As I say every year, at this time of year: it’s that time of year.
It used to be easier, doing this. When Google’s algorithm updates were nailed-on certainties in Spring and Autumn, you could almost predict what was going to happen (spammers get caught, spammers work it out, links are bad, links are good…). Today, though, the landscape is wider, and Google’s integration of AI into the algorithm makes it all the harder to second-guess.
Nonetheless - I think 2018 could see some important changes.
But first – what did we say last year?
An honest appraisal of 2017’s predictions.
- The race to be fast will heat up
Well, yes – sort of. The move to mobile first and the fluttering in mobile rankings around mid-October prove that Google is doing everything it can to make speed count. On mobile. More importantly, Google is doing everything it can to make brands pay for mobile traffic. But that’s a separate topic…
- Snapchat comes of age
Mmm, yes and no. There is some good research about how Snapchat ads are ‘delivering a lift in purchase intent’ compared to TV and other platforms. But other research shows that 70% of Snapchat users skip ads. So they have work to do if Snapchat is more than just elf ears and funny glasses.
- AI gets marketers more into customer service & retention
Mmm, a possible no. Yes, chat bots are more prevalent, and there’s a lot of – ahem – chatter about them. But are they effective? Are we any better at using them? Try having a conversation with Alexa or Google Mini. It’s getting better, but it’s still a million miles away.
- VR not going to help you, unless you’re a VR company
So far, yes. But wait for this one. The use of VR in science, hospitals and even education is only going to improve. But in terms of marketing… not yet. You can argue this point with me, if you like.
- Twitter gets bought out
I’ve said this every year – I’m going to give up saying it now.
- Activism gets serious
A big yes for this one. As Paperchase and others have found out, online activists can force you out of advertising on specific websites and in specific publications. Their objective is to bring down the publication’s revenue streams completely – and this truism still stands: you will be tarnished by association if you advertise in papers like The Daily Mail or The Sun. Alt-right website Breitbart has also been a target. It's hugely effective, and it will be interesting to see how their strategies develop.
Enough about 2017, it’s nearly over anyway.
Here’s our predictions for 2018…
1.Organic Search (Nearly) Dies
I’m going to get some flak for the overly exaggerated headline, but here goes. There will always be organic search – so long as people click on it, and the recent research shows it’s still very much alive.
But a number of factors are coming after it:
If it’s transactional, Google wants a cut. Much of the organic search volume we see in that Moz research is going to be informational and will soon be voice activated (hey Google, who is insert random z-list celebrity here).
Now that we’re all on mobile, browsing activity naturally becomes more transactional and less time-wastey. Organic search is losing ground here.
Apparently, organic CTR has lost 55% of its click share on mobile, and 25% on desktop. This is a big thing - a very big thing.
Why? Because a) there are more ads, and b) they are bigger – more features, more lines.
This has been Google’s game for years. They’ve tested hundreds of ways to label ads, and how to improve the CTR on ads compared to organic results, and they have won. They were always going to win.
Over the coming year, this trend will continue, to the point that organic search disappears completely for certain results.
What can you do?
Firstly, you’re going to have to get better at managing those ads, and improving the conversion rate of your landing pages. Secondly, you have to broaden out your organic strategy, so your keyword research – especially that around the long-tail, is going to be even more important. The more you understand how your audience researches what you do / sell / offer, then the greater the chance they’ll discover you – and come back for free via your direct channel.
Thirdly, you have to compete for these new features below the ads. Questions, snippets, featured videos – and that means finding out what markup you need to use, what kind of content Google is trying to provide, and see how you can work your way in there – and make the most of it.
So organic won’t die – totally – but if it makes money, Google knows, and Google wants a cut. If it doesn’t make money, Google just wants you to stay on Google. Of which more later.
2. Ecommerce gets a Kik up the rear end
H&M’s introduction of the Kik chatbot is perhaps the most important progression in chatbots this year.
Kik has access to 40% of American teenagers (apparently), and the platform allows you to browse the H&M inventory according to style and taste, via a chatbot. It’s a few simple lines of logic that, with some machine learning, could become even bigger.
A few trends have brought us to this point:
- Users are looking for more personal online experiences
- Chatbot technology has improved significantly
- We're getting used to talking to machines
I’ve got the Google Mini at home, and Alexa at work. And while Google Mini sometimes tries to force brands on us (Shall I put you in touch with Mercedes? Shall I? Hey Google, NO), chatbots appear to have our best interests at heart, simply because they’re not human beings.
Kik also announced a CelebStyle concierge bot. So, if you want to dress like Kim Kardashian (other celebrity brands are available), then the concierge bot can help you – and what’s more, there are bots that can scan other ecommerce stores to find cheaper versions of what she’s wearing. So you don’t have to spend the money, either.
If new technology is going to develop anywhere, it’s e-commerce, because:
- Everything is measured
- UX is everything
- Real-time data is amazingly good
3. Attitudes to Facebook Ads will mature
If you’re my age, you’ll look fondly on the goldrush days of the early internet. An unmeasured rush towards the latest trend, piles of money spent on moonshots… surely those days are gone?
Facebook ads has sometimes felt like this. The opportunity to advertise to demographics and behavioural traits seemed too good to pass up, but for some brands, the results have failed to meet up to the hype, and have certainly not been in the same league as Google Adwords.
Why so? A simple enough explanation – people are not in a transactional mood when they’re on Facebook.
Facebook knows this – and it may be why they’ve trialled separating out some of the brand noise into a new channel (and this includes news stories, too). Facebook will never give up on the revenue – but we cannot be under any illusion – Facebook Ads is not for everyone.
If you want to improve brand recognition and perception – then Facebook Ads is definitely for you – and you have to find a good way of measuring this, and measuring how Facebook fits into your customer journey.
