A new year doesn’t have to bring change to an entire business. Carpenters are unlikely to wake up on New Year's Day to the news that working with mahogany has been outlawed. Parking enforcement officers will still patrol the streets dispensing grief in the shape of tickets – the likelihood of them being told to pardon all silver cars for the duration of 2015 is slim. For those working in Digital Marketing however, a new year means new algorithms, new technology and unavoidable change.
While algorithms and expectations are not updated purely due to the passing of time, the start of a new year still causes some nervousness once any lingering festivity has drifted away. In an effort to ease this latest annual transition, we have rounded up experts from the fields of SEO, PPC and Content Marketing and asked them what they think 2015 has in store.
Andrew Akesson - Our very own Head of Digital here at Venn Digital. Head over to @andrewakesson to discuss the latest news in SEO or golf.
Can you see Google creating any other major algorithms (of the same size and scope as Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird) in 2015?
I am not so sure about an entirely new disruptive algorithm although anything is possible. What I think is more likely to happen is that you see Google tweaking existing algorithms. For instance, Penguin is not working at all. It is creating a ton of confusion and this latest “update” was quite pathetic. Now John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, is saying if you have a large disavow list it can take over 6 months for Google to even process it. This is not what I expect out of Google and they should and I assume will, fix this.
I do not see Google releasing any SPAM algorithms that rock the boat in 2015. They've shaken online commerce up so much with Penguin and Panda I think users and businesses would really start looking at other search options if things got any crazier. I also think Google did a great job of cleaning up the SERPs and short of favouring brands in the SERPs, I think people are generally happy.
It's entirely possible, yes. As Social continues to grow and develop, it certainly has the potential to be the target of more focused, specific algorithms and spam filters. It's also possible that we could see algorithms change to have more reliance on user signals and using more structured data. Aside from that, we wouldn't be shocked to see further decline in keyword referrals - though perhaps balanced with improved keyword data in Webmaster Tools.
I can’t see Google creating any new algorithm’s over 2015, simply because I don’t think they know how to get Penguin working successfully yet.
It would be good if Google could utilise social signals more within their algorithm. In this day and age people are far more likely to retweet something than they are to link to page via their own domain. This obviously gives a link more value as they probably aren’t as widely created since the rise of social media and the onset of Penguin (just a hypothesis). Social Media has brought the web closer together and brands without a blog can have nearly as much of a voice as those who do. A well-timed, relevant tweet can end up getting retweeted thousands of times, providing immeasurable exposure. Can retweets provide the measure of a brand alone? No, but I doubt they would hinder the algorithm either.
Where do you see mobile search going next year?
I think mobile search will continue to grow at a steady rate. As a content marketer you can no longer ignore how your content looks on mobile. The entire process must be mobile friendly. Try using social share widgets on a mobile phone…they usually fail hard. These are the types of things I think will no longer be “nice to have” and will become must haves.
Well it is obvious mobile is a high priority for Google. The fact that Google added mobile UX to Google Webmaster Tools, added a testing tool for mobile sites and placed the new "mobile friendly" label in the SERPs is proof Google favours mobile intensely.
With mobile sites and mobile navigation becoming more and more widespread, there won't be much of a distinction between mobile and desktop. It is already common to see higher resolutions on tablets than laptops. There might be further revolution in the way the screens and mobiles are used. It might be that your mobile will become your main and only device, as you have no need for traditional laptops.
Google have made a lot of progress with mobile search recently, and the ‘Mobile-friendly’ tag that they recently introduced makes me think there is a lot more to come. I would love to see Google’s mobile results showing ‘Mobile friendly’ tags on the first two pages of a query. Who wants to visit a website that isn’t ‘mobile friendly’ when browsing Google on your phone? This would push those that still only show desktop versions of their site to think of their users and make their sites responsive, or risk missing out on an insurmountable amount of long tail traffic.
What can Bing do in 2015 to try and take some of the market share from Google?
Nothing, they’ve already lost…but in the spirit of actually answering the question I will say if I were Bing I would invest heavily in voice search. I would become so good at it that people would see it as a must install on their phone. For example, Siri sucks right now and Bing/Microsoft have a small window to slip in, be much better and take market share. This would be a way for them to win mobile search share and cultivate a younger generation of searchers.
If I had the answer to that question Bing would probably give me a $10m sign on bonus. I really don't know. It is hard to get people to use a search engine that is not "cool." No one wants to use Bing because it isn't cool. Specifically, the biggest thing they can try and do is create partnerships. For instance a partnership with Mozilla could ensure that they are the default browser on new installs.
