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Harry Williams, Head of Growth

- 13 Jan 2021

Digital Marketing

GUIDE & TRENDS

AUTHOR
Harry Williams

Head of Growth

Harry Williams heads up the Growth Team at Found, leading our team of Business Directors in driving the growth and success of our clients through a deep understanding of their businesses and delivering exceptional digital marketing performance.

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OVERVIEW

What a year 2020 was – unlike any other, featuring a global pandemic along with a US election, and that’s not even including the Australian bushfires, a stock market crash, and Prince Harry and Meghan stepping down as royals.

In the chaos, people all over the country were in lockdown, turning to the digital world for solace. Adults in the UK spent over a quarter of their waking day online, with a whopping 1.6 trillion hours worldwide spent on our phones in the first half of 2020.

This shift was apparent in the online shopping boom where almost 50% of consumers tried new brands and local businesses looked for ways to move their offerings online.

LEARNINGS FROM 2020.

As digital marketers, we weren’t able to rely on performance from previous years to inform forecasts or general seasonality in terms of expected keyword performance; or the usual peaks and troughs in traffic, conversions, and revenue we see throughout a normal year.

This meant every channel had to adapt how they worked in real-time, and with the pandemic leading to store closures, decreased in-person contact, and shifts across the digital landscape with new features rolling out to support businesses, we were not only responsible for digital performance, but playing a huge part in business survival as well.

As a result, many companies and many of our own clients had to change their focuses overnight, moving from a focus on “how can we drive more revenue” to “what does my audience need at this moment”. With that came changes to strategies, tactics, and immediate and long-term focuses, with each digital channel having their own challenges to overcome.

SEO.

For SEO in particular, seasonality as we knew it was gone, and using forecasts to inform our strategy was a challenge. Understanding our audience became more important than it already was,

as new audience groups emerged with everything shifting online. With these new audience groups, user engagement metrics were also changing, impressing the need to tailor content to these new demographics.

Our plan of attack was rooted in research and trend analysis, staying on top of emerging and expected search trends so that we could optimise for terms users were searching for. Identifying these as they emerged was pivotal to providing the support our clients needed throughout the year, being able to adapt focuses in real-time without swaying from the overall business objectives. This also meant we needed to be on the lookout for new features and opportunities as
they were rolling out. With stores closed through large periods of 2020, this meant adapting how we approached local SEO.

Google and Bing released new features to their local listing platforms throughout the year, not least announcements, changes to opening hours, and additional attributes to help provide more thorough information to customers. This played a key role in connecting with customers and providing the information they needed.

The rollout of Unpaid Shopping listings to the UK in the latter stages of 2020 was another shift we needed to adapt to. Understanding how these listings would work for our clients, what that meant for SEO, and how we can better improve chances of appearing in unpaid listings as well as the paid listings.

An unexpected bonus in 2020 was how digital audiences were broadened, which allowed us to drive exceptional performance for some of our clients. What didn’t surprise us, however, was how Google still managed to release 3 core algorithm updates, worrying in-house and agency SEOs across the country. Even though the world changed this year, something that still stands strong is Google’s need for quality content to cement your online entity. The shift from recent years, where intent matching and content value has been at the forefront of Google’s continued mission to improve the quality of search results, remained a constant through 2020, providing a level of stability amongst the chaos.

PAID MEDIA.

We saw polarising performance in 2020, with anything involving travelling or face-to-face contact really struggling, but ecommerce going through the roof! This was to be expected with both Government restrictions and the closure of high street stores affecting people’s shopping habits. The biggest spike in online shopping was at the end of March, but this level has stayed high – we’ve seen consistent record months since then.

More people were online than ever; connecting on social, browsing the supermarket, or researching their latest lockdown quiz questions. Audience pools grew, giving us Biddable Media marketers even more refinement opportunities. We saw companies buy into a full funnel digital approach, incorporating everything from classic PPC (search) to YouTube and Discovery, as well as taking a serious interest in data and customer journeys.

We saw more and more companies looking to data to inform their next move, more and more cross-team collaboration to make sure messaging was aligned, and more willingness to implement tests on creative, audiences, and messaging as companies strived towards understanding what their audience needed and how they could best serve that.

In a landmark decision, Facebook also scrapped their <20% ad text rule, which was the bane of social practitioners’ lives since time began. For social media, the extra volume led to drops in CPMs which our clients were very happy about. Not only were clients happy about the drop in CPMs, social media played a pivotal role in connecting with customers. Previously left to the organic social and customer service teams, companies started looking to paid social teams to support with data insights and report back on audience engagement and, for some, audience sentiment. Companies wanted to make sure they were reaching their audiences in the right ways at the right time, wanting to monitor social interactions and make sure that when their audience needed them, they were there to support. For many, that meant moving outside of their staple platforms and into previously unexplored territories, many starting as tests before being adapted into their existing strategies.

