Digital marketing is made up of a lot of moving parts. You can increase visibility and organic traffic through SEO, and build a brand with your social media presence. Marketing automation can save you time and provide more personalized engagement. Managing PPC can mean “jumping the line” on search engine result pages. These moving parts, along with many others, are continually changing as new technologies, techniques, and near-endless Google and Facebook algorithm updates keep many digital marketing teams on their toes (including us!).
We know that what worked in 2018 or 2019 may not work the same way in 2021, and to get the best possible results for our clients, we have to stay on top of these trends. As we enter a new decade and tech continues to change rapidly, we want to take the opportunity to share the digital marketing trends we’re excited to see more of in 2021.
The Latest Digital Marketing Trends for 2021
1. No-Click Searches also Known as Featured Snippet
Generally, when you have a question, you type your question into Google, hit enter, and click on the article that best answers your question or gives you the information you need.
Sometimes though, the answer is suggested to you in a paragraph at the top of the result page. These boxes, called Position Zero in search engine results, often come with an image and all the information you were looking for displayed in an easy to distinguish box. You have the answer you need, so you don’t need to click on an article. This is what’s called a no-click search. Google and other search engines provide these to help people find answers quickly and keep people on their website (and off of yours).
For business owners wanting to attract visitors to their website, it can be frustrating to see lower traffic because Google is handing your potential customers the answer. But, these snippets don’t always spell bad news. When search engines use your website to show information to searchers, it shows you’re providing valuable content. The trick is to make sure you add something to these snippets that will draw the reader in and entice them to click on your website for more information, and away from the search engine that has provided them with a quick answer.
There are many ways you can do this. Think about how you can update your page titles to indicate what searchers will get when visiting your site. Can you make your ‘how-to’ list a little longer while staying accurate, so that the snippet’s information is cut off and searchers have to click through to see the full list? You can also use schema to enhance your content and provide details about your website’s trustworthiness and authority, like ratings and reviews.
No-click searches may be beneficial to the reader and the search engine company, but you can also use them to your advantage. Being the subject of a no-click search means you’re halfway there — people are interested in what you have to say. Your next step is to attract them to your site for more of what you have to offer.
2. Google Verified Listings for Local SEO
For businesses that operate on a local level, such as a plumbing company or a veterinary clinic, your Google My Business listing provides valuable information and helps establish your geographical location.
Having a geographically-defined service area with Google My Business listing aids in showing up for “near me” searches. It also lets customers learn more about your business within Google Search results. At a glance your potential customer can see your open hours, address, and star rating left by other users.
In order to make sure the information displayed is correct, you should verify your Google business listing and keep information up to date. The benefits of verifying your business are:
- You can manage your business information in Search, Maps, and other Google properties.
- Verified businesses are considered more trustworthy and reputable than unverified competitors.
- When you verify your business, you’re preventing fraud in the event that someone else tries to act as the owner and claims your listing as theirs.
If you’re not sure about your listing, you can check the verification status of your Google My Business listing. If it hasn’t been, you can start the simple process to get your business verified by Google.
3. Voice Search
Voice-activated digital assistants continue to be huge sellers, and let’s be realistic – some households talk to Alexa, Siri, or Cortana more than they speak to family members. The popularity of voice search both at home and on our phones has led to one of the most significant shifts in using keywords.
Think about it. When we type a search into Google, we phrase it differently than when we use Alexa for information. For example, a person looking for the nearest Indian restaurant might type “Indian restaurant Raleigh” into Google, but might ask Cortana, “where is the closest Indian restaurant?”. When writing content, choose your keywords based on the questions people may ask when using Siri or Alexa. This can increase your visibility, and this digital marketing trend shows no sign of slowing down.
4. Visual Search
Instead of typing a description into Google, users can now upload an image and get information about an item just from a picture. If they’re uploading a plant photo, the search returns species information, while a landmark image will return historical data. When a user searches a product, it returns similar products and where to buy them. Google Lens, Pinterest Lens, and related search tools turn a user’s camera into a search bar.
