership with eBay.
Recently, however, the search provider took its shopping features to a whole new level with the inclusion of two Image Search features that could very well shift how consumers conduct product research.
As it currently stands, Google is not even close to being a powerhouse with product research. BloomReach’s State of Amazon 2016 report indicates that 55 percent of U.S. consumers begin their product research on Amazon; an 11 percent increase over 2015. A mere 28 percent of consumers begin their product searches on engines like Google and Bing; a drop of six percent from the previous year. This is not an isolated or flawed study; other research indicates a similar trend.
So what are these revelatory new shopping features that Google has introduced to Images that could win back product hunters?
Similar Items Sets Sail
In a Webmaster Central blog post published on April 10, Google debuted its latest feature entitled “Similar Items.”
Similar Items is a method for providing users with an easier way to purchase clothing and accessories while searching on Google Images.
With the new feature, Android users can search for various items on their mobile device, click on appealing images and Google will serve up several other options from third-party vendors similar to the one a user is viewing.
As it stands, the feature only supports searches for shoes, sunglasses and handbags, although, Google has noted it will expand this list to include other apparel options along with home and garden accessories “in the next few months.”
The feature works through “machine vision technology” to identify comparable items to display in an expanded carousel. Alongside images, users can find information on availability and product pricing.
While this is an interesting addition to Images, Google still had one more trick up its sleeve related to eCommerce.
Style Inspiration Search
A mere three days after Google’s Similar Items announcement, the company dropped yet another new feature that relates to eCommerce.
This time published through The Keyword, Google unveiled Style Ideas; a separate sales augmentation of Google Images.
As Google’s blog states:
“Now while perusing fashion product images, Image Search will surface a grid of inspirational lifestyle images and outfits that showcase how the product can be worn in real life.”
Working together with Similar Items, Style Ideas helps users co-ordinate outfits while researching the products they desire.
Google asserts that the feature will help users to see how different products coordinate with various outfit types in real-world settings so that they can make an accurate judgment before finalizing a purchase.
According to TechCrunch, “. . . the images that appear in both the style ideas and similar items grids are also algorithmically ranked, and will prioritize those that focus on a particular product type or that appear as a complete look and are from authoritative sites.”
These new features are clearly aimed at stealing back some of the power Amazon has acquired over consumers throughout the years and get people to begin shopping through Google Images.
But these new elements aren’t just a stab at Amazon; the company is going for Pinterest as well.
Pinterest has long been a definitive resource for fashion inspiration and even offers tools within its Chrome extension that are strikingly similar to Google’s Style Ideas.
The Pinterest extension enables users to select an item from any image on the Web and will return similar items using the platform’s image recognition software.
Outside of company feuds and corporate dominance, how exactly will these new Google features help small businesses escape the growing shadow of Amazon?
How this Affects Small Businesses
This is honestly a fantastic turn of events for business owners. As Amazon continues to soak up more of the market share in terms of sales and product research, other avenues like company websites are crushed under the company’s influence.
These new Google features, however, provide business owners with another powerful (and free) way to gain advertising for their eCommerce offerings, along with direct portals to product pages.
Considering that Google processes more than 2.3 million searches per minute (with a sizable portion undoubtedly going to Images) the potential for a business’ products to be discovered through Google remarkably increases.
Google even pointed out this fact in the Similar Items blog post when it was stated that, “. . . the Similar Items carousel gets millions of impressions and clicks daily from all over the world.”
This gives Google and displayed businesses a leg up over Amazon by adding the ability to showcase products “in the wild” alongside similar items. This could be a major catalyst to driving sales for various items.
Unfortunately, Google has made no mention as to how businesses could ensure their images show up in the Style Ideas section. They have, however, shined a light on the Similar Items portion of its updates.
To ensure that your products are found through Similar Items, Google released a detailed set of criteria for business owners to follow. To become eligible, Google cites the following guidelines:
- Ensure that the product offerings on your pages have schema.org product markup, including an image reference. Products with name, image, price and currency, and availability meta-data on their host page are eligible for Similar items.
- Test your pages with Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to verify that the product markup is formatted correctly.
- See your images on image search by issuing the query “site:yourdomain.com.” For results with valid product markup, you may see product information appear once you tap on the images from your site. It can take up to a week for Googlebot to recrawl your website.
These new features have a long way to go before they can prove their efficacy, but considering Google’s intense investment toward user experience, there is a good chance that the search engine could turn these offerings into a widespread triumph for the company and small businesses everywhere.
Be sure to optimize your product pages and images so you can be included in Google’s Similar Items section if you have hopes of leveraging the company’s newest eCommerce offering.
Do you think that Google could reclaim its product research mantle from Amazon? Which of these two features do you think is more advantageous for your business?