Even though everything felt like it was changing, the core principles stayed the same. Constant testing and refinement remained fundamental to running effective Biddable Media and allowed us to adapt.

Given how much online grew in 2020 with 15% of UK companies creating roles specifically to cater to an increase in digital sales and boost online capacity, growth was always projected, just not at this rate. Coronavirus may have accelerated growth but it was following the trends we’d seen previously.

We doubt that digital will ever return to the levels of 2019, the question is, how big can it get in 2021?

DATA.

Data really came into its own in 2020, the general public paid more attention to data than ever – we saw BBC news conferences completely centred on data, charts and trends. It’s excellent because we’re seeing data-led decision-making at the forefront of policy making. It’s caught the attention of the world
– everybody is looking at the data every day. But it also gave us all a reminder of data-blindness, whereby people were quick to begin planning and changing strategies based on only the data available to them in the moment, rather than looking for consistent trends, previous learnings, and knowledge of external behaviours.

Data sharing across big tech companies was an interesting development in 2020. We saw collaboration from Apple, Google and national statistics offices to ensure that decision makers had the right data they needed to hold the virus back. I mean, Google and Apple working…together? Only in 2020. Looking at the wider picture, the pandemic also revealed some huge gaps in our global data infrastructure, such as with nursing homes, and as a result we saw a lot of systems being built on-the-fly in response to what was needed.

Also, everybody and their Grandma made a Covid data visualisation and we were not exempt. People are hungry for what we call “r/dataisbeautiful fame” but it can be iffy when people are making beautiful charts that lack context. This revealed a concern in the data community – analysis in a vacuum, in which lots of data analysts were weighing in on the pandemic without the necessary domain or insider knowledge. A nice chart can add legitimacy to underlying bad data, which is dangerous in the wrong hands.

With all of this in mind, and knowing that our clients and companies alike were turning to data to make sure they were doing the right things, we needed to be as proactive as we were reactive to requests.

We mined social media to understand what people were talking about and how they were feeling; we tracked changes in keyword topic interest trends to inform when demand was dropping off or picking up; we tracked the SERPs to understand how they were changing and what features were becoming available and how competitors were changing their strategies. We even modelled the impact the pandemic had on online shopping behaviour and what that might mean for 2020’s key retail periods, including Black Friday and Christmas.

We worked tirelessly to ensure our teams had the latest available data alongside potential implications of findings. We were ingrained in strategy shifts, making sure the data we had available was being used appropriately. And, perhaps most importantly, we were able to demonstrate the true value this level of integration can have on performance and business decisions for our clients – something we’re excited to see only grow in importance and recognition next year.

CONTENT.

The year 2020 was interesting. Content and messaging really came to the forefront as businesses were trying to find their footing, and their place in our lives during a pandemic. There was a prolonged will-they-won’t-they, with many brands not even wanting to mention the virus-that-shall-not-be -named in their creative. We saw the shift in our world reflected in advertising, with masks and social distancing now the norm in live action and animation. We’re so used to it now that sometimes watching older films or TV episodes gave us a mini panic: why are they standing so close together?!

Brands realised that content has a massive impact on the collective social consciousness. We came together to clap for the NHS and we also hated on a lot of adverts that just missed the mark altogether. There was also a lot of innovation, with businesses using content as a value driver for audiences that were feeling disengaged and shopped out.

One example that comes to mind is Macmillan offering social kits to host your own quizzes and murder mysteries at home. Playstation even launched their PS5 with an OOH campaign in the year of the indoors(!) It still did pretty well, even though it made us nostalgic for the London underground.

The role of content in digital strategies only grew in importance as the year went on. We know that content plays a vital role for SEO strategies, but this year it became ingrained in every channel. From ad copy for PPC through to creative messaging and design for Social. From FAQs to support audience needs through to storyboarding to support video creation. From research into new topics people were searching for through to executing that research across the digital ecosystem. Content was at the heart of it all, and that’s exactly where we expect it to stay in the future.

DIGITAL MARKETING TRENDS FOR 2021.

With everything that has happened through 2020, it would be naive of anyone to believe things will either return to “normal” or continue as 2020 has. Which makes predictions for the coming year both impractical and, frankly, a little dangerous. The face of retail has changed forever, and with it means changes to how and what people search for, how and where they shop, and how and why they make the decisions they do. The constant through all of that is “how”. And that is where marketers should be focusing in 2021 – how is the world, industry, audience, and behaviour changing, and how do you change with it?

