2020 has definitely been a year to keep you on your toes and there’s no doubt the same is true for the world of digital and online marketing. Over the past year, we’ve certainly noticed a huge shift in the way we work and the way many business owners are running their organisations. But don’t worry, it’s not all doom and gloom, many businesses are now cautiously optimistic about 2021 and the acceleration of their online presence. In light of all the craziness, we thought we’d put together a comprehensive blog to fill you in on all the key things that happened across digital marketing this year, as well as looking ahead at top predictions and changes to prepare for in 2021.
I think we can all agree that this year has been a strange one, and for many business owners, a year that’s tested their limits. With coronavirus causing UK-wide lockdowns and global restrictions, the country saw many businesses closing their doors for months at a time which resulted in an unprecedented hit to the country’s economy.
But at Echo, the show must go on! Throughout the year, our team has adapted to the changes with spells of remote working, attending this year’s BrightonSEO conference through a computer screen and yes, we’ve had plenty of Zoom quizzes too! We’ve recruited new team members and taken on new clients, proving that digital business has been a thriving sector during the coronavirus pandemic.
However, things move forward and Google never sleeps – and don’t we know it. There are certainly lots of changes across SEO to look out for going into 2021. The Echo team have come together to share their thoughts and predictions for the year ahead.
2020 was a busy year for SEO updates. Google performed two broad core updates, these, combined with the BERT 2019 update too showed us Google has been continuing to advance its algorithms with the aim of producing better search query matches.
But that wasn’t it – take a look at the notable SEO trends we spotted across 2020 and what our predictions are going into the new year.
Keyword Intent & Topic Clusters
As a result of users having so much access to information online, Google has had to adapt the results depending on the meaning behind searches. This was reflected in the May 2020 update (and newsflash – December 2020 too). Since then Google refined its algorithm to make intent a central part of the SERPs. So, even if your searching is unique, Google’s aim is to find the answers and relevant search results every time!
This year, Moz identified four main user intent categories:
- Informational – The searcher has identified a need and is looking for information on the best solution. These will often be question-based searches to determine which type of product or service they need.
- Commercial – The searcher has identified what they need, but will now do comparative research such as reading reviews and specific functionality.
- Transactional – The searcher has narrowed their hunt down to a few best options and are about to decide on the winner.
- Local – The searcher is hoping to find a local brick-and-mortar company or shop that sells a specific item or service that they are looking for.
“Going into 2021, all four types of keywords should be evaluated as part of your keyword research strategy. This means you can’t just focus on top-level short tail keywords, an important part of your SEO strategy should be optimising for different stages of a user’s conversion journey. Customers respond to brands and businesses that understand their needs so it’s important to optimise for what your customers are searching for.”
– Katie, SEO Executive at Echo
Ranking highly is no longer simply about keyword to page matching, but showcasing your expertise within the field. Building clusters of VALUABLE content around high-level topics is definitely the way forward.
What can you do?
Become an expert in your niche and Google might just reward you with high organic rankings. Ranking well is no longer simply about keyword to page matching, but showcasing your expertise within the field.
We have a few ideas on how to combat the growing problem of zero-click searches.
With the introduction of voice search over the last few years, searches online have become more conversational with many phrases starting with, “How do I” and “What should I”.
“Even way back in January 2016, more than half of mobile searches ended without a click. Today’s, it’s almost 2/3rds.”
Moving forwards, we’ll need to consider content that focuses on answering questions. Improving your FAQs pages is a great place to start. Remember – write content for PEOPLE, not search engines. As always, it’s important not to compromise on good structure, content, readability and authoritativeness and it’s never been more apparent now.
SEO and Content
SEO, video content and interactive content is huge! Platforms like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok changed the way we consume content online, let’s face it, we’ve all had moments of getting lost in a Facebook or LinkedIn video feed. Video content is easy to digest, interactive, engaging and is also favoured by Google which makes it an SEO friendly choice.
And it doesn’t end there, interactive content is also set to be big in 2021. Defined as media that encourages users to actively engage with the content, there’s now a desire for advanced content that allows customers to respond directly to brands rather than passively consume their information.
What can you do?
Again, search engines and users are calling out for experts in their field. Creating valuable content in your subject area is a big move for SEO going into 2021. If you have a blog on your business website and if you’re an expert in your field then it will also be worth attaching your name to that content. Not only will it inspire trust with customers, but it will also improve user experience.
User Experience vs SEO
User experience will become a ranking factor for the first time.
User experience has always been an important part in shaping a user’s online journey but now it’s becoming a central part of search algorithms. That’s right – Google’s Webmaster Central blog announced Google now factors UX fundamentals into its rankings.
Core Web Vitals are a set of real-world, user-centred metrics that quantify key aspects of the user experience. They measure dimensions of web usability such as load time, interactivity and the stability of content as it loads.
In addition to website speed, Google will be looking at Core Web Vitals from May 2021 meaning Google will take into account how well users interact with your website. Core Web Vitals are set to measure key aspects of web usability such as load time, interactivity, and the stability of content as it loads.
