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How to Reverse Image Search, the Right Way

If you want to know how to perform a reverse image search, you’ll first need to know the limitations of an image search:

  • A reverse photo lookup will almost never be able to find an image on the web of a person based on a different image of the same person.

  • Doing this image search will either give you no results or an enormous number of irrelevant results.

photo search

Speaking of enormous results, reverse image search engines need to be crawling the web to get results. Almost all image search services do not have the web crawling capabilities needed to provide a positive image search result.

Google has the biggest web image crawling ability.

If you want to perform an image search with Google on a smartphone, you need to put the page on desktop mode.

Google Reverse Image Search

So can a reverse image search ever be successful?

  • Yes, an image search can work with identical images.

A reverse picture lookup has a chance for a good search result if you are using an image to search and an identical image exists somewhere on the internet (its twin). However, even searching for an identical existing web image can have occasional problems.

Image Search of a Face

It is commonly believed that you can take a photo of someone and find them on the web with a reverse image search.

Unfortunately or fortunately, this is not the case.

Stories of this happening are either exaggerated or are very rare coincidences. The capabilities of reverse image search engines are just not at a point where they can routinely find an image of a face based on a different image of that face. Perhaps in the future, but not currently.

It is possible that the image searching abilities available to the public are confused with the facial recognition software certain governments have.

  • Governments would probably have no issue finding an individual's web image based off a different photo of that individual.

However, the reverse image search engines we use are not the same as the governments'.

image search

Image Search Web Crawl Issues

Another technological shortcoming of all, but one, reverse image search engines is their poor web crawling abilities.

  • Web crawling is when an internet bot working for a search engine goes through the internet to explore and index webpages.

A webpage that is indexed is a page that can be found on a search engine. If the page is not indexed, it will not appear in a search result. To crawl more of the web, a search engine needs to become more powerful and the most powerful search engine is Google.

This leaves other reverse image search engines with less available search results. Typically, if a reverse image search does not work on Google reverse image search, it won't work on other search engines.

  • You can test this out yourself.

Use a non-Google reverse image search engine and search for an image of yourself that you know exits on the web by using that identical image. You'll find that far to often you'll get no results.

However, you should still use other non-Google reverse image search engines for the rare chance they crawled and indexed a web photo that Google did not.

Image Search with an Existing Web Image

So, is a reverse image search ever helpful? Well, you probably figured it out:

  • A reverse image search works pretty okay if you are using an image that exists on the internet.

For example, if someone used an identical profile photo for all their social media accounts, you could discover these accounts in an image search using the same image they used.

The same principal works with symbols and logos. Furthermore, symbols and logos are so standardized that you might have a decent chance of finding an image of them based off a similar image.

After understanding these limitations, you will be in a better position to get the reverse image search results you want. Do not have high expectations, especially with finding a photo with a different photo. Understand that what makes a reverse image search work is based on web crawling. And know where you will have the most success, finding an image on the web by searching with that same image.

About the Author

image searching

Peter Sandru is an Instructor & Co-Founder of NDIL with over 14 years as a Vancouver Private Investigator. Peter has spent more than a decade conducting investigations throughout the world, primarily for corporations, law firms, and government agencies. Peter has assisted in the creation of many investigative training programs in various capacities. Over the length his career, Peter has performed numerous reverse image searches for background checks on individuals and organizations.


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