The Metaverse in 2032… How the AR Revolution will Change Life as we Know it, and What it Means for SEO
December 14th 2021 | By Emma Grant
The Metaverse is coming… and, over the next decade, it’s set to change life as we know it. As we venture into an exciting new virtual world, with the promise of enriched lives, we take a look at how businesses are set to benefit from the evolution of augmented reality, and how it could change the face of customer relationship marketing, digital advertising, and search engine optimisation.
With the augmented reality (AR) revolution already well underway, it is fairly easy to imagine a future where the lines between the real world and its virtual counterpart are so blurred that it is almost impossible to tell which we’re in.
The growth of augmented reality applications in recent times has been further propelled by the confines of the global pandemic, where forced constraints have led consumers to seek out alternative ways of shopping, without leaving the home.
Today, it is by no means unusual to expect to be able to see just how those new specs will suit us; to observe how our lounge will look freshly decorated in that trending colour scheme; to experience how it feels to have that spanking new car parked outside on the driveway, or to actually ‘sit’ inside that car and play with the controls. All without even leaving the house. It really does give a new meaning to the phrase, ‘home shopping’.
Huge investment in recent years by Apple and Google in AR developer tools, and by Facebook, now known as Meta, in AR-driven consumer applications, proves that this new realm of reality is the future, and that it will be far from fantasy or science fiction. On the contrary, it will be part and parcel of our everyday lives, in work and at play, and in a VERY BIG way.
What is augmented reality?
Augmented reality is a technology that places virtual objects into the real world. This can either be through an AR headset, or by using a smartphone camera. Once those virtual objects can be seen, users react with them in real time.
There are so many ways in which AR can be used, and in fact is being used, that it would be impossible to even contemplate listing them here. But try these for size…
The Ikea Place app – lets you scan your room and place virtual furniture in it so you can see how it will look before you buy.
The Dulux Visualiser – allows you to try out a shade of paint in your actual living space before you make the commitment and douse your walls in it.
The Watchbox Try On Tool – makes it possible to actually try a watch on your wrist to see how well it suits you.
The Gatwick Airport Passenger App – lets you take a virtual tour around the airport, and guides you to the nearest toilet, restaurant or your departure gate. So no more getting lost.
You get the idea. It could be for fun. For retail. For travel. For education. And even for healthcare. Take AccuVein for example. This handheld device allows surgeons to scan the veins of a patient through the skin, so they can plan procedures before they make the first cut. Research suggests that AR will be a major disruptor when it comes to healthcare operations in the future.
Is virtual reality the same as augmented reality?
Augmented reality and virtual reality (VR), collectively known as ‘extended reality’ (XR), are often confused. Granted, both allow you to experience more than what could ever be possible in the real world. But virtual reality is more focused on creating a world from scratch, with little or no connection with the real world at all.
Whilst there are realistic images and sounds with VR, the environment is computer-generated. VR is mostly used in gaming. It’s a fictional reality, whereas AR enhances the real world around us.
What is the future of AR, and what could the Metaverse look like ten years from now?
A ‘Metaverse’ is a continuous online virtual environment that hinges on an array of internet functions. According to Mark Zuckerberg, it’s the ‘future of the internet’.
The term ‘Metaverse’ was actually coined as far back as 1992 in the sci-fi novel Snow Crash, where lifelike avatars met in realistic 3D buildings and other virtual reality environments.
Since then, a whole host of developments have contributed to the creation of a real Metaverse, an online virtual world which combines AR, VR, 3D holographic avatars, video and other methods of communication. As the Metaverse grows, it will start to offer an uber-real alternative world to visit, and perhaps even live in.
Zuckerberg’s Meta, the tech giant formerly known as Facebook, envisions a world where digital avatars connect through travel, work or entertainment using VR headsets. Meta Horizon Workrooms is a virtual meeting space where co-workers can join a VR meeting – as avatars – using VT headsets. It brings a whole new meaning to the term, ‘virtual meeting’.
Zuckerberg believes the Metaverse could even replace the internet as we know it. Here’s what he had to say at the time of revealing the company’s rebrand: “The next platform and medium will be an even more immersive and embodied internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it.”
Over at Microsoft, they’re already using holograms, and are in the process of developing mixed and extended reality applications with the Microsoft Mesh platform, where ‘here can be anywhere’, combining the real world with augmented reality and virtual reality. Holograms and virtual avatars are set to become part of Microsoft Teams in 2022, and 3D virtual connected spaces for workplaces and retail are also in the pipeline.
And the Metaverse of the future?
In the Metaverse of the future, friends will stay connected without meeting in person, heading off to concerts ‘together’ and going on virtual trips around the world, without getting their passports stamped.
