Augmented reality has recently grown from the far-flung corners of geek world to become a surging phenomenon that is threatening to burst into popular culture. Pokemon Go, an AR based gaming app, generated huge traction subsequent to its July 2016 launch. The free-to-play location-based game saw millions engage in the interactivity of augmented reality like never before. No doubt we’ll begin to see other AR apps begin to dominate the tech scene in our very near future. Read on to find out exactly what this would entail and the ramifications we could expect to see for search marketing.
What Exactly Is Augmented Reality?
Undoubtedly most people will have previously heard of the term virtual reality. Less would know the difference between augmented and virtual reality. The distinction is simple – the former refers to entirely replacing a real environment with an imaginary setting whereas the latter only ‘augments’ aspects of the real world with virtual elements.
Snapchat employs features of augmented reality via its photo filters by having graphics digitally superimposed onto users through advanced facial recognition technology. The Google Translate app employs AR to translate text from a device’s camera in real time. Star Chart is an educational AR app, that when pointed at the sky, displays virtual pop-up information on stars and planets depending on where the camera is pointed.
Augmented reality is brimming with innovative use cases for the digital industry. Currently, the market is dominated by mobile apps, with wearable devices in their early developmental stages. Already we have seen major entities invest heavily in research within this field. Google harnessed the potential for AR in the development of its Google Glass product. Whilst the product is still in its infancy and seems to have suffered a false-start, it definitely points to the search engine’s keen interest in the world of augmented reality. As of now, only big brands have been able to leverage the technology for promotion due to the high cost of production. But with Google’s resources behind research and development within the area, before long AR will become mainstream. This means that businesses will need to prepare for consumers to be using this medium as a primary means of location-based search and thus have their information indexed across its multiple platforms.
How is search marketing involved with augmented reality?
The main point of distinction for augmented reality, when compared to virtual reality, is that its facilitation is dependent on the user’s location. That is, you won’t be able to engage in an experience unless you’re at the geo-point of where that experience can occur. If I wanted to catch a Pikachu on my Pokémon Go app, I could only do so in certain areas and would need to be physically present within those vicinities to actually find one.
Think about how this can then extend to search. When you’re walking down a popular café district, imagine having the ability to pull out your phone, scan the surrounding area with its camera and have informational data overlaid onto the screen. A nearby coffee shop is advertising a ‘buy one get one free’ offer. The closest ATM is 100 meters away. The public restroom is rated as being clean.
Therefore, AR brings search even further into the local setting. We already know that many geo-based searches occur via phone. Marketers have been able to capitalize on this form of search through location-based promotions via geo-targeting, geofencing, and beacons. The extent of the current local SEO marketing activities should also be indicative of the potential for search marketers in the space of augmented reality.
Local SEO in Augmented Search Reality
Google My Business Listings
Given that we can expect Google to be an inherent part of augmented reality’s evolution, it’s important that businesses optimize their Google My Business Listings. This is often an online user’s first point of information for text-based search queries relating to a local organization. A well-optimised listing will feature relevant addresses, opening hours, phone numbers and images.
But how is this going to translate into an AR interface? The answer is likely that when you scan a particular business with your phone’s AR app or wearable technology, you’ll see the listing as a virtual pop-up overlaying the building. You’ll also see competitor listings of neighboring businesses visible on the screen. Maybe you’d be able to scroll through these listings via your device, using the information, pictures and ratings as a decision driver just as how one would do so whilst reviewing the places listings on a Google search return. It’s, therefore, vital that local businesses have a listing compelling enough to draw a crowd.
Local SEO is also about building social trust for your brand. Citations are incredibly important for any local business and are essentially the number of mentions your business name, physical address, and phone numbers receive across the web.
Having a strong citation profile for augmented reality will be extremely important, particularly when third party sites (aka citation sources) could be engaging within this field themselves. For example, Yelp could develop a consumer targeted AR app, encouraging downloads through incentivising via discounts. When a customer uses the app to view their setting, they’ll see an array of reviews, ratings, and promotions for various local businesses appear. If a business isn’t already on Yelp, that’s definitely going to be a missed opportunity for them.
Even as currently occurs within traditional organic search, third party review sites are heavily integrated with Google’s return of search results. Whatever medium customers are searching on via AR, local companies want to make sure they are featuring front and center for the user.
It also goes without saying that a big part of local SEO is that which is user generated. Reviews and ratings are hugely influential on consumer’s decisions to purchase a product or service. With augmented reality, these ratings can occur in real time. You could be walking into a restaurant only to see a fresh review appear on your AR app from a recent visitor proclaiming that the place is an overpriced mess. Ratings could hover above each individual building, making it abundantly clear to consumers which places they can trust and which they should steer clear from.
As the rating system is amplified by AR technology, a solid process for encouraging positive reviews needs to be implemented in order to maximize the potential. Positive reviews can be encouraged at the point of sale. If it’s perceived that a customer has had a good experience, they can be asked to submit a review of the AR app. Raving appraisals could do wonders for a local entity’s foot traffic in the same way that several negative evaluations could topple them. However, it goes without saying that to receive good feedback, it has to be ensured that the product or service is always of superb quality for the shopper. There is simply no pointing in hoping for beneficial word of mouth if these requirements are unable to be met.
Additionally, small businesses should optimize their customer complaint management process given that one consumer’s frustration (if expressed via a negative review) will appear in real time to other AR app users, potentially discouraging them from engaging in the business. Having policies in place that mitigate customer frustration is a means of achieving this.
As augmented reality is heavily interlinked with geolocation and locality, local SEO can be used very creatively. In a similar way that push notifications can be sent to mobile users based on geo-targeting, notifications about local businesses can be sent to an AR app when it is in use. You could be walking down a commercial hub, viewing the street through a wearable device and all of a sudden have French fries fall from the sky with a flashing sign indicating a local diner only 200m away. You could be inside a clothing store wondering how a particular hairstyle would match the dress you’re trying on. A nearby hairdresser has partnered with the retailer to fund a virtual hairstyle experience to match these consumer interests and drive their own branding.
Location targeting need not only be facilitated via geo-location technology. Marker-based advertising can occur in the form of AR users being able to scan physical objects with their phones that will then trigger a response on the interface of the app. For example, whilst in a children’s toy store viewing a particular product through your AR device, all of a sudden a theatrical animated 3D experience starts playing on top of the product. No longer is the customer’s purchasing involvement with this store strictly physicalized, but transitions into a more interactive experience. Hence in the world of AR, traditionally offline shopping behaviors can transform into significant online engagements.
Why Should Small Businesses Be Thinking Ahead?
Perhaps some of you will have read through this article and thought ‘But I’m a small business, this isn’t really within my marketing scope.’ The reality is, if you aren’t ready for when AR becomes mainstream, you’re undoubtedly going to be left behind. Local SEO is more important than ever before and it’s time that local businesses start investing resources into optimizing their organic search results. Through engaging in good SEO practices now, companies will be equipped for when augmented reality dominates the world of search. It’s always best to be aware of how the latest technologies can revolutionize your brand. So, stay ahead of the curve, get a foot up on your competitors and prepare to reap reward as an early adopter.
About the Author
Mithila Kanagaratnam is a digital marketing consultant at Living Online and has a keen interest in exploring up-and-coming trends within the online marketing industry to find areas of potential success for small businesses.
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