How can your business leverage visual search? You can Add high-quality images tagged with descriptive keywords, introduce an image search into your online inventory, and (if your target market uses Pinterest), consider advertising on this platform. Brands that advertise with them get the benefit of boosted search results.
Additionally consider the following:
- having an image sitemap will increase the likelihood of your images being discovered by search engines
- use descriptive filenames for images before uploading them to your website
- add alternative text to all image aka “Alt tags”
5. Online Reviews
Online reviews can make or break your business’s ability to attract new customers or clients. While any company can talk up their products or services, other consumers can provide real, unbiased reviews. Having many reviews from verified sources can make your business stand out from the competition and start building trust before they even click on your website.
The most useful review for a business to receive is through Google Business. These are the most trusted sources, they’re the most visible, and your Google Business listing lets people call or visit the website. Facebook is another excellent source of online reviews, and you can use them to build a testimonials page on your website, while Yelp is suitable for restaurants, hotels, and recreational businesses.
There are also industry-related review websites that shouldn’t be ignored:
To increase the number of reviews you have, provide your customers with a simple link to your Google Business listing to leave a review. Even if they’re all 5-star ratings, businesses with few reviews get fewer conversions than companies with 100+ reviews, even if a few of them aren’t great.
6. Automated & Smart Bidding in Google Ads
To get the best possible results from a Google Ads campaign, Ads specialists analyze every piece of data and continuously tweak and adjust keywords, bids, and ad phrasing. While this obsessive attention to detail gets results, it’s exhausting. A business owner trying to run a campaign may become completely overwhelmed and end up failing.
Enter automated bidding strategies. These allow Google to use machine learning to analyze the tremendous amount of data it has on its users to adjust your bids in real-time. Ads specialists can embrace automated strategies while still being in complete control. Automated bidding isn’t anything new – Smart Bidding made its debut in 2016 – but most business owners aren’t aware of what it is or what it does.
It’s important to note that there are still plenty of human strategies involved in optimizing PPC performance. You can’t just set it and forget it and expect results – you still need to test everything, including testing automated bid strategies against each other.
1. Interactive Content
Adding interactive sections to your website is a great way to provide value for visitors, get them to engage with your website, and learn more about them.
Suppose you were a realtor and added a mortgage calculator to your website. You’re offering value to your visitors while also learning more about them based on the data being inputted into your calculator.
Examples of interactive marketing include:
- Assessments like quizzes
- Polls and surveys
2. Shoppable Posts
If you’ve got an e-commerce business, having a link to your shop in your bio or linking to a specific product in your Instagram Stories is great – especially if you’re a verified presence or have over 10,000 followers. But today’s shopper wants to skip as many steps as possible without being interrupted by ads. With Shoppable Posts from Instagram, you can feature or tag a product for users to see, fall in love with, and buy without ever having to navigate away from your post.
These platforms have taken note that people are using them to shop, and they’ve made it easier for merchants to sell via social media. Over the past few years, Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook have all introduced ways for e-commerce stores to create shoppable posts. Using a native integration, they’ve made it easy to tag and shop products directly in your posts. For online retailers, this is a great way to drive traffic to product pages.
Let’s look at this example from Free People on Instagram:
This photo is on their feed, and when you tap the photo, the dress name and price appear. Tap the price, and you’ll be taken to a screen with more information and the option to view the item on the Free People website. From this screen, you can also scroll and see more products.
By utilizing social commerce, you’re reaching new customers, reducing the barriers to purchasing, and dramatically shortening the sales funnel.
It’s easy to set up your business account for Instagram Shopping, and it’s a great way to improve your followers’ user experience. Before setting up shoppable posts, your profile must be set as a business account. You’ll need to connect it with your Facebook profile, which in turn needs to be connected to your catalog of products.
Making your Instagram feed shoppable will also grant you shoppable Facebook posts. To get shoppable Facebook posts, you first need to add a Shop Tab on Facebook and import your inventory through the Catalog Manager. Once Facebook has approved everything, you can start tagging products to make it even easier to convert social sales.