SEO.

There are some incredibly exciting things planned for the organic landscape in 2021, some of which already started rolling out at the end of 2020.

We can expect this year to bring us advancements in how Google interprets, understands, and ranks content on the web. Moving from just indexing web pages to being able to index passages, as well as providing features like Topic Cards more and more frequently – a focus on semantics, intent, and entity building – just as we’ve seen through the last few years.

With BERT now present for nearly every query, we fully expect intent and semantic understanding of query to content and related topics to be at the forefront of SEO this year. A huge focus is going to be placed on entity recognition and building up the understanding of why your content deserves to rank over another site – think contextual relevance, hubs of content, and proving you are an expert on a topic rather than optimising for specific keywords just because they have a high search volume.

Google’s announcement of Pinpoint, likely an extension of their investment into The Trust Project, also speaks to their ongoing mission to provide the best quality information in search results – making sure journalists are able to trust the facts they are quoting. While this is just for journalists, it does also speak to the need for SEOs to ensure their content is up to the fact-check challenge – we will likely see a focus on quality like never before, making sure content is in line with what the users need, the intent of the queries that lead to it, and that it is factually correct at every check.

One of the other things we’re particularly excited about in 2021 is the evolution of visual search. Going beyond the claims that voice search brought with it, visual search looks to tie the connections of image-based searches with real-life settings through augmented reality. We see this already with some educational queries (anyone else have an AR T-Rex in their living room for November?) but also for some shopping queries, especially around the automotive space. We expect this to roll out to more and more industries throughout the year, and with the likelihood that high streets will continue to face challenges this year we fully expect this to become a large part of the customer buying journey.

Our recommendation right now? Look out for new markup you can add to your products. Structured data is only going to grow in importance for helping Google understand as much as possible about your products, services, and business as a whole.

Finally, User Experience (UX) is a major trend we think will impact digital across the board. Page experience signals are already part of the ranking algorithm, incorporating things like mobile friendliness, safe browsing, https, and ensuring there are no intrusive interstitials, but this is now expanding to include the Core Web Vitals as of May 2021. This is all part of Google’s drive to provide high quality information, quickly, for everyone. With it, we expect to see vast improvements to the quality of sites appearing in the top results, and UX will be a driving force. SEO-led UX enhancements should be a pivotal part of strategies this year, if you haven’t already been focusing on them.

PAID MEDIA.

This coming year, we’re optimistically looking forward to more advances in automation and AI, even more growth for video, personalisation and hyper identity -based-targeting. We can expect to see more and more developments in audience targeting, allowing for deeper understanding of how audiences are reacting to and engaging with our ads across different platforms. With that, we expect to see a shift in campaign management, where the value provided by the experts comes from data analysis and insights rather than manual bid adjustments, leaning heavily on automation to identify and execute the best possible performance to allow experts to drill into the how and why for future strategic and
tactical changes.

Speaking of automation and the phasing out of old school granular Biddable Media account management, we’ve noticed that this is being used as an argument for moving Biddable Media activity in-house. Manual optimisation was never where true agency value was realised, in fact with more time to focus on strategy, agencies with specialist expertise will come into their own – smashing targets beyond what was previously thought possible.

Further enhancements in automation will not only allow for exceptional performance to be delivered, but also free up the time of specialists to focus more and more on the data behind the campaigns to identify trends, changes, and further actions that need to be taken.

We’re also hopeful that both the targeting and the algorithms for social platforms outside of Facebook and Instagram will improve to become viable alternatives for more industries. Facebook and Instagram are leading the way currently but we don’t think it will be long until other platforms catch up, especially with new features on platforms becoming available all the time and more and more people turning to social media in 2020. Paid social will no longer be a nice-to-have addition to Biddable Media strategies, it will become an essential part of connecting with audiences and with that we can expect to see functionality and reporting improve at the same time.

In terms of wider industry developments in 2021, we don’t think the antitrust lawsuits raised against Facebook in the US will have any impact on digital marketing. It’s concerning that data visibility seems to be consistently reducing, which looks set to continue this year.

An emerging feature we think will be a game changer in 2021 is the ability to segment bidding in Google Shopping by new and existing customers.

Considering this is a focus for most of our retail clients, we can’t wait for this feature to be available. It’ll mean that you can tailor a CPA that’s acceptable based on the value of a new acquisition versus someone that’s already bought from you.

DATA.

