The Evolution of Search at Pinterest

Pinterest Engineering
Pinterest Engineering Blog
3 min readMay 20, 2021


By Naveen Gavini, SVP, Products

When Pinterest first launched it provided a new way for people to collect and organize ideas from around the web. What started as a place to save, became a unique service for discovery. In 2014, four years after launched, a small group of engineers and designers asked, “what would a search engine look like if there wasn’t one right answer?”.

We realized Pinterest could be the service to help guide you to ideas before you knew what you wanted. Answers to questions like, what to cook for dinner tonight? How to style your home? Where to go on vacation? With so many possibilities, sometimes you don’t know what you want until you see it. This is when we kicked off our search journey in earnest.

Today, Pinterest powers global search through computer vision and personalization. There are now more than 5 billion searches on Pinterest every month.

As people prepare for a post-pandemic life, searches for outfits, vacations, and home renovations are at all-time highs. And, searches for weddings have presumed pre-pandemic levels.

For Gen Z, the number of searches-per-Pinner has increased 31% YoY. The number of searches within the audience has nearly doubled (+96%) YoY. When it comes to shopping, product searches grew more than 20x YoY (at the end of Q1).

Search outside the box

As one of the first engineers at Pinterest, I had the opportunity to work on our first version of a search engine — Guided Search. Guided Search allowed for further refining or narrowing of a search. Start with something generic like BBQ and end up somewhere more actionable like summer chicken BBQ recipes, or vegan DIY BBQ.

Search engines are great when you know what you’re looking for. But the internet was missing a way to explore, a way to start with a few keywords and then get help expanding upon that query to explore possibilities.

The design of Guided Search became used across the industry as a way to click through topics. The product paved the way for computer vision-powered visual search. In 2015 we began our work in object recognition and later brought the technology to camera search. This made it possible to search and find recommendations for anything you see online or off.

Search at Pinterest over the years, from Guided Search to search with skin tone ranges and Lens camera to shop. High-resolution image here.

The future of search is visual

Over the years, search on Pinterest became more visual, and more useful in helping people go from inspiration to action. We’ve brought together the worlds of text and visual search and even shopping. We also continue to do work to make search more contextual based on the related interests of others. Because people are taking the same image and putting it on different boards, we can learn the deeper semantics of an image. We can then train our systems to emulate the ways Pinners are categorizing images. Each time we improve our model we see engagement go up.

In order for the technology to be useful, it must be relevant. Which is why we continue to focus on inclusive product development. This has included the ability to filter beauty searches by skin tone range. We’ve taken this technology to AR as well, and we work to diminish bias in AI with a diverse data set.

There will be more to come from our team as we continue to invest in our search framework to surface relevant Pins to the right person at the right time.

*There are more than 5 billion searches on Pinterest each month (Searches are inclusive of text searches and visual searches, which include zooming in on an object in a Pin to see visually similar Pins.) This stat reflects global searches over any 30-day period since April 2021.