After the demise of Google+, Google has sought to re-focus its efforts on negating search and discovery competition from social platforms.
Rather than taking social networks head-on (by creating its own network), Google has now opted to utilize its strengths by adding social-like tools within search, and tapping into the same trends that social platforms are using to grow their businesses. Along this line, Google has added short blog posts - like social updates - which businesses can add to their search profiles, the ability to promote offers within Knowledge Panel listings, and a range of other Google My Business upgrades.
And this week, Google has announced another social-like feature within Google Images, this one seemingly taking direct aim at Pinterest, which is rising as a product search threat.
As explained by Google:
"Starting today, when you select an image, it will appear in a side panel on the page, next to the search results. Importantly, it stays there as you scroll, letting you easily compare images with others on the page. Do this as many times as you want without losing track of what you looked at; just hit the back button to bring up the last image you clicked on."
The option will help users better locate similar image matches by providing a direct comparison alongside, as opposed to having an expanded result that stays pinned as you continue to scroll.
But more than just that core comparative functionality, the new option is also specifically focused on facilitating shopping.
"To help make shopping decisions easier, when you select an image of a product, you’ll now see details such as the brand, price, availability and reviews. We’ve also added captions to the related images shown under the image you’ve selected so you know where you're going before you click."
That added functionality will make it easier to find the exact item match you're looking for. Now, you'll be able to search for 'blue+basketball shoes+Nike' and get a full listing of related items, each with an expandable, pinned side-panel for matching, and price and quality measures built into the listing.
Technically, this doesn't add much, as all of this information has previously been available. But practically, this is a significant update, and one which online retailers will need to take into consideration, as it's easy to see this becoming a relied upon approach to online shopping.
The option will make online reviews even more important, as well as price and completed product information listings. We'll have to wait and see just how many searchers revert to the new process, but it could quickly become a key SEO consideration for eCommerce brands.
And it's easy to see this become a problem for Pinterest too. Pinterest - which recently crossed the 300 million active user threshold - is working to boost its presence as a key product discovery tool, adding improved contextual matches and item info listings to help consumers find what they're after.
If that same functionality is built into Google, that could lessen the need for people to open the app.
It's a smart move from Google - which, on the surface, may seem like a minor update. But the broader impact could be significant.