Hands off the panic button, marketers: Visual search is a technology new enough that companies have plenty of time to decide whether it's right for their industry.
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"Think about the intent of why the search, who would be searching, and then where is this moment in their buyer's journey where the prospect....would need to get the image," says Semrush's Olga Andrienko in the latest episode of Marketing Smarts. "If you are in an industry where you don't see a lot of visuals in the search, it might be that you don't have to run and embrace this as quickly as possible. If you have the resources, this is a great point and a great moment to do something before everyone else."
E-commerce, for example, is an industry that needs to pay attention when customers take a picture of an item and search for its availability. B2B e-commerce companies would need to adapt their search strategies sooner than others.
"First, fix the basics," Olga recommends. "There is also now the term multisearch. That means that I type something in and I add the image, too....I think this is what marketers need to start from."
But showing up higher in image search isn't the only advantage of image recognition. "Google lens is just a recognition mechanism....[that] works in a hundred languages," Olga says. "This is an opportunity to go global in a way with your products, ensuring that there is a description in different languages."
That's as good an argument as any to start looking into visual search—or at least see it as an "experiment," Olga explains, and ask outside resources for help.
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George Thomas: Are you ready for a little bit of a different conversation? One that you know I am super excited about. We're going to talk about what keeps Olga up at night around visual search, we're going to talk about what you should pay attention to as marketers in the B2B space, we're going to talk about how to get started, hurdles along the way, and of course we're going to get some words of wisdom from Olga Andrienko.
Olga Andrienko is the VP of brand marketing at Semrush. She is one of the key marketing leaders who has grown SEMrush from 300,000 users in 2013 to the 6,000,000 the company has today. She speaks at major marketing conferences, is the head judge at Content and Social Media Awards across the USA and Europe, and, as you'll find out, she's a pretty smart cookie. Let's get into the good stuff, the interview on visual search and how B2B marketers should be leveraging it for marketing success with Olga Andrienko.
I'm so excited because every now and then we get to dig into what I call a nitty-gritty section of what marketers should be doing. Today, visual search and how B2B marketers should be leveraging it for marketing success.
Olga, I'm super curious, and I love to ask this question because I never know what the answer is going to be. As the VP of brand marketing at Semrush, what the heck keeps you up at night?
Olga Andrienko: This would be about my team and then hiring and retaining the best marketing talent, because I feel that my role is mostly helping them succeed. My role is the team, and their role is to move us forward.
George: I totally agree. As a matter of fact, I'll do an immediate callback to a couple of episodes ago where we talked about building a great marketing team in 2023. Listeners, if you haven't checked that out, definitely go back and watch or listen to that episode.
Today we are talking with Olga, obviously she's from Semrush, and we're talking about being able to leverage visual search and how B2B marketers—honestly, probably all marketers—should be paying attention to this. Let's just start from the very beginning. Olga, I like to set the foundation for the Marketing Smarts listeners.
When we're talking about visual search, I think I know what it is, but what is visual search and what we're talking about today?
Olga: Visual search is something beyond when you type in, you can use your camera and then you can take a screenshot or you take some photo, and then you would upload that photo and ask Google to help you locate anything that you are searching for that you saw in front of you.
George: When we think about this, many marketers' minds might have been like the historical story of it: "I want to use alt text in my images so that when people do an image search." That's really not what you just said. You're like, you can take a picture or a screenshot and actually use that in the search that you're doing. So, it's coming at this in a little bit of a different direction, which then leads me into my next question. Why is it important for marketers to pay attention to visual search technology?
Olga: We are moving more and more into the direction of videos, of images, and all of this wanting everything in an instant and I don't even want to type, and when I shop online, I want to see a good quality photo of the product that I want to buy. This is where I would say Amazon has a lot of photos, Etsy has a lot of photos, and Google is still the leading search engine in the world, and then that's where also they are putting a lot more emphasis on everything visual. Anyone in e-commerce needs to really be paying attention to this.
George: I guess my question here, and let's go off the beaten path for a second, because we almost have how humans—marketers, yes, you're human, too—are using images to search for the things that they want, but then that also leads to if the humans are doing that, the marketers need to be doing something on their side with the website, with their e-commerce, with whatever they're doing. When you think about these two, and maybe there's Semrush goodness in here or not, when you think about the human and the marketer, how do we actually bring them together, or what should the marketer be thinking on their side based on the human action that is happening?
