Consumer Journey

Beyond Keywords: Why More Consumers Are Embracing Visual & Conversational Search

Dustin McManus
November 29, 2023

As consumer shopping habits continue to change, so too do the ways in which they search. Today, consumer search behavior is evolving beyond keywords into fascinating arenas. Visual and conversational search in particular are reshaping the way consumers seek information outside of traditional keyword search queries.

This shift presents profound implications for brands and advertisers. The rise of these new consumer search patterns mandates updated search strategies that adapt to these new behaviors and more effectively understand the intent driving them.

What does consumer search behavior entail?

Think about the last time you looked up a product, service, or piece of information. Did you go to a search engine like Google or Bing and type in a query? Did you ask a voice assistant like Alexa or Siri? Maybe you took a photo of something and had an AI algorithm scan it and tell you what it is. These all represent various ways consumers are searching today.

The first option - going to a search engine and scrolling through results on a SERP page - is the most commonly used method. But it no longer monopolizes how consumers search. Thanks to new technologies and an expanding digital landscape, consumers are embracing methods like visual and conversational search.

Exploring visual and conversational search

Let’s take a quick look at what visual and conversational search are, and how they differ from text-based search and keyword queries.

  1. Visual Search - Allows consumers to use images rather than text-based queries to search for information. Visual recognition technology will analyze the image and provide relevant search results.
  2. Conversational Search - Allows consumers to interact with digital voice assistants that respond using natural language processing. This search method mimics an actual two-way conversation between user and device.

The catalyst for these new search methods is the emergence of new technologies. Specifically,  the ubiquity of smartphones, digital assistants, and chatbots are fostering new habits and use cases that many consumers are gravitating toward. 

A recent study found that 72% of people owning a voice-activated device use it on a daily basis, indicating a massive potential user base for conversational search. Meanwhile, 30% of U.S. adults 34 and younger claim to use visual search for shopping, with another 39% stating they’re interested in exploring its use. It’s easy to see why more consumers are utilizing or exploring these new search options.

Visual search provides opportunities for consumers to:

  • Identify unknown objects
  • Trace the origin or brand of a product image
  • Find visual inspiration for outfits
  • Explore destinations and locales

Conversational search provides opportunities for consumers to:

  • Ask detailed questions and receive research-backed responses
  • Prompt an action or function
  • Engage in a fluid conversation
  • Transcend the limitations of human-powered search

The psychology behind evolving consumer search habits

According to Lisa Gevelber, Google’s CMO of the Americas Region, consumers are changing how they search to complement and enhance real-world experiences. 

One of the predominant reasons why many consumers search is to ease anxiety and uncertainty. When you’re planning a vacation, looking for the best new restaurants to dine at, or even comparing similar products, how do you typically arrive at a decision? For many, that journey begins with research.

While gathering information before making a decision is a driving factor of consumer search, it’s also rooted in alleviating anxiety and building confidence. Search empowers consumers to feel less stressed and more secure in the products and experiences they choose in their day-to-day lives.

Our desire as consumers to get more granular and explore all facets of a product or experience before ultimately making a decision is a clear impetus for the rise of visual and conversational search. By getting to see things up close and personal or having an actual dialogue with a trained voice assistant about an experience, consumers come away with much more insight than they would scrolling through links on a SERP. 

Visual and conversational search—and the additional detail they provide—are much more immersive and intuitive, and less cumbersome, than a typical text-based search experience. They also provide consumers with greater peace of mind that their search will ultimately lead them to make the best decision.

How to turn consumer intent into your competitive advantage

Now that you have a better understanding of the technology and psychology behind this new wave of consumer search behavior, it’s important to adapt your approach to search advertising accordingly.

Brands should seek to leverage the nuances and opportunities that visual and conversational search afford. This will uncover deeper understanding into the intent of your consumers. Savvy advertisers can then use these insights to create more relevant and impactful campaigns.

However, many brands are barely scratching the surface with these newer consumer search trends. For instance, only 35% of marketers claim they’re looking to optimize around visual search in the future. This presents a massive opportunity for forward-thinking brands to make visual and conversational search habits a sizable competitive advantage.

Here are three ideas and steps advertisers can take to capitalize on visual and conversational search.

  1. Seek out visual clues

Visual search is a great window into the desires and aspirations of consumers. Brands can analyze visual search patterns to identify trends and provide highly tailored results that match the images consumers are searching with.

For example, a surge in visual searches around beachfront resorts could indicate trending vacation destinations. Advertisers can then place relevant product ads in front of these consumers, such as sunscreen or swimsuits.

  1. Tap into conversational context

Conversational search presents a rich opportunity to get more contextual. Beyond just focusing on the keywords consumers use, brands can also begin to interpret context from tone and other vocal nuances.

For instance, someone asking Alexa for cooking tips creates a reasonable assumption that this particular user isn’t an expert chef. Advertisers could respond by providing recipes for beginners or basic cookware recommendations.

  1. Seize micro-moments

When it comes to visual and conversational search, smartphones are an incredibly useful tool for both. Many consumers quickly search for immediate information or answers on-the-go using these devices. These instances are known as micro-moments.

By providing speedy, accurate, and concise results during these micro-moments, brands can establish themselves as reliable sources for an immediate response to consumer needs wherever, whenever.

Embracing a new era of consumer connection

Incorporating visual and conversational search habits into your advertising strategy enables brands to transition from a reactive to a proactive performance marketing approach. With a greater understanding of the intent and subtleties behind this behavior, advertisers are better primed to showcase higher levels of empathy, responsiveness, and relevance toward their consumers.

This connection translates into improved campaign performance, stronger brand advocacy and loyalty, and a more seamless and desirable consumer journey. As consumer search behavior continues to become more natural and immersive, the brands that adapt to and follow their consumers’ lead will be the ones best positioned to thrive.

Learn how adMarketplace can position you to better meet consumers at their precise moment of intent by visiting our website today.