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What Will the Apple Watch Mean for Local Businesses?

02/12/2015 08:35 am ET | Updated Apr 14, 2015

The Apple Watch, set to release in "early 2015," will undoubtedly make a major impact on how individuals use technology in their daily lives. After its release, some business analysts forecast a sudden rejuvenated consumer interest in wearable technology to extend over the course of the next several years. As a result, the entire landscape of integrated technology could change, and local businesses who have built their brand and visibility on current modes of technology and communication will need to adapt if they're going to survive.

The Dawn of Wearable Technology

Though the full specs haven't yet been released, chances are the Apple Watch isn't as revolutionary as Apple might want to believe. Wearable technology isn't exactly "new." Major players like Apple, Google, and Microsoft have been toying with the idea ever since the smartphone revolution completely changed the way people look at both phones and computers. Wearable technology would be the inevitable next step in mobile technology evolution, seamlessly integrating the functionality of a smartphone into an even smaller, more portable device.

However, the trend has had its share of challenges as it's attempted to initiate a new phase of user-technology interactions. As an example, Google Glass, a pair of augmented-reality goggles that would project information in a heads-up display over a real-world environment, looked to be a groundbreaking technology. Despite all the promise of the device, Google Glass failed to meet expectations, and production of the initial prototype has since been called to a halt.

Smart watches, too, have already been designed, developed, and released for consumer use, to varying degrees of success. Nevertheless, no single smart watch has been capable of leading a new international trend of technology use. The Apple Watch appears capable of making that shift--not because of any revolutionary new features, per say, but because it is made by Apple, a universally respected brand with a dedicated, trend-savvy cult following. Undoubtedly, regardless of the features that come with the Apple Watch, Apple fans will unanimously adopt the product, which will inspire other companies and other consumers to follow suit with similar smart watches.

This shift will accelerate quickly, provided smart watches are as functional as they set out to be, and within a matter of years, wearable smart devices will be as common as smartphones are today. This will cause massive changes in the dynamics of technology availability and function, and business owners will need to respond appropriately if they're looking to take advantage of those changes.

SEO Changes

First, smart watches are going to have some major implications for the nature of online search. For years, local businesses have relied on conventional SEO tactics--onsite optimization, offsite link building, and authority building through social platforms and directories--in order to increase their search visibility on SERPs from Google and Bing. However, a sharp increase in smart watch users could spell major changes for how search engines calculate rank and display results for users.

First, the smart watch is going to have an impossibly small screen. It will no longer be feasible to list 10 web page results per page, complete with titles, descriptions, and links. Instead, Google and Bing will likely compose new styles of SERPs completely for smart watch users, preserving some elements of traditional SERPs but catering to a brand-new audience. This could change the benefits of ranking entirely, making it more beneficial to rank at #1 for one keyword rather than #8-10 for several keywords. It could also change the onsite factors Google pulls in for search results, limiting the display of meta data or eliminating it altogether. The importance of meta data in traditional web pages may also decline, but I'll touch on that more in the next section.

As a secondary result of that decreased screen size, users will have more difficulty typing in queries the old-fashioned way. The Apple Watch, like other wearable devices, will primarily be activated using voice-based commands. Voice-based queries will be transmitted differently than typed queries because users will speak more conversationally, using more colloquialisms and longer phrases. This could have a substantial impact on search volume for traditional keyword-based searches, and might eliminate keyword-based strategies as a feasible option altogether as long-tail phrases and semantic search clues take precedence.

Finally, because smart watches will likely be used on-the-go, even moreso than their smartwatch counterparts, local search will become hyper-local. Rather than calculating results based on location in a given city or county, Google will consider proximity, and list locations based on neighborhood or even on a block-by-block basis. That means local businesses will need to work to optimize more for a much narrower range of local-based searches.

Increased Favoritism for Apps

Another side effect of the nature of wearable technology could change the way we use the web entirely. On desktop and most mobile devices, we are used to accessing most of our information through web pages, individually hosted sites that house images, words, and interactive materials. Mobile technology introduced the idea of "apps," which sometimes forgo web pages in an effort to display web-based information immediately or offer immediate functionality.

Wearable technology will take this trend to the next level, forcing users to forgo the traditional webpage experience due to the small screen and poor navigability of the smart watch. Instead, users will rely more on app-based experiences, forcing local business owners to come up with their own apps (or piggy-back on popular existing apps) to retain sufficient visibility. Websites will no doubt continue to be important, especially for traditional desktop users, but their importance will gradually become overshadowed by compartmentalized online apps.

By extension, there are some potential SEO consequences to this shift. Since webpages will no longer be as popular, Google may reduce the authority conferred by onsite optimization, and instead favor information found and offered through online apps.

Augmented Reality

Smart watches and other wearable devices will also start to blur the lines between reality and the digital world, bridging the gap with in-person, real-time functionality. For example, a smart watch could produce a coupon code when physically brought to a specific location. Currently, QR codes are able to provide similar functionality, connecting smartphone users to their real-world environments, but wearable devices will take that functionality to the next level.

Local business owners can prepare for this eventuality by brainstorming about integrated campaigns that would appeal to smart watch users. Any connection between the interactive digital world and the tangible real world is going to be beneficial, and attract early tech adopters to your physical location.

There are still thousands of unanswerable questions about what smart watches will be capable of, and how those capabilities will evolve in the first few years of the technology's growth, so it's difficult to pinpoint a definitive strategy for successful adaptation. Because of the unknowns and variables associated with the rise of wearable technology, the most successful brands will be the ones willing to reflexively adapt to new functionalities and new opportunities as they develop.

Stay tuned to the sales trends and functional developments that come about over the next several years. Wearable technology is going to change how locals do business, and if you remain proactive, you'll stand to benefit more than the lagging competition.