3. Social Media Messaging Apps
Each month, there are 1.3 billion active users on Facebook Messenger, and around 10 billion messages are sent between people and businesses via this messaging app. People like the convenience of shopping and getting service from home, but they still want the quick service that comes with face-to-face interaction at brick-and-mortar businesses. Messaging apps through social media can provide that prompt service.
WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and WeChat all offer businesses an inexpensive and easy way to provide direct, personalized contact and improve their customer experience. Try these tips to boost loyalty from your customers by making messaging and communication convenient and personable:
- Install a widget or plugin on your site so customers can directly connect with you while they’re shopping.
- Only enable chat when you know someone is available to respond.
- If there’s no one to answer, set an away message that lets your customers know when you’ll get back to them and direct them to an alternate form of contact.
4. Social Media Stories
Social media stories are easy to use and are an incredible way to feature products, events, and even behind-the-scenes experiences. When you consider that one-third of the Instagram Stories with the highest amount of views come from businesses, it’s hard to ignore that Instagram Stories and Stories on other platforms are an effective form of digital marketing.
It is the exciting, fleeting nature of this medium that makes it so powerful. Consumers must stay on top of following their favorite profiles if they don’t want to miss special opportunities or information. Once you offer a behind the scenes look, discount code, or limited edition product through Stories, followers will be hooked on your updates – as long as you deliver.
Some easy ideas for adding value to your social media stories are:
- Search for customer content your business is tagged in and repost it onto your Stories
- Upload livestream video for people who didn’t see it live
- Utilize polls, Q&As, and quizzes to engage viewers with your brand and encourage their involvement in your content
- Create simple animations and short videos of your product or service in action
5. Social Media Contests
Social media contests can be an effective way to engage your audience and encourage customer buy-in. Think about the t-shirt cannon at a baseball game. The mascot runs around the field, getting the crowd pumped up for a free t-shirt. And it works because everyone is on their feet clamoring for the prize. After all, they’re already there, excited, and who doesn’t love free stuff?
You can use this same principle with contests for your online community – the audience is already there, they want to cheer for you, and they just need a small incentive and some hand waving to get excited and make noise.
When running a social media contest, be sure to think through the entire process carefully. There are many factors to consider, including:
- What goal do you hope to achieve?
- What platform will this run on, and how long will the contest last?
- What is your offer, and how much will it cost on your end?
- What are you asking contestants to do, and how will you manage their entries?
- How is the winner chosen, and how will you get the prize to them?
- What do you plan to do with the information you’ve collected from the contest?
Always remember to be honest and trustworthy when running a social media contest. Everyone loves free things, and most people are willing to give up a little bit of their time or personal details to get it from brands they trust and support.
6. Employee Engagement
If you have a business with multiple employees that are dedicated, engaged, and excited about the work they do, this can be a tremendous asset not only to your company in general but also to your online reputation.
When employees love their work and the company they do it for, they tend to talk about it. And they should be encouraged to talk about it online while tagging or mentioning the company and sharing interesting stories.
Employee engagement builds your online community in a natural and relatable way. LinkedIn is an excellent example of how this works. You can have a company page where you post events and share articles, but to get even more traffic and engagement, have your employees share and comment on these posts.
The LinkedIn algorithm values personal connections, so this spreads the news out to more connections, signaling to LinkedIn that the people behind the post are active and engaged with their company. You may also consider setting goals and rewarding employees who often share your content; that way, the people who work for you are even more excited about sharing company news with their network.
Before designating dedicated employees as torchbearers or ambassadors for your company, it is important to look at their personal pages and profiles to confirm they align with company standards. Check if they are verified, have their profiles filled out, and that their current and past content supports your business’s general views.
7. Influencer Marketing
An influencer is someone that people trust in a specific field, such as professional athletes, scientists, and even successful dog trainers. These people have a following online to promote their business, services, or message, and influencer marketing is tapping into these communities that are often large, active, and very loyal to the influencer they follow. Some examples are paying a local chef to post about using produce from your organic, urban farm, or sending your new sneakers to a basketball player to wear in pictures they post.
