At one time, artificial intelligence, data-driven marketing and voice search engine optimization (VSEO) were ambitious concepts bordering on the ridiculous. Today, these innovative digital marketing trends are among the top priorities for most business owners in 2021.
And why wouldn’t they be? After all, if your business has any intention of remaining competitive in today’s online landscape, you must adapt to the rapidly evolving changes in digital marketing. As Brian Solis puts it:
“Each business is a victim of Digital Darwinism, the evolution of consumer behavior when society and technology evolve faster than the ability to exploit it. Digital Darwinism does not discriminate. Every business is threatened.”
Make no mistake: We live in a time when technology marketing moves fast and consumer interests and behaviors are hard to predict. Marketers can no longer stick their heads in the sand and hope that educated guesses and the same old methods will work forever.
Read on to discover 42 digital marketing trends for 2021 that will help your business not just survive, but thrive in this age of innovation.
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If you haven’t already realized it, 2020 may be the year that a lot of people wake up to the dominance of artificial intelligence (AI). It’s sure to be at the heart of global business and industry in the future – and it’s already taking over many simple jobs.
For example, Microsoft and Uber use Knightscope K5 robots to “patrol parking lots and large outdoor areas to predict and prevent crime. The robots can read license plates, report suspicious activity, and collect data to report to their owners.” You can rent these R2-D2-like robots for $7 an hour – which is less expensive than a human security guard’s wage:
Just a couple years ago, Gartner analysts predicted that by 2020, AI technologies would be pervasive in almost every new software product and service – a prediction that Harvard Business Review seconded earlier in 2019.
According to Techgrabyte:
“Artificial intelligence is the biggest commercial opportunity for companies, industries, and nations over the next few decades” and “will increase global GDP by up to 14% between now and 2030,” which means that “AI latecomers will find themselves at a serious competitive disadvantage within the next several years.”
Here are the top reasons why organizations are adopting AI in their business:
AI can analyze consumer behavior and search patterns, and use data from social media platforms and blog posts to help businesses understand how customers find their products and services.
One exciting example of AI in practice is chatbots (more on that later). Mastercard created a Facebook messenger bot – which uses natural language processing software to decipher what the customer wants and respond as if it were a real person – to automate handling payments:
Artificial intelligence will soon be the driving force behind many services and, currently, we already see it implemented in such areas as:
Businesses adopting AI in 2021 will be able to cut staffing costs and accelerate growth, getting an edge over their competitors.
Programmatic advertising means using AI to automate ad buying so you can target more specific audiences. Real-time bidding, for example, is a type of programmatic ad buying. This automation is much more efficient and fast, which means higher conversions and lower customer acquisition costs.
It’s changing the face of digital advertising so swiftly that, according to eMarketer, 86.2% of digital display ads in the U.S. will be programmatic by 2020.
According to Irina Kovalenko of SmartyAds:
“Most search-driven manual advertising campaigns (even those performed with professional tools) take into account three or four targets: the keyword, time of day, and location. Such tools like programmatic demand-side platforms can use hundreds of targeting signals to individualize the advertisement and even target according to lifestyle or behavior habits when integrated with customer data platforms.”
Here’s a quick look at how programmatic advertising works:
To learn how to capitalize on this digital marketing trend, check out PPC Hero’s guide to get started.
Dive Deeper: 5 Trends that Will Define the New Vision of Marketing Automation
Chatbots will continue to be an important part of digital marketing in 2021. This AI-based technology uses instant messaging to chat in real-time, day or night, with your customers or site visitors.
Surveys show that:
Many customers prefer interacting with chatbots as they are responsive 24/7, give answers promptly, accurately recall your entire buying history, and never lose patience. These virtual assistants offer outstanding customer service by meeting customers’ expectations and automating repetitive tasks – which means that you can focus on more important work.
Many brands already use chatbot technology, including rideshare brand Lyft. You can request a ride from Lyft via chat (Facebook Messenger and Slack) or voice (Amazon Echo), and their chatbot will let you know the current location of your driver:
Passengers can use the app to choose the type of ride, make a request, track the location of the car, send friends a time estimate of their arrival, and make payment.
Other brands that are successfully using chatbot technology include Whole Foods Market, Fandango, Sephora, Staples, The Wall Street Journal and Pizza Hut.
With all that talk about chatbots, the reality of modern marketing becomes clear: it’s more conversational. People want it that way, and so brands are reacting. When consumers have a question, 82% want an “immediate” response.
