Google is augmenting its Image Search capabilities through Android apps and the mobile web with a new “Similar Items” feature that helps users find products similar to those they see in searched photos.
Google Image Search accomplishes this by using machine vision technology, a form of machine learning that identifies products in lifestyle images and displays matching items to the user. The Similar Items feature currently allows search results related to handbags, sunglasses and shoes, and will cover other apparel and home and garden categories in the next few months.
Retailers and merchants wanting to leverage the new feature need to add and maintain schema.org product metadata on their web pages, according to the Google Webmaster Central blog. Schema.org/Product markup helps Google find product offerings on the web and give users an at-a-glance summary of product info.
As search technology innovations go, image search (or visual search) has drawn a lot of attention and innovation over the last year or so. And though it recent has seemed like voice search could steal the spotlight away, this announcement by Google is evidence that search technology players are still exploring what they can accomplish within the borders of a photo.
It's not surprising that Google has been pushing the envelope as much as anyone. Over the last year or so, the company has made several announcements related to new Image Search capabilities. Last May, Google enabled related shopping ads to appear as users browsed image search results, and last summer, it launched an offering for product companies to have ads for their specific products appear in results for broadly-termed search queries.
Late last year, Google also acquired hot image search startup Undecidable Labs. It's not clear if that company's technology is helping fuel the Similar Items feature, or if this new feature was already in development using other in-house technology, but that acquisition suggested Google was more than willing to go outside of its own organization to find new image search technology it believed in.
Similar Items and similar image search features should go quite a ways to endearing merchants to Google. While Google is, without argument, an internet search pioneer, search technology evolutions have left the door open for companies like Amazon and Pinterest to play a huge role in shopping searches. For Google to stay in the shopping search conversation among among merchants and consumers, it must continue innovating along the lines of Similar Items.