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Is VCO the New SEO?

It’s no secret that visuals are exploding. They’ve always made an indelible impression, and now the online world is finally catching up. From advertising to movies and culture in general, nothing quite touches us like the power of the visual. It also happens to be in our DNA. We’ve always been a visually oriented society but for many reasons, the web has lagged behind. That is changing, and it’s changing in a big way.

How wonderful is it that, as the web continues to grow up, we are increasingly being smacked in the face with the immediateness of big, luscious photography, illustration and video! Mobile has only served to hasten this progress, as nothing communicates quite so clearly in a tiny space as well-chosen visuals. Words don’t stand a chance against the power of the visual in that space. Visuals grab our attention at the smallest of sizes — perfect for our mobile world — and say in one shot what many words would struggle to say half as clearly. They are also easily linkable and clickable, whisking us away to wherever we need to go next.

BUT NOW — the time is ripe for Visual Content Optimization (I coined that!) — because now we can search with those same visuals! Check out Google Search by Image and Pinterest’s Guided Search.

What about traditional SEO?

Keywords you say? After all, they have been the mainstay of good search engine optimization, as well as being the perpetrator of far too many websites overloaded with textual gibberish in hopes of capturing the pinnacle of almighty Google. I don’t fancy myself an SEO expert by any means, but now as we glide through the web, clicking on visuals here and there along the way, we are more likely to find what we seek through those same visuals rather than the accompanying text. In fact, today’s smarter web and smarter computers have made advances that allow images, even complex images, to be found through search — with nary a keyword in sight. Can I get a “WOW?!!”

Semantic technology expert David Amerland goes deeper into how all this works, but it’s clear that this shift will become an increasingly powerful driver of traffic for search queries.

Another way our visual digital experience is growing up, is through image recognition technology which is beginning to transform the way we shop — both online and offline, as we snap pictures to assist in our purchases while retailers capture valuable insights about shopping behaviors. Service industries such as hotels are taking note too — mining customer data while driving consumer engagement.

The way forward

So what does all this mean for marketers and business owners? As the web continues to become more visual, brands will more heavily rely on using images to build authority and expertise. It also means that businesses will begin visually “listening” to their markets and their competition by looking at images. As stated in VentureBeat, “images have surpassed text as the currency of choice in social conversations.” Indeed, the power of the visual keeps getting stronger.

Since visuals strike us more viscerally and are so immediate, I suspect this will bring even quicker results and an even faster web experience. And what’s more, all those cluttered, verbose, word-saturated pages inspired by the SEO of before, will be increasingly replaced by visually-rich pages instead. My math says that every thousand words can now be replaced by one picture. Well, maybe not quite, but you get the idea.

So what to do? Rather than focusing purely on SEO and the more traditional text-driven web, it would be wise to start focusing more on VCO. It should be clear that having a smart visual strategy and good, quality, unique design will become increasingly valuable to digital marketing strategy, and businesses that have any hope of being found on Google. Likewise, it’s never been wiser to turn to a design pro to build your visual digital identity from the ground up. The semantic web will demand it.

Article by Paul Biedermann
Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.
Photo illustration work: Paul Biedermann, re:DESIGN

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