Olga: They need to think about the intent of why the search, who would be searching, and then where is this moment in their buyer's journey where the prospect or someone who would be likely to buy the product would need to get the image more. If I maybe would type in how to tie the shoelaces on the sneakers, that's where you don't need to really think about this type of search as I need to show the good visual, this is something that educational websites and e-commerce would be doing. When, for example, sneakers for running, that's where we would need. If you have also the budget to do that in 3D, now it's possible, and Google already tells us that the conversions and clicks are a lot higher on anything 3D. Users want to see and, even with online experiences, they want to be as close to the product as possible.
Right now, I would say that the visual search is highly important for e-commerce. If you're not in e-commerce, if you're in real estate, yes, the visual of the houses would still be important. For example, the real estate search engine results are not updating or they're not changing so fast, they're not so volatile as, let's say e-commerce, sports, and everything. So, it also depends on your industry. If you are in an industry where you don't see a lot of visuals in the search, it might be that you don't have to run and embrace this as quickly as possible. If you have the resources, this is a great point and a great moment to do something before everyone else, because visual search will come and will be adopted to all of the industries across search.
George: It's so interesting because there is a definite first movers advantage. I love the idea of being able to diagnose it just because is it not needed or have we found a pot of gold that we should actually be mining immediately.
If marketers are listening to this, how can they get started with visual search, and what should they be doing while they're getting started or pertaining to some type of strategy? You could probably go in different directions, whether it's strategy or tools. As soon as you bring up images, we just know that there's going to have to be some kind of process because usually there's a lot of them. Unpack how can marketers get started and what should they be thinking about along the way.
Olga: First of all, high-quality images. That's where you start with your products. Also, then a good description of every image, because search engines are bots, this is machine-learning, and they do read images in a very different way, but they still would look at the text that you used to describe your image. So, it's both the picture and what goes behind, and that's how you help Google understand what you have on the picture so that they would show it for requests or specific visuals that the search happens on. This is the baseline.
Also, Google is not the only search engine. For example, Etsy is very heavily reliant on images, and they also have their own algorithm. Again, start with images, start with good descriptions, and keyword research on what part of the funnel the person would be making the search.
There is also now the term multisearch. That means that I type something in and I add the image, too. This is where you still need the good old SEO for the text as well. I think this is what marketers need to start from. Also, ensuring that the website is good, run the site audit and understand whether there are any errors and mistakes preventing the whole website from ranking. Also, with the high-quality images, they sometimes are very heavy. Ensuring that you do have high-quality images, but you still compress them to still retain the quality. This would be very essential step.
George: I love this. It's almost an idea of you have to implement them, and because of that, make sure they're high-quality, but also make sure they're optimized for the Web experience. I love that you mentioned descriptions because Google, eBay, Etsy, and all these different things, if you even think social, Pinterest is highly focused on images.
What I would almost ask you as listeners to do right now is stop and think about the industry that you're in, the people that you serve, and do almost six pixels of separation of what are the two, three, four platforms that the users that use our things might use that are image-based. That in itself might be eye-opening. Olga, when you were talking, I harkened back to that we did an episode on SEO and optimizing with Franco Valentino. Listeners, after this, if you're like I need to pay attention more to that, make sure you check out that episode as well.
In life when we're trying to do new things, when we're trying to focus on new strategies, tactics, add things into our businesses, sometimes we make mistakes. I love to try to help the Marketing Smarts listeners not make as many mistakes as they might do without listening to this podcast. What mistakes have you seen marketers make or making, now or in the past, around this idea of visual search and what they should have in place for the humans who are trying to consume their products and services?
Olga: This is quite new, even to Google. There are not many mistakes that we see while implementing this, still. Something that I would highlight is that Google runs the work and then a Google lens is just a recognition mechanism, like when you upload the photo, this is the mechanism that would be reading your photo. This works in a hundred languages.
