Google appears to be testing a new SERP feature that allows users to refine their search using image-led suggestions.

Google test visual search filters - barbecue by type

This morning, I spotted ‘Refine by material’ options at the bottom of the search results page for ‘garden furniture’. I did a little digging and managed to find ‘Refine by brand’ and ‘Refine by type’ filters on other SERPs, as well as filters on Google Shopping.

Google Shopping - Refine by suggestions

We brought our findings to the attention of Barry Schwartz, one of the biggest names in SEO, who did a write-up about it on Search Engine Roundtable. He suggested he’d never seen the filters before and couldn’t replicate the results, so this is almost certainly a new feature that Google’s testing on a subset of users.

Google garden furniture SERP - Refine by material

The use of images in the filters suggests Google is looking for a way to make the main results page more visual. Image URLs like this indicate that they’re being sourced from Google Shopping, but it’s unclear how a sunscreen bottle came to illustrate ‘plastic furniture’.

Google is employing its advanced understanding of the user journey to generate relevant filters, and its knowledge of product attributes to deliver the right results. It’s a great example of its machine-learning and artificial intelligence techniques in action.

Of course, the feature is in testing and there are issues to iron out — as the sunscreen bottle proves. But there’s good reason to think Google will be heading in this direction, as it has done with suggestions on Google Images.

Google Images - refinements

Businesses looking to get ahead of the game should make sure they’ve created search-optimised subcategory pages: brands with specific ‘plastic garden furniture’ URLs are much more likely to gain exposure in filtered results than a site with a catch-all ‘garden furniture’ page.

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