So, marketing & digital specialists the world over have survived what feels like the longest January in human existence, and we’ve hurtled half way through February 2020 already. A month or so into the year, and businesses are more clued up on their 2020 goals, KPIs and growth targets, and it is clear that a number of predictions for digital trends in 2020 are starting to emerge and come to fruition. This development happens apace, and if there’s just one reason to read the rest of this insight article, it’s to avoid being left behind – Brian Solis, digital anthropologist, explains this risk brilliantly:
Each business is a victim of Digital Darwinism, the evolution of consumer behaviour when society and technology evolve faster than the ability to exploit it. Digital Darwinism does not discriminate. Every business is threatened.
If Digital Darwinism is a legitimate threat to your business growth, then it’s vital to stay ahead of the curve and embrace emerging digital technologies & trends to maximise the chance of achieving your business ambitions.
Let’s dive in to the emerging digital trends of 2020 and look at ways brands can capitalise on them:
1. Increase in ‘Position 0’ – Google doesn’t want you to leave.
How do you rank above Position 1 in Google search results? Well, you target Position 0, of course! Essentially, the much lauded Position 0 is actually a Featured Snippet and are typically the ‘answers’ that appear directly in the search results page. They are pulled directly from relevant websites and the snippet usually features a summary of the answer to the query as well as details of the page it was taken from, including the page URL. The emerging trend here is for Google to be using this feature more and more as it looks to keep users ‘on Google’ by giving the desired answers within their own ecosystem, rather than you clicking what seems to be the most relevant result and leaving their site.
Why is ‘Position 0’ growing? How we search has gone back to actually asking questions and looking to discover answers. Voice Search is definitely a big driver of the featured snippet’s growth in dominance in 2020 as the growth of voice share continues. This is evidenced in a recent study by Artefact UK showing that “6/10 smart speaker owners have used voice to purchase a product” in the past 12 months. In a study by Wordstream, 72% of people who own voice-activated speakers say that their devices are used as part of their daily routines, voice shopping is set to jump to $40 billion in 2022, and global smart speaker shipments almost trebled between Q1 2018 and Q2 2019, growing from 9.36 million units to 26.1 million units.
As a result, Google is attempting to show users the “one true answer” for more semantically searched queries formatted as questions (voice search is dominated by Q&A format ‘conversations’). This has been a constant digital evolution since Google’s Knowledge Graph was introduced in 2012, which was introduced to help Google deliver results based on user intent. Hubspot explain this quite succinctly: “The [Google Knowledge Graph] database ensures Google can deliver personalised search results depending on factors such as people, locations, objects, timing, and their association with other content on the web. For example, if you search Tom Cruise, Google’s knowledge graph tells Google you might also be interested in his social media, filmography, biography, or even friends and family.”
It was briefly the case that you could own Position 0 and Position 1 (finishing both first and second in the race). However, recent algorithm updates (Bert, in particular) have led to the coveted Position 0 knocking some links from Position 1. In which case, choosing to go after the featured snippet or ‘People also Ask’ result versus standard Position 1 optimisation may be a decision you consider depending on the industry, nature of the content being optimised, your target user and other factors.
If a web page listing is elevated into the featured snippet position, we no longer repeat it in the first page of results. This declutters the results & helps users locate relevant information more easily. Featured snippets count as one of the ten web page listings we show….
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) January 23, 2020
No matter how you look at it, the Featured Snippet box is a highly coveted and much sought-after position and there’s a range of activities you can undertake to dominate it. Craft your content to answer a specific question; continue to optimise it to rank P1 in the search results; and structure the content through the use of technical elements and schema markup across headings, bold lists, and other text callouts. Getting these basics in place will help your content be seen as the “one true answer” for user’s search queries.