Also, this is an opportunity to go global in a way with your products, ensuring that there is a description in different languages. Just overlooking this element, I think, is what can be one of those mistakes I would highlight. Another one is the heavy images that make your website load longer. Also, low-quality images that Google would not even favor. Those would be the top three overall that I would say that we see.
I'm also pressured with what's the next big thing, should I join this or should I not, and do I have resources, should I go where everybody else is going. I read something that I might miss out on. I always take a very honest look at where we are now, whether our audience is using this immediately or not, and whether we have something more important in the pipeline.
I would also just encourage marketers not to feel that they need to implement it ASAP. Not every company would have the opportunity to take a thousand photos and show the model in 3D. It's fine if you don't have it. That's why now big brands are benefitting from this feature a lot more than the smaller companies. Just also encouragement, don't be pressured or feel that you need run as quickly and embrace this. But if you do have the resources, that's definitely a strong feature because we are buying online more than we ever did.
First, fix the basics. Think whether your audience has this pattern. There are some audiences that are really comfortable with text, they will not be searching for an image. They might not be comfortable with taking photos on the website and on the smartphone. Just really take an honest look at where you are in your journey, and then with your budget and with your capabilities, and whether it will still be very crucial for your audience, and then make the decision. A lot of mistakes happen when you're trying out everything new and just not taking care of the basics.
George: You have to take care of the basics. I love that you started that section with "it's so brand new, the fact that we're cutting-edge, and here are some mistakes that they might make, but we haven't seen historical mistakes yet." There are so many good pieces of information in that last section, it might be a rewind point and you have your notepad out, jotting some things down because there were a couple of hurdles or potholes that you might hit, there were some best-practices that Olga threw out.
As you were talking, I started to think about me personally as a human being, and then tie it back to the companies and things. For instance, if you're in the business of tourism, I definitely use my camera, "What is this? What is that?" and I'm looking for information, is there a way that I can go do a tour on that building, what is that building, and I'm searching because of the photo. I definitely might be walking through the airport and because I'm a little bit of a shoe guy, I might be like those are some bad kicks, what kicks are those. Don't judge me, Marketing Smarts listeners. Maybe you want to see what Justin Bieber's jacket was because you want to get a jacket like that.
There are just so many different ways that this will eventually pull in. The thing that hit my brain is I can see this taking fire over time because of the same basic principle of why video exploded, that humans are fundamentally lazy, we want an easy way to get to the thing that we're trying to find. If I can take a photo or put it in a machine and it can figure it out faster than I can type it, then I'm going to use this.
With that said, are there any visual search tips, tricks, hacks, things that you and the folks at Semrush are thinking about that marketers should definitely be like, you could do this or this would be really cool if they did that?
Olga: Tips, I understand this is for marketers, but do you mean this would be cool if they did that for Google further updates?
George: Either for Google or for their user experience. Just the fact of if you're a marketer and you're focused on visual search because you know the humans are using this technology, what are some cool things that they could do or maybe think about?
Olga: I really like what you said about the travel. This is an industry that really benefits from the latest updates from Google where Google tries to guess what the searcher would do next. Let's say if I plan a trip to Mexico and Google flights to Mexico, then Google would pick it up, and that's where then they will try to feed me the information about restaurants and such. When I would type in restaurants, then they would suggest them in Mexico City or something.
This is where I think just picking your topic and then writing a lot of content around this topic would signal to Google that you are an authority on this topic, especially if you interlink and make, as we call it, a content cluster. With text together with visuals on this, you would be able to really show up consistently to the user on their path of exploring a certain country or a certain city. This is, I think, ultimately what you gain from it. Really focusing on the content and not just writing one piece and publishing images, but having the whole tree or cluster of information.
Also, one of the really interesting updates that we see now from Google is where they would be offering businesses to have the chance with people within search. If you're placing ads and then user interacted with a search snippet, then they could already have the AI and the bot conversing with the potential user and the information, so they will hold the information for this interaction for 30 days, I think. During the 30 days, maybe before, maybe even after the purchase already, the company would be able to have a very close interaction, more than Google ever offered on the platform to any business. Yes, that is for advertisers, but I would really love to test that and see how that works.