For influencer marketing to be effective, you don’t always need to work with a huge star or local hero. Search for people with growing audiences on new platforms, and notice how they interact with their followers. Having a small but dedicated audience is more beneficial for your marketing purposes than having a large but disconnected audience. It is also important that your values align with those of the influencer so that your message and mission are appropriately communicated, and you can be confident that you’re both working together to reach the same goal.
This type of marketing is well known but comes with many rules and stipulations. For instance, it is required to disclose these types of financial relationships, so influencers use the #ad hashtag or sticker on social posts. Be sure to thoroughly research the rules in your state and enforce them for yourself, your team, and the influencer you’re working with so the audience is aware they are being marketed to, and no laws are broken.
1. Mobile-First Websites
With the decline of desktop usage and the prevalence of smartphones for the majority of our internet browsing, more websites are created with a mobile-first design. This simply means that when the website is being designed, it’s mapped out on the smallest screen first to deliver the best experience to mobile users while including features designed to improve mobile use. This can consist of touchscreen-friendly navigation, streamlined navigation menus, less text-heavy content, and functions like collapsible menus. The website will still work correctly on desktops and large screens, but the user experience is tailored to mobile users.
Why choose a mobile-first web design?
- Your page will load faster, improving both visitor experience and search engine ranking results.
- Less expensive than building an app and a website.
- Integrate mobile features like voice detection and camera use into your website.
- Increased sales and conversions! Improving the user experience on mobile helps users navigate the website with greater ease and increases conversions.
If more than 75 percent of your traffic comes from smartphones and mobile devices, or your analytics show a consistent rise in mobile traffic to your website, mobile-first design may be right for your business’s website.
Gamification is an emerging digital marketing trend that incorporates game features into a website. This is a bit of an oversimplification, but all the things that make games engaging, addictive, and fun are now being used as marketing strategies for businesses to increase customer loyalty, brand awareness, and sales.
Let’s think of gamification in the pre-digital age, like McDonald’s Monopoly game – buy certain products, collect game pieces, and win prizes. Simple and VERY effective. As 80 percent of smartphone users use their phone to play mobile games, it’s easy to see how gaming can be a draw in e-commerce, too.
Consider some of these examples:
- Spin the wheel, get a discount ranging from 10 percent to 50 percent off.
- Log in to the site 10 days in a row and get a prize.
- Scavenger hunt on the website encourages people to scan each page and look at new items – find everything and get a reward (a discount, free download, etc.).
- Use games in your ads to boost brand awareness.
Benefits of Gamification Include:
- Increased user engagement
- Get users to become engaged in your products or services
- Provides clear calls to action on how to convert
- Can be used for educational purposes
- Can be used for training purposes
- A great way to bring users back to a website
3. Visceral Experiences with AR and VR
Video allows brands to connect with consumers on an emotional level. This brings us to the next V – visceral. The word visceral relates to deep, inward feelings, and advances in technology can let you tap into those feelings by creating virtual and augmented reality experiences.
You may remember when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg introduced Facebook’s new virtual reality platform Spaces to the world by virtually touring a hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. While this introduction was ill-advised in a PR sense, it’s an example of where digital marketing is headed in terms of offering deep, meaningful experiences. With access to VR and AR technology, brands are offering tours of facilities, taking users through creating products, and creating interactive 3D models so users can thoroughly examine products. As AR/VR technology becomes more accessible, even smaller businesses can get in on the action.
AR is already being used by major companies like IKEA. Using their app and AR, customers can see what a piece of furniture would look like in their space before purchasing (or even setting foot in a store)! Take a look at this shelving unit we tested in the TheeDigital conference room:
- It offers a more immersive shopping experience, which allows you to see how a product would look in your home, office, yard, etc.
- Helps the customer make buying decisions.
- Offers a more personalized experience.
- Increases brand awareness and user engagement.
