What does wearable technology mean for digital marketing?

By Matthew Jackson | Planning Director | June 2015

Wearable technology is playing a bigger part in everyday life.

Searching the internet on a desktop or a laptop is easy; we’ve been doing it for 20 years and people intuitively know what to do. But when it comes to a device as small as a wristwatch or an attachment to your glasses, it’s not clear how people’s internet journeys would work.

A recent Mintel report suggested that over one in five (21%) of UK adults already use either a wearable device or a health-related mobile app. Apple reportedly asked its suppliers to manufacture over five million units of its Apple Watch ready for release, making it more likely than ever that consumers will be using these wearable devices to control their daily lives.

But, what does this explosion of new smaller technology devices mean for online companies? Might this affect web traffic, engagement and conversion rates? Also, what can we do to make the most of this boom in technology? Although you may think that people won’t purchase a product on their wearables, there is a lot more to this technology. They can play a big role in the overall customer journey, so considering the market and having a wearable strategy could make a big difference.

Mobile and tablet usage has been increasing rapidly over the last two to three years.

Google and other search engines have been making moves to ensure that mobile-friendly websites are presented at the top of mobile results for some time. If you do not cater for mobile users, your website could potentially lose out on a lot of traffic, even without factoring in wearable search traffic.

Google has already suggested that this mobile ranking change could affect more websites than the Panda and Penguin algorithms did, potentially in excess of 12% of all mobile queries.

The graph above shows how the traffic from different devices to one website has changed over the last three years. Initially, mobile and tablet users made up 12-13% of the traffic to the website.

Over the years, despite consistent growth averaging 20%+ in overall traffic numbers, desktop visits have remained relatively steady, if not dropping slightly. The real growth in traffic to the site has come from mobiles and tablets, now comprising over 45% of the total traffic to the site.

This shift has been created by the rising popularity of mobile use, which could easily happen in the wearable market if the big brands, especially Apple, promote their products as much as they have done with mobile.

Ross McEwan, chief executive of RBS, commented “Do you know what our busiest bank branch is in the UK? It’s our mobile app on the 7.15am train to Paddington”. If users are comfortable doing their banking on mobile when, five years ago, the service didn’t even exist, then there is nothing to suggest that users in the future wouldn’t be prepared to use wearable devices for more complex purposes.

How could wearables affect searches?

With wearables, the screen size means that a lot of traditional input methods will be difficult. Typing on a keyboard will be impossible, so people will turn to voice search. Google has already been promoting their voice search capabilities with a series of TV adverts in the UK. Microsoft is also promoting the use of Cortana in some of its adverts. When you can’t type, voice search becomes the go-to method. However, will people be to be too self-conscious to talk to their watch?

For voice search people tend to speak much longer quieries than they would be willing to type. It is possible to optimise a website for this type of conversational search query, but requires a considered content strategy which can include more synonyms, more co-citations and references throughout the site.

Apps and search

Typically on smartphones and tablets, more and more people are turning to apps to give them the best experience. In the UK market, app downloads grew by 5% in 2014 and revenues generated through apps rose by around 30% as people became more used to watching, reading and playing through them.

Apps are more important on small, wearable devices, as they can be better optimised for the screen size and specific requirements of users. Developers have even started producing specific apps for wearables; for example, this web browser created for wearable Android devices suggests that it is possible to use the internet on smaller devices.

As more people start to use their smartwatches and other wearables, the traffic to apps will begin to increase.

This could mean that traffic starts to move directly to the apps rather than search engines; people will no longer search but will go directly to their favourite app where they can consume content of their choice.

Being able to sync up the journey between two devices (smartphones and wearables) or even moving through to tablet and desktop devices could help further improve the customer journey, making people less likely to use search to compare other options.

For example, if you have TripAdvisor’s app on your phone, they may also know that you have logged in via a wearable device. They can then send push notifications to your wearable, prompting you to start or continue this journey on the phone and decide to book a holiday on your desktop.

Having the same details already saved on the desktop version when you come to log in can save the user a lot of time, meaning that they don’t need to use any other travel website to compare prices or look for other options.

