That which was once ground-breaking and cutting edge soon becomes yesterday’s news when it’s replaced by something newer and shinier. This is the nature of trends, and web technology is no stranger to this formula. While some trends are just a flash in the pan, others evolve and adapt over time.
As more of daily life becomes tech-centric, companies will be adopting new technologies to further their business, and their websites will be the proving grounds for these experiments. Some of the most interesting current website trends that have the potential to become future staples are artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality, voice recognition and ‘The Internet of Things’.
Artificial Intelligence and Chatbots
AI is often misconstrued as walking, talking robots, but the term covers a much broader range of technology. Even the personalisation that comes from your search history and cookies is a form of AI.
Chatbots are one of the current website trends using AI technology. They essentially serve as customer service personnel, on hand to answer FAQs at any time of the day or night.
While it’s hard to imagine that chatbots are as useful as a real person when it comes to answering user questions, they are highly developed and are becoming more effective every day thanks to the progress of machine learning.
Rather than the (admittedly large) bank of general knowledge programs like Siri or Alexa have, chatbots can be programmed to know the intricacies of a particular business, like an employee, and answer the questions Google cannot.
Chatbots can be on hand to answer user queries 24/7 – this saves having to hire extra customer service personnel to fill this role.
Some users just straight-up prefer to speak to real people, especially when it comes to a query about the product or service they are using or thinking about using. Even as the technology becomes more advanced, it will likely be a long time before everyone is on board.
Who does it benefit?
There’s not much point in using chatbots if you don’t have a product or service you’re trying to sell. If you do, however, chatbots could be a great way to utilise your website, especially if you’re usually inundated with queries. Even if you prefer the personal approach, bots can lighten the load by taking on the simplest or most frequently asked questions.
Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality
Virtual reality is another technology which is gaining major traction, no longer confined to the realm of science fiction. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the largest commercial success of VR so far has come from the video game industry, but augmented reality is fast becoming one of the most exciting current website trends too.
At first, both VR and AR seem of limited use for websites other than as a novelty factor. However, some big names like Google, Microsoft and Samsung are investing heavily in this technology, demonstrated by the new Google Maps AR Navigation.
Other businesses are using AR to enhance the customer experience by providing the opportunity to visualise the product in situ. Make-up companies and fashion retailers are using this technology by allowing website users to see how the product looks on them through the use of their webcams or smart device cameras.
IKEA’s Place app allows you to scan rooms in your house and see how items of furniture would look in different places. Similarly, the Dulux Visualiser lets you see how a new coat of paint would look in a particular room. AR has already been implemented on many websites, and it’s likely VR won’t be far behind in using enhanced, immersive experiences in order to sell products.
Whilst AR is already in use by a number of websites and apps, it’s still new and unusual enough to have a real fascination appeal for users. Proper integration of AR will be one of the biggest factors in closing the gap between online and traditional shopping, as consumers are able to see the product as they would use it, rather than on a model or in a show home.
AR needs a camera or an external piece of equipment such as smart glasses to be used, therefore limiting its use on some websites. For seamless use of AR, the user should be able to interact with it using only what they came to the site with in the first place – if it is too much hassle for them to set up, they may abandon it.
Who does it benefit?
To get the most out of AR, it should be used to sell something visual and is well-suited to retailers of fashion, home and lifestyle. A business that sells a service or functional products where visual appeal is not a factor will get a much more limited use out of AR. However, advancements in VR may open up more opportunities for these types of companies.
Voice Recognition Software
Voice recognition has been around for a while now, beginning many years ago with voice dictation software, and it is now instantly recognisable in the form of devices like Siri and Alexa.
Even phone conversations to certain companies now require you to go through a few rounds of question-and-answer with voice recognition software before you are transferred to the correct department to speak to a person.
Everyone acknowledges voice recognition as a current trend, especially with the popularity of smart home devices, but its use on popular websites is probably still underutilised. Voice recognition can be added to most websites through HTML, and is incredibly useful for people with accessibility issues, like a sight disability or problems with typing.
Voice recognition can also be used for efficient website navigation, rather than the user having to look through large bodies of text to find the relevant information.
Voice recognition is great for improving accessibility and site navigation and will only become more useful as other technologies develop. Once voice recognition has been implemented on a website, it can be used or ignored by users without any detriment to their site experience as it shouldn’t affect functionality or visuals.
Some voice recognition software is still prone to error and there are many stories and YouTube videos to evidence this. While misheard voice commands may lead to mistakes when browsing, any errors involving purchases or data collection could be much more costly.
Who does it benefit?
Voice recognition is probably the most universally useful current website trend. Almost any website could benefit from having voice recognition enabled, simply due to its ease of navigation and accessibility for the user.
The Internet of Things
The ‘Internet of Things’ is a term that refers to internet connectivity being extended to everyday devices and systems. This is a continuing development – devices like smart speakers can be connected to compatible heating and lighting systems in order to create a ‘smart home’ which is controlled by voice commands.
IoT is being introduced to more and more devices and appliances to allow data to be collected and exchanged between them. It is estimated that there will be more than 64 billion IoT devices worldwide by 2025. While the manufacturers of the products will be creating IoT-ready devices, web developers will be able to benefit from the data that these devices collect.
More data collection means improved personalisation and user experience. More interconnected devices also allow device management to be better consolidated and controlled by one source, such as a computer.
Security concerns are the biggest threat to the increased use of IoT devices. Transparency of how the collected data is used is essential, but the devices and systems also need to be thoroughly protected against hackers and breaches. No system of data collection should be used if it is not secure.
Who does it benefit?
If the IoT movement continues to grow the way it has been, there will come a time when any business, brand or website can use it to their advantage. For now, however, those who are selling a product that could be modified to be compatible with IoT would see the most benefit. The data that the product collects can be used not only to improve development but also to create an interactive component for the website.
Just because something is on trend, it doesn’t mean you need it. While the online market is competitive, and it’s often adapt or die, certain technologies are only suitable for specific businesses. Implementing redundant programs on your website will only be a waste of time and resources.
Other trends, however, will be perfect for your website and will help to elevate it to new levels of user engagement and efficiency. Always keep an eye on the current website trends, and when you see something that resonates with your brand, jump on it.