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Three Reasons to Jump aboard the Mixed Reality Web Design Trend


Virtual reality has long been seen as a futuristic tool reserved for science fiction. In recent years, this has changed, with adoption of VR technology hitting the mainstream. A Nielsen report predicts big things for virtual reality technology in 2017. Its survey of 8,000 consumers found that 25 percent of all respondents planned to use or purchase a VR headset within the next year. An additional 20 percent reported newfound interest in VR technology after learning more about it. The report concluded that VR still has “more fans than experts.” From a web design and marketing perspective, fanfare is all you need.

One of the biggest innovations in VR technology, from an SEO and marketing perspective, is last year’s Google release embedding 360 VR media in webpages for desktop and mobile use. Web designers can incorporate 360-degree videos and images into their webpages, speaking to the continued importance of VR and AR in the future. It’s imperative for designers to get in on the ground floor of this trend. Here’s why.

It Will Inform SEO Best Practices

If you need more convincing that VR and AR are reaching their long-awaited adoption, consider this: Google shipped 5 million Google Cardboard headsets, and tech companies are expected to sell an additional 12 million this year. This is uncharted territory for SEO marketers, especially when you consider that user-generated 360-degree videos are showing up in Google’s organic search results.

Public interest in VR technology reached an all-time high in 2016, and global searches for VR increased 300 percent the same year. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests 360 VR content increases viewer engagement, subscriptions, shares, and on-page time – an SEO goldmine. Search engines interpret these signals as the presence of quality content, which is one of the biggest drivers in ranking results.

AR Will “Augment” VR Success

In marketing we often refer to a “hype cycle” in which users realize what they’re getting isn’t what they expected. Those who expected Tron-level immersion into the virtual world will likely be disappointed by actual virtual reality, but experts believe the VR hype cycle will be more a gentle dip than a crashing halt. Mobile-based VR platforms, such as Google VR View, will offer a wider use of applications that will stabilize VR for the long term.

Augmented reality will stabilize and augment its cousin, VR. You may not have heard of it, but you’ve likely experienced it, either directly or indirectly. AR overlays images of the real world with additional images or information. If you were a part of or affected by the massive popularity of Pokémon Go last summer, you’ve already experienced augmented reality.

AR has enjoyed success in its gaming platforms, but it also offers increased functionality. Augmented reality has the potential to deliver all kinds of useful, even lifesaving information. Consider, for example, a bike helmet that provides a 360-degree view of your environment, allowing you to see traffic and potential hazards. There are also more practical applications – for example, a painting company that sponsors an application allowing you to see how its shades look on your walls – no paintbrush or samples necessary.

It Creates Novelty and Excitement

As we’ve mentioned, VR and AR are relatively new technologies (for the mainstream), so there is a sense of novelty. Adding VR and AR to your website will make your business seem “on the pulse” and might bring more users to your site. Google VR View offers an opportunity to be cutting edge without coming off as gimmicky, as your company can provide something with true value to your user. The best campaigns are fun and useful, and VR effectively captures that.

Ikea is an example of a company that is already leveraging VR to create a novelty for users that serves a purpose. Its augmented reality app allows a user to see what a piece of furniture will look like in his or her space – no trip to the massive warehouse required.

How to Optimize VR Content for Search Engines

VR content is uncharted territory for web designers, so a brief discussion of optimization is helpful. This practice will continue to evolve, but these tips will focus on Google VR View. When optimizing VR View pages for search, know that search engines don’t automatically index video files into search results. Instead, they index the URLs of the pages where your VR video content is accessible to your users. To find and index VR View content, search engines crawl to the parent URL, find the content (iframe), associate them, and put the parent URL in search results.

SEO for VR View is relatively easy and similar to standard video and image optimization. However, there are a few notable differences:

  • Each page requires a unique descriptive HTML element, meta description, and heading tag. Make these VR-related terms that accurately describe the place and subject. For example, “VR Video Ford Field Detroit MI” is better than “Ford Field Detroit Video."
  • Include a caption, of five to eight words, in the magic window for each piece of VR content. This should accurately describe the place and subject matter of your media, along with a VR-related keyword. For example, “360 VR Video: Great Barrier Reef, Australia.”
  • Once you’ve embedded a 360 VR file in a mobile page that loads quickly, optimize the URL for search. Each page, iframe URL, and VR video/image URL must be optimized for search. Include descriptive keywords for each unique page in file names, since these are important clues to search engines. Add a combination of geographic and VR-related keywords to each unique URL and file name. For example, nyc-vr-image.jpg is preferable to first.jpg. Customize them as much as possible for SEO purposes
  • They say an image is worth a thousand words, so treat it as such. Add unique content under the caption of each piece of VR content on the page. A paragraph or two describing the cities, states, countries, landmarks, natural bodies, seasons, climates, dates, or times of the content is a good start. Don’t forget to add VR-specific keywords such as “VR video,” “virtual reality image,” “immersive video,” or “360 image.” The key here is delicate balance – you don’t want to be punished for keyword jamming or creating duplicate text (i.e., from Wikipedia).
  • The magic window in VR View uses an iframe, which can be problematic for search engines. Put a rel=canonical tag in the parent URL, which will help ensure that engines index the page with the embedded video, not just the parent URL.

Putting It All Together

Virtual and augmented realities are entering their mainstream heyday. Web designers should leverage this popularity and begin embedding 360 videos and images on their webpages. As the technology becomes more cost-effective, consumers will begin to demand more VR content on their devices. While the internet will never disappear, the way in which we consume it is poised for revolution. In the coming decades, the classic mode of scanning a page in a top-down fashion may cease to exist. We will consume media in immersive and personalized experiences, both on our screens and in the world.

If your customer base likes progressive technology, it’s your responsibility to deliver. Implementing AR and VR into your website is a decisive way to differentiate your brand. Allow your creativity to shine and consider incorporating this technology into your page.