VR headsets will become lighter, more comfortable and cheaper, but this will pale into insignificance as ‘AR lenses’ take over. Already in development, AR lenses are fitted with micro-LED displays that place information right inside the eye of the wearer. The possibilities here are mind-blowing. The potential to enhance sight in low light conditions, or act as a teleprompt for a speaking gig? Unbelievable as it may sound now, there is little doubt that advances like this are set to become a reality.
Zuckerberg reckons it could be five or even ten years before the key features of the Metaverse become mainstream. But for the most part, its key components already exist. Super-fast broadband. VR headsets. Always-on virtual worlds. It’s all there, waiting to transform life as we know it.
How will augmented reality change the face of marketing and SEO?
In the world of digital marketing and search, it is predicted that AR and SEO will develop a very close and mutually beneficial relationship. As AR makes use of online data to evolve, so SEO will benefit by creating a more engaged audience.
Let’s delve then into how AR could impact SEO over the next few years.
‘Near me’ searches
Almost half of all Google searches involve seeking out local information, and 88 per cent of searches for local businesses on mobile either call or visit the location within 24 hours. ‘Near me’ searches are important because they pretty much guarantee warm leads, as well as a higher conversion rate.
So… imagine if a user could point their phone along the street and see exactly where your business is. Google Maps can of course direct buyers to your location already, but with AR, it becomes a game-changing digital pathfinder, something that’s way more interactive and engaging.
A lot of apps are already using online data to display business reviews while someone points their smartphone at it. This proves just how important it is to combine AR and local SEO tactics such as customer reviews, so that your business shows up in an AR-driven search.
84 per cent of consumers trust online reviews as much as they trust recommendations from friends and family. Add the fact that someone could simply point a phone at your business for instant access to that information, and you have something incredibly powerful right there in the palm of your hand. In the case of impulse shoppers, this could literally be the ultimate influencer that wins you the sale.
Recent Google updates have shone a bright, beaming spotlight on the importance of user experience (UX). As well as a hugely vital consideration when it comes to boosting leads and sales, UX is a critical ranking factor for Google SEO.
Much like an SEO-friendly website, the AR experience will call upon information-rich content. The process of providing this content to users via your AR app will help enrich brand perception, and the effort you put in certainly won’t go unnoticed by Google. It’s another one of those symbiotic relationships. Just like all those things you do to make a website user-friendly also makes it Google-friendly, so the same applies with AR.
We mentioned the Ikea app that lets you place pieces of furniture in your home to see how they’ll fit before you commit to buy. When you think about how 88 per cent of consumers spend time researching a product online before they buy, you can see why so many retailers invest in making their products visible and accessible on the web using image overlay technology.
It’s really only a matter of time before consumers start actively searching online for retailers that offer this level of interactivity. If you fail to offer functionality like this, you will, quite simply, get left behind as the AR revolution colludes with search. And if you don’t promote the fact that you have these AR features, so that it’s instantly clear in the search results so as to command clicks, you’ll likely suffer the same fate.
The more time a user spends on your website, the better Google will rate it, and the more likely you are to be rewarded with great search positions. So, finding ways to keep visitors engaged, and boosting ‘dwell time’, is of massive importance for SEO.
Incorporating AR into your website has to be a consideration, as consumers are increasingly looking for ways to shop or find the things they want virtually. AR has the power to engage like no other technology, so it could well lead to increased dwell time on your site if you offer this type of interactivity.
Combining pay-per-lick ads with an organic SEO campaign can be a very powerful way to dominate search. And with the evolution of AR, it won’t be long before advertisers are including AR in their strategies.
Interactive ads that let customers try before they buy will soon become the norm. Facebook (sorry, Meta) is already beta testing AR ads with ‘tap it to try it on’ features, with a string of big name brands having already tried out the functionality. So it’s only a matter of time before it hits the mainstream.
Augmented reality: the power to drive business success?
Together, AR and VR offer massive scope to drive business success. Whether that means powering up marketing to levels never before imagined; engaging on a more intensive level with customers; streamlining business operations; offering innovative solutions to individual problems, or creating immersive training solutions, the fact is that there are exciting times ahead, as this pioneering technology known as extended reality looks set to enrich our lives over the next few years.
Bearing in mind the emphasis Google puts on creating the ultimate user experience, and the potential AR has when it comes to doing the same, it seems only natural that AR and SEO should co-exist in harmony.
It’s certainly something that our SEO experts here at Figment will be monitoring closely. We’ve always stayed right on top of emerging trends, and have been early adopters of pioneering technology. So it stands to reason that we’re incredibly excited about venturing into the world of extended reality and working AR and VR into our search strategies.