Ambition and persistenceEveryone always wants to know the digital marketing trends for the next year. It’s natural to want to know what to pay attention to. Making predictions is tough given how quickly things change in the digital marketing industry. Sometimes as marketers we have to scramble to adapt quickly. We can share our experience and perspective but it’s impossible to cover everything to pay attention to.

What we can do is look at what was successful this year in 2020 and carry that over. While 2020 was not at all a ‘normal’ year, we can take things that happened and make some predictions. Between knowledge and platform capabilities, digital marketing tactics can go very deep. Businesses should be planning out the activities to focus on in 2021 based on what worked previously and dive even deeper. 

What are the Digital Marketing Trends for 2021?

2021 Digital Marketing Trend #1:
Invest in Social Media Ads

Social media isn’t going anywhere. Be prepared to spend more in 2021 than you did in 2020 on social media ads. The pandemic has dramatically increased the amount of time being spent on social media because everyone is at home more. Our ability as marketing professionals to influence people is higher because our audience is online more. Expect prices per CPC (cost per click) to rise as more marketers flock to social media ads. With more businesses online, and investing in ads, the prices will increase. Invest more time and money into paid ads and less time into your organic posting. This goes back to understanding how far your organic reach will really go. While you can spend a lot of time on graphics and creating content, know that only about 6% of your existing audience will see your organic posts. 

As costs rise, consider investing in different social ads platforms but be smart about it. Evaluate the demographics and targeting of the various platforms first before deciding what to try. While your target audience might not fully be on that platform yet, think about the future and look for opportunities. Don’t attempt to be on every platform. Make sure you have the manpower to create the kind of content needed to be strong on the platforms that make the biggest impact on your business.

Don’t stretch your budget out too much between different platforms. If you’re getting results, keep it going and adjust accordingly for growth. If you spread your budget too thin on too many platforms, you may not be able to get statistically significant results to understand what’s working. Simply running one ad isn’t going to give enough data to determine the success or develop a true strategy. Each platform takes time and energy and a willingness to take risks.

What platforms should you look at?

Facebook in general has the most people on it and Instagram is also up there on the list for marketers. But look at the opportunities with other networks including LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumbler, Pinterest, TikTok, Reddit, Snapchat, and more. Where are your audience or potential customers online and how can you target them? Strategize how to use these different platforms in different ways. For example, maybe you use one of the less popular platforms because traffic is inexpensive but then use Facebook for remarketing. 

In 2021, think about going deeper into the ad platforms you’re already using. Look at the opportunities, functionalities, audiences Google Ads, for example, has much more to offer than just bidding on keywords. What’s in the Google Ads suite of products? Just on that one platform, marketers have all of the following available to work with: Display network, Gmail Ads, YouTube Ads, Shopping Ads, and Smart Campaigns. If you’re not leveraging all of the marketing opportunities it’s time to start diving deeper.

2021 Digital Marketing Trend #2:
Continuous Improvement of SEO

What is SEOFor 2021 and beyond we will always be talking about SEO. SEO is at it’s basic, optimizing content for search engines. Search engines are not going away and we want our content to be found. You’ve probably heard that ‘content is king’ and it still is! You’re always going to need good, current content that fully covers the subject. All of your content plays into SEO and the visibility of your businesses in various search results.

There are core updates each year when Google reevaluates what it looks for in ranking websites and its entire algorithm is updated. It’s a constantly moving target that requires attention for success in digital marketing. 

Reviewing the 2020 Google core updates helps digital marketers know what to concentrate on in 2021 for improved SEO.

In January 2020 there was a big update that hit almost all categories. This was regarding featured snippet deduplication making it so search results wouldn’t show in the featured area as well as organic.

In May 2020 there was another major update that affected content. Thin content, or short articles, that were getting higher rankings powered by external factors (link building) were pushed back. Local Search Engine Result also changed with this update. Aggregators and directories like yellow pages and sites that list several different businesses on them were pushed forward. The SERP (Search Engine Results Page) Features that enhance search results for users also became in flux with this update. Some of the features affected include the following:

  • Rich Snippets – add a visual layer to an existing result (e.g. review stars for product ratings)
  • Paid Results – bought by bidding on keywords (e.g. AdWords or Google Shopping)
  • Universal Results – appear in addition to organic results (e.g. image results, new results, featured snippets)
  • Knowledge Graphs – an info box next to the search result with info from a variety of sources

The key to going to be continuing to work on schema markup and the more technical aspects of SEO. 

Also, take into account that user experience is very important for SEO success. Google’s Core Web Vitals are a set of specific factors that are important to the overall user experience of a webpage. Always keep in mind that your website needs to be mobile-friendly because Google uses mobile-first indexing. And, video needs a place in your content strategy so you can connect with your audience. Your customers are online and it’s important that your website has quality content and makes it easy for your audience to find you.  Especially if your website is more than 2 or more years old a new one might be needed to address some of these items. Make it easy to do business!

