It’s that time of year again where we marketers take part in the most passive-aggressive form of betting the world has ever seen: predictions for the year ahead.
Our predictions from last year proved pretty close to the mark – digital PR has really taken off, ‘native’ advertising has made its way up the agenda, and the general election was just as disruptive and unconventional as we’d expected. We had expected mobile video to have taken off more rapidly than it has, but it’s certainly made its impact felt this year.
So, without further ado, here are our top digital marketing predictions for 2016, from SEO and content, through paid media and analytics…
TL;DR (clickable links):
Digital Marketing Predictions – Overview
Mobile conversion will grow rapidly
App optimisation will become essential
Marketing channels will face major diversification
Search Engine Optimisation
Structured data will be seen as a basic building block
Location-aware search will become a primary focus
Google will scrape more information from websites
In-app/device search optimisation will take off
Data and Analytics
Big data will put increased pressure on marketing departments
Data integration will be used for competitive positioning
Innovative new automation to deliver customer insight
Data will influence how a product is positioned
Digital Marketing Predictions – Overview
From Grant Whiteside
The use of mobile for web browsing has steadily grown in terms of sessions, but conversions are still lagging behind. However, this seems to be changing. As more websites have become fully functional and responsive on mobile, the propensity to click through to final conversion has increased.
A growing number of digital natives are also beginning to find themselves with disposable income, helping to improve the rate of mobile conversions, while all demographic groups are increasingly comfortable using smartphones for shopping, many of whom have disposable income.
This suggests that gaining search engine shelf space in the search engine results pages ( SERPs) will be more hotly contested than ever before, as will the need to understand how the user experience, search, and the mobile landscape work together. This will develop a need to provide Mobile SERP reports, Mobile Tech SEO Audits, Mobile UX, and cross-device singular customer views.
App optimisation, deep app analytics, and deep app search are all in their infancy. Geeks will talk about it, publishers will publish articles about it’s the new Holy Grail, and a small handful of forward-thinking futurists will start doing great stuff with it.
As the battle between browsers, ad blockers, and media suppliers moves into meltdown, the smartest ecommerce players will look toward using apps to gain their own first-party cookie data and grow their own audience extensions.
Other players that don’t invest in app-building to generate their own audience data may have to set budget aside to get their ads whitelisted, particularly in sensitive industries like gambling, resulting in higher costs-per-acquisition (CPAs) and lower return on investment (ROIs).
The number of social media channels on which brands can now advertise, and the service they provide, will mature rapidly as Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat and other platforms prove increasingly useful for targeting specific audiences.
The traditional search providers and major social media players will either try and buy them or align themselves with them. I think the lessons from the past have identified that just because you have a great search engine like Google, it doesn’t mean you can replicate the experience via another channel like Google+. The more you force something, the worse it’ll be received.
As more audience groups establish themselves in our digital stratosphere the more segmented and diverse our audiences will become. The result will be an even wider range of marketing channels to work from and, for some brands, search engine marketing may play second string as it will take longer to implement and cost more to convert than other social channels.
As Authorship has been binned, Googles new Page Quality Rater Guidelines will be crucial to understand as the focus for organic search changes to reach local-based search queries.
Offline reputation, brand citations and digital PR will start to become as influential as links …but this will take time to filter through.
The relationship between Twitter and Google is worth watching as real-time search becomes more of an expectation rather than a ‘nice to have’. Google needs Twitter to provide real time results and Twitter needs Google to make their conversations easily found and indexed.
But while Google and Twitter both need each other, I can’t see an acquisition this year.
From Mark Proctor
This is the stuff that you’re probably not doing, but which make the biggest difference if you do.
If Google has to make a guess about which parts of your website refer to content, products, services, or location then there’s uncertainty.
With structured data you can tell search engines specifically which parts of a page correspond with what content – then there is certainty. Computer algorithms and Google engineers love certainty!
Structured data itself isn’t particularly new, but it’s getting easier to implement. For example, Schema microdata can now be implemented in a JSON format which removes the tricky fiddling around with implanting code into specific sections of page template html.
Microdata implementation still isn’t perfect, but it really does form the building blocks of your on-site SEO, so before you try anything else, get your microdata in order.
Neatly tying back to the structured data, linking the products and services you offer to the places you offer them allows search engines to confidently return results for searches such as “pet shop near me”.
If you don’t include that information on your site, you’ll miss out. If you don’t ensure all the local listings are up-to-date, informative, and relevant, you’ll miss out.
