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Digital Marketing Recap – Year in Review

Insights January 10, 2018

Digital Marketing Recap
December 2017

Throughout 2017, we continued to bring you the most impactful insights and collection of resources from the world of digital marketing. Even though our format has changed slightly over the past year, and we’ve begun to investigate new areas within the realm of Enterprise SEO, our core philosophy has remained the same. The Terakeet Digital Marketing Recaps are here to help you and your fellow marketers maintain an effective strategy within an ever-changing digital landscape. Here are some of the most notable highlights from 2017 and what they mean for the new year ahead.

An Uphill Digital Battle

The second half of 2017 presented a very difficult time for internet users. We all know the Internet as a wealth of information – a resourceful hub for everything from entertainment and shopping to research and investigation. The problem is that the utility of the Internet is incredibly diminished when people seek to purposely degrade any amount of credibility it has.

The term “fake news” has gained a lot of momentum over the past year. Starting with the 2016 United States presidential campaign, fake news has solicited a massive response from the public and some of the world’s largest companies. In a collective mission to restore online integrity and provide internet users with some sense of reputable information outlets, companies like Google and Facebook have joined the fight against the propagation of falsehoods.

Google, in particular, has dedicated a lot of its resources to combating misinformation with the latest adjustments to its core algorithm. Google’s Fred update rolled out in March and specifically targeted ad-heavy sites with low-quality content that go against Google’s webmaster guidelines. Google also introduced Project Owl – a three-pronged approach to attacking fake news, disturbing content, and offensive search suggestions. As a result of search quality issues the company has been facing since November of 2016, the project incorporated user feedback, formal policies, algorithm adjustments, and employees coming out of the woodwork to solve the problem.

“Companies can and should utilize their proprietary data both for the sake of their business and for the clients that they serve.”

       – Jordan Arnold, Brand Strategy Director

In terms of advertising within the Google ecosystem, the company has put its own revenue on the line through permanently banning fake news websites from utilizing Google’s ad networks. Legitimate advertisers are also allowed to have more control over where their advertisements are placed, making sure only qualified sites are included for advertisement hosting. Since we experienced how offensive content can impact brand perceptions online, advertisers need to have more control from companies like Google.

While a lot of spammy sites and malicious content have either found ways to toe the line, or simply fly under Google’s radar, it seems as though the search engine giant is tightening the screws on its monitoring efforts. Google’s methods of identifying fact-checked results and even allowing ad-blockers through its Chrome web browser show the company is planning to take this matter seriously on an ongoing basis.

Facebook has joined the fight as well, and even taken a page out of Google’s playbook. In May, the company announced that it would be using artificial intelligence to stifle the reach and even penalize advertisements that link to spammy, annoying, and offensive websites. Updates to Facebook’s News Feed algorithm impacted both Facebook and Instagram platforms, essentially growing the breadth of the counterattack.

The Company in the Driver’s Seat

A vast majority of the digital marketing world is driven by the methods consumers use to discover and engage with content online. While consumer behavior trends are constantly changing, much of this content discovery is still happening by way of search engines and finding relevant content organically.

As one of the most influential companies when it comes to content discovery, Google has made huge changes when it comes to its service. As digital marketers, part of our responsibility is providing consumers with relevant content that satisfies their questions and inquiries. With multiple rolling changes to Google’s algorithm, industry thought-leaders began to introduce the idea of “Searcher Task Accomplishment.”

Looking more closely at the term, it essentially identifies the process and result of a Google user coming to the platform, typing in a query, and being satisfied with the result. While this wasn’t a formal algorithm update on Google’s behalf, this idea was the result of the company emphasizing the idea of solving problems and providing answers Google users desire for quite some time. Regardless, it’s something that all marketers need to keep in mind when creating and optimizing content.

We also saw Google begin to strongly prefer Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), as evident in spikes seen within the Google News feature at the beginning of 2017. AMP has been on the radar since 2015, but they have come a long way over the last few years. The project is a way to optimize mobile website content so that it renders on devices almost instantly. AMP offers increased site speed, better page performance, and additional conversion – all resulting in a better user experience which is something near and dear to Google.

Effective Storytelling

Impactful content that is developed to inspire and to innovate is one of the best and most efficient ways to connect with audiences. As marketers, our goal is to create content that allows audiences to easily discover it, engage with it, and share it. Luckily for us, many of the major wireless carriers like Verizon and AT&T began selling unlimited data packages again. With mobile device usage now easily surpassing that of desktops and tablets, unlimited data plans provide an immense opportunity to target consumers with even more content through their preferred channels.