From showrooming to boomerooming

In the past, the term “showrooming” was used to label someone who went from shop to shop on the high street to find the best deal. With the rise of internet shopping, this changed to “webrooming” – a person who shopped around on a lot of websites to the same effect.

As smartphone and tablet use has increased and the ability to surf the web anywhere has evolved, more people are now changing their shopping habits to include “Boomerooming”. This is where a customer starts their research online to find good deals or the right product for them, moves in-store to pick up and experience the product, before then going back online to compare more prices and purchase, followed by picking up in-store.

Walmart suggested that their customers have up to 17 points of contact during their path to purchase and Google’s own ZMOT research suggests on average, there are 10.4 touch points in an average customer journey.

This elongated customer journey can create problems with tracking the customer and understanding how marketing materials may be affecting them, with Nick Jordan, Senior Vice President of Global Strategy at Tapad suggesting that true cross-channel, cross-device attribution is still at least five years away.

Wearables may not be a big part of this purchase journey at the moment but in five years’ time, if your strategy for your user journey doesn’t include wearables, you may well be left behind.

App indexing

Google is starting to feature app data within their index and search results. If a user has a mobile app installed and conducts a mobile search query that surfaces a result from that website, then as long as there is content on the app for that search query, the searcher will be given the opportunity to visit the app rather than a mobile or desktop version of the website. This is great for users, as it reduces load times and results in a much quicker experience.

With wearable devices, the option to select apps in search results may not be instantly possible. However, having that option means users performing voice searches could be more likely to arrive on the app and continue the journey from the wearable device (or from their smartphone or other connected device).

The iPhone above shows the Google search result for “restaurants in Leeds” on a mobile with the TripAdvisor app installed. You can see that Google offers to take users straight to deep pages within the app as well as giving the option to open the link to the website.

When users click on the app result, they are taken directly to the internal page on the app, which will often load much quicker than a whole webpage.

If you don’t have an app, then you can’t be included in this type of result. An app is not necessarily for everyone and for a lot of websites, there is little or no point in having app data to support their other web journeys. Consideration should be given to your mobile user journey and how best to support your mobile users.

“80% of success is showing up”

Woody Allen

Content on a small device

The current use of wearable tech means that the device displays notifications that would then spark a user into further action. This could be that you see someone is calling or texting you and you respond either with the watch or get your phone out, but there is a potential for push notifications to attract users to use smartphones or other devices to find out more about the notification subject.

For example, if you are a user of the BBC News app, you may get push notifications about the latest headlines direct to your wearable device. These can show up on your device, and you then pick up your phone to read more about the headline you have just seen in your notifications.

This type of notification and journey to content could work well for some users and websites, but when users of wearables either don’t have apps installed or start using wearables to consume more content, what should this content look like?

In general, content is going to have to be very small and quickly downloadable from poor internet connections.

Therefore, a different mobile strategy may need to be developed so that a website has a desktop version of their website, perhaps an m. version of the website to serve tablet and smartphone users, but then perhaps another “w.” version to cater for wearable users. The content displayed on this version may be much smaller and have fewer details, and size or quality of images may also be reduced to help with speed.

With that in mind, your content strategy may need to change to think about ways of moving users quickly with good calls to action to take them to the m. or desktop version to keep them interested in products or services. The Apple Watch currently ties in with the Apple Handoff feature that allows you to save content to read later or send to your iPhone/iPad to build up a personalised reading list. Android products also have the ability to save documents to the cloud and sync up multiple devices. Chrome browser users can switch between devices with tabs open on each device.

Content consumers may also use more RSS feeds to help deliver the headlines, whereupon the RRS feed app could open the browser on the attached mobile, tablet or desktop device to allow the reader to view the article later.

Currently, the wearable devices on the market do not lend themselves to direct content consumption, but as the technology improves, screens will have higher resolutions and could become bigger, perhaps even wrapping around wrists with curved screens. This means that users can consume more content on these devices, though it could need tailoring to suit the screen capacity.

So, what would a content strategy for future wearables look like?