Conversational marketing facilitates a one-to-one, real-time connection between marketers and customers:
Unlike traditional strategies, this form of marketing is now available across multiple channels, allowing brands to meet customers on their terms: on the devices, platforms and time schedules that suit the customer best.
As per David Cancel, founder and CEO of Drift:
“Today’s buyers expect to find what they’re looking for now, not later. As we prepare for the future, it will be more important than ever for businesses to be available across a broad spectrum of channels, and to make sure you’re communicating the way people prefer to communicate.”
Ultimately, the primary goal of conversational marketing is to enhance the user experience through a feedback-driven model that fosters higher engagement and greater loyalty.
If you want to stand out in 2021, you need to personalize your marketing – and that means personalized content, products, emails and more.
Consider these personalization stats:
Kevin George from EmailMonksasserts that “personalized, triggered emails based on behavior are 3x better than batch-and-blast emails.”
When you want to study examples of the power of personalization, it’s hard to overlook Netflix and Amazon, with their tailored recommended products or movie titles. Here are a few other companies that are successfully using personalization today:
Video marketing is one of, if not the, most important marketing trend today and likely for the next 5-10 years. These numbers show the importance of incorporating video into your digital marketing strategy in 2021:
Video is by far the most popular way customers want to learn about new products:
And don’t just think YouTube. There are plenty of ways to drive higher engagement with your video marketing, as you can make a video post or start a live broadcast on Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn.
One of the issues that marketers have faced in recent years is the growing shift to mobile devices. Those long-form sales pages and emails of yesteryear are fading fast because they’re simply too difficult to read on small mobile screens. However, video can present the same information in a format that works perfectly regardless of the device.
If your site includes video, it’s 50X more likely (50 times!) to drive organic search results compared to text. Why? Because people find video content more compelling, so Google pushes pages that include videos higher in the rankings.
One of the best things about video marketing is that it makes it easy to reformat your content. Imagine that you’ve recorded a video for your YouTube channel. Instead of just publishing it on YouTube, you could also:
Here are some other video marketing trends that are gaining more and more traction:
Influencer marketing is a type of word-of-mouth marketing that focuses on using key leaders to amplify your brand message to a larger market. Influencers can be well-known celebrities, but more often they are Instagram or YouTube personalities with a huge niche following who can help spread the word about your business or product through their social channels.
Because influencer marketing is generally more authentic than corporate advertising:
For this reason, Iceland, a popular British supermarket chain, switched from ads with celebrities to a campaign that features real-life moms. Teaming up with YouTube community Channel Mum, it now works with a number of vloggers to promote its products in a more “authentic” fashion. And research shows that 35% of moms trust online videos like the one below more than traditional ads:
Influencer marketing is not just a trend: A mediakix study predicts that the ad spend for influencer marketing could reach $10 billion by next year:
Influencer marketing is also going to be affected by artificial intelligence. With each year, AI is making the process of finding the right influencers to partner with easier and faster. It’s helping identify those with better engagement, fewer fake followers, and a higher chance of generating a positive return on investment (ROI). In addition, artificial intelligence is transforming influencer marketing in the following ways:
If you think social messaging apps are just for sending emojis to your friends, take a look at these numbers:
These statistics show the popularity of social messaging apps, and since people are spending more time messaging each other, it makes sense to market your company’s products and services where your potential customers are hanging out.
Social messaging apps can be very useful in sending messages to customers directly, as they allow personalization and add value to the user experience. In addition, people expect businesses to have a presence on messaging apps because it’s a direct and easy way to interact with them. In fact:63% of customers are more likely to return to a company website that has live chat.CLICK TO TWEET
Reasons for your brand to use messaging apps include:
Visual search can take the user experience to a totally new level: People can upload an image to conduct a search and get more specific results.
A) Pinterest Lens
Not surprisingly, Pinterest has jumped on the visual search bandwagon. They came out with Lens, a visual search tool that allows users to take a photo of an item to find out where to buy it online, search for similar products or view pinboards of related items.
As Marketing Land puts it, it turns your phone’s camera into a search bar:
Since the launch of the beta version, Pinterest’s Lens now recognizes 2.5 billion home and fashion objects, has inspired over 600 million searches on Pinterest’s mobile apps and browser extensions, and has seen a 140% uptick from launch day.
