How Augmented Reality Will Change Local SEO

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For many, augmented reality (AR) still feels far off and fantastical. Those people don’t realize that AR is already a part of their daily lives.

AR has been a part of American lives ever since broadcast networks started putting the yellow first-down line on televised football games. The filters in Facebook and Snapchat are AR. Everyone with an iPhone X uses AR to create Animojis. Tech giants like these and Google are all incorporating AR into their products and looking to do more of it.

According to Statista, the number of AR users is expected to reach 200 million this year, up 233% in just the past five years.

If you think AR won’t change — isn’t already changing — local SEO, you’re wrong.

What is augmented reality?

Augmented reality is perhaps best understood in relation to virtual reality.

With virtual reality (VR), you use tech hardware and software (think Oculus Rift headsets) to fully immerse yourself in an alternate, wholly virtual world. With augmented reality, on the other hand, you use technology to overlay virtual elements (text, images, video) onto the real world. To work, AR can require specialized hardware, like Google glasses, or simply software on your smartphone.

Current applications of augmented reality include:

  • Games in which users find items (Pokemon Go), fend off zombies (The Walking Dead: Our World), or participate in virtual scavenger hunts (Seek or Snatch)
  • Location-based services that provide users directions via arrows on their screens that appear on streets or sidewalks (Apple’s ARKit with CoreLocation)
  • Shopping apps in which users virtually try on cosmetics (Sephora Virtual Artist) or size and fit furniture within their home (Ikea Place)
  • Educational tools with which users translate words by scanning their camera (Google Translate) or identify constellations (Star Chart)
  • Social media filters that have become commonplace on Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram
  • Much, much more

How augmented reality will affect local SEO: 4 predictions

As you can see, AR is already changing shopping, learning, navigating, and socializing as we know them. Here are four ways it will change SEO for local businesses.

1. Apps

AR apps drive foot traffic and purchases. Apps like Ikea Place and Sephora Virtual Artist use AR to bring items from the store to the home so that it’s easier for customers to shop online.

Other apps are designed to be used in-store. Users might scan a QR code next to an item to reveal other recommended products, unlock exclusive discount codes, or virtually try it on without having to go into a dressing room.

How marketers can optimize: Think about how an app might help your brand. Could it improve conversions, cement customer loyalty, or both? For companies with multiple locations, invest in your own branded mobile apps so users can get directions and special in-app coupons when they’re near your store.

If an app is outside of your budget, consider whether you can team up with partner vendors and be included in their apps. Alternatively, launch an opt-in text messaging promotion for users to unlock AR deals.

Don’t forget in-app ads. While paid ads do not directly improve your organic rankings, there are plenty of ways they indirectly influence them by raising brand awareness and simply taking up space on a search results page. 

2. Geolocation

Geolocation is the process of identifying a user’s physical location based on their device’s location, acquired through cellular or wireless data.

AR apps and voice assistants are increasingly relying on directories to supply users with answers to local queries based on their geolocation. For instance, the Amazon Echo uses the Yelp API to help users find local restaurants and businesses. Since 2011, Wikitude has offered an AR-enabled browser that displays businesses’ names, industries, and reviews whenever a phone’s AR camera is pointed their way.

Local citations have always been a part of the local SEO playbook. Having profiles on these directories builds trust for consumers, provides context for Google about what your business does, and increases your likelihood of showing up in the local map 3-pack.

How marketers can optimize: Local businesses must create listings for all their locations on all relevant directories. This includes the non-negotiables like Google My Business, Yelp, Facebook, and the Better Business Bureau, as well as location-specific directories like your local newspaper’s business listings and niche-specific directories like HomeAdvisor for home improvement projects.

Beyond adding listings, marketers need to think about how to get the most out of their listings. Each of these directories can be treated as a search engine in its own right. So, do all the same SEO meat-and-potatoes work you do otherwise for Google.

3. Content marketing

Step one of SEO is getting people to find your site in Google. Step two is getting them to click through. And step three is getting them to engage and stick around.

While Google hasn’t officially come out and said that dwell time and engagement rates are a ranking factor, multiple studies have shown that pages with better engagement tend to perform better and rank higher in Google. It makes sense — Google wants to show users the most relevant results for their queries. A user spending time on a website instead of bouncing back to Google to find another result is a good indicator of that.

Content marketers can succeed by providing interactive AR experiences that engage users in-store or on their website.

How marketers can optimize: Let users unlock AR content on their mobile devices. It could be an interactive tutorial on how to use your product or simply a fun game to foster customer delight. Even if someone is using a desktop computer, she can use her phone to scan your latest infographic blog post and bring different elements of it to life, equipped with spinning headlines or data points.

American Apparel knows how prone customers are to shopping via comparison. That’s why they provide codes shoppers can scan in-store to pull up reviews and additional information about the product that convinces them to buy.

4. Traditional offline marketing

As AR grows, so will the visual search to support it. Google already allows you to search images by uploading them. With AR, Google will be able to scan images through your phone and perform a search that way.

This means users can scan QR codes and more, but it also means they can use their phone to scan print ads and billboards, bringing offline marketing online.

How marketers can optimize: Create print and offline marketing materials with AR in mind. Include QR codes with prominent CTAs to scan, inviting users to access exclusive promotions or content. Also use best practices for design so it’s easier for Google to parse the text within your images.

Local SEO, powered by AR

Ultimately, local SEO is all about engagement, and AR helps brands engage customers.

Incorporating AR also shows that your brand is not just up on trends but actually ahead of the curve. This kind of forward thinking is essential for technical companies or any local business for which trust is important (and isn’t that all businesses?). When you use AR, customers trust that you have the know-how to provide what they need.

Reviews, citations, and content marketing help you rank in real-world SEO. They’ll help you rank in AR SEO, too.

Michael Quoc founded and currently serves as CEO of Dealspotr, a product of media lab ZipfWorks. Dealspotr works to connect thousands of micro-influencers, up-and-coming brands, and smart shoppers around today’s best promo codes. Previously, Michael was the Director of Product Management for Yahoo’s media lab, launching innovative services in the live video and mobile social networking areas. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelquoc.