2016 has been a tumultuous year for a variety of reasons. Across the digital marketing landscape, fake news distracted us from the real news. We saw Twitter close Vine, and Google shuttered Hangouts and Showtimes, among other products. There were winners in 2016, however, including Snapchat and Instagram. Each year, the Anvil team predicts trends for the following year and evaluates accuracy of predictions from the previous year. This year is no exception. Let's take a look back at our 2016 digital marketing predictions and look ahead to 2017, as seen by the Anvil team.
Anvil's 2016 marketing predictions: How did we do?
Experience is everything
Google has put ever-increasing emphasis on user experience in its ranking algorithm the past few years. This trend will only become more apparent as websites with a well-designed interface and thoughtful navigation will outrank sites with similar domain authority. A quality user experience will also factor in multi-screen user access via responsive design yet also factor in ADA considerations and social integration. Look for website being rewarded (or penalized) based on its user experience in 2016, whether via a major algorithm update or through a series of smaller tweaks and discussions in the search marketing community.
Grade: A-. While this prediction has largely come to fruition, it was also a relatively safe bet and will continue to be a factor moving forward. Designers have to consider multiple device types and browsing behaviors when designing a website, and Google will continue to reward the best user experiences.
Brands will go native
With ad blocking becoming more prominent with consumers, brands are forced to get more creative. While it's a safe bet advertisers will increase their investment in native advertising, we predict the investment will be both significant and unsurpassed in 2016. Similar to our prediction that 2009 would be "The Year of Mobile," this trend may be somewhat premature (as we are early adopters), but the growth rate will raise eyebrows on Madison Avenue. (Related article: "How ad blocking will change digital advertising.")
Grade: B+. While there has been a significant increase in the adoption of native advertising, it has not been at the rate we expected. This may be due, in part, to the slower growth curve of ad blocker usage. Regardless, agencies and brands will continue to invest in native advertising moving forward.
Better analytics equals better marketing
We believe 2016 will be the year brands reap the benefits of significant investment in analytics platforms and integration with other marketing and measurement systems. CMOs and CTOs will increase their value to large organizations, and smaller marketing departments will benefit from more affordable alternatives. With improved measurement platforms, expect to see brands renew focus on cross-channel tracking, multi-touch attribution, real-time, and predictive analytics. Specifically, look for significant growth in analytics revenues, venture funding for new or evolving platforms, and a higher profile for analytics within the C-suite.
Grade: B. The analytics industry did see a good deal of activity and investment in 2016, but the costs have not decreased substantially, nor has the functionality evolved significantly over the past year. Like many predictions, it's a relatively safe bet this trend will continue indefinitely.
Audience exploration and expansion
As the economy strengthens, brands will look for new growth opportunities more so than in the past decade. Smart brands will invest significant marketing resources and dollars to tap new and emerging markets, including Baby Boomers, Millennials, Hispanics, Ethical Consumers, and global markets. Greater technology sophistication along with lower cost will allow even smaller organizations to target new markets cost-effectively. Look for greater levels of discussion, planning, and campaigns around significantly new markets by larger brands. (Related article: "6 secrets to marketing to ethical consumers.")
Grade: B+. The economic recovery indeed fueled marketing investment and audience expansion in 2016. Many of our clients expanded into new demographic and geographic markets over the past year and plan to continue the effort in 2017. Research supports this trend on a broader scale as well.
It's all about meaningful connections
After experiencing the launch of "Mobilegeddon" (an algorithm update that focused on penalizing websites that failed to comply with modern mobile optimization), it's clear that the on-the-go consumer is at the forefront of Google's future. This one specific update is responsible for the significant overhaul we have seen to local search rankings, with the release of the local three-pack, a new quality algorithm for content, and more than a dozen other updates that ultimately support mobile consumers' ability to:
- find what they want as soon as possible
- engage with the most meaningful, relevant content
- progress through their individual search as easily and fluidly as possible
Because of the level of investment Google continues to make in creating a better online world for mobile consumers, strategists should be on the lookout for the following trends that are sure to change the way campaigns are approached, developed, and executed. Look for these updates to take effect in algorithm updates throughout 2016.