Pinterest has continued to update its functionality:
Make sure you are optimizing for visual search, because (not surprisingly) the top search categories for Lens are:
B) Google Lens
And Pinterest is not the only one with visual search. Google Lens is a visual search engine by Google, which recognizes objects and landmarks through a camera app. Here’s what you can do when you take a photo of the following items:
As CNet says, “Google Lens is turning into what Google Glass never was” when it comes to real-time augmented reality.
CamFind is another visual search mobile app which enables you to search for anything from your phone simply by snapping a picture.
Instead of typing queries into a search engine, you can directly search via images to find similar images, price comparisons, local shopping results, etc. You can also take a picture of a movie poster and CamFind will show you movie information, trailers, showtimes and local theaters.Video Player00:0000:09
D) Bing Visual Search
And with Bing Visual Search, you can search for a specific element within an image without having to go through all the current hoops.
For example, say you’re looking for kitchen decoration inspiration and an image attracts your attention. You click on a thumbnail result to get to the “Detail View.” The overall décor is great, but you’re particularly interested in that nice-looking chandelier. Wouldn’t you love to know where you can get one just like it? With Bing Visual Search, now you can.
As per Social Media Today:
Marketers can get the edge on competitors by jumping on the visual search trend in 2021 to draw customers and serve them the perfect product.
A micro-moment is “An intent-rich moment when a person turns to a device to act on a need – to know, go, do or buy.”
People generally make instant decisions within these four Micro-Moments:
To take advantage of micro-moments in 2021, you need to be where consumers are searching for information in the moment – or, as Google puts it, marketers have to “be there, be useful, be quick.”
The growing popularity of micro-moments means that marketers must rethink the linear marketing funnel that follows a set path: awareness, consideration and decision.
In 2021 and beyond, the customer journey will be more dynamic and unpredictable, as it needs to respond to rapid changes in consumer desires. After all, in the mobile age, people have become accustomed to instant gratification. If they think or talk about something, they want to learn more, see more and buy more of it with just a few clicks of a button.
According to Mention:
“When we act on our needs in the moment, our expectations are high and our patience is low. This makes the quality, relevance and usefulness of marketing more important than ever.”
To get the most out of micro-moments in 2021, you should:
The increasing use of voice search has made it important for companies to rethink their digital marketing strategies in 2021. Consider these numbers:
Overall, people expect to be using voice search far more in the future:
Voice search plays an important role in providing all the relevant information that people are searching for through audio content. AI is getting smarter and the number of errors made by voice assistants like Alexa, Siri and Google has reduced greatly.
As Digital Marketing Institute puts it:
“Adopting a voice search strategy isn’t just about remaining relevant – it’s also about creating a unique and optimized customer experience that will foster relationships and build brand loyalty.”
Many brands are already including voice search in their digital marketing strategies to deliver value-based content effectively to their customers:
Google Assistant has 2,000 “actions” and Alexa has 30,000 “skills,” which are functions that allow these voice assistants to react very specifically to user commands and queries:
And keep in mind that not only will more companies produce audio content in the hopes of gaining brand awareness (so you should, too), but ads are likely on their way next. That means that Alexa will tell you the answer to your question along with a “word from her sponsor.”
For all voice technology, remember to write in a conversational tone, focus on getting featured snippets on Google, and think about keywords that people will speak rather than type.
Optimizing for voice search is a great way to spread brand awareness, but how is that going to convert into sales? Well, in 2021, we’ll see more businesses try to tap into this potential, experimenting with new ideas to use smart speakers as a lucrative channel for driving sales.
Right now, Jetson is an early runner in the voice commerce space, allowing people to use their voice-enabled devices to make purchases:
The key for companies to realize is that voice search isn’t another channel to force messaging and sales. Instead, marketers must develop a unique approach to consumer interaction, and this channel should be part of a broader, more connected brand experience.
First, Snapchat came out with the concept of “My Story,” then Instagram and Facebook stories were introduced, and then YouTube unveiled their own story format: Reels.
To keep it all straight, here’s a social media stories timeline:
Since these types of stories disappear after a set period of time, this is a great opportunity for marketers to make good use of FOMO (fear of missing out).
The benefits of using social media stories include:
Get inspired by some of these ways to use social media stories:
Push notifications are on the rise, with 85% of online stores using them in 2019. Consider these other stats:
The updates to the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) and stricter filters have dented the potency of email marketing. Moreover, the younger audience favors other methods of communication and prefers to deal with less touchpoints when engaging brands.
