Over the past couple years it has been impossible to avoid the buzz about images and their increasing role in search; such as universal search which is becoming commonplace among the major search engines. But universal search is only the most prevalent news and only the baby-steps of a new format of search that is about to take over the Internet. Do I have your interest piqued? I will now lay the foundation of my statement to hopefully get you as excited as I am about this unstoppable search evolution.

Evidence 1) Photosynth
If you have any technology mavens as friends it is likely you saw this incredible video presented by Microsoft at the TED conference last year discussing Photosynth. To quote Microsoft Lab’s Photosynth home page this software

takes a large collection of photos of a place or an object, analyzes them for similarities, and then displays the photos in a reconstructed three-dimensional space, showing you how each one relates to the next. In our collections, you can access gigabytes of photos in seconds, view a scene from nearly any angle, find similar photos with a single click, and zoom in to make the smallest detail as big as your monitor.”

My jaw still hurts from hitting the ground after my first viewing of Photosynth many months ago. This software made a massive impression on me that has led me to many interesting ideas on the applications for this software; I will leave these thoughts to another time. For now, however, lets just say that the advent of a technology such as Photosynth provided a first glimpse into how images on the web can play a far greater role than ever imagined.

Evidence 2) PicLens by cooliris
PicLens is a fantastic plugin that allows searchers to navigate a 3d gallery of images associated with the topic they are searching. The user can also surf related images by simply clicking on a small play icon that appears on images anywhere in their browser (the icon appears on the image when the user’s mouse hovers over it for a moment). So where does PicLens get its content from? PicLens has complete access to the image caches of: Google, Yahoo, Flickr, SmugMug, Photobucket and DeviantArt.

This free, incredibly useful software is available now and it represents a new way for the masses to think about search; instead of showing information in a ranking format, PicLens makes browsing images as simple as a flick of your mouse (momentum will actually allow the images to move by). Right now PicLens is naturally designed for images but who says it needs to stay that way?

Evidence 3) SearchMe
When my colleague showed me the preview of SearchMe I knew I had the linchpin for this very article. SearchMe is a new search engine in private Beta at the moment but this next generation search engine has finally married image search in a manner that will get many tongues wagging.

As the video below outlines in detail SearchMe allows searchers to type in a search and then define the intended topic of their search in order to provide the most relevant results. Once the user selects their topic they are provided with a slick but simple page showing pictures of each resulting web page that can be scanned through in a manner similar to PicLens.

Now these are not images in a classic sense, since they are actually just screenshots of the existing web pages, however, the technology is extremely similar and it seems natural that the final version of SearchMe’s image search option would utilize the same technology.

Tying it all Together
What is the one thing that all of these concepts have in common? The answer is marvelously simple; they all focus on the simple concept that a picture is worth a thousand words. Why show a snippet of content in a search engine result page when a complete image could say so much more about the destination?

Are You Excited Yet?
So are we on the same page now? Are you as fascinated as I am with the next generation of search? If not, you had better get on board quickly; there is no doubt in my mind that image-based searching is the natural evolution of search. Don’t get me wrong, on page content will still play a large role in algorithms but the days of top 10 results are numbered.

What Will this Mean to SEO?
Basically a few existing elements of search engine optimization will become more important:

  1. Web pages will have to be designed with a tighter focus on usability and simplicity for screenshots to appear interesting/relevant enough to click on.
  2. Images will always need to be appropriately tagged and described.
  3. Web site images will have to be picked with more care from stock photography sites in order to capture the eyes of image-surfing prospects.
  4. SEOs will find it useful to include sales-oriented information in images but not at the expense of the image.
  5. Content around images and the overall page text must be extremely relevant to the image and the description and tags that are attributed to it.

In short, the evolution of search will continue to do what it has always done; make us all work harder to provide better quality content. One thing is for certain… the evolution of search just makes search engine optimization services more interesting and necessary in order to maintain search success in multiple search environments.

by Ross Dunn, CEO, StepForth Web Marketing Inc.
Celebrating over 10 years of web marketing excellence.