If you consider the growth of mobile and the potential to solve problems for impulse and need-based customers, location data needs to be at the top of your agenda. Everything will be one step closer to being hyper-local. Why? Because it’s often much more relevant to the user.
This ties back to structured data again. Google’s search algorithm is continually getting smarter, able to understand ‘complex combinations’ (though while it can answer “Who was the U.S. President when the Angels won the World Series?” it still has trouble with “Who was the UK Prime Minister when Archie Gemmill scored against Holland?”).
I expect this will mean we’ll see even more answers to our questions appearing at the top of the search engine results page itself, much the same way Google currently displays Open Graph information.
What does that mean for the sites that provide the information? On the one hand, Google is relying on those sites in order to scrape the information, on the other it is cannibalising the traffic those sites might have received had they been presented in the SERPS rather than the answer itself.
It’s probably better for the user, and it’s certainly better for Google, but to the websites that have heeded Google’s call for authoritative content and spent resource on demonstrating expertise and providing answers to users, it probably doesn’t look as rosy.
I expect we’ll see further growth and visibility of Google’s comparison services too, already popping into relevant lucrative searches (insurance, flights, hotels etc.). There’s no reason why these comparison services can’t be extended into whatever industry the data exists, which, in turn, presents interesting challenges for inbound marketers, big brands, and new businesses alike.
If you search on your phone, and an app you’ve installed is relevant, it’ll be presented. Even if you don’t have an app installed, an app will often be presented, either organically or in the form of an ad.
This means you need to understand the online market for your services and for your app, understand your competitors’ apps, and make sure your app listings are properly optimised.
It’s a land-grab that’s already well underway, but is relatively young as far as optimising for search in concerned. Get in there fast.
Devices, platforms, artificial intelligence (AI), and personal assistants will be major game changers as the relationship between where we get our information from becomes more dependent on the device, platform and browsers we use. This will also directly relate to the relationships that platforms have with Ad Blockers. I think we’ll see some big deals this year.
Structured data will be a repeating theme
Did I mention that this is the basis of everything you do around SEO?
From Malcolm Figures
Shopping campaigns based on individual users, rather than cookie-based targeting, really came to the fore in 2015. For many industries, these types of campaigns and targeting methods are no longer optional add-ons for existing search campaigns but key cornerstones on which the success of major campaigns can hinge upon.
In 2016 we will see the continuation of holy trinity of search, remarketing, and mobile remaining as important as ever with smart strategies, ongoing optimisation, and creativity being increasingly necessary to make sure you get as much bang for your buck as possible. Ignore these basics at your peril and remember about your pal Pareto.
For the perfect paid media picture the positive performance punch of programmatic can benefit you with increased reach and accuracy. At the same time, smart audience selecting, sculpting, and seeding of messages with social media advertising will help keep your brand in the forefront of customers’ minds.
However, these will need to be supported with engaging evergreen campaigns that allow your key revenue driving campaigns to hit the mark and cut through the clutter when your competitors are looking to capture customers as well.
Google’s own models of “Hero, Hub and Hygiene” or “Create, Collaborate and Curate” comes in handy both when thinking how to build a strategy with multiple touchpoints and what content to push when…as well as allowing allusion to my alliteration adventure.
The selection of channel, content, and customer should continue to be influenced by past successes, industry expertise, and continual mind-set of test, measure and evaluate in order to grow faster than the market. What works for you today might not allow you to grow at the same rate tomorrow.
This is where the collaboration with Analytics and research teams, as well as creating synergy with SEO, can really be the difference between a lukewarm 2016 and one that stands head and shoulders above the rest. Success is not simply scored by meeting targets but smashing them into space.
From Yana Trofimenko
Decision-making in digital marketing is increasingly being led by data, so there will be more pressure on marketing departments to understand how to use this data effectively to generate real insight. The increasing competition on all markets will make marketers look for smarter ways to overcome their competitors and please their customers.
Data is already available in almost real-time for organic and paid search in terms of positioning, but the new year promises to bring more data not only about channel overlaps but also about audience overlaps from ad networks and programmatic.
This data will allow agile adaptation of advertising and marketing, leading to more competitive positioning on things like messaging and price, and rapidly changing market share.
If brands can offer the right customer the right product at the right moment with the right message they will be onto a winning formula. The issue is understanding what is “right” for each customer when you have thousands of them.
