Google Lens is an Android app that allows your phone to interact with the real world. By using artificial intelligence (AI) and Google’s vast database of information from across the internet, Google Lens – in basic terms – lets you run a search based on an image.
First launched in 2017, Google Lens has evolved to be much cleverer and more effective than its original iteration. Making use of reverse image search, you can find where to buy an item, learn more information about a landmark, translate text, or quickly copy written information onto your phone.
So what are some practical uses for Google Lens?
Is there a plant growing in your garden you don’t know the name of? Perhaps you’ve come across a strange bug and you want to check if it’s dangerous? Or you may have seen an unusual object in an old building. Snap a photo of it with Google Lens, and Google will run a reverse image search to help you identify the item and find out more information about it.
If you’re at a café and love the décor, you can take a photo of any item you fancy and find out where you can buy something similar online. Or maybe you’ve seen a photo of a celebrity wearing a beautiful outfit that you’d love for yourself: run the image through Google Lens and see where you can buy it.
Find out more information
If you’re on holiday and admiring some fascinating architecture, or have an inkling to know more about a beautiful piece of artwork, Google Lens can run a search that will bring up numerous websites on the topic.
Listen to text
If you’re visually impaired, or a font is difficult to read, take a photo with Google Lens to hear it read out loud.
When you’re on your travels and need to translate something, there’s no need to get out a dictionary or type something into Google Translate. Snap a picture with Google Lens and it does all the hard work for you, providing you with a quick translation. It will even transpose the translated text over the original text.
Copy text from an image
Don’t spend ages typing up a written document. Run it through Google Lens and the text will be automatically copied into digital text that you can save and edit as required.
Discover new foods
When you go to an international restaurant, you might stick to the same meal every time simply because you’re not sure what other items on the menu are. Snap a photo of the menu, though, or a picture of the food, and Google Lens will show you a picture and tell you exactly what to expect from that particular meal.
Get maths help
Stuck on a sum? Simple or complicated, Google Lens has a “homework” feature that will help you work out the answer.
So now you know some of the many functions of Google Lens, how do you go about using it?
Google Lens is, first and foremost, an Android app. The main way to use it is to download the app onto your Android phone.
However, there are also ways to use Google Lens – or a more basic reverse image search – on iPhones, iPads, and computers.
Google Lens on Android
Many Android phones have Google Lens built in. However, if yours doesn’t, just open the Play Store and install the app. You can gain access either directly through the app, or via your phone’s camera.
Close to the shutter button on your phone, you will see the Google Lens icon. Select this to switch to Google Lens.
At the bottom of your screen, you will see a slider with various options, depending on the type of search you would like to undertake. This includes Text for extracting text from an image, Homework for maths problems, and Shopping to find where to buy an item. Select the option you need by scrolling from side to side, aim your camera at the relevant object, and then tap the shutter button.
Once a photo is taken, you will see some results and options appear at the bottom of your screen. These will differ depending on the type of search.
Google Lens will try and focus on the most relevant item in your photo by using a white frame around it. However, it doesn’t always get it right and you can adjust the size and position of the frame using your fingers. You may also see small white dots on top of other items in your image. You can click on these to get results based on that part of the photo instead.
You can also use Google Lens on images already stored on your phone. Simply pull them through via the Google Lens app, or open Photos, select a relevant image, and tap the Google Lens icon.
An alternative method for using Google Lens is to open the Google Chrome app and select the camera icon on the search bar. This will open Lens and allow you to a search in the same way as described above.
Google Lens on iPhone or iPad
Although it is possible to use Google Lens on an iPhone or iPad, you won’t have as many options as Android users.
To use Google Lens on iPhone or an iPad, ensure you have Google Photos and/or Google Chrome installed. Open Google Photos, select a photo, and then tap the Google Lens icon to see your options.
Google Lens on Desktop
Desktop, again, has limited options for Google Lens, but is still a useful tool.
Go to Google Image Search and select the camera icon from the search bar. You then have the option to upload an image from your computer, drag and drop, or paste the URL of the image you’re interested in.
Once searched, you’ll see a few options, including Search, Text and Translate. Use your mouse or touchpad to adjust the size of the frame if Google hasn’t got it quite right.
You can also use reverse image search directly from a website. Right click an image and select either Search image with Google Lens or Visual Search. Be aware that this option doesn’t allow you to adjust the frame size.
Like Search, Discovery, Ads, Google Shopping, and more, Google Lens is an opportunity to direct more traffic to your website.
So, as a business owner, how do you optimise for Google Lens searches?
Well, the short answer is: you don’t. Not specifically.
When asked about the topic, John Mueller of Google said that, while website owners can’t do anything specifically to optimise for Google Lens, good general SEO will help.
“If you’re doing everything right, if your content is findable in search, if you have images on your content, and those images are relevant, then we can guide people to those images or to your content.”
So, if you’re already following good SEO practices on your images and content, then your website is likely to be picked up by Google Lens searches anyway.
If you haven’t optimised your images and content yet, then the good news is I have handy guides for you to follow:
It’s also a good idea to make sure you have relevant quality photos on your website. Whether you have a great recipe for Kung Pao Chicken, sell beautiful handbags, or provide educational information, using images to highlight your content is advantageous. Not only is it more visually pleasing, it will help Google Lens match similar reverse image searches with your content, increasing your chances of showing up in search results.
Google Lens makes use of reverse image searches, artificial intelligence and vast stores of information to help you link the real world with the digital. For users, this means easier access to information and useful tools. For business owners, it’s another opportunity to direct customers and service users to your website.