Bing seem content to follow Google's lead. That said, should they want to improve market share then they could potentially focus on niches and offer more structured data.
Bing really do need to up their game if they are going to even start thinking about moving away from Google’s shadow. I would love to see them redesign their SERPs so they look nothing like Google’s. At the moment you could be on Google or Bing, take the branding away, don’t look at the url and I’m not sure the general public would know which search engine they are using. Why can’t Bing look to create a completely new UX? This may not bring them the market share they desire but it would at least enable users to remember them if they enjoyed the experience of using Bing.
Lawrence Jones - Paid Search Executive at Venn Digital. Follow him @HomeOfJones for discussion of…just about anything really.
Can you see the likes of Bing, Facebook, Twitter or even Amazon (with its new PPC software due to be launched before the end of the year) surpassing Google as the number 1 PPC platform in 2015?
I can definitely see Facebook Atlas making a big dent in the display ads market. Facebook users spend a ton of time logged in to their accounts and Atlas enables advertisers to track user behaviour across desktop and mobile far more accurately than they can in the Google Display Network. For the foreseeable future, Facebook has a huge edge in the remarketing arena and this will result in massive revenue growth. They won't surpass Google, but we're definitely going to see Facebook outpace them in growth and steal some of Google's market share.
Amazon is one to keep an eye on as well. The data they have access to on consumer purchases is incredibly powerful. They really should create an ad network with targeting options based on purchase history. Imagine the potential for advertisers! Facebook has all of this social data, but Amazon knows high commercial intent consumer behaviour like no one else.
Nobody is going to pass Google in 2015. Google is too big to overcome so quickly. However, Facebook has potential to make serious inroads through their new Atlas platform. The ability to focus on a single user across multiple devices (and track it accurately) will be very compelling.
While I do think Google will be unseated at some point in the near future, I don’t think it will happen in 2015. That said, if you add up the expenditures on Bing, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and LinkedIn, I’d bet that the total exceeds the spend on Google in 2015. That wasn’t the case even a year or two ago. Bing and the social PPC engines are catching up to Google and have some features that Google doesn’t, so more and more advertisers will be utilising them in 2015.
Even with the advances that each of these companies are making, they are still light-years away from the same level of profit and users that Google currently have. The only direct challenger that I can see coming anywhere close is Bing! However the likes of Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook aren’t too far behind and come the end of 2015 could pull ahead due to new software and ‘Facebook at Work’ being released.
Users are using their mobile devices more and more instead of their computers each year, with this in mind do you think advertisers will start to prioritise mobile over computer in 2015?
I think most advertisers have come to terms with the need to prioritise mobile already, but very few are maximising the opportunity. It's not enough to just show up on mobile and use the same old desktop strategy you're used to. There are fewer ad spots available on mobile SERPs, meaning consumers might see just one or two ads in the top spots, as opposed to the ten or more you'll see above the fold on a desktop search result. The lower ad positions see far fewer clicks than the lower positions on desktop, so position is even more important with mobile. In addition, we've been seeing the average CPC on mobile grow steadily as it's become more and more popular with advertisers.
Advertisers need to learn to use mobile bid adjustments, speak directly to their audience with mobile-preferred ads and take advantage of smart click-to-call strategy, at the very least.
I already know many advertisers prioritizing mobile over desktop/laptop/tablet simply because a phone call is the #1 priority. Those types of businesses will continue that migration. Everyone else will continue to focus on mobile more, but the real focus needs to be on reaching the right people, with the right message, at the right time, whatever the device.
I think many advertisers will indeed prioritise mobile over desktop. As many as half of total searches take place on a mobile device, and for many transactions, the mobile search leads to a sale. When you think about actions users perform on mobile, such as location searches and direct click-to-call, you can see why mobile is going to be crucially important for many advertisers next year.
We’re in an age where we are on smartphones for over thirty hours a month. PPC Managers know this and are setting their sights accordingly. Depending on your strategy/campaign you may only see mobile targeting as a smaller issue but if you sleep on mobile ads then you’re losing valuable conversions. Some advertisers may be looking for those all-important calls, making click-to-call features particularly useful, but not everyone will be focused on this. Users spend most of their day either at work or at home on their computers and this will continue to be the leading targeting option for many PPC managers. For these reasons I can’t see mobile passing computer in terms of prioritising.
Recently there has been a growth within Google, Twitter, Facebook etc. with regards to retargeting. How do you think this will affect the users, positively or negatively?