As part of the bid to engage users on multiple channels, browser push notifications are something you will see more and more brands adopting in 2021 – and they are getting more sophisticated and personalized. In fact, using personalized push notifications increases conversions:
Notifications triggered by behavior are being used to re-engage people who have shown interest but failed to convert, and in recovering revenue from abandoned shopping carts:
Notifications can even include images and CTAs to maximize conversion rates from such efforts:
In November 2019, Google rolled out some major updates to its search algorithm. The updates included the new BERT system, which is designed to aid Google in its efforts to understand the natural language that people use in their search queries.
The advice from Google’s John Mueller is that “rather than chase the latest SEO trends, it’s more important to ensure a site has fast speeds, useful links, and well-written content.”
In fact, content marketing is so important that 88% of B2B content marketers agree that creating content makes their audience view their organization as a credible and trusted resource:
Stats from Content Marketing Institute:
Even amid all the innovation, content marketing remains a reliable, powerful way to attract new customers to your site and build relationships with them in real, quantifiable ways that deliver long-term value for your business.CLICK TO TWEET
With Google continuing to value well-researched, regularly updated articles, many leading businesses will continue to invest heavily in content marketing throughout 2020.
Modern marketing is all about testing and analysis. By using A/B split-testing, you can isolate the variables in your campaign and easily identify which versions are driving the results you need. This form of testing offers marketers a methodical approach to making effective changes to their content.
Platforms like ClickFlow suggest pages with untapped SEO potential — a high-impression count but a low click-through rate (CTR) — which you can then improve to increase traffic, leads and, of course, conversions:
ClickFlow lets you set a target CTR value, then it serves up pages along with a keyword report that lists the keywords that your page is already ranking for now. Better yet, it suggests valuable new keywords that you should target to get more traffic.
Inside the app, you make changes to title, meta description, title tag and body content, which are automatically reflected on your site:
Choose your target CTR:
Run the experiment for at least 15 days and ClickFlow will show you how many more clicks you’re getting — and the additional revenue you’re gaining from the enhancements.
SEO A/B split testing squeezes the most SEO juice out of your site and gives you insight into the variables that move the needle. With this strategy and the right tools, even a small budget can deliver a great ROI.
With e-commerce and social media both growing at alarming rates, it’s no wonder brands are using the two together to maximize opportunities for sales.
In March 2019, Instagram unveiled Instagram Checkout, which lets users complete their purchase from within Instagram:
E-commerce brands hope this will reduce the risk that customers will abandon their purchase because they have to switch apps or sign in to an unknown store.
By now you’ve heard that Instagram is hiding likes, and with all the fuss, you’d think that the photo-sharing app was on the decline. Think again.
Social media is integral to digital marketing, and visual platforms like Instagram are gold for marketers. Better yet, visual commerce is taking off as more consumers are willing to buy products through ads they see in their feeds.
Instagram reports that the platform has 1 billion users, and 90% of them already follow active shopping brands, with many visiting these profiles on a daily basis. So what better way to leverage this massive potential than by using shoppable posts?
E-commerce brands can create and post interactive ads that allow users to click and shop with ease. Instagram believes this will make it easier for businesses to reach prospective new customers, as it will effectively shorten the sales funnel, giving consumers the instant access they desire.
Speaking of instant access, that brings us to one of the fastest-growing digital marketing trends in recent times: interactive content.
In 2021, we’re destined to see a shift from traditional text-based content toward dynamic, engaging content that offers users an immersive experience. For example, think about:
Here’s a good example of a 360 VR video:
And here’s an example of our Marketing Impact Calculator to help you calculate how much more money you’ll make with marketing:
If you need convincing, consider that 91% of buyers are actively searching for more interactive content. People like it not just because it’s fresh and original, but because it makes them feel more connected to brands and more involved in the buying process.
Interactive content is more engaging, more memorable and more likely to generate the results your business needs.
Learn More: 7 Types of Interactive Content – Why & How to Use Them
Omnichannel marketing was one of the buzzwords of 2019. While the phrase may now seem a little worn out, the strategy is as ripe and relevant as ever in 2021.
Omnichannel marketing is the process of marketing across multiple platforms (such as social media, apps, email and blog) so you can connect with prospects on more touchpoints. When you do omnichannel marketing right, you can offer an enhanced user experience and cohesive brand message that drives people to action.