George: That's some interesting information, to say the least. As you were journeying down that last question, I kept thinking about journey, the buyer's journey, the experience. You started to mention clusters, which if you're not paying attention to pillar pages and content clusters and all of that for SEO, that in itself is probably a tip worth listening to this episode if it gets you started on that. That's something I'm very passionate about.
I started to then think, usually we talk about those words, the buyer's journey and customer experience, in a very textual based this step, this piece of content, then this piece of content, and I don't think I've ever added a layer of visual onto that. To actually start to think of what is the visual cluster, what's the visual pillar, what's the visual strategy around all of this, because people are inherently visual and going to be leaning into these technologies. By the way, we're not even talking about Web 3.0 technologies or virtual reality and how that is probably going to go someday. I love the fact that we're having this conversation and setting marketers up for the future.
Speaking of the future, I'm super curious. We've talked about hurdles, we've given them some tips and tricks, and things to think about. How do I as a marketer know I've reached visual search success for my company, what is the mountain top, the Olympic Gold Medal, what does that look like around this topic?
Olga: Increase in conversions, for me. Ultimately, if doing search doesn't bring you revenue, then it's not a good strategy. When we talk about SEO internally, that's revenue that is an end goal. If we see increase in conversions for the topics that we optimized the videos and then uploaded more videos on, then that is a clear signal that it's working.
Also, in the softer metrics, just more traffic to the website. Even how long people stay on the page, just the user behavior metrics would be a signal. It's not the ultimate success. I think if we ensure that we have high-quality images, they do rank, and then ultimately we get more revenue out of that. User behavior metrics, even the rankings, you can start measuring. Ranking is still a good metric, but it's not the end goal.
You can start with that. If you already see that for image search your website is higher, then this would be a success.
George: I love that you started with conversions and revenue, because that is near and dear to every owner's, CEO's, C-suite's heart. It does have to come back to this. I also love that you dipped into this idea of are we getting more traffic to the site, and when they get there, are the optimized images that are high-quality that got them there helping to keep them on page longer, because that's a good sign to Google, Yahoo, Bing, DuckDuckGo, and whoever that this is a great experience, this is a great piece of content that happens to be part of that cluster or pillar from a visual standpoint. I absolutely love it.
Olga, one of the things that I like to do is ask every guest for some words of wisdom. It can be around the topic of visual search, if you want, or it can just be general words of wisdom to marketers in things that you've seen. As we end this episode for the Marketing Smarts listeners, what are some words of wisdom that you want to leave the audience?
Olga: This will not be about visual search. I recently wrote a blog post on LinkedIn that resonated a lot, and that was about hiring agencies. I'm a big believer in outsourcing, especially in content creation or in something very new. If you're not sure whether you need visual search, or if you're not sure and if you don't have resources internally, see it as an experiment and seek out help externally.
Just find the right agency or freelancer and ask them to help you. This will help you scale faster and also focus on the things that matter more yourself while someone else will help you explore other avenues. This is a great way. This is an extension of your team. Hire agencies and external help, freelancers, that will help you scale your business.
George: Marketing Smarts listeners, did you take lots of notes? I have to ask, what is your one thing, your number one execution opportunity after this podcast episode? Make sure you reach out and let us know in my inbox or on Twitter using the hashtag #MPB2B.
I also have to ask are you a free member of the MarketingProfs community yet? If not, head over to Mprofs.com/mptoday. You won't regret the additional B2B marketing education that you'll be adding to your life.
We'd like it if you could leave us a rating or review on your favorite podcast app, but we'd love it if you would share this episode with a coworker or friend. Until we meet in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast where we talk with Peter Pedromo about B-to- B marketing and AI for streamlined and strategic communication, I hope you do just a couple of things. One, reach out and let us know what conversation you'd like to listen in on next. Two, focus on getting 1% better at your craft each and every day. Finally, remember to be a happy, helpful, humble B2B marketing human. We'll see you in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast.
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Published on December 22, 2022
Olga Andrienko, VP of Brand Marketing at Semrush. She is one of the marketing leaders who have grown Semrush from 300K users in 2013 to the 6 million the company has today. She speaks at major marketing conferences, and she is the Head Judge at Content and Social Media Awards across USA and Europe.
LinkedIn: Olga Andrienko
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