2. User Optimisation – Oh, “Hey Bert!”
How has Google’s ‘Bert’ update impacted SEO? A step on from the Knowledge Graph and RankBrain, search engine optimisers are now looking to improve content and technical SEO to pander to Bert, which stands for “Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers” and is essentially an upgrade on Google’s linguistic capabilities, aimed at ensuring results are more accurately delivering great user experience, as well as being full of relevant content. What could this mean for your content? Make sure it’s specific, and much like point 1 in this article, ensure it answers a user’s query. A technical, specific implementation within your content is to also ensure your content delivers a good user journey once they’ve found it.
One key indicator for content to be shown as having relevant value, was body link anchor text – essentially the text which featured in a link to the next bit of relevant content just had to have keywords within it. Now, however, the URL anchor is being viewed within the much wider context of rest of content on the page as well as how this impacts the customer flow and intent. This helps take smaller words and prepositions into account within search queries (“to” “at” “for”…). An example where Bert has helped Google grasp the subtle nuances of language (that computers don’t quite understand the way humans do) was shown on the Google Blog:
In the past, a query like this might confuse Google, where it would place more emphasis on the word “curb”, and ignored the word “no”, with no understanding of the impact that had on the query. So, it would present results of parking on a hill with a curb, not without!
To ensure your content is ranking for this feature, it’s important that it has clarity, depth and is genuinely helpful and beneficial to the user, and that any internal or external links take the user on a relevant and useful journey. Keeping it simple – Talk to the customers and solve their problems. Become a trusted authority.
3. Let’s E-A-T – Build on Expertise, Authority and Trust.
Can we trust you? Across your entire digital footprint, people are increasingly looking for brands they can trust, in both B2B and B2C environments. Positioning yourself as thought leaders and demonstrating expertise & authority ultimately builds this trust. It also panders to Google’s Guidelines, giving inherent SEO benefits. There are a number of ways to improve this using your digital channels. We’ve written before about the fact that Content is King, and ensuring this content not only panders to the SEO impacts of the aforementioned digital trends but delivers genuinely valuable and trustworthy information is key, and will help drive people along their sales journey with you as they move from awareness through consideration and intent stages of the sales funnel. This can then be enhanced by taking advantage of reputation management and reviews – not only is it important to gather a high quantity of high quality, positive reviews in this context (on Google, Review Centre, Feefo, TrustPilot, Reddit, Facebook to name but a few), but people also look more and more at how brands deal with reviews online – respond to them professionally and be sure to track brand mentions which may be outside of the traditional notified review platforms.
Add facts & stats to back up your claims in the digital space, build your credentials and quote fellow authoritative sources to substantiate your business’ claims. This needs to apply to the brand as a whole, but also to individuals and ambassadors within the business who may be leading your visibility in this space. Include author bios and bylines in your digital content (like the one at the bottom of this article), but also think about how this can be impacted by your offline footprint – speaking at events and conferences, networking and delivering workshops or tutorials and customer events can ultimately all deliver impact online, as well as helping build that all important authority.
Other ways of demonstrating E-A-T digitally include: having a robust About Us page; not hiding contact and customer service details; showing measurable transparency of results with everything you deliver (like we do with OmniBI, our new reporting tool); citing references wherever necessary; and writing content which garners valuable high quality backlinks from other reputable sources within your space.
4. Brand Matters – Stand for something to stand out.
Branding matters, digitally. Your brand personality needs to be presented online as much as it is lived and breathed offline within your organisation. Showing digital charisma and standing for something enables you to portray clear brand values to ensure your content is recognised and engaged with no matter what channel. Whether it’s consumed as a Google Ad, a Facebook Post, a blog article or a TikTok video, consistency and portrayal of your brand values needs to be a common thread. The key thing here is that it doesn’t always have to be “serious” in terms of the content’s tone of voice, in fact, it’s important to speak the language of your customer wherever they may be and however that content is being consumed – it just has to be “on brand”. Google’s own territory Marketing Director, Vincenzo Rilli put this point very succinctly:
Today’s consumers want more than product information from brands. What they really demand is the brand’s perspective on topics that matter — and how they positively contribute. In 2020, a brand’s view on issues such as diversity and inclusion, climate change, and sustainability will become even more important.
