Due to their magnificent efficiency to the degradation of hazardous organic pollutants, nanomaterials possessing visible light-driven photocatalytic activity have drawn considerable attention. Herein, Ag decorated Zn 0.95 Cu 0.05 O photocomposites have been synthesized via a sol–gel method and characterized as potential photocatalysts for the degradation of malachite green (MG). The formation of the nanocomposites is confirmed by XRD, EDS mapping and TEM analyses. The UV–Vis analysis reveals a gradual decrease in the optical band gap with increasing Ag content, which enhances its visible light absorption and ultimately improves the photocatalytic activity as reflected by the efficient photodegradation of MG dye. Particularly, Zn 0.94 Cu 0.05 Ag 0.03 O exhibits the lowest energy gap and very high photocatalytic activity for the degradation MG. This research demonstrates a new pathway for the preparation of Ag incorporated oxide-based nanostructured composites as promising photocatalysts. © 2019, Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.