4. AI/ RankBrain
RankBrain is part of Google’s core algorithm that processes search queries to determine the most relevant result using advanced machine learning. Long gone are the days of keyword stuffing, now AI goes beyond just scanning your content for words and is currently looking for high-quality, intentional content designed to answer questions or provide value to the person searching. Google is in the business of helping people find information, and they want to provide the best possible information to customers. RankBrain makes this possible.
There are trillions of searches on Google every year. In fact, 15 percent of searches we see every day are new — which means there’s always more work for us to do to present people with the best answers to their queries from a wide variety of legitimate sources. While our search results will never be perfect, we’re as committed as always to preserving your trust and to ensuring our products continue to be useful for everyone.Google
In addition to high-quality content, RankBrain looks at shorter keyword phrases, how much time the average user spends on the site, and what kind of conversion rates the users have. Take a look at your content, consider what kind of keywords you are focusing on, and what type of question or problem your content solves. This information, combined with understanding your analytics, can help you leverage Google’s AI and increase your search engine results.
5. Personalized Content
Content is everywhere – videos, blogs, emails, social media, etc. In order to get your content to stand out from the “noise,” you need an inbound marketing strategy that is personalized to your users. From calls to action to the copy of a landing page, the content you use needs to be hyper-targeted to the exact customer you’re trying to reach, or it will go unnoticed. Creating and using buyer personas can help you craft content that directly appeals to each customer segment – increasing engagement and loyalty, and boosting sales and conversions for your business.
So, how to create personalized content?
First, integrate your customer relationship management (CRM) software, like HubSpot, with your CMS or website so you can begin segmenting your customers and leads into populations, including:
- Products or pages recently viewed
Simply addressing an email to a customer’s name, or using their location to send targeted emails (such as things related to the weather, national holidays, or sporting events) can build rapport. Almost 90 percent of US marketers reported seeing measurable improvements after implementing personalization strategies, and more than half reported a lift greater than 10 percent. Just remember to make personalized content concise and don’t go into too much in-depth detail of their interests or behavior.
6. Marketing Automation
As a business owner, you don’t have time to email every new subscriber, chase down every abandoned cart, and block out time to post about sales and promotions on social media and through email. That’s where marketing automation comes in. Marketing automation and email automation are software platforms that let you set up promotions and campaigns, set a “trigger” or schedule a release in advance, and let the software work for you. Plus, it tracks analytics, so you can see what’s working and what’s not so you can make tweaks and adjustments.
More small businesses are using marketing automation for things like:
- Lead generation – You’ve seen pop-ups on websites that offer a discount or a gift. You just need to enter your email address, and within a few minutes, your gift arrives in your email, and a few days later you start getting personalized emails from the business. That’s all automated marketing.
- Cart abandonment – Automate an email or SMS message to go out when someone abandons a cart to let them know it’s still available or offer them a discount to return and make the purchase.
- Segmented populations – Marketing automation plays perfectly into personalized content for your customers based on common grouping.
- Social media responses – From scheduling posts weeks in advance to creating automated responses, you can maintain social media without spending all day on it.
If you want to capture leads, nurture them, and convert them, marketing automation makes it easy to build an entire pipeline toward your goals, which is why it’s rapidly growing in popularity among small and medium businesses. HubSpot is a comprehensive digital marketing automation platform and CRM all in one that we highly recommend.
While people want the convenience of shopping from anywhere, they still need personalized, accessible customer service. Using the same kind of AI that’s found in voice search and smart assistants, chatbots use instant messaging to chat with visitors to your website. In addition to the pop-up text boxes that are becoming commonplace on websites, the AI that power chatbots can also collect additional data to learn more about customers and offer recommendations, answer questions, and create a unique, tailored experience to your customers.
In addition to helping small and medium businesses offer a better experience, chatbots can provide 24-hour service, vital information, and instant answers to your customers’ questions. This saves you time and money by not paying for additional customer service employees without sacrificing customer service. By 2022, chatbots are expected to help businesses save over 8 billion dollars a year.