Over the past year, we also realized that creating effective content involves commitment and work, and should be prioritized accordingly. The more we’re able to dedicate ourselves to optimizing this type of content, whether through researching trends or collaborating with influencers, the more we’re able to expand the content’s reach and impact.

“Creating good, unique content is a lot of work, so don’t sell it short.”

                   – Bryan Conte, Innovation Analyst

Consumers have grown more accustomed to extremely personal and curated experiences as well, especially when it comes to content marketing. Throughout 2017 there was an even further uptick in investments to create more qualified content (up from 75% of marketer investment in 2016). As consumers are more aware than ever of the tactics brands use to target audiences, traditional branded messaging doesn’t have the impact it once did. This is where immense personalization, customization, and curation is most helpful. Companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Netflix have paved the way for curated content, but it’s now time that marketers get the hint.

Another initiative to keep in mind is the idea of storytelling through content. With social media being one of the easiest ways to reach consumers, and acting as a preferred hub for pushing content, it’s imperative to analyze the content that performs the best (think engagement and shares). We’ve seen videos perform extraordinary well and they’re actually one of the best ways to tell a story.

“Curating a brand’s story cohesively across the right digital channels connects companies with the right customers in a way that leads to meaningful, loyal relationships.”

        – Dylan Hendrix, Brand Manager

No matter if your main objective is to generate leads through email or sell more product, video regularly converts. Aside from being eye-catching on a page, videos can combine several mediums like audio, text, and images to connect with audiences and build relationships. Powerful storytelling through content fosters connection, and connection on any level causes people to act.

Collaborating with Influencers

Influencer marketing continues to be one of the most effective digital marketing strategies when it comes to connecting with the right people and aligning those relationships in a way that target relevant audiences. Influencer marketing has grown exponentially over the last few years and is now leading our industry’s shift to more targeted strategies. Influencers are hyper-aware of what their respective audiences are looking for and build their audiences based on personal experiences – something we’ve already outlined as being incredibly important throughout 2017 and in the year ahead.

One of the innate characteristics that continue to make influencer marketing so impactful is its ability to uphold authenticity. While this involves research and conscious targeting efforts on behalf of brands, authentic interactions with influencers and then with their audiences are incredibly impactful in terms of action and consumer loyalty. As one of the driving forces behind product purchases and consuming content online, millennials are a prime example of a market segment that requires authenticity. Millennials are targeted even more by brands, but it’s important to note that they’re fairly immune to traditional marketing strategies like sidebar advertisements and branded content that’s lazy when it comes to personalization.

“In order to execute a successful campaign, brands need to find out what really resonates with their audience.”

      – Carly DiCocco, Brand Specialist

Another aspect of authenticity outside of the interactions with influencers is which influencers are worth building relationships with. Something the industry began to realize in 2017 was that celebrities aren’t always the best influencers when it comes to content and advertising performance. Yes, they do have massive followings on social media, but when it comes to branded content, how is that content performing? One lesson we’ve all learned is that large audiences don’t necessarily mean large amounts of engagement.

To increase the impact of content, brands began to turn to micro-influencers, as opposed to their celebrity counterparts. Celebrities, and even top-tier influencers, are too costly and don’t bring the same performance numbers and conversions as micro-influencers. Much smaller by comparison, micro-influencers make up for their following size by creating authentic, specialized, opinion-shaping content that is engaging and sparks action. However, one thing to remember is that even though these are smaller-scale influencers, they still need to be taken seriously. Treating them with the same level of care and attention as top-tier influencers goes a long way.

“If you’re going to leverage other people’s reputations and influence, make sure it’s for a product worth selling, and don’t make promises you can’t keep.”

– Meghan Collins, Innovation Analyst

As marketers have honed in on successful digital marketing strategies, with influencers and otherwise, the last piece of the puzzle is weighing the return on investment. In our industry, traditional advertising and promotion have run on the notion of making marketing efforts reach as far and wide as possible. Now that we understand the value of monitoring engagement rather than just visibility, CMOs are interested in the ROI of these new strategies. Even though it’s extremely difficult to attribute concrete measurement to influencer marketing specifically, thought-leaders have realized that the strategy is about three times less expensive than social media advertising.

Analyzing Your Way to Category Ownership

No well-rounded strategy is complete without a healthy dose of analysis. In order to effectively analyze what matters, digital marketers need to start with their own sites and also those of their competitors. Surprisingly enough, polls taken toward the end of 2017 indicated that 27% of SEOs had never conducted a link audit on their websites. It can’t be emphasized enough how important it is to not get comfortable in the world of digital marketing. This is an ever-changing, dynamic space and to develop tunnel-vision or an inability to branch out will be a detriment to your mission.