On a large scale, all analysis will have to be automated and done with cloud-based technologies, but those algorithms must be written and iteratively improved by the analysts. Machine learning and predictive analytics has come on a long way, but all automated learning algorithms need supervision to make the final tweaks to account for real people.
It is much more useful to use the data about each individual product to build product associations and to build up perceived value of the product within the customer journey than it is siloed away for an end-of-campaign report.
With enhanced e-commerce, for example, it’s already possible to classify customers by their potential value in pounds based on the detailed information about products viewed and the furthest shopping stage reached by customers on their journey.
However, analytics insight that doubles companies’ revenue cannot be built overnight. More and more companies understand this and are starting to work with bite-sized Analytics, increasing the value and scope of their data tracking and analysis overtime.
A few analytics recommendations
- Scale down to a manageable level – there is no point in generating reports without insight.
- Understand what data you critically need to succeed and make sure you track that data – the more data you have, the more grounded will be the decisions based on the historical data.
- Be creative and data-driven at the same time. Yes, it is possible. In fact, the most creative campaigns use data as limiting factors to creativity, increasing the chance of success.
From Chris Sharp
As more pressure is put on content marketers and creative teams to prove the RoI of their work, they will begin aligning content strategy with the sales funnel/user journey using some jazzy new frameworks.
The key to succeeding with a content strategy is making sure that the right people see the right content at the right time. The only way to achieve this is to find patterns in what people view and when – the data.
Led by the data, content can be highly targeted to audiences at different stages of the buying cycle, as well as being more closely integrated into the entire marketing mix to deliver trackable, quantifiable results.
In an effort to justify continued content creation, brands will begin to explore alternative uses for content in greater earnest. Instead of seeing content purely as an inbound marketing tactic, content will be tied in to new business generation, customer service, upselling, brand positioning, conversion optimisation, and so on.
The uses of content are almost endless, but until now businesses seem to have decided that it was too difficult or time-consuming to explore alternative purposes for their content. However, the time of creating content for the sake of creating content is over. Content will have to work harder and smarter to find its place within the marketing mix.
The cost of the technology necessary to create high-quality content has come down, making it incredibly cheap for users to produce their own video or launch their own blog, for example.
At the same time, trust in brand content has steadily decreased as web users become ever more savvy and sceptical. The convergence of these two trends makes the time ripe for a flood of user-generated content.
There can also be lots of difficulties in creating content internally, from concept to signoff, to cost to capacity. But with user-generated content many of those problems are swept to one side.
Brands need to focus on creating the base line of content that keeps their marketing and brand perception ticking over, while the bigger focus should be on creating a fertile ground for user-generated content to spring up.
Sites like YouTube are already realising this trend, with reports that they are contacting unrepresented yet popular vloggers to become affiliates. I suspect that this could be a new monetisation strategy by YouTube following the increase in users employing ad-blocking software.
Video is already one of the most popular types of media, with trust in video advertising online at the highest of all digital advertising media. With the changes around video on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, video consumption is only set to rise.
However, very few brands have worked out how to do video effectively. Too many brands are still relying on flashy visuals and nice music to gain viewers’ attention, whereas the real skill involves imparting the right kind of information in the right format.
Are users after quick stats or entertainment? Will they be watching at work (where they may not have sound on) or at home with friends?
Answering these types of questions will also tie video into a wider content strategy informed by data, bringing highly effective video content to the fore.
Phew! That’s a lot of predictions. Let’s summarise:
- Mobile will move the fore
With recent updates to the Google search algorithm, along with advances in in-app search, virtual assistants, and customer savvy, mobile is set to overtake desktop in terms of priorities in the year to come. Brands will spend considerable time and resource optimising their SEO, paid media, and content for mobile and tracking results across devices with analytics.
- Video will be primary content
Whether it is created in-house, outsourced, or generated by users, the coming year will see video become the key focus for content marketers. As a result, YouTube marketing will mature, earning it the status of the most influential search engine.
- Individualisation will be key
Whether you’re looking at your analytics or paid media (even SEO and content), bringing insight and understanding of your customers down to an individual level will be a key differentiator.
- Everything will be data-led
With the rapid release of new automation technologies, brands can start to use Big Data to lead their campaigns. Whether it be search optimisation, paid advertising, or creating content, data will lead the conversation making campaigns more efficient and effective.
What do you think? Disagree with any of our predictions? Have some of your own? Send us your thoughts on Twitter @ambergreen_says