8. Video Marketing
Video launched to one of the top forms of content in 2019, and that trend shows no sign of stopping. Think about the benefits of video marketing:
- Customers respond well to videos.
- They increase engagement.
- It’s an effective way to show off new and existing products.
- It’s easy to put together and cost-effective, especially compared to graphics and copy.
Best of all, it offers one of the highest conversion rates of any form of marketing. But, like every other digital marketing trend, even continuing trends get updated. Video is no different.
- Live video, such as Facebook Live and Instagram Live, keeps people watching three times longer than standard video. It triggers the “fear of missing out” and hooks viewers in so they are the first to find some big news.
- Personalized video advertising is being integrated into emails to create more personalized messages, share information more quickly, and prevent your message from being lost in a wall of text. Emails with videos have a click-through-rate that’s 8x higher than traditional email.
- Product videos make customers feel more confident in what they’re buying, and they can offer a better sense of scale and specifications that text and pictures just can’t.
Just like aviator sunglasses and the little black dress, some things just don’t go out of style. Here are three online marketing trends that have been big over the past few years and will continue to be big in the digital marketing world.
1. Content Marketing
We’ve talked about marketing automation, email marketing, and video, so it’s certainly no surprise that content marketing isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Content marketing is a two-fold benefit in which:
- You’re increasing your search engine ranking with high-quality content and strategic keyword usage to gain more traffic from a qualified audience.
- You’re providing valuable information that allows you to stand out as an authority while building trust, generating engagement, and gaining loyal customers.
The key to being successful with your content marketing comes from a few different factors. Primarily these are knowing and leveraging the keywords you want to rank for, providing content for every stage of your sales funnel from new visitors to loyal customers, and building engagement to create brand ambassadors who are sharing your content.
Some of the most effective forms of content marketing to help you meet these goals include:
- Blog posts to share company news and information related to your industry.
- New service pages that help you target keywords while also providing a closer look at your business.
- Videos and images to generate interest
- Email newsletters to continue engagement and keep customers informed
- Case studies to provide proof of your success.
2. Page Speed
A slow-loading page is the number one reason users leave a website within a minute of landing on the page (also called the bounce rate)—even a second or two of a delay in how the page loads can negatively affect your conversion.
The good news is you can speed up your page load times pretty easily. First, optimize your images and make sure there are no large image files. If there are, compress them to where they are less than 100KB.
Next, reduce the number of internal redirects, specifically redirect chains that go through several redirects before landing on the correct URL and internal links to redirects. Reducing these can speed up your authority in Google and your page load speeds (both good things).
3. User-Generated Content (UGC)
When appropriately moderated, user-generated content can be a powerful tool for your website both for SEO and for user experience.
User-generated content (UGC) doesn’t have to be complicated or intensive; it can simply be a user review on a product on your e-commerce site, a comment on a blog article, or a Q&A section where people can ask questions and get the answers they need. First, let’s look at the benefits:
- Content updates – Google loves new, updated content, and any time a comment, review, or question is added, the content is updated.
- Content length – Typically, longer content can improve search engine rankings because of the assumption that more content = comprehensive resource. For example, product descriptions can be short, but having customer reviews on the page can add needed length to boost SEO.
- Content Uniqueness – Duplicate content can hurt SEO, but for things like product descriptions, there’s little way to make your product stand out from the thousands of similar product descriptions, especially if you’re using the copy from the manufacturer. User reviews and comments can improve uniqueness, again, boosting your search engine ranking.
The key is to make sure you’re moderating any user-generated content. Certain settings for your blog can be implemented to cut down on spam, prevent link postings, and filter comments that include specific words. You can also moderate your UGC manually, though that may be challenging when you have massive amounts of comments and reviews.
What digital marketing trends do you predict will significantly impact your business in the upcoming year?
Digital marketing is constantly changing. We think the above tactics and ideas are going to be huge game-changers for the foreseeable future. What do you think? What marketing trends are you predicting? Tweet us your trends and predictions at @TheeDigital.