• More visually-driven elements rather than text-heavy ones
• Content should be focused around video or audible – this can be easier to consume on smaller screen sizes
• Concise – you don’t have much space, so use it well. It may even be different to desktop content.


When users continue their journey on a multitude of different devices, it is important to ensure that users know they are on the same company’s website or app. Your branding and logo needs to therefore make a connection, irrespective of size or device.

For big brands with well-established logos and colour schemes, the brand is relatively easy to get across, but for smaller, less well-known companies, this may be different.

The apps we currently know are coming to Apple Watch are from relatively well known brands. As soon as you see the Twitter Bird, you know you are on the Twitter app. But, in the second example image, you would not immediately know that the app was from Salesforce, (although the example above is taken from inside the app rather than the homepage or download screens). By creating a consistent design journey, you can reassure customers and develop trust in your product.

Platform development

For those companies deciding to get into the wearable market by developing an app, there are a number of considerations. Typically, the app on a wearable device might not be the same as that used for mobile devices. Again, because of the size of wearables, a traditional app won’t have the functionality or look as good on a very small device.

Uber, for example, have developed an app specifically for the Apple Watch that is different to the mobile equivalent, with slightly different functionality but still using the same APIs as the mobile app. If Uber then decide to develop apps for other wearable devices such as an Android watch as or Windows watches, then these may also need different developments.

Therefore, instead of designing, developing and supporting one platform, the website – Uber – and other companies may need to support multiple different platforms and devices, each of which will have specific development requirements. This will requires additional support and testing, potentially as well as specialist developers, designers and perhaps even conversion rate optimisation specialists looking specifically at wearable apps.

Users are prepared, to an extent, to use small text and buttons on their device, as websites without mobile-friendly versions still do get conversions on mobile devices. However, there will be a limit to the level that a user is prepared to go and what their eyesight will allow.

Given the new dominance of iOS, Android and Windows, it is likely that any new apps or software products would only need to be compatible with these systems. This should not lead to complacency; developers still need to remain platform-agnostic or companies need to ensure that they have the ability to build for different operating systems.

The explosion of wearable tech will lead to the rise in developers claiming to be able to develop for Apple Watch and other small devices. If you want to get an app developed, be careful to choose the right provider capable of delivering the best strategy on the correct platform; don’t rush to create an app just for the sake of having one.

Tracking and data analysis

As brands and app developers look for more ways to monetise their products, in-app purchases, adverts and calls to action could become more important on wearable devices. Users could be targeted with more advertising from status notifications and app push updates, but as advertising routes become more sophisticated we could see other ones expand.

Google ads could be used to target people specifically on wearables and smaller screens.

This could necessitate the designing of new ads to appeal to this market with easy calls to action, as well as the ability to take a user from an add-on displayed on their device to a website on another connected device for them to view later.

This advertising needs to target users’ preferences, as consumers are easily turned off by advertising that is irrelevant to them. This means that more information needs to be collected on wearable devices to allow advertisers to better target those users.

“44% of consumers worry apps are collecting personal information without consent. 33% have cancelled a transaction due to privacy concerns.”

Data privacy could become a bigger issue as more people are tracked not only in their online habits, but also their physical locations much more regularly; 44% of consumers worry apps are collecting personal information without consent. 33% have cancelled a transaction due to privacy concerns (Forrester Research).

Brands will need to be careful to monitor for any backlash that could arise from consumers wary about their privacy, and with consumers even closer to social media avenues on their wearable devices, this will quickly get into the social space unchecked. Google and Apple will continue to be the biggest data-handling companies, with a huge amount of data on each of their customers and more as the wearable market expands.


Wearable tech is not for everyone, both from end user point of view but also a brand’s perspective. We encourage brands to think more about their wider digital strategy to understand if a wearable proposition would be suitable for them.

If you do decide that wearable would work for your brand, then consider the whole user journey, make sure people can find your brand online, that people can trust your apps and websites and make sure the connected user journey flows as seamlessly as possible between devices.

For early adopters, the market could be a profitable one. However, until the products and possibilities are developed further, the market is a new and emerging one that could change very rapidly.

By Matthew Jackson | Planning Director | June 2015

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