To stay ahead, brands must present a seamless, consistent voice and message across all available mediums, including physical storefronts, social media channels, online, in catalogs and anywhere else you can imagine. All channels should be linked in one all-encompassing strategy for the best results.
Stats show that brands using three or more channels in an automation workflow can generate great results:
With ever-more sophisticated SaaS companies providing the tools to manage multiple channels more efficiently, it’s becoming easier to manage an omnichannel strategy, although it can be a challenge.
Users demand personalization and want to be able to browse a physical store, view products on social media, and purchase online. And if you’re not keeping up with their demands, someone else will get that business.
This is another area where AI and big data are playing a role by helping brands understand consumer behavior better and personalize at an individual level at scale. Getting inside the head of your ideal customer’s buying journey is key to actioning an effective omnichannel approach.
Gartner predicts that by 2022, 70% of enterprises will be experimenting with immersive technologies, and 25% will have deployed to production.
While virtual reality (VR) makes a lot of noise and gets everyone excited with grand sci-fi ideas, AR is much more implementable from a marketing standpoint. Experts predict that AR will continue to outpace VR in terms of market share:
Brands are increasingly using this technology to enhance the consumer experience and increase sales.
ModiFace, which has recently been acquired by L’Oreal, produces AR applications for brands. Sephora Virtual Artist, an impressive example of ModiFace’s technology, allows you to see how the different colors of various forms of make-up will look on your face, without having to go to a store and physically apply it:
And IKEA has their own AR app called IKEA Place which allows you to take a picture of a room in your home with your smartphone camera (with just iOS 11.0.1 for now) in order to “test drive” IKEA’s furniture in it. You can move the furniture around and check out how it looks from different angles:
With AR improving rapidly, we will see a huge uptake in brands finding useful applications for the technology in the future.
Predictive analytics is the practice of using data mining, predictive modeling and machine learning to identify patterns and attempt to predict the future. It is becoming more and more sophisticated and widespread in many industries.
In terms of digital marketing trends, we will see a lot more of this, as it is being used in advanced lead scoring, as well as for segmentation and individual personalization, which helps marketers reduce churn and improve customer loyalty.
One such example is Amazon Assistant, a Chrome extension from the retail giant that allows users to permit product recommendations from Amazon to extend beyond the website to make personalized offers while they are browsing elsewhere on the web:
Augmented Analytics, on the other hand, uses machine learning and Natural Language Processing (NLP) to automate data preparation and enable data sharing.
As Bonnie D. Graham, host of the Game-Changers Business podcast, says:
“Where predictive analytics uses machine learning to predict what will happen, augmented analytics uses machine intelligence to boost human intelligence with the why, so we can work faster and smarter on ever-larger datasets.”
Gartner predicts by 2020 over 40% of data science tasks will be automated, which means that insight into the enormous amounts of big data that businesses are collecting will allow for better and more personalized decision-making and thus increased productivity.
While the idea of marketing to people based on their location is nothing new, we do expect an increase in the use of geo-fencing – this market is set to grow to $2.4 billion by 2023 – along with the rise of mobile use:
Geo-fencing allows real-time targeting based on a user’s location. A target area is defined as, say, within a mile of a restaurant, and when a user enters or leaves this area, they receive a push notification, text message or another form of marketing communication.
Research shows that of people who open a push notification, 54% of users convert from segmented push compared to only 15% for broadcast messages. And 52% of users enable push messaging on their apps.
76, an American gas company, used Waze to mark their gas stations on a map throughout California. As drivers approached, a logo would pop up on their map showing them where to stop for gas and offering entry to a competition if they filled up. Their “Tank 5” campaign resulted in a 6.5% navigation rate to fuel stations:
For industries that need to convert digital users into brick-and-mortar customers, geo-fencing is going to become more and more important in their marketing strategy.
Progressive Web Apps are essentially websites that work like mobile apps. They offer the functionality of a native mobile app – fast load times, push notifications, working offline, utilizing device hardware, etc. – without being limited to one platform (which in reality means Android or iOS).
This allows development teams to create web apps for any device that works just like a mobile app.
By 2020, the number of smartphone users is expected to reach 2.87 billion. With total page views on mobile increasing year-over-year by almost 50% worldwide, mobile is more crucial than ever to your digital strategy:
PWAs are going to become ever-more prevalent as the mobile revolution continues at pace.
