If Google search is for information, Pinterest wants to be search for inspiration

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on April 25, 2014

From The News Desk

For anyone still arguing that Pinterest is little more lame scrapbooking app for grandmas, you’re officially out of the loop. If $562.5 million in venture with a reported $3.8 billion valuation wasn’t enough to convince you the site was becoming a major online powerhouse, Pinterest’s latest product roll out should.

Last night Pinterest introduced Guided Search, a means of combing the app for pins that suit your needs. Users can comb various categories like “hairstyles” or “recipes,” and the app will prompt potential tags to include in the search like “short” “for women” “easy” or “dinner.”

Once a few tags are chosen, a cascading sea of images appear with pins that fit the bill.

If you’re not a Pinterest user, this might not seem like a big deal. But for people who understand the power of Pinterest — that it’s about imagination, exploration, inspiration, and dreaming – this amounts to the best way yet to navigate what is essentially a doll house for adults to dream up the ways they want to live their lives.

By visually indexing this crowdsourced collection of fantasies, Pinterest has created what may become the next generation of search – Google 2.0. It’s still search at its core, but on a whole new level. You turn to Google for the best answers to informational queries — where your dentist’s office is located, what the symptoms of strep throat are. But the search engine is woefully inadequate for the types of discovery and brainstorming you do in creative endeavors.

As Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann put it last night, “Search until now has been focused on information retrieval. Factual answers. We wanted to do it differently at Pinterest, and make a search engine about exploration and discovery.”

Pinterest can be the search tool when you’re not looking for one specific answer, but are instead looking for a myriad of answers. Perhaps you don’t know exactly what you want and you’re just looking for something to kick start your creative juices. Perhaps you’re just looking for a visual plethora, and Google images is pulling up too many unrelated pictures based on indexing entire websites.

If Google is where you search for information, Pinterest wants to become where you search for inspiration.

And that ladies and gentlemen, combined with the inherent advertising potential of such a open-ended search platform, is why the company managed to raise a whopping half-billion in venture with at a multi-billion valuation, despite having brought in no revenue yet. Investors are crossing their fingers that Pinterest leverage these intent-laden search queries to become an advertising powerhouse, much like Google did.

Even though Pinterest hasn’t even officially introduced Promoted Pins yet, the early beta testing sounds promising. The Wall Street Journal reports:Among the advertisers who have quietly tested promoted pins to date are home décor site Wayfair, hotel chain Four Seasons, and Unilever's TRESemmé and Hellmann's brands. All four said they were pleased with the results but declined to say whether they would continue marketing on Pinterest…Wayfair has found that visitors from Pinterest were 20% more valuable over time than average Wayfair visitors in terms of revenue, according to CEO Niraj Shah.” 

I’ve heard anecdotally from e-commerce startup founders that the traffic they see from Pinterest, just through users pinning brand images, is far and beyond what they see from Facebook and Twitter.

“I’m begging Pinterest to let me throw money at them,” Julep founder Jane Park told me once after talking about the traffic she gets from unofficial Pinterest channels. “I’m dying to try promoted pins.”

Anyone who believes Pinterest is only used by scrapbooking grandmothers in the Midwest is underestimating the power of the application. With a huge range of topics on there — from motorbikes, to sports, geek, celebrities, art, science, kids, education, health, and fitness — Pinterest is a visualization and brainstorming tool for a wide swath of demographics.

These demographics come to the website when they aspire towards something and when they want to stimulate themselves, seek out beauty or design in whatever form, indulge in hobbies and passions, cultivate wedding or travel plans, or remodel their home.

And therein lies Pinterest’s sales power. It has the potential to offer ads with high click conversion rates because people see the visual ads for exactly the products and brands at the same time as they’re in the market or at least contemplating the purchasing of such goods.

Should Google be looking over its shoulder? Not yet of course. Pinterest has yet to roll out its promoted pins program on a wide scale, and it could end up totally backfiring. It could be that Pinterest users consider their boards a sacred place for creativity, and they could be completely turned off by advertisements appearing alongside their carefully chosen pins.

Pinterest’s CEO Silbermann has been extremely cautious at introducing advertisements for exactly this reason. He wants to make sure the ads are done well, as beautiful, artistic images that don’t seem out of place alongside colorful Pinterest boards. His team has been developing their advertising plans for months and have recently started pitching on a wider scale to many potential clients.

But if Pinterest is successful at its new Guided Search product, well then it may turn out there’s room for more than one Google in this world.