Grade: A. Google has invested a good deal of resources into the "micro-moments" concept and hammered home the point in November at the Google Partner Summit. According to Google, 91 percent of smartphone users turn to mobile for inspiration when in the middle of a task. Brands and agencies that have followed Google's lead have benefitted tremendously.
Forget desktop optimization; mobile is king
The days of optimizing traditional forms of meta data (page titles, meta descriptions, headers) in order to successfully rank on page one of search listings has already diminished in value over the last few years. This trend will certainly continue as Google and other search engines will require strategists to align with the growing number of mobile users and how they interact with their immediate communities (geographical and social). Mobile searches exceeded desktop queries for the first time this year, so you can expect to see this trend only get more pronounced, as access to mobile devices and associated technology becomes more available to emerging demographics and economic classes. Google has already made it clear through a variety of events and statements that desktop-specific sites are not necessary, and adjustments toward the local three-pack only confirms continued investment toward an all-encompassing mobile experience that easily translates across each and every type of device.
Grade: B+. While mobile search continues to rise, desktop is still a very viable platform. Many web users prefer desktops for a variety of activities, so don't throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to designing entirely for mobile. Mobile is certainly more prominent than desktop, but it's not the only game in town.
Digital assistants will dramatically affect the way strategists approach search
Intelligent assistants like Siri and Cortana allow Windows and Apple phone users to speak directly to their devices in order to operate their applications and search online. How consumers verbally communicate significantly varies from how individuals type out search queries. Because of this variation in behavior, you will begin to see more long-tail keyword queries; this will allow you to create much more accurate and intelligent key phrase strategies, since more granular data will be available around consumer behavior.
Grade: A. The growth of voice search is undeniable. The challenge is in understanding how to identify and optimize for long-tail terms common in voice search. Digital assistants are a growing factor in search, but it's still a small percentage of overall volume for the time-being. Expect voice to take a greater role in search in the years to come, however.
Social content will be easier to locate in search results
Continuing with the value of social marketing, it is important to understand the type of professional relationships that are developing between Google and major social entities like Facebook and Twitter. As the popularity and usage of social platforms and applications continues to grow, it makes perfect sense that Google will want to increase its bottom line and attract new users to its platforms by creating business relationships that leverage detailed consumer behavior information from these types of social networking sites. Google has already established deals with Facebook and Twitter that see their news articles populate in search listings. Because of this, you should continue to see individual tweets indexed in 2016. In this scenario, the division between the World Wide Web and social media will begin to merge, creating a more socially dynamic experience from an SEO perspective.
Grade: B+. We haven't seen the level of integration and collaboration we expected in 2016. That said, Google owns seven platforms with over 1 billion (with a B) users on each platform. That means it has access to tremendous amounts of data and insights and doesn't need to rely on other platforms as a result.
Social SEO will continue to influence visibility
The concept of social SEO essentially creates a world where content that is validated by human engagement is able to connect with more online consumers than content that is simply published on a particular website without any shares, comments, and other metrics associated with consumer engagement. There are plenty of reputable strategists who debate the validity of how social links affect online visibility. However, studies illustrate a direct correlation between volume of shares and meaningful engagement with superior results dedicated to visibility, conversions, and even online revenue. As the New Year approaches, you should continue to implement social strategies that encourage meaningful follower growth ("meaningful" refers to connecting with real people who are actually interested in who you are and what you offer) and user engagement. However, it's just as important to understand that this singular concept should not be considered the be-all and end-all for SEO success. The fact is, studies also show diminishing returns where articles that are supported with thousands of shares and hundreds of comments are not permanent in their original position within search listings. Being able to leverage a robust social audience is helpful for maximizing immediate exposure and conversions, but you still need to do much more in order to achieve long-lasting success. Look for the search algorithm to put an increasing weight on social signals in 2016 in a meaningful manner.
