The dream promise of Google search has always been simple: seamlessly link search queries with results even when the search being carried out totally lacks knowledge and expertise. This is now a step closer to reality thanks to Google Lens -- an app that cleverly links real-world objects to Google's massive index of the world's information.

The app works in a remarkably simple way: point your camera at the object you are seeking to find online, tap on it to separate it from the background and then let Google's servers do all the heavy lifting for you and deliver relevant search results.

Because the app works through image recognition and machine learning it can be used to pick out objects not just from the real world but also from photographs stored in the phone's memory. Google, of course, despite its size and indexing power doesn't know everything. In order for a result to appear the technology behind the app needs to correctly identify it in the first instance and then match it to the entities database that Google is busy building as part of semantic search.

When it works it feels like magic. You can suddenly find a dealership that sells a car like the one you found in the picture of a poster advertising a movie, you can discover breeds of dogs you didn't know, find brands of clothing you had no way of describing and even discover recipes of dishes that you don't even know what they are called.

The greatest value of this, of course, is to businesses that can suddenly find themselves attracting customers through unexpected sources of product placement or for items they have not necessarily optimized their website for.

How to Take Advantage of Google's Indexing of Entities

Search savvy businesses know that big wins in search come from performing due diligence as part of a process. The expansion of search to include image recognition that goes beyond the exact match of an image provides an opportunity to businesses that use pictures as part of their product range.

The trick lies in helping Google better understand an object in a picture as an entity. Entities are associated with specific real-world attributes (like cars and tires for example) and activities. They also help raise the perceived trustworthiness of websites in search.

Here's what to do to take advantage of this:

  1. Make the pictures tell the story. It is no longer enough to sell a particular product and have a perfectly lit image of it. A person looking for that is most likely to have different lighting conditions and viewing angle. Help Google understand the similarities by having a variety of pictures of each product on your website taken from different angles and contexts.
  2. Label everything correctly. Far too often product images on a website get uploaded with numerical values or the name "image" and a number that shows size or resolution as the file name. None of this helps search understand the image better. Make sure every image you upload is as clearly labeled for what it is as possible.
  3. Tie the pictures to the text. Google still reads text. If the surrounding text has nothing to do with your product image it only makes it harder for Google to understand the connection. Uncertainty lowers confidence in search results and makes it less likely for your website to appear in response to a Google Lens query even if the picture you have used is very similar to the object being search for.
  4. Think context and perspective. Just as web copy, these days, takes into account the searcher's intent and tries to provide an answer to a problem so must the images you place on your business website illustrate the likely context and perspective of a potential searcher. Taking top-down shots of a product, for example, when it is highly unlikely it will ever be encountered naturally, like that, makes it that much harder for Google's machine learning algorithms to recognize it.
  5. Add alt text. Alt text is a basic search engine optimization requirement that is frequently overlooked. It is there to tell a search engine what an image is if, for some reason, the image cannot be displayed. Alt text however has additional roles when it comes to optimizing a website for search. It provides an additional layer of verification of an image and its relevance to the text that surrounds it. Correctly used alt text descriptions help Google increase its level of confidence in an image. This is particularly important in cases where the perspective may be a little different or the context of the shot may not come anywhere close to what is actually being searched for.
Published on: Feb 22, 2019
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