In the coming year, we’re looking forward to a healthier appetite for data science in marketing – not just the large companies but even the smaller ones can get value from data, that applies to their digital marketing. We recognise that data science isn’t just
an impressive-sounding luxury but a real competitive edge, especially as
the field of data science itself is so varied. Two data science teams are likely to offer very different things, so if your business is in the market for a competitive edge make sure to go with an agency that really understands your goals and wider industry context.

On a more personal level, we’re worried that people will be fatigued by data. Delivery specialists working in Biddable Media or SEO might become too occupied with BAU and returning to “normal” to allow time to think outside the box, with less time to engage with new technologies and ideas. Especially in smaller teams. We’re also wary of the gatekeeping of publicly accessible data sources and APIs. Projects and scopes will get smaller as more companies want to hold their first party data prisoner.

One thing we are looking forward to is more integration between data science and marketing strategies – going beyond digital to become part of the business decision making.

Need to know what your audience is talking about, or what stock to purchase when, or how the SERPs are changing and how you might be able to get a competitive edge?

Data science can help with all of it and we’ve been working much closer with Biddable Media, SEO, Content, and in-house teams through 2020 to bring this to life, with the results of strategic shifts and tactical adoptions reaping fantastic results for our clients.

CONTENT.

In 2021, we’re excited for the age of Content ExperiencesTM – a seamless blend of words, moving and still images perfectly designed with experience at the forefront. We’re talking about UX, and with page experience signals becoming a larger ranking factor soon it’ll be interesting to see how it impacts content online.

Content to further social purpose will also become more and more important for businesses. Done right, it can be powerful but even the best intentions can fall short.

Be sure to involve the right voices from the start and understand the context (past, present and future!) of your place in the discussion before putting stuff out there.

Even though there are automation tools on the horizon, nothing (in the near future at least) will replace good old fashioned creative instinct. We’re all for algorithmic ideation, in fact the more ideas the better, but linking these to human emotions and experience is where we humans shine. It’ll be a long time before an AI can make unexpected conceptual leaps that make for brave, bold creative.

2020 showed us that people were craving a connection, and content is the perfect means for delivering that to them. Allowing for content to form a larger part of your marketing strategy, whether through creation or consultancy, will enable you to form better, more significant relationships with your audiences, as well as delivering results and supporting other channels to do the same.

DIGITAL MARKETING TRENDS IN 2021.

From all the exciting things we’re looking forward to in 2021, there are three things that stand out as constants for every channel:

  1. Audience relevance
  2. Page experience
  3. Intent matching

Audience relevance is going to be key for understanding how you can further drive performance through multiple channels. For SEO, that means overlapping it with intent matching to make sure you are focusing on the right things in the right way for your audience to find, and find value in.

For Biddable Media, that means making sure your targeting is set up correctly, taking advantage of new developments to targeting, automation, and AI throughout the year to make sure you are engaging with the right audience. For Content, that means understanding exactly what, and how, your audience needs to see and relaying this across every possible touchpoint of their journey, making sure that content being served to them is relevant, sensitive to their needs, and engaging.

Page experience is only going to grow in importance, and through the latter stages of 2020 we saw many companies invest heavily in ensuring their websites were operating effectively and serving their users properly. Before, both SEO and Biddable Media teams have had different reports to work from – SEO with the mobile friendliness reports in Google Search Console and speed reports from PageSpeed Insights, and Biddable Media with landing page experience reports in Google Ads. But, in 2021, we expect to see much more collaboration between both channel teams and in-house teams on improving the experience of their pages and overall site. UX will be at the heart of updates, and every channel will be able to supply information on how best each page needs to be set up to engage effectively with the audience.

Finally, intent matching. Some may say this is primarily for SEO but we fully expect this to play a part in every aspect of marketing. Yes, SEO will be leading the way with understanding what audiences want to see when they type in different queries, but that can then be applied to every channel’s approach.

Data science will help SEO teams understand the underlying semantics between query and content, which will feed into messaging for keyword groups in Google Ads, which will feed into creative for Social Media, which will feed into content produced to generate awareness. Intent matching will be a cycle, and one that we expect to continue to grow in importance across every single channel, not just SEO.

What is key in the coming year is building strategies that allow for agility and change. Last year, brands had to adapt to the changing landscape and quickly pivot their offerings. Going into 2021, sales and digital channels need to be working closer together to ensure they respond to your customers’ needs as they develop. Open communication from digital marketing specialists, to merchandising and sales teams, all the way to customer service teams will be the way forward for truly integrated digital growth
in 2021.

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We’re a multi award-winning, digital growth agency who move fast, work smart and deliver insanely great results. If you’d like to find out how we can power your marketing performance, get in touch.

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