2021 Digital Marketing Trend #3:
Understanding Attribution

Attribution is going to get worse for digital marketers in 2021 but not for the platforms! It’s getting harder to attribute marketing efforts to their sources because there is a war for control of data. All of the different platforms want it all and they all attribute or give data credit differently. When you’re marketing on different platforms, it’s hard to understand the value. The information is presented differently and skews accuracy. 

Multi-touch attribution or omnichannel marketing is what businesses should be doing in 2021. Because today’s buyers don’t look at one ad or piece of marketing and buy. Making multiple touchpoints through different tools and platforms will fill your marketing funnel. While Google Analytics is the best free tool available for tracking, it uses last channel attribution which is not the best way or most accurate way to understand marketing data.

Cross-device attribution is available and improving but it has a lot of limitations. Not all platforms can accurately track data from one device to another.

Attribution tracking tools are going to get more expensive. These attempt to measure attribution but they still won’t be perfect. Knowing that, your business has to evaluate if the spending is worth it.

Offline vs. online attribution is hard to measure even though they affect each other. Some marketing efforts are not 100% trackable but you should still do them.

Privacy changes complicate attribution because they make it tougher to understand the data needed to give credit. As Apple, Microsoft, Bing, Google, Facebook, and other platforms come out with new privacy announcements, it often reduces the ability to attribute marking efforts to their sources.

The death of third-party cookies will affect attribution and it’s coming soon. Safari and Mozilla Firefox already no longer support third-party cookies. By the end of 2021, third-party cookies will be blocked by Google too which all decreases attribution data.

Governments also decrease attribution abilities as data protection laws and regulations are announced. Many of these are already in place like Europe’s GDPR, Brazil’s LGPD, and California’s CCPA for example. In the US, several states other states including Nevada, New York, Texas, and Washington, are considering following California’s lead and passing their own data protection laws. Canada and Australia are both considering new data protection regulations, and India’s legislature will vote on its Personal Data Protection Bill.

In 2021, marketing attribution will continue to be a hot mess and while we can do our best to attribute efforts properly, it’s never going to be perfect. What we can continue to do in 2021 is improve omnichannel marketing on the platforms where it makes sense to target our audiences and stay on top of updates that affect our industry.

2021 Digital Marketing Trend #4:
Use of Machine Learning & AI

Machine learning and AI will continue to evolve. There is a lot of automation technologies that deliver business value by doing specific, repetitive tasks. These technologies are getting better and better. There’s no need to get nervous because this frees up time to work on strategy. It allows marketers to focus efforts on more platforms, more channels, and improved digital marketing activities. Humans will always be in charge but some of the platforms are enhancing our abilities significantly. In 2020 Google made a lot of improvements and their smart campaigns, for example, offer new opportunities. If you haven’t already, start involving some automated strategies in your digital marketing efforts. The opportunities that machine learning and AI present are only going to improve in 2021.

2021 Digital Marketing Trend #5
Evolved Your Tech Stack & Improve Automations

The number of marketing technology softwares available has grown significantly and it will continue to grow in 2021. It has grown 13.6% year over year. There are 8,000 Martech solutions available! 1 in 5 of the solutions on this year’s Martech landscape were not there last year.

If you are experiencing a business problem there is likely a solution through the right technology channels. Look for tech that has trials and new opportunities to automate marketing. Sometimes the less heard of platforms are also less expensive and will evolve faster as they have more to prove. 

2021 Digital Marketing Trend #6:
Diversify Your Marketing Channels

In 2021, put your marketing dollars in multiple channels. Think about those in the top and bottom of your marketing funnel because different types of marketing through different channels will speak to buyers at the right times. It takes multiple channels and touchpoints to convert a customer. Diversifying where your at has many benefits and as we learned in 2020, it could save your business. 

In 2020 Facebook’s AI started randomly shutting down business ad accounts in the 4th quarter. Some ads accounts were down for weeks when the business didn’t do anything wrong. For businesses that were using only that marketing one channel and got cut off, there was a significant negative impact. Also, consider algorithm updates when it comes to SEO. Again, if you’re only doing one type of marketing and there’s an issue or change, it limits your effectiveness at reaching your audience and will directly affect sales. When multiple marketing channels are working for your business a sudden change will have less impact.

Digital Marketing Opportunities & Challenges Throughout 2021 & Beyond

There will always be lots to pay attention to in the digital marketing world. It’s constantly evolving and to be successful, marketers have to look for changes and adjust. Being aware of digital marketing industry alerts will keep you informed and moving forward. We’ve covered 6 key digital marketing trends to be aware of in 2021. But overall, evaluate what’s working for your individual business. If you’re not seeing the results you desire, it’s time to make changes. You may want to schedule a 30-minute marketing strategy call if you need help. Cheers to a new year and continued digital marketing evolution!

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