When It Comes to Search, Pictures are More Trusted Than Text

By Publicis Media InSites Archives
Cover image for  article: When It Comes to Search, Pictures are More Trusted Than Text

Trust in digital media is plummeting, but visual search is proving to be a popular, and effective, means of reaching consumers.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that should be music to a marketer's ears.

Consumers now trust images more than text and visual search is on the rise. Images are offering brands and marketers a solid way to connect and earn the trust of a growing number of skeptical consumers at a time when trust in digital media is being challenged.

Visual search takes several forms. At its simplest, it means letting users scroll through images in search results to find the best fit for their query. Increasingly, visual search is facilitated by the use of a mobile device's camera function and using image recognition to deliver search results.

According to new research from PerformicsIntent Lab, a partnership with Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communications, 59% of consumers think visual information is more important than textual information across all consumer categories. Roughly 36% have conducted a visual search, while close to 60% of respondents think images are more trustworthy than text.

Our data shows consumer trust to be at the lowest point since we established the Intent Lab and the Digital Satisfaction Index (DSI) in 2016. The DSI measures consumer satisfaction with digital experiences, and information gleaned online and is rooted in four key factors: Trust, Privacy, Utility and Social.

The DSI score for Trust fell eight points in October 2018, while Privacy, Utility and Social remained about the same. The falling levels of trust in online information helped drag down the overall DSI by 4% in just six months. It's a disturbing trend, particularly for those of us trying to earn the trust and capture the attention of everyone online. How bad is it? Common responses from those surveyed included, "I am skeptical about anything I read online," and "I generally mistrust the information I get online."
Nevertheless, they do trust pictures.

Establishing trust is a moving target, but the Intent Lab research shows how images offer a solid point of connection.

Mobile is the preferred means of digital contact for shoppers today -- 53% choose mobile devices for search activity compared to 37% who opt for desktops (just 10% cite tablets).

Pictures are particularly important in the shopping journey, with a couple of key product categories over-indexing for visual search, including apparel and furniture, where 85% said images were more important than text. Shoppers preferred pictures for car buying, travel and even grocery shopping. Overall, visual information is preferred over text by at least half of the respondents in all product categories except for electronics, household goods and wine and spirits. 

New tools that let consumers snap a photo of an item, and then search for that specific or similar product are helping to fuel this popularity. Pinterest introduced Pinterest Lens in early 2017 and, within a year, reported 600 million visual searches conducted every month. Today, that number is in the billions and social media platforms, brands and retailers are adding the capability at a rapid clip, which makes it so critical for brands to deliver on the customer's desire to use visual search.

  • Optimize your site to align to visual search queries, such as the image name, caption, relevant keywords and image size
  • Create links from images to the correct landing pages
  • Apparel and home goods brands are at the leading edge of this trend and should plan to integrate visual search in their mobile apps

There are opportunities to use images throughout the customer's decision journey. Many marketers wrongly assume that visual search is only important early on in the customer journey. Our Intent Lab study proves that it's important at all stages, particularly when it comes to making final decisions and comparing options; 41% of respondents said visual information was very helpful when comparing products on search engines and e-commerce sites.

Perhaps most importantly, do not betray the trust consumers are placing in pictures. Already there are cracks showing, particularly when it comes to advertising. Consumers believe that visual search results are highly influenced by paid advertising that is often considered irrelevant to their intended query. When ads show up first in their search results, they had better be the right visual match, or that trust is broken.

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