At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, it wasn’t wearables that stole the show, but the Internet of Things; a world in which all manner of devices, from smartphones and tablets to refrigerators and thermostats, can share data freely among themselves via the Internet and offer us unprecedented control over our surroundings.
Technologists have been waxing lyrical about the Internet of Things for years, but 2015 looks set to become the year that the seamlessly interconnected world we’ve long been promised finally crosses over into the mainstream.
The Internet of Things has enormous potential to transform our lives, but for search marketers and SEOs, the implications are profound.
AtYourService: How the Internet of Things Is Making Local Search Smarter
Aside from the obligatory gadgets at this year’s CES, the most interesting development on display was AtYourService, a “commerce and engagement offering” that will be incorporated in certain models of General Motors vehicles.
Essentially, AtYourService is an improvement on GM’s OnStar service, which offers users a subscription-based vehicle communication service featuring GPS navigation, in-vehicle Wi-Fi, and security features similar to those offered by LoJack.
Image via Search Engine Land
Although OnStar was popular among its limited user base when it rolled out in the mid-1990s, the service was prohibitively expensive, only available in limited models of luxury sedans and other high-end vehicles, and bound by the restrictions of the Internet technologies that were common at that time. As such, widespread adoption of OnStar failed to materialize. However, expansion of 4G LTE networks has meant that OnStar is now much more technologically feasible, not to mention more appealing to today’s consumers.
AtYourService essentially transforms your car into an ad platform. GM has partnered with several well-known brands and websites, including Dunkin Donuts and online coupon site RetailMeNot, to offer in-car incentives in real time based on a user’s location. If you’re a frequent Dunkin customer, AtYourService could send promotional offers directly to your car long before the next exit, or offer coupons for stores at the mall you’re heading to.
OnStar AtYourService – wicked smart.
“By delivering relevant connections, interactions, offers and services based on our subscribers’ needs, we are laying the foundation for a truly cohesive experience,” said Mark Lloyd, OnStar’s consumer online officer. “Our hope is that OnStar AtYourService will help transform the way businesses and consumers interact in connected vehicles.”
Understandably, advertisers are pretty excited.
Paving the Way for Smarter Local Search
It’s no secret that Google is also eyeing transportation as a potential area that is ripe for disruption. Aside from Google X’s driverless car initiative, Google Now has long offered responsive real-time information to users on everything from local parking availability to traffic updates.
Sure, GM’s announcement at CES might not seem that exciting on the surface, but it’s the initiative’s potential that should pique local search marketers’ interest. Location-based ad targeting is nothing new, but the interconnectivity between devices that has been promised to use could create a wealth of new opportunities for smart advertisers to get their ads in front of the right people, at the right time, in the right place – even when prospects’ mobile device is (or should be) out of reach.
Image via Swirl
Given GM’s commitment to leveraging its OnStar service to offer additional value to its customers, it’s only a matter of time before Google, Apple, and the rest of the tech industry’s major players start refining their own offerings to reflect consumers’ changing expectations.
The Internet of Things Offers Amazing Opportunities for Local SEO
For SEOs, local has been one of the most potentially lucrative areas of search. The explosion in smartphone adoption – and the accompanying tectonic shift in location- and device-dependent services – has brought with it a wide array of challenges for SEOs, but it has also been a major boon for small businesses and consumers alike.
However, SEOs are now battling a war on two fronts; striving to adapt to Google’s near-constant algorithm updates, and staying abreast of new technologies that threaten to force them into obsolescence. Every few years, a technology emerges that naysayers claim will “end” the SEO industry, but few developments have the potential to change the SEO landscape as irrevocably as the Internet of Things.
Even today, when headlines about how mobile search is poised to eclipse desktop in terms of volume are still making the news, optimizing sites for mobile is a major challenge for some businesses. Google has certainly made things easier by introducing a slew of features from mobile click-to-call extensions and offline call tracking to hyperlocal distance information and mobile ad sitelinks, but far too many businesses are struggling to keep up with these features, much less optimize their sites for responsive display across multiple devices or make sure they’re adhering to Google’s guidelines for Google My Business.
Image via Latonja McCord
For savvy SEOs, developments in interconnected smart devices represent an incredible opportunity to grow their own businesses and those of their clients – but it won’t be easy. User experience design is already crucial – and according to Barry Schwartz over at Search Engine Land, could soon be an important ranking signal in Google – but in the coming years, it will be nothing short of essential if small businesses are to survive.