User-generated content (UGC) is a potent resource for marketers who want to tap into the Millennial and Gen Z markets. You can encourage your audience to share unique content by offering them an incentive, such as a discount, or even partnering with them for a good cause.
Aerie, a women’s clothing company, “made a pledge to stop retouching photos of models in its bathing suits. And for every Instagram user that posted an unedited photo of themselves in a bathing suit (using the hashtag #AerieReal, of course), Aerie now donates $1 to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).”
This simple UGC strategy can quickly increase brand engagement and drive conversion rates as more people discover your brand, and its products and services.
People trust others like themselves far more than they trust companies. In fact, one survey found that 90% of shoppers reported that UGC influenced their decision to purchase more than any other form of advertising, with a whopping 97% of 18-29 year olds saying that it had an “extreme influence.”
UGC can be as basic as blog comments and testimonials or it can take the form of blog posts, images and videos created by users. GoPro’s entire YouTube channel is dedicated to UGC, showing high-quality videos produced by its customers using its hardy, portable cameras. The channel is currently pushing 8 million subscribers.
Recently, GoPro created a UGC contest with the hashtag #MillionDollarChallenge in which their customers created and shared videos – and 25,000 people entered!
Dive Deeper: 8 Ways to Encourage More User-Generated Content (UGC)
As defined by Blockgeeks:
“A blockchain is, in the simplest of terms, a time-stamped series of immutable data records that is managed by a cluster of computers not owned by any single entity. Each of these blocks of data (i.e. block) is secured and bound to each other using cryptographic principles (i.e. chain).”
The uses of blockchain are far more wide-reaching than just the financial world, however; this technology is also making waves in the digital marketing world. Blockchain eliminates the digital marketing intermediary, builds trust by means of transparency, drives public accountability and offers benefits for branding.
But in 2021 and beyond, we’ll see these trends in blockchain:
Quantum computing is a new technology based on a quantum physics theory, which asserts that subatomic particles exist in more than one state simultaneously.
As per ITSPmagazine:
“Traditional computers store data in bits, which can exist in one of two states: one or zero. Quantum computers, however, use a new unit of measurement, a single atom known as a qubit (literally ‘quantum bit’), which greatly increases the computational power of a system.”
Another way to visualize quantum computing is to imagine a huge library:
“While a classic computer would read every book in a library in a linear fashion, a quantum computer would read all the books simultaneously. Quantum computers are able to theoretically work on millions of computations at once.”
So, how can marketers use quantum computing? Here’s what we can expect:
In 2021, the world’s big data industry will continue to grow exponentially, which is great news for marketers – if you know how to harness the power of big data. A huge part of this task comes down to the tools you use, which is something that a lot of companies find challenging.
Forbes report that 78% of organizations either already have or are developing a customer data platform to help manage, analyze and leverage their data. It comes as no surprise that data experts top the priority list for many enterprises, with 41% of company owners saying it’s now their most desired skill to hire.
With the benefits of big data comes the need for companies to leverage this data better to “significantly simplify tasks that formerly could only be completed by data scientists.” More importantly, “This continued democratization will lead to new use cases that are closer to the needs of business users and will enable faster time-to-market for AI applications in the enterprise.”
One caveat is that as big data grows even more powerful, the demands on how companies should manage consumer data becomes increasingly precarious. The GDPR changes lit the touchpaper for a global revolution on data privacy, with California set to roll out the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) on January 1, 2020.
As such, big data is a double-edged sword, but one that many digital marketers will find hard to resist in the very near future.
Gartner projects that 30% of businesses will incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) in their sales processes in 2021. In fairness, we should expect more, especially when you consider the amazing benefits of AI and automation for sales and marketing:
For example, you can use artificial intelligence and automation to:
But don’t just take our word for it. As Neil Patel says:
“Marketing will become a more even playing field and you’ll have no choice but to use automation.”
With intense competition on social media slowly suffocating organic reach, paid advertising will become a more trusted force in 2021. And when you consider the Smart Bidding feature on Google Ads, you’d be a fool not to give it a try.
Google explains that with Smart Bidding:
“Machine learning algorithms train on data at a vast scale to help you make more accurate predictions across your account about how different bid amounts might impact conversions or conversion value.”
In other words, advertisers can hand the reins of their pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns to Google’s AI system, which will then optimize their budget to maximize their ROI. This works for any number of PPC goals, including:
Smart bidding allows you to use many different signals for your bid optimization, including:
Some of these signals are available as manual bid adjustments, but other signals (and combinations of signals) are only available via Smart Bidding:
The bottom line is that with Smart Bidding running the show, marketers will have more free time to focus on strategy, copywriting, and analytics.