This is why we often bring everything back to brand – we may be working on a technology project for a client, or developing a new and robust data-driven digital marketing strategy, but this is never in isolation and has to align to the core of the brand, which is unpacked and discovered throughout our Discovery Phase. Our digital outputs are vehicles for delivering your brand values to your customer.
5. Data & Insight-Driven Marketing – Delivering measurable change.
Are your digital activities delivering growth? At Wonderful, we practice what we preach, and avidly use data analytics and insight to drive business performance and optimise the results from digital marketing. The Altimeter/Prophet State of Digital Marketing report revealed “data analysis” as the most desired skill amongst digital marketers, indicating that “improving their data-driven marketing” is an aim of many businesses. Forbes report that 78% of organizations either already have or are developing a customer data platform to help manage, analyze and leverage their data.
McKinsey research also reiterates this need, and the impact it can have on business growth:
Intensive users of customer analytics are 23 times more likely to clearly outperform their competitors in terms of new customer acquisition than non-intensive users, and 9 times more likely to surpass them in customer loyalty.
This plays such a vital role in our eco-system that we’ve developed our own tool, OmniBI, enabling us to maximise on our client partnerships and make strategic data-driven decisions backed by measurable metrics.
Find out more about how OmniBI delivers business growth, and request a demo here.
6. User Experience – Make the customer journey enjoyable and personal.
Wonderful are passionate about delivering great UX. UX (user experience) is often confused or used interchangeably with UI (user interface), but it is a vital discipline and a thread which needs to underpin almost all deliverables in the marketing space. At an overarching level, UX is commonly defined as the interaction and experience users have with a company’s products and services; where-as the UI is the specific assets users interact with. It goes beyond just having a website which is easy to use. It goes way past site speed, navigation, where your CTAs are placed and what they say, the checkout process, etc. It starts with how a user first experiences your brand and ventures through their interactions with you, past conversion, to how they are treated after sales as well as if your product actually delivers on its promises. It is as much of a ‘feeling’ as it is a ‘doing’ – Good UX solves a user’s problems (is your product doing what it is supposed to for the end user?) whilst generating positive emotions.
What are some of the digital implications of UX for your business in 2020? Well, the practical trends are starting to lean towards greater use of personalisation at every step of the user journey. From more personalised digital ads (remarketing/retargeting in particular) at the top of the funnel, through to welcome messages on certain web pages, to demonstrating user-specific USPs and product features, personalising your content to the relevant reader at the right point in their user journey makes the customer feel a part of the process and evokes the positive emotions we’re looking for. (Note: some personalisation is perceived as invasive & ‘creepy’, so as with all digital tactics, usage of these must be aligned to your target user). Example executions of this would include Very.co.uk’s personalised home page banners (which use the seasonal weather change to present a product that serves the users’ needs in that moment, whilst adding the name to make the customer feel special); and Spotify’s fantastic use of localisation and personalisation in their OOH ‘Wrapped Up’ campaigns.
Whilst the impact of UX on your digital marketing efforts may be a trend to watch out for in 2020, it’s vital we refer to the ideas of Digital Darwinism once again. Ward Germeau, ARK BBN summises:
People change at breakneck speed, and so do the methods that give them what they are looking for. A user-centred mindset must be the focus of everything that we do.
7. Conversational & Marketing Bots – It’s good to talk.
Should I be using a Conversational Bot? Chatbots and Live Chat functionality have gone in and out of fashion in line with customer preference. In 2020, however, conversational bots do align with the typical internet user’s natural communication environments. We have become accustomed to using Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Twitter/Instagram DMs, Slack etc, to the point where many people actually prefer to utilise online chat over picking up the phone or sending an email in 2020. There are over 300,000 chatbot instances on Facebook, and a study by Outgrow predicted that over 80% of businesses would utilise some form of chatbot technology by the end of 2020. Global market insights also predict that the overall market size for chatbots worldwide will be over $1.3 billion by 2024. These statistics alone would imply that it’s a bandwagon businesses need to hop on board. However, as with all of these trends, it has to align to your brand, your capabilities and competences. If your brand is going to offer this as a communication channel, it has to take into account some of the potential pitfalls, such as AI inaccuracies, misunderstanding customer requests and language nuances, and poorly crafted chat flows (see UX).