“When it comes to selling online, whether that be a product or a service, there is so much more competition now and that means us as users have become harder to please. As users, we’re becoming pickier about the websites and businesses we trust and the ones we don’t, so it’s great that Google has recognised that ranking well on Google means having the best content AND experience for each search.”
– Leah, Digital Marketing Lead at Echo
What can you do?
Load fast, be easy to use and be accessible across all devices and platforms, especially mobile.
“Moving online doesn’t mean you should forget about the human aspect to your business – it is more important than ever to put people at the forefront of your online strategy and build genuine connections with your audience.”
– Katie, SEO Executive at Echo
Local SEO and Businesses
This year saw a lot of love for local business! More than a billion people use Google Maps every month and Google My Business is constantly updating how it can give customers the most helpful and relevant information possible. Google even did their bit by encouraging people to leave positive reviews for local shops, eateries, venues and services. Going into 2021 we’re expecting to see more advanced GMB features for local businesses.
Optimising for local gives you an opportunity to target areas with lower competition and can result in a higher return on investment (ROI), such as getting ranking results quicker.
Users should update their information such as opening times regularly, build reviews, add FAQs, products, photos and services, and share regular posts.
In 2020 PPC became a whole lot smarter! We’re looking forward to 2021 to see how automated campaigns develop – we’re certainly hoping next year will see an even better return on investment for all of our clients.
Automated Google and Bing Ads got smarter!
In 2020 Google ads introduced a number of automated bidding strategies and campaigns, including Dynamic Search, Smart Shopping and Responsive Search Ads. However, it wasn’t just Google that offered smarter bidding strategies, Bing ads also rolled out similar functions.
With the predicted rise of automated advertising, it’s important to adapt by understanding how it works and which automated PPC campaigns are suitable for which campaign or business. We’ll be keeping a close eye on automated advertising developments over the next year and keep you posted on key changes.
Audience targeting became more refined
Instead of targeting broad audiences such as ‘Clothing’, Google ads created more relevant audience options designed to target people who had shown interest in specific products such as ‘Shoes’, ‘Activewear’, ‘Men’s Clothing’ or ‘Women’s Clothing’. Google also added new audience targeting for seasonal shoppers including back-to-school and Christmas shopping. You can also target certain interests and behaviours such as ‘foodies’, ‘pet lovers’, ‘avid investors’ and much more.
And it wasn’t just Google Ads that adjusted their audience targeting, Bing Ads and LinkedIn also rolled out similar features.
What can I do?
With more refined targeting options likely to become even more advanced in 2021, it’s never been more important to understand your target audience and their buying journey. Remember with PPC, data is everything so track, test and adapt!
Due to Covid-19 forcing many brick-and-mortar shops to close for months at a time, this changed the way consumers shop. We saw an unprecedented surge in people shopping online for everything from groceries and cleaning products to luxury items.
Businesses have realised they need online advertising now more than ever before with major high street retailers going into liquidation due to competitors having a greater online presence. *Cough cough* Topshop.
For 2021, it’s expected that the growth in online shopping will continue to rise. While we’ve learnt this year that we really can’t predict, or necessarily plan, for the future, paid advertising is a tried and tested way to get the rising numbers of online shoppers to notice your business.
FREE Google Shopping Tab listings for businesses
Google has announced that FREE (yes you read that correctly) listings to the Shopping Tab will soon be available worldwide. To show your products in free product listings you must opt-in when you sign up for Google Merchant Center. We will keep you updated on when this feature goes live.
“The global pandemic has caused a huge shift in the way we browse, shop and spend our money online. With more businesses realising they need a strong online presence, this comes with more companies competing for those top spots on Google, Bing and other channels. To give you an edge over your competitors, it is essential that you clearly explain and showcase to prospective customers what your business offers and why they should choose you over the competition.”
– Elise, Digital Marketing Executive at Echo
Social Media Platforms and Advertising
Throughout 2020 social media advertising expanded to include smaller businesses and Facebook became less popular than Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat. In 2021, we’ll be keeping an eye out for any new social media features that may take the internet by storm.
Facebook and Instagram Shopping Features
Instagram and Facebook introduced shopping features where businesses can tag products with product details, including pricing and sizes. Importantly this meant that consumers no longer needed to leave the app to make a purchase. Less clicks essentially made buying through social media much more user friendly.
What can I do?
When Facebook and Instagram introduced shopping features, this essentially allowed shop owners to create a digital shop-front and use features to help customers discover and learn more about your products. To start making your products more visible on Facebook and Instagram, we recommend setting up the shopping feature and tagging all your products whenever they appear in photos, videos or stories – this will make them visible in the Explore feed where up to 200 million accounts visit every day.
Instagram Keyword Search
Before the Instagram update, users could only search by usernames, locations and hashtags. However, now Instagram can show you posts that include exact keywords. This makes it easier to look at wider content from competitors and users, and businesses will no longer have to use a variation of hashtags to optimise visibility.
There are some limitations though as Instagram’s keyword searches are limited to general interest topics meaning if a keyword is niche it might not be searchable.
What can I do?