Grade: B+. According to experts, social signals maintain a prominent presence in search engine ranking factors. That being said, their impact has not increased significantly over the past year. Successful SEO campaigns must factor in social signals regardless.
Search is going hyper local (as in your pants)
Algorithm updates like Pigeon and the way that search listings have evolved to provide users detailed information about desired services found within their local community are why strategists should expect local search to absolutely explode. Wearable devices like the Apple Watch are becoming more popular. With the increased level of sophistication of Google's local indexes, you can see why specific types of local search queries will significantly increase. In 2016, local rankings will populate based on an individual's exact location, such as what street they are on within a specific neighborhood. Look for a perfect storm of wearables, IoT, and proactive brand marketers to change the face of geo-specific search targeting.
Grade: B+. Google and other search and social platforms have invested a good deal into location-based targeting options. That being said, Apple Watch sales have been slower than expected, and many users turn off location features for security reasons. These trends have slowed the reality of this prediction, but it will be fulfilled in the next few years.
Anvil's 2017 digital marketing predictions
If you're like me, you're more than happy to close off 2016 and look forward. Below are Anvil's 10 digital marketing predictions for 2017, a year when "more of the same" won't be a bad thing in terms of marketing innovation and growth.
2017 will be the year of video
We've all searched YouTube for informational or entertaining videos over the years, but 2017 will be transformative for video. With a 5x higher recall than the written word, video is the most engaging media format and most effective in assisting conversions. Mobile search volume has surpassed desktop, so more video is being consumed than ever before. Affordable data plans, improved bandwidth, and widespread Wi-Fi access have reduced the cost and improved the overall mobile video experience. Another factor is the evolution of content marketing, incorporating an increasing amount of video. Video production costs have decreased dramatically, both in terms of the quality of mobile phone video, affordable or embedded editing software, as well as digital SLR and 4K video cameras. Video form factors have evolved as well: Live streaming (on platforms like Facebook), 360-degree video, augmented and virtual reality, and best of all, drones, all make the video capture and viewing experience more dramatic and immersive. Even business-to-business brands are getting into the mix with demos, tutorials, and testimonials. Last but not least, video advertising is exploding and will offer new opportunities for targeting and engagement that display and text ads lack. If your brand isn't doubling down on video in 2017, you will miss the bus.
Mobile page load speed will make or break your business
By the end of 2017, having your website AMP'd will be required as AMP'd pages will be a ranking factor for Google. October of 2016 was the first month when mobile internet usage surpassed desktop. Mobile traffic has been growing much faster than desktop for several years and has now surpassed desktop. Additionally, Google has made significant moves to favor mobile: the switch to a mobile-first index and splitting its index in two (one more frequently updated mobile index, and a less frequently updated desktop index), and the introduction of AMP pages. AMP consists of three different parts: AMP HTML is HTML with some restrictions for reliable performance and some extensions for building rich content beyond basic HTML. The AMP JS library ensures the fast rendering of AMP HTML pages. The Google AMP Cache can be used to serve cached AMP HTML pages. If you don't have AMP pages, then you absolutely have to have your site optimized for mobile page speed, even if your site is already "mobile-friendly." Users are going to grow accustomed to the light speed loading time of new AMP pages and will not have the patience to wait for your site to load. You will lose out on customers, no doubt.
Paid search will move further into programmatic
With Google's public release of new features centering on audience targeting in 2016 (remarketing lists for shopping, demographics for search, customer match), the search giant will make further strides in 2017 toward programmatic search. Moving away from specific keyword targets, Google will give advertisers more ways to target audiences specifically and prioritize those automated and programmatic ways over manual inputs. We predict at least three additional automated/audience-targeted features to be released in 2017.
