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November 12, 2019

The Future Is Sensory Search

Written by Trevor Venegas

Today’s younger generations are constantly forcing the world of search to evolve. Driving changes through their need for quick and easy access to information while promoting brands that satisfy their needs. So, what do these changes look like when it comes to search? The answer is sensory search. 

What Is Sensory Search? 

Sensory search is the act of searching the internet for something using a picture or your voice. Sensory search provides users access to information regardless of whether they know exactly what they are looking for or have direct access to a search engine. The Amazon Echos and Google Homes of the world are great for having a question answered from across the room, but what if you want to know what you’re literally looking at? 


In the past, if you wanted to know what kind of dog you just saw in the park or who’s selling the chair you just sat in, you would have to rely on research and a keen eye while scouring thousands of pictures or websites online. Today, finding answers is as easy as snapping a picture of that dog or that chair and performing a search using the image. Within seconds, search engines like Google LensBing Visual Search, or Pinterest Lens will present you with the name of the breed or chair. If the search engine does not recognize the dog or chair specifically, it will help narrow your search by providing images similar to the one you took.


With this added ease of access to information, voice and visual search are able to bring something to the table that traditional search can’t. A report from Search Engine Land says 74% of consumers can’t find what they are looking for online using traditional text-based keyword searches. Meanwhile, more than 60% of Gen Z and Millenial consumers are demanding enhanced visual search capabilities to help them quickly find the things they are looking for online, according to a survey conducted by ViSenze. 

How Sensory Search Fills a Void 

When you take a second to think about how humans take in information, you can begin to understand the void sensory search is filling. For example, MIT found the human brain can identify images seen for as little as 13 milliseconds while 65% of people are visual learners, according to the Social Science Research Network. Meaning, for most of us, pictures are easier to understand than text. 

On the voice search side of things, tech companies are constantly working to improve the conversation capabilities of virtual assistants. Every day, the Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant and Google Assistant become more and more capable of carrying on a conversation with you. There’s even a function within Alexa enabled skills that allows you at home to try out a conversation feature and then rate that experience while giving feedback for possible improvements. Much like Iron Man’s Jarvis or Knight Rider’s KITT, soon you’ll be conversing with a virtual assistant like you would with another person. 

Skyrocketing Popularity

The popularity of these new ways of searching clearly shows where things are headed. For example, in just one year, smart speaker ownership in the United States climbed a whopping 39.8% to a total of 66.4 billion as of January 2019Meanwhile, Pinterest Lens records an average of 600 million visual searches every month. Usage is only on the rise, too, with the expectation 30% of all searches will be “queryless” by 2020, according to Gartner. 

There’s also plenty of money being spent on tools for company adoption. Syte, for example, is a Tel Aviv startup specializing in visual search for retail that recently raked in $21.5 million in funding. The tech company works with retailers like Kohl’s and Argos to make it possible for their customers to search for clothes on their sites using pictures of outfits or individual garments. 

While Syte’s new round of funding is notable, it's only a small piece of the pie when it comes to the entire image recognition market. A market that is expected to be worth over $77 billion by the year 2025, according to a report by Grand View Research Inc. When you combine that number with the voice search market’s expected worth of $40 billion by 2022, you begin to understand the overwhelming potential of the sensory search market as a whole.  

What Does This Mean for You? 

So how does this boom in the visual and voice search markets affect you and your company? The boom signals a change in how people expect to find information. It shows that traditional search methods no longer fit the search needs of a large portion of internet users and it shows that your digital marketing efforts need to change to reflect that.  

In a study of more than 1,000 creative and digital marketing decision-makers, Search Engine Journal found that 72% of respondents have no plans to optimize for voice search. What’s more, only 35% say they plan to optimize for visual search within the next 12 months. If only they knew early adopter brands that redesign their websites to support visual and voice search are predicted to increase digital commerce revenue by 30% in just two years. Imagine, though, the opportunity you have to capitalize on the slow adopters by diving into sensory search. 

Making it as easy as possible for the customer to buy your products has always been the name of the game, but now is the time for brands to go all-in when it comes to embracing the new ways their customers search. Take, for example, Glasses USA’s mobile visual search tool “Pic & Pair:” With the tool, customers can take or upload a picture of a product and see a host of similar looking products in Glasses USA’s inventory. “Pic & Pair” was created by Glasses USA’s digital optimization team after they noticed “customers who used the brand’s search function spent six times longer on the site and were five times more likely to buy,” according to Forbes. 

The same goes for brands like ASOS, eBay, and Neiman Marcus, who have developed their own visual search tools and continue to profit from it. Forever 21 partnered with Donde Search to develop an AI-powered visual search and navigation tool which has led to an increase in sales conversions along with a 20% increase in average order valueMaybe if they had prioritized sensory search earlier, they might not be in as bad of a financial situation now. But, what if spending millions on developing your own search tool just isn’t in the budget? 

Optimizing your site’s images and text can go a long way in improving how your company ranks for visual and voice search queries related to your business and it doesn’t have to break the bank either. Capturing featured snippets through targeted keyword research and formatting page structure brings your site to the forefront of search queries related to your business while uploading simple images with detailed metadata can get your products in front of eyes that are ready to buy.  

Contact Investis Digital 

For more information on how your company can capitalize on the sensory search boom, contact Investis Digital. 

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