In 1938, using the technology of the day, Orson Welles inadvertently set off mass panic when radio listeners mistook his dramatization of the science fiction thriller War of the Worlds for an actual news bulletin reporting that Martians had landed in New Jersey.
Last year, Pepsi turned a bus shelter in London into an amazing augmented reality (AR) showcase, complete with flying saucers, a tiger on the loose, a giant robot and a ginormous octopus tentacle capturing a pedestrian. Were the on-lookers terrified? Yes, after some initial surprise. But now, armed with technology of their own, on-lookers raised their camera phones and positioned themselves to be part of the scene.
AR, search in an annotated world, presents a unique challenge for the SEO practitioner. In its full implementation, search professionals are faced with the challenge of a search ecosystem that extends literally everywhere you look with the content being added by brand and consumer alike in real time. Organically, it becomes an exercise in correlating data to your search criteria as it pops up to be discovered and presented as a relevant search result in your wearable or mobile device. Looking for the best Chinese restaurant in town? What better recommendation than a four star rating by the customer that just left an AR marker relevant to your question?
Today any number of market research firms and serious business news organizations are reporting that enterprises which dismiss augmented reality do so at their own peril. Research and consulting firm Semico predicts that revenues related to augmented reality will approach $600bn by 2016. Semico notes that while AR technology is essentially in a nascent phase and some view it as a gimmick, in fact it is predicted to drive innovation “within the gaming, medical, mobile, automotive, and manufacturing markets.” According to the firm, 103m automobiles will contain AR technology by 2020.
Clearly these numbers command attention. An article in The Journal of International Virtual Reality further explores AR technologies and applications, stating, “With such technology, mechanics could see instructions what to do next when repairing an unknown piece of equipment, surgeons could see ultrasound scans of organs while performing surgery on them, firefighters could see building layouts to avoid otherwise invisible hazards, soldiers could see positions of enemy snipers spotted by unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, and we could read reviews for each restaurant in the street we’re walking in…”
According to Adobe, the general public is already using AR apps. Additional Adobe research indicated that the percentage of North American consumers who allow apps to use their GPS to personalize their experience jumped from 49 percent in 2013 to 58 percent in 2014. With a majority responding that they are open to location-specific experiences, SEOs, marketing professionals and those in the C-suite must do more than take note; developing a serious AR strategy is imperative.
A Quick Review of AR
AR in SEO is already a reality in and of itself and has a major application in mobile search. The input data for AR can be text, visual imagery, video and/or audio, along with GPS information of the location of the mobile device. The location coordinates from GPS data help the application software to place the verbal and/or non-verbal input in context and thus draw from vast database information to project annotations onscreen or in wearables, such as Google Glass.
There are a few approaches to AR: marker-based, markerless-based, and consumer-based AR.
Marker-based uses a visual trigger to initiate the experience, which could be a print image or an actual physical object. Coupled with GPS coordinates, a visual image of a shopping mall will display annotations of various merchant locations superimposed on the image of the mall as viewed from the street. Or, if you are looking for a restaurant, a landmark building image coupled with GPS coordinates sensed by your mobile device will result in annotations of restaurants within line-of-sight of the mobile user.
In contrast, markerless-based AR can be triggered by geo-location or might use text input or voice recognition input of verbal commands to serve of annotated imagery on the user’s mobile device. Marked-based AR can be used to offer up special offers to mobile users, while markerless-based AR is more complicated and must be a user-based proactive search channel.
User-generated AR occurs when a user tags physical locations in real-time leaving behind text information for others to discover and experience.
A research project being conducted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Campaign, ARISE is an acronym for the augmented reality information search engine. The project’s mission is defined in part as “The ARISE project, for building the Augmented Reality Information Search Engine, aims to exploit the emerging trends that the virtual world (the Internet cyberspace) and the real world (the geographic world) are increasingly merging into one.”
Among the work performed by the researchers is a focus on how PPC bidding might be used by marketers to annotate physical imagery on mobile devices based on an auction mechanism. Depending on the bid, entity information of varying degrees can be made available in real-time to mobile users.
AR Strategy Tips
As with real estate reality, location, location, location is important for augmented reality. Mobile personalization can include location-based targeting via GPS data, geo-fences around a point of interest, or proximity to iBeacons. This information allows you to present a relevant offer to the mobile user for immediate action.
- As noted above, early adopters of AR are already using apps and the trend will likely increase as the technology becomes more mainstream. Planning for updates at reasonable intervals keeps your AR experience fresh and engaging for customers.
- Consumers sometimes feel awkward when answering surveys. By reviewing your mobile analytics, you can determine if consumer behavior matches survey responses and then refine and adjust your campaign strategies to best meet your customers’ needs.
- With so much to think about, don’t forget the basics. A/B and multivariate testing of mobile websites and apps remains an important component of success.
- A responsive design for mobile interactions supporting multiple platforms is key to maintaining a consistent experience for consumers and protecting your brand identity and remember to ensure that your landing pages are optimized across all platforms as well.
- Social media channels can be key to increasing brand awareness through consumer advocates. Be sure to design campaigns including AR optimized for these loyal customers to share.
- Research from Forrester reveals that consumers who opt in to push are the heaviest app users. These consumers want to hear from you, so don’t disappoint them. As they are likely to be the most sophisticated users of your products or services, design your AR campaigns with this in mind.
As the researchers at ARISE noted, the real world and the virtual world are increasingly merging into one. This trend is quickly moving from a novelty to an expected and relied upon experience to enhance user engagement and to make informed decisions.
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