What Facebook does give you is plenty of 'attention time'. And if that means we have to sharpen up our knowledge of conversion touchpoints, then good.
4. Google gets nabbed for theft (but only in the EU)
Rand Fishkin recently mused that in future – your webpage will be served up in the Google results as an iframe, with Google ads around it.
Google has been scraping a lot more lately. Admittedly, that scraping includes a link to the source content, but it’s with the tacit acceptance of the content creator that if it’s online, and you want people to see it, Google can do more than just index it, it will use it.
Now, this goes to the heart of something much wider: as people who ‘create content’ and that encompasses authors, bloggers, vloggers, writers, scientists, mathematicians, artists – anyone who creates anything – we are ‘feeding the beast’.
We rely on Google to get us seen. But the recent development of the results page, in which Google rips more and more from your website means that a Google user’s question can be answered WITHOUT a visit to your site. And all of the ancillary benefits of visiting your site (discovering more, engaging with your brand, potentially becoming a customer) are gone.
But we’re also feeding Google’s Artificial Intelligence engine. We’re giving it our content – we’re answering questions, we’re helping Google develop the biggest AI system in the entire world, and Google isn’t paying us.
In fact, most of us are paying Google to get above the organic results that it’s now stealing from us.
We are going to reach a point where someone, somewhere, turns around and says “enough is enough”.
We want our content to be indexed and visited – but we don’t want Google to appropriate that content for its own uses. If there is no benefit to being indexed by Google – if Google is thieving your content, for the sole purpose of keeping people on Google – then there may be website owners that withdraw themselves from organic – or put up the blockers to stop Google from stealing IP.
Right now, the only organisation capable of taking on Google is the EU.
So that’s interesting.
5. AR moves into the mainstream
The litmus test for this kind of thing is when your Dad talks about it. And I am self-aware enough to know that my 7-year-old daughter is frequently more ahead of the curve than me.
I meant my Dad.
And I’m not sure we’ve spoken about AR, just yet.
But very soon you’ll be able to take a virtual tour of your next car. BMW are trialling the experience so that you can put the car in your driveway (erm, on your phone), and tinker with the configuration. Nice, but meh.
It does feel a bit Atari Ping Pong when you think about the possibilities that AR does bring. Surgeons are using AR (or VR) and Touch Surgery has just raised a lot of money for its augmented reality headset which helps train medics.
There are AR mirrors for makeup in shops and IKEA have long had an AR catalogue so you could have fun seeing what your furniture would look like in your room. And IBM put together a shopping app that lets you see nutrition information alongside a product, so you can wander around a supermarket feeling even more disappointed that your food will kill you.
So, we’re halfway there. The clever people are already using AR, the question is whether it trickles down into the ‘Dad’ consciousness or not, and I have a feeling that its usefulness will intersect with practicality at some point in the near future.
6. More Stories & More Video
Storytelling is nothing new. We’ve been doing it for millennia. Now we’ve got Instagram Stories with 300 million users every day, and Snapchat on 187 million per day.
The technology is new, and that’s lovely.
But that’s not the consideration here. Think about the audience. As I may have hinted throughout this piece, we’re all getting older – and that brings new audiences into your consideration. Generation Z are unlikely to appreciate broad generalisations, but here goes:
- They never see TV ads
- They never read the newspapers
- They never use Facebook
- They use ad blockers
Interestingly, where Generation Z goes, we follow. Whether technology has moulded them, or they have moulded themselves to technology is unimportant – we live in an era where you never need to see a TV ad spot, you don’t need to buy a physical newspaper, and your mum uses Facebook.
Regardless of age group, we have Netflix subscriptions and we read the news online. Plenty of us have ad blockers, and ignore the warnings.
So if you’re going to advertise to a market that hates advertising, and shuns your traditional media, go back to storytelling. There's a reason we still tell stories after thousands of years of human evolution. Instagram Stories, with its 300 million users a day, is now where Generation Z goes. It’s their TV, it’s their newspaper – and there are brands that cut through with lo-fi messaging.
And if you’re targeting a business audience, the same applies. LinkedIn might be a daily horror show of posturing and business-virtue-signalling – but it is still the biggest network of business professionals in the world, and recently rolled out LinkedIn video. Like Instagram Stories, this is no place to interrupt, but it’s a good place to integrate and tell a good story.
7. Social Media is the New Smoking
Back in the early 20th century, cyclists used to smoke a cigarette before riding up a mountain. They believed that a) smoking was good for you and that b) it would open up the lungs.
Now, of course, we know this to be nonsense, and all they need is salbutamol.
But we may be in the same phase with social media, as there is a growing acceptance that social media is bad for your mental health. Hilariously, Facebook have finally accepted that this is true, but their solution is that you should use it more.
So therefore, the answer to lung cancer is smoking more.
There is a growing realisation that social media is bad for your health. Twitter makes you angry, Instagram makes you sad, Facebook makes you envious, LinkedIn makes you want to kill everyone. This is all far removed from where we started ten years ago or more.
It won’t be long before there’s an app that automatically shuts down your social media apps after a self-specified period. Or Facebook installs a bookmaker-style “limit” on how much time you can consume with them.
Attempts at self-regulation barely ever work, however. It will be users’ growing acceptance that social media is harmful, and that we need to ‘get back to basics’ – in other words, cut out what is harmful about the medium, get back to what was good about it in the first place, and ultimately, waste less time.
And I think that's rather a good thing.
So that's 2018 sorted, then. Whatever happens, CLD is on hand to assist with your digital strategies for 2018 and beyond. Whether it's getting a greater share of the organic traffic your competitors are getting, or improving brand visibility and perception - we can help. Just pick up the phone or fill in the quote form.
Happy New (Digital) Year!