Four years later, in 2006, I wrote my first bylined column for MediaPost,“Is Google Scrambling?” By then Google claimed over 40% of the U.S. search market — still a far cry from its current share — and was branching out into new products like Google Calendar, Google Maps, and Google Finance.
Looking back, it’s clear these moves helped build a moat around Google Search and lay the foundation for $800 billion in market cap.
Today, Google is synonymous with search — but should we assume that success in the next 10 years will be the same as in the previous period? In my 2010 book, “Everything I Know About Marketing I Learned from Google” — which started as a MediaPost column — I explored the potential of an “app-ssistant” as the future interface. I wrote, “In this role, Google not only provides the ability to search for information, it allows you to act on it.”
Blue Links Begone
Indeed, the most valuable search engines today go well beyond information retrieval. They also go well beyond text. Search is now multi-formatted, embedded in a wide range of platforms from phones to cars to speakers. But Google trails Apple on auto integration and Amazon on voice adoption. Between these companies and Microsoft, the race to be the universal “app-ssistant” — and first trillion-dollar public company — is on.
But there’s one more category and company that offer tremendous value in the search ecosystem. You may have guessed it from the title of this article — talk about burying the lede — but I’m referring to visual search and Pinterest. (Disclosure: my company is a Pinterest Marketing Partner.)
Now that everyone has a camera in their pocket 24/7, Pinterest is poised to profit from a picture-perfect progression.
Just the Stats, Ma’am
Much of Google’s success is due to strong advertiser ROI with searchers carrying high commercial intent. The same goes for Pinterest. Pinners are actively thinking about what to do or buy next. Pinterest sees 3 billion+ queries on a monthly basis, including 600 million visual searches. Meanwhile, advertisers like Albertsons are tracking 14x return on ad spend using Visa Advertising measurement.
On Google and Pinterest alike, brands are an essential part of the platform utility. 90% of Pinners say the platform helps them decide what to purchase according to Gfk research and 66% have made a purchase after seeing content from brands.
To be sure, Pinterest’s commercial consumption extends to a number of different sectors including food and beverage – 87% of Pinners look for recipes and ideas for everyday meals on Pinterest – and travel, where 3 in 4 Pinners have been inspired to plan an additional trip after visiting the platform.
Pin it to Win it
Pinterest offers a number of ways for people to conduct visual searches, from Lens Your Look — upload a picture from your wardrobe to get suggestions to complete the outfit — to Shop the Look — click dots on shoppable products within Pins to buy them. Pinterest’s visual search technology is even available via retail apps like Target.
What’s most remarkable is that 97% of the top searches on Pinterest each month are non-branded. Hard-core search marketers will know how rare this is. Pinterest is truly a place where brands can be discovered, not simply capture last-click attribution on a purchase decision that was already made.
The one sure thing about the future of search is that there’s no one sure thing. While Google’s been the dominant player for the past decade, the pace of societal and technological change is not slowing, and the search interface of the next decade may not resemble anything — or any company — on the market today. With AR and VR becoming more widespread — and platforms like Facebook and Snap heavily invested in those spaces — the potential for visual search will continue to grow, and the competition will only heat up.