Since link audits are one of the first steps in assessing the health and authority of a website, this was a huge missing piece of the puzzle for far too many. Not only does this type of analysis give you an idea of ranking potential, but it shows how your site stacks up against its competitors in the same space.

We’ve also seen how data analysis can do great things for consumers. One example was manifested through a leading music streaming service’s usage of big data to create unique and powerful user experiences. While data analysis isn’t always going to be the most exciting and flashy component of your digital strategy, massively useful insights can be drawn from the exercise. If you hope to create a sustainable advantage over your competitors, carving out even more ownership over a market category, 2018 will be a big year for impactful data gathering.

Protecting Your Sense of Brand

Despite companies setting aggressive marketing and conversion goals for the new year, a few forward-thinking ones will dedicate resources to maintaining or building up brand immunity online. Considering information can spread at lightning fast speeds, all companies and brands, no matter their size, need to engage with some form of online reputation management. With recent credibility issues online and more claims of falsehoods and misinformation than we can count, brand sentiment and public opinion can change on a dime.

One of the most important things when it comes to building a strategy to impact search results is being proactive. Especially when it comes to reputation management, proactivity is how savvy brands maintain control of sentiment online. Noticing a problem and then developing a plan to combat it can oftentimes be too, little too late. Reactivity can be the death of an effective reputation management plan. On the other hand, fortifying branded search results by building a layer of immunity within the most visible search real estate is a sure-fire way to create branded protection. Bad press can happen and spread at an instant – from a tone-deaf soda ad, to a man being forcibly removed from a major airline, 2017 proved that the last thing you want is for your brand to be the one the public is pointing fingers at.

The Unstoppable Growth of Social Media

Social media platforms hit an impressive milestone in 2017 – there are now over 250 million users in the United States and 2 billion around the world. With these kinds of numbers, it’s imperative for all brands to have an effective social media strategy in place. After all, social media is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to connect a brand with an audience. While there were many tips in 2017 on how to optimize a social media strategy, it really comes down to proper planning and execution.

“In social media, it’s often quality over quantity that comes out on top.”

– Stephanie Neshevski, Brand Specialist

Influencers rely on social media as a way to connect with their audiences, but also as a way to share their content. At the click of a button, influencers are able to increase content visibility and audiences are also able to spread the content themselves.

Throughout 2017, Instagram made huge improvements and implemented new features to its service. It’s no mystery that 99% of influencers say it’s their preferred platform. Even with the exponential growth, Instagram is still projected to double over the next year – making the more than $1 billion Instagram influencer marketing industry even more powerful. After the FTC tightened their transparency requirements regarding sponsored and advertorial content, Instagram also rolled out capabilities to allow influencers to identify sponsored posts and brand partnerships more easily.

Instagram’s parent company Facebook also improved its platform last year, outside of the vast improvements it made to combat fake news. Stepping into the realm of artificial intelligence, Facebook’s own AI team implemented the technology to make its search features more robust. Now able to recognize specific content in photos, the Facebook search platform called Lumos allows users to enter a search query and will return relevant images.

Lastly, despite initial doubts from industry experts and analysts, Snapchat demonstrated proof of concept time and time again in 2017. The biggest smack in the face was when Snapchat announced its IPO in February, proving that over $400 million in ad revenue is nothing to question.

“If you can make people ask themselves questions, spark curiosity, engage them emotionally, and give them a reason to care in a few characters, you’re much more likely to have people read and engage with your content.”

– Gino Geruntino, Senior Brand Strategist

Looking forward to the year ahead, social media isn’t going anywhere. As mentioned earlier, those companies and brands that fail to take advantage of multiple social platforms are missing out on an immense opportunity. Alongside technological advancements playing a huge role, further investment in influencer marketing and increased competition will bring about even more inspiring user and brand experiences.

In Conclusion

At this point, it almost seems to be a rule of thumb for the digital marketing world that change is and always will be the only constant. So much can happen over the course of a year in this industry, and you’re not alone if you feel it’s difficult to keep up.

Not only is part of our mission to stay up-to-date and to investigate every bit of published news, but we’re also here to help educate and inform those operating within the realm of digital marketing. For ongoing insight and additional content on some of the most notable stories from within the industry, be sure to follow along with our monthly Digital Marketing Recaps on Terakeet’s Insights blog.

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