For almost two decades, digital marketers and online businesses have relied on some fundamental assumptions about the Internet and online experience. Design, user experience, content, and SEO strategies all depended on these assumptions being true.
Up until now, traditional websites were hubs of information for companies. They could be accessed independently or found through search engines, and once social media platforms began to develop, they could be accessed through those channels as well. Websites were an opportunity to turn spectators into leads and leads into sales; with a great design and some compelling copy, you could get conversions, but the big goal was to get someone to your website in the first place. And on the other side of the equation, users relied on websites to find information on those companies.
As the Internet became more widely available and mobile devices began to grow more popular, principles of traffic acquisition and web design began to change. Users needed a seamless experience on their mobile devices; otherwise, they'd bounce.
Now, as Apple unveils the Apple Watch, a new era of mobile technology is upon us: wearable devices. In some ways, this generation of wearable tech isn't much different from the average smartphone. The functionality is similar and the interface is smaller, but essentially the same. However, this change could be a new catalyst in the development of how we use the Internet, and how we design, write, and optimize for the web needs to change in response.
First and most importantly, the traditional web page is dying to give way to the app. For the past several years, websites and apps have existed in harmony alongside each other; online companies have been able to maintain sufficient traffic to their sites, while some companies (such as Snapchat) launched an exclusive app, with only a bare-bones web presence to support that app with information.
Already, Google and other major tech players are making a shift to favor apps over traditional websites. For example, Google is starting to index apps in its search engine much like it did traditional webpages, and it's using information found in third-party apps, such as Yelp and other local directories, to make assumptions about and evaluate other companies. It's even integrating other apps' functionalities into its own products.
The Apple Watch, and subsequent generations of wearable technology will further increase the demand for apps rather than websites. Because of the watch's small screen, large-form content and traditional webpage designs won't matter. People won't be able to navigate the web in conventional ways. Instead, they'll rely on niche apps to get the information and functionality they'll need.
Of course, this change won't pan out completely until wearable technology is on the scene for several years. Traditional websites still have a place, but apps are starting to make their move. One day, the notion of a "website" could disappear entirely, as people exclusively use independent apps to support their needs.
Conventional search will be thrown out the window once wearable devices hit the mainstream. Already, Google and other search engines are pushing the boundaries of how searches are performed. For example, Google uses a process known as "semantic search" to evaluate the intent behind a query before it fetches results, and its Knowledge Graph product aims to answer user queries directly without ever sending them to a website for more information.
Combine this with the fact that wearable tech devices will have limited keyboard functionality; instead, users will be forced to rely on voice-based search for their needs. Because of this, they'll rely on personal virtual assistants like Siri or Google Voice Search to find answers to their questions without needing to travel to a conventional website. You can still call this "online search," but it won't result in people finding websites for their information.
Because of this shift, people won't use the Internet for information nearly as much as they have in the past. Instead, they'll rely on the Internet for functionality. They'll rely on apps for their needs - whether that's navigating to the right part of town or sending a message to a friend, essentially eliminating the need for any websites that once offered similar functionality. Even information itself will serve as a function; people will use apps that specialize in indexing and providing information directly, completely changing the landscape of how we use the web.
The implications for these changes won't likely manifest for at least another few years, and it's hard to predict exactly how significant they will be. However, I believe that one day soon, the traditional website will be replaced entirely by the app and traditional searches will no longer be an effective channel for acquiring traffic. Businesses will be well served to start developing an app for mobile use, getting involved in as many social channels and other apps as possible, and wooing the wearable device market by developing a proximity-based offer or promotion. The sooner you start moving, the further ahead of the trend curve you'll be, and the more you'll stand to benefit in the long run.
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