Conversational Bots deliver a range of benefits, with surveys showing the most popular uses are 24-hour service (64%), instant responses to enquiries (55%), and answers to simple questions (55%). Some good examples of utilising conversational bots to service genuine customer needs and, ultimately, enhance digital experience include BookMyShow’s use of WhatsApp for Business to send bookings and reminders as well as links to tickets; Mastercard’s AI based customer service conversational bot delivers responses to commonly asked questions and guides users quickly to content they need; and FitBot’s use of Facebook Messenger integrates with a user’s calendar to schedule workouts. This is fast becoming a contributory part of user experience and adds another layer to personalisation, but it is being used more and more to facilitate the sales journey, driving conversions and assist in after-sales customer support. The onward value in being able to, over time, analyse sentiment and spot trends is another benefit as you look to learn more about your customers to ensure you’re delivering on their needs.
8. Video is still King – There’s no signs of it slowing down.
Do you TikTok? Before stumbling across this article, it would be highly likely that you’d consumed (or even produced) some video content. Whether that’s on the latest (and fastest growing) short-form channel, TikTok; a family friend sharing a video of their weekend antics on Facebook; or a full on product explainer on YouTube, video is a hugely powerful medium. Video Content delivers impact, emotes & entertains. High quality, professionally produced video content can be a vital contributor to engagement with your brand and ultimately deliver business growth. Engagement levels with video content have proven themselves to be more dominant than any other medium, and with 83% of marketers citing video’s growth in importance, endorsed by 84% of consumers claiming to have bought something after watching a video, there is evidence to back this theory up.
This trend shows no sign of slowing down either, with 2020 seeing a notable resurgence in LinkedIn Video as well as recent hyper-promotion of IGTV by Instagram’s algorithm – this strength across a wide array of channels lends itself to businesses getting more “bang for their buck” with video thanks to the ability to repurpose content for each audience on each channel respectively – as long as it retains brand continuity, this can be a hugely powerful tool.
As with all channels, accessibility is a key factor here and ensuring your video content works with the sound-off (through captioning) is absolutely vital for those who are hard of hearing, watching on the quiet carriage of a train, or on a break in the office. Also, choosing which channels, and which content types to post has to be strategically assessed, to ensure it speaks to your audience and drives an action.
9. Podcasts are back – Did they ever go away?
Do you have a podcast? It appears that in 2020, podcasts are having a resurgence – akin to Video, this is a more immersive way of consuming content than reading an article or content on a web page. Although we love video, podcasts service a need when we need a screen break or aren’t in a position to watch, and can be listened to on the move – they’re a fantastic way to absorb content anywhere. According to a recent study by Podcastinginsights.com, 51% of the US population are listening to podcasts, with 22% listening in the car, and a huge 80% listen to 7 or more podcasts per week. There are over 850,000 shows in the market across all channels, and over 30 million episodes as of Jan 2020 – that is a lot of content consumed, and a lot of potential authority, trust and brand kudos earned. This back catalogue is ever-growing too, and as content in this format tends to have a long shelf-life, it can be perceived as relatively ever-green. Our client MotorMouth have utilised Podcasts as a major contributor to their growth:
Again, as with all of these top emerging trends in 2020, utilising podcasting as a communication channel for your brand will be a decision you have to make dictated by your brand, product, target customer and broader strategy.
10. Partnerships – Two heads are better than one…
Not so much of a trend as a recommendation. Partnering with a digital creative agency may just give you access to the vital knowledge base, experience and skill sets required to deliver on these trends and avoid falling victim to the threat of Digital Darwinism. If you’d like to speak to us about how we can assist you in taking advantage of these trends as part of your 2020 digital marketing strategy, and are looking for an agency to deliver genuine results (like we’ve done with our clients), then get in touch.