“Now that people can search with keywords on Instagram you can use this to your advantage in your social media marketing strategy. We recommend performing some basic keyword research within the platform. If you find a searchable word that’s relevant to your business then you can start optimising your latest grid posts by tailoring the caption and image for that specific keyword. While the range of keywords available are currently quite basic, Instagram is likely to expand on this feature, so if you start getting to grips with it now you should be a pro by the time it becomes more advanced and popular.”
– Emma, SEO Content Writer at Echo
Shopping on Instagram Became Friendly for Local Business
Instagram expanded their shopping feature so that smaller, local businesses could display their products alongside larger businesses. As long as local businesses have photographs and verifiable presence they can sell their products.
“I think the uncertainty of brick and mortar stores as a result of COVID-19, meant that many commerce businesses have had to go digital. Social media platforms have already made changes in regards to shopping through their apps so there could be an even bigger push on exploring new tools to give a customer a new shopping experience that they can no longer have in-store.”
– Laurissa, Digital Marketer at Echo
Less Competition With Big Businesses
With larger companies going into administration or reducing their social media budgets, this has meant in some sectors the cost of advertising has lowered when it comes to bidding on social advertising. This will inevitably create more opportunities for small businesses, and it’s predicted that consumers will increase their shopping through Facebook and Instagram as they have quicker customer service responses, access to reviews from previous customers, and have a personal touch to shopping.
Attribution became more complicated due to online and changing shopping habits, so new improved tools were rolled out for better analysis capabilities. No longer a linear journey, customers’ interactions with websites are much more complex with several touchpoints: social media, paid ads, direct search – only set to become more complex as users buy online and compare with other websites.
Earlier this year, Microsoft rolled out a new tool which offers unique data analysis for friction points on a website. This exciting tool can assess rage clicks, frustration points, dead clicks, click backs and will work hand in hand with Google’s focus on user experience next year.
As this tool is in its early stages, we expect it to get better and better. Going forwards, we’re hoping Microsoft will add a function to make notes or group recordings together.
Google Analytics 4
And just when you think Google has done enough updates, they release Google Analytics 4 – a brand spanking new version of their web analytics platform. Along with an updated look, we’ve now got access to more insights, deeper integration with Google Ads and cross-device measurement – pretty exciting huh?
Our only complaint so far is that you’re not able to transfer any historical data to Google Analytics 4, meaning it’s hard to fully utilise the new features until you’d installed the new version for long enough. Our advice? Upgrade your analytics as soon as possible and run side by side your existing Analytics tracking code, this way you can continue to use the Universal Analytics that we all know and love while gathering information in the new version.
Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO)
With more and more businesses developing online, that means there’s more competition and it’s more important than ever to stand out from the crowd. You’ll have to work hard to encourage customers to shop with you, but by highlighting your USPs, paying close attention to SEO, and focusing on user experience then you should have a good platform to launch a successful online presence.
With more competition, one simple way you can encourage a higher conversion rate is to add trust signals across your online presence. From accreditations to glowing customer reviews – it’s important to make sure all these are visible on your website. Having high-value backlinks can also help. For instance, if your business website is linked to from a high profile organisation or publication then customers will definitely see that as a strong trust signal.
Review, Reviews, Reviews
The ease of browsing online has meant that the internet has become an evolving place for feedback, opinions and experiences. Statistics show that reviews now have a massive impact on who customers choose to buy from.
Products with reviews are 270% more likely to be bought than a product without, according to Speigel Research Centre (2017). For a higher-priced product, this likelihood increases to 380%.
Interestingly, a study presented at the BrightonSEO conference suggested that shoppers are more likely to choose products with a higher number of reviews, even if the average score is slightly lower than another brand. So pushing for an increased number of product reviews is certainly the way to go.
With so much media attention on the rise of fake news and scams, there is a demand for transparency within businesses online. It’s not just about looking trustworthy, it’s also about inspiring confidence in consumers with their buying choices.
Onwards and Upwards for 2021
It’s no secret that the reliance on digital skyrocketed this year! With people stuck at home for months on end, they turned to the internet to buy products, access services and binge-watch their favourite shows – this was all good news for online businesses.
However, it wasn’t such good news for brick-and-mortar businesses. The lockdown in the UK had a huge impact on stores and with businesses such as Primark reporting an eye-watering revenue loss of £800m, this proved that not having an online presence has the potential to negatively impact your business.
Even post lockdown, footfall in brick and mortar stores reduced massively, and with Oberlo reporting that eCommerce sales are expected to account for 15.5 percent of global retail sales for 2020, the power of online has been pushed into the spotlight more than ever before.
This statistic alone clearly shows how online sales are becoming an increasingly important part of global commerce and it’s a trend that isn’t going away anytime soon.
“One piece of advice I can give is to encourage any business to look at your online proposition and fully assess the options to develop and strengthen a foothold within your market. Now is crunch time and the world is only going to keep on developing into an ever-digitally focused world.”
– Zak, Managing Director at Echo
So if you’re one of the businesses who still don’t have a website, or are struggling with your visibility online, we hope our blog has helped point you in the right direction. Yes 2020 has been a challenging one, but one thing remains the same, our team has never been more passionate about helping businesses achieve success online.Contact Us Give Us A Call