The Internet of Things Will Kill the Billboard
One eventuality that is all but guaranteed to emerge from growing adoption of the Internet of Things, particularly in the local and vehicle space, will not be faced by PPC advertisers or local SEOs, but rather traditional display advertisers such as companies that use billboards. And before you say it, no, I’m not claiming that something as seemingly pedestrian (pardon the pun) as a slight revamp of OnStar spells immediate and certain doom for billboards across the country – but it’s coming.
Ever since Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Phillip K. Dick’s classic novel “The Minority Report” hit theaters 12 years ago (man, has it really been that long?), advertisers have been fantasizing about the eerily prescient advertisements that targeted individuals based on retinal scans and vast databases of personal information. We may still be some ways off from that particular dystopia, but the demand for such services is there, meaning it’s only a matter of time before these technologies become part of our everyday lives.
Big Brother Is Watching
Of course, no post about technological advancements of this magnitude would be complete without mentioning user privacy concerns.
Although the bleak future depicted in “Minority Report” is still a long ways off, experiments have already been conducted into how users would respond to increasingly invasive advertising.
In 2012, a startup called Renew London (which has apparently since joined the legion failed startups in history’s technological boneyard) installed Wi-Fi packet sniffing technology in trash cans around London’s Cheapside in the prelude to the 2012 summer Olympic Games.
During the course of the experiment, data sensors installed on the receptacles tracked and monitored the MAC addresses of as many as 4 million individual mobile devices in a single week, with the ultimate goal of tracking users’ movements and delivering targeted advertisements based on their behavior.
Image via Quartz
The experiment was a disaster. Not only did news of the program send Londoners into apoplectic fits of rage, the former CEO of Renew London, Kaveh Memari, poured gas on that fire by casually stating that since London is the most heavily monitored city in the world, it was essentially no big deal. The experiment ended soon after it came to light.
Aside from being a valuable lesson in how not to conduct an experiment in disrupting real-time advertising, the Renew London program demonstrates that users may not be ready for a world in which everything is interconnected. That’s not to say that users don’t want smarter devices that can seamlessly communicate with one another – quite the opposite, in fact – but ubiquitous, highly personalized advertising (which, let’s face it, is what this technology really promises) is still viewed with suspicion.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t matter in the slightest. The future is here – get used to it.
The Internet of Things Is Finally Here
Five years ago, the Internet of Things was little more than an ambitious idea and a talking point at SXSW. Now, it has finally become a reality, albeit one that will take many more years before adoption reaches the mainstream.
Virtually every major technology company is investing in services and products that leverage the increasingly interconnected world. Google’s acquisition of smart home device manufacturer Nest Labs in February last year (for which Google paid a cool $3.2 billion) raised some eyebrows in tech circles at the time, but given the predominant focus on the Internet of Things at this year’s CES, maybe it wasn’t such a risky acquisition after all.
Even beleaguered smartphone manufacturer Blackberry is jumping firmly on the Internet of Things bandwagon. In its own statement at CES, Blackberry confirmed it was investing in data asset tracking, in the hopes that its reputation for security will give the struggling company an edge in the nascent connected device market.
At the heart of the discussion surrounding the emerging Internet of Things is the not-inconsequential problem of supply versus demand. During his CES 2015 keynote address, Samsung CEO BK Yoon said that by 2017, 90% of Samsung’s products will be designed to leverage hardware interconnectivity.
“It’s not science fiction anymore – it’s science fact,” Yoon said. “We are bringing the physical and digital world together… it will revolutionize our lives.”
However, tech companies and appliance manufacturers are going to have to do a lot more to persuade the average consumer. In a recent Nielsen Affinova poll, most American respondents said that interconnected smart devices seemed more of a gimmick than a genuine revolution, and indicated they’d need a great deal more evidence that such products would truly make their lives easier before parting with their hard-earned cash for them.
‘Smart diapers’ – evidently a problem of execution
Although consumers remain largely skeptical about the Internet of Things, interest is generally on the rise. According to a survey conducted by the Acquity Group last year, 69% of consumers polled said they planned to purchase a connected smart device at some point during the next five years, suggesting there is enormous potential for the right devices.
Whether you think a smart diaper is the greatest idea in the history of mankind or a gimmicky way for Pampers to make a quick buck, there is no doubt that smart devices and an increasingly interconnected world are the future – the only question is how search marketers, advertisers, and consumers will adapt to the rapidly changing technological landscape.