Brands will incorporate live ads into their media mix
With the proliferation of live video in 2016, brands will meet higher adoption and usage with live media ads. Carl's Jr. was one of the first brands to do this at the end of 2016, partnering with Vice to physically insert their mascot into live programming as advertising. We predict that brands will not only sponsor live content, but insert live ads into the content itself (rather than cutting to commercial).
Fake news will fade out
In 2017, fake news will be penalized on paid media and in organic rankings. With the impact fake news had on the recent election, internet giants Facebook and Google have already made small steps to not include ad inventory on the big platforms. We predict that they will take this a step further and actual penalize fake news websites as an organic ranking factor, and disapprove ads that link to fake news sites.
Google will generate even more revenue (via apps and drugs)
In an effort to compete with Amazon in the ecommerce space, Google will launch an app to make browsing shopping ads easier and create a simple checkout procedure that allows for a single point of payment when buying from multiple sites. Google will also loosen restrictions on marijuana advertising. With 26 states and Washington D.C. legalizing marijuana in some form, enthusiasts are looking online for purchase options. Despite being illegal on the federal level, Google will pass up millions, if not billions, of ad dollars by continuing to restrict advertising of the drug and its associated products. Google's love of money will win out, and it will allow some type of advertising in 2017.
Facebook will be unliked
Facebook activity and audiences will decline, a permanent effect of the 2016 election. The 2016 presidential election has been the most divisive and venomous in the history of our country. Deep wounds heal slow, and the weapon of choice this election cycle was Facebook. People argued, fought, and unfriended family and friends alike over the fight to be the next Commander-in-Chief. Because of people's aversion to conflict, they will avoid using and decrease interaction on the social platform, and stats will decline unlike ever before. While Facebook Shop will create buzz and momentum, it will not offset the lagging negative perception.
Consumers and businesses will check back into location-based marketing
After losing its luster in the past year or two with a decline in check-ins, location-based marketing is poised for a rebound. Snap Inc. recently signed a deal with Foursquare to provide more accurate geo-filters. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have always encouraged their users to tag their location/check-in. With the market taking a big shift into the mobile market, location-based marketing is prime for the opportunity, providing resources such as in-store beacons, Facebook's "Local" feature, geo-location notifications, and geo-fencing.
Twitter will sell cheap
Twitter will be acquired at a discount price. No social media channel has ruined more careers than Twitter. With that dubious distinction, stock prices near all-time lows, and the lack of sustainable innovation, Twitter is ripe for acquisition. Being the main platform of the President-elect is another death blow that will find Twitter under new ownership sometime in 2017.
Politics will impact marketing
We have all seen the effect of a presidential election on the advertising industry. A drop in available inventory. A reluctance to try and compete with the election noise. Uncertainty about the market. These effects are especially true as we have approached October and November. This year was no different. But we think 2017 will be very different from any other year following an election -- and those of us in digital marketing should probably have a bit of anxiety. The next administration has all but declared an all-out war on the media, which is going to further divide the country in how they consume their information. We are already seeing the impact in 2016 with brands pulling or moving ad dollars away from sites that they don't want to be associated with. The noise that was present during the election cycle is only going to increase as each side tries to outshout the other. More people are going to "take a break" from social media, anxiety is rising around the impact on the economy, and people will boycott or support brands that align or don't align with their position. All of these issues are going to make it more difficult to reach targets effectively, and cause confusion around where digital buys are being placed or if they are even being seen by the intended audience. Confusion usually leads to paralysis as brands don't like to spend their money without some level of certainty. At the end of the day this is going to have a major impact on digital marketing. We anticipate a decrease in total digital ad spend, or at the very least a flattening, after years of continued growth. This is one prediction about which we hope we're wrong.
That wraps up Anvil's look at digital marketing predictions for 2016 and 2017. On behalf of the team at Anvil, we wish you a prosperous 2017 and look forward to reading your thoughts on digital marketing trends in the comments section below.