Mobile Marketing Search Marketing Social Media

Search Meets Pinterest: The Next Generation of Visual Discovery

April 29, 2014

Pinterest has announced a groundbreaking evolution to its platform called Guided Search. The new feature is built around two main functionalities: (1) predicting what users may be interested in based on their past interactions; and (2) anticipating what users might want in the future – even if they are not sure what that is quite yet.

Pinterest is innovating how users search with the intention of answering a sim­­­ple question: How can Pinterest help discover things that people care about? As search’s primary role is to provide answers to questions and relevant information to users’ queries, Pinterest is evolving its functionality beyond keyword-based hashtag and description searches.

How ‘Guided Search’ works

Pinterest is an online platform where users curate ideas for interests, projects or events by creating visual collections (“boards”) of image-based bookmarks (“pins”)—which they can then share. Until recently, it has not been easy for users to navigate the platform to find relevant content. The demand for finding an effective method for combing through billions of articles, images and content is what led to Guided Search.

Consumers are used to standard search experiences that follow a straightforward model: information is delivered based on what a user is seeking at that moment based on their specific query. For example, if a user is looking for a generic cotton shirt, results may vary for the search ranging from a local dry cleaner’s listing to where the user can shop for a cotton shirt.

Guided Search (currently available for mobile only) provides a different experience. Pinterest CEO, Ben Silbermann, explains that after a few taps on the Pinterest app, users can immediately begin to see variations for a search at the top of the app.The cotton shirt a Pinterest user may be looking for could be easier to navigate, resulting in different fashion-related categories (i.e. dress shirts, summer shirts, casual shirts).

What the update means for brands

As social platforms continue to evolve, search will play an increasingly important role for marketers. The ability to provide contextually relevant information aligning to what a user wants within a matter of seconds has put a lot of pressure on platforms to adapt to this functionality.

When it comes to Guided Search in particular, we’ve identified three main takeaways for marketers:

Pinterest is demonstrating a mobile-first mindset. According to eMarketer, mobile is predicted to overtake time spent on desktop and laptop computers – and capture more advertising dollars. This year alone, analysts predict that US mobile spending will grow 56 percent to $14.97 billion, whereas desktop advertising will increase only slightly by 0.41 percent.

With the rapidly growing usage of mobile, it is not surprising that Pinterest has decided to test Guided Search on mobile first. As 75 percent of Pinterest usage occurs on mobile devices, the company is rightfully placing mobile development at the forefront of its efforts.

When optimizing for mobile, marketers should adhere to best practices such as making sure content is findable by optimizing keywords within descriptions, as well as incorporating longer images and less text overlay which make images more conducive to viewing on smaller screens.

Visual content continues to dominate across search and social. The trend toward visual content has largely been influenced by a marked shift in media consumption habits. When it comes to mobile, taking a picture or sharing a GIF is often a lot easier than typing out a status or query. Furthermore, image-based content can act as a universal language, breaking barriers for marketers trying to reach diverse groups or markets.

According to Silbermann, more than 750 million boards and more than 30 billion individual Pins exist on Pinterest today – estimates that have grown 50 percent in the last six months. As visual content continues to grow, images remain relevant for sharing and for increasing engagement for engine rankings and social platforms. Marketers should ensure that their content is visually engaging so that users are compelled to take the next step – whether that is clicking through to the board or re-pinning the image.

Something to watch: Will future updates allow brands to glean insights from Pinterest search trends? Search marketers are familiar with Google Trends to identify seasonality and historical trends to anticipate any fluctuations in future planning. Similar to having a tool to help guide the right mix of keywords to bid on, it will be interesting to see how Guided Search paves the way for users to interact on Pinterest.

The current query architecture allows for adding and removing search terms, giving users the ability to modify searches without starting from scratch. It will be important for brands to watch for any rise in searches, which can inform new areas of content creation and/or visual images. This insight can also be valuable for marketers as the strategy on one platform can help inform another.


As social platforms integrate search capabilities to improve relevancy and make it easier to find faster, smarter results, technology will need to evolve at a rapid pace to meet the higher demands of users. As it exists today, “search” spans across many web properties – some are monetized for advertising while others are not. (Currently, Guided Search is not open for advertisers.)

Guided Search will lead the way for Pinterest to serve users the right images while arming marketers with more data to potentially refine targeting and understand user interaction. The potential is significant as this product becomes more widespread and evolves for all parties.

Rebecca Sleeman, Community Supervisor at 360i, contributed to this post.

Cover photo via Pinterest