The big remarketing ad networks have done a pretty good job of testing and releasing features users seem to tolerate best. It's funny, we hear a lot of grumbling about privacy and remarketing, yet at the end of the day, consumers just want to see ads that are most relevant to them. That requires the tracking of their activity and smart advertiser strategy to get the right ads in front of those consumers. People don't seem to find remarketing as annoying when it's helpful and relevant; when it helps them solve the problem for which they were seeking a solution.
Understanding the behaviour of a person who visited your website is a powerful thing. For example, a person who visited your homepage and left after a brief visit probably isn't open to the same advertising as a person who spent 20 minutes browsing your online catalogue, or had items in their shopping cart and bounced. Understanding the intent of these various types of visitors enables advertisers to craft ads that appeal to their unique needs.
Retargeting is a double-edged sword. On one hand it allows you to stay in front of someone that you know has expressed an interest (and often at a lower CPC) until they convert. On the other hand, we're potentially training people to come to the site, put something in the cart, and then abandon until they see a retargeted ad with a deal on it. You're going to see more budget go into these efforts in 2015, but advertisers need to use caution or they'll instil bad habits in their customers.
If done well, retargeting is useful for both the advertiser and the end user. It serves to remind the user to come back and purchase, and it acts as a pseudo-nurture campaign for products and services with longer sales cycles. That said, I don’t think anyone wants to be pestered by remarketing ads from the same company on every platform they use. Advertisers will need to be very careful about how they structure their remarketing campaigns in order to avoid burnout.
I think Retargeting is in limbo. It can be a positive experience for users because it makes the return to the transaction process easy, but being hounded by ads from a site you once visited can be a very negative experience. Some users may be tempted to come back but others will have an obvious reason as to why they decided to leave their purchase or enquiry in the first place. Targeting the wrong people can potentially lead to backlash in the form of a bad review or lost custom for good.
Enna Bartlett - Content Marketing & Digital PR Strategist for Venn Digital. You can find her on Twitter at @EnnaVennDigi.
Do you think that brands realise the power of content and that quality is now more important than quantity? If you are finding that people don’t appreciate this, what do you think 2015 has in store for them?
I do think the time is coming when a lot of companies will stop and say, "We've invested a lot in content but we're not getting much from it." In technology adoption, Gartner calls this the Trough of Disillusionment. I think it applies to the content marketing juggernaut, too.
In 2015 (or maybe 2016), the brands that are not practicing content marketing strategically – or aren't measuring everything they do – will start to question the entire idea of content marketing. But the Gartner model is apt here again: after the Trough, comes the Slope of Enlightenment, when companies start to use content marketing well and see the real benefits.
I think most people are starting to come round to the idea. Of course you still get the odd few who haven’t cottoned on yet but Google will sort them out.
Personally I think content, whilst potentially great for website search performance, is all about the user. Obviously this is what Google is trying to do; make the search results more relevant to the users’ query, but I think there is still too much generic, ‘samey’ content that is out there just for Google. It’s getting harder and harder to be original, but really putting in the effort to give a unique insight or something from a different perspective is key for your reader.
Do you think that companies have neglected traditional marketing and PR techniques and do you think these are still important? How could businesses integrate online with offline?
I do think some of the traditional marketing disciplines have been pushed aside for a while – but they're coming back. Good old media planning is being reborn as content distribution. Old school PR is reborn as influencer relations. Even dusty old advertising is coming back - but this time we're advertising content not just products. The core marketing dimensions – empathy, confidence, authenticity – never went away.
To some extent they have. In the rush to become one of the ‘digital companies’, businesses have spent more time and money to ensure they have a good online presence. Part of the reason for this is that it’s often cheaper to advertise and market online rather than in the physical world, so focusing on online marketing is the sensible thing to do, especially for smaller businesses. However, there are still plenty of offline activities that companies can engage in with relatively little expenditure; networking, exhibitions and talks are all great ways to get your name out there and keep an eye on developments in your industry.
Which channels for marketing do you think will dominate in 2015?
Email will remain dominant even as it's ignored or labelled unsexy by lots of companies. Mobile will of course continue to grow - so much so that we won't call it a channel any more. But above all, 2015 will be the year Personalisation hits the tipping point. (Not a channel, I know, but I thought I’d sneak it in).
Social media and blogs will still be important factors in 2015, these work so well because they are more personal. Many companies strive to remain ‘professional’ at the expense of being approachable and this is where these channels come in. Apple and John Lewis have done so well as they engage directly with their customers on a human level. So many people comment that they like companies who have a real person that you can speak to, across all the roles that they may engage with (shop assistant, complaints team, management etc.). We seem to be forgetting the human touch, 2015 is the time to bring it back.