For the past couple of years, voice search has been causing waves, changing the way search engine optimization works. Most notable is the rise of the featured snippet, which appears in the highly coveted “position zero” in Google’s search engine results pages, like in this example:
In 2021, at least 30% of all Internet searches will be conducted without a screen, and since 40.7% of all voice search answers come from a featured snippet, if your marketing is strong enough, you could be the one hitting that coveted spot.
Also known as rank zero snippet or position zero, this is the holy grail of modern-day SEO, as it directly answers user search queries without any need for the user to click a link. VSEO (voice search engine optimization) can give you an enormous competitive advantage (of course, this is only good news for one brand…).
This trend is growing, with 62.5% of mobile searches and 34.4% of desktop searches now resulting in “zero-click search” results. And according to Ahrefs, these are the most common words in search queries with featured snippets:
Because of this, more marketers will invest their resources in On-SERP SEO, whichis the practice of optimizing web pages with the goal of claiming as much space in Google SERPs as possible. This boosts your click-through rate (CTR), driving more organic traffic to your site and increases the likelihood of claiming the top spot.
We live in a time when consumers are spoiled for choice. It doesn’t matter what niche you’re in – it’s unlikely that you operate in a vacuum. 66% of consumers say that they feel connected to a brand whenever they trust it, and to earn their trust, you have to establish a solid brand.
The reason branding is so important now is because of Google’s E.A.T. ranking factor, which stands for:
In essence, Google wants to do more than rank good content; they are catering to the user experience by demanding the most accurate, up-to-date, well-researched (i.e. authoritative) content on any given topic, preferably created by true experts in the field.
If Jimmy’s Medical Blog (not a real site) gives some bad advice that leads to a mom poisoning her child with some amateur advice on home remedies, that’s not good for Jimmy’s brand – or Google’s reputation of delivering quality results. So as the new year progresses and SEO evolves, Google may crack down on major industries, particularly in health and finance where accurate information is critical.
Neil Patel advises marketers to focus on building their expertise, pointing out that they can bolster their reputation with guest posts on industry-leading blogs, speaking at conferences, and by applying for awards. Always include an updated author bio at the bottom of all your published content pieces to build brand recognition and earn readers’ trust:
Modern marketing and metrics go hand-in-hand, so if you’re not investing in better analytics, you’ll struggle to drive the results you want to see. The problem, however, is that the customer journey is more complex now. We live in an omnichannel age where the average consumer engages a brand on up to six touchpoints before making a purchase.
With multiple channels to manage and a myriad of ways to market your products and services, the job of analytics tracking is fast becoming a gargantuan mission. As a result, many companies are looking beyond the basics of Google Analytics for a comprehensive business intelligence solution or analytics dashboard like Amplitude:
Another way this trend will play out is by moving towards business intelligence, the “technologies, applications and practices for the collection, integration, analysis and presentation of business information. The purpose of Business Intelligence is to support better business decision making.”
As Neil Patel puts it, a BI options is “A central place where you can tie in all your data and make better-informed decisions so you can optimize for your lifetime value instead of your short-term income.”
There are many business intelligence options, both paid and free, such as Google Data Studio (Google’s reporting solution for power users who want to go beyond the data and dashboards of Google Analytics), Metabase and Tableau:
In a world gone mad for mobile, arguably one of the most significant digital marketing trends of 2021 is the dawn of 5G technology, or fifth generation of mobile technology. This update heralds a new era of digital communications and its impact will be felt across virtually every industry.
Asha Keddy of Intel says:
“5G will enable a fully-mobile and connected society — unleashing human and technological possibility, and fuelling business and financial opportunity.”
As Adage puts it:
“The arrival of 5G may also finally bring millions of rural consumers into the high-speed data lanes where marketers increasingly sell their products. It might even disrupt the digital duopoly of Google and Facebook by arming telecom companies with unprecedented data for ad services.”
T-Mobile points to the benefits 5G speed has for the burgeoning augmented reality industry, noting how it could be instrumental in developing a virtual heads-up display. As this picture below shows, 5G Internet speeds can help cyclists spot danger from all sides:
The European Union has an ambitious 5G action plan that includes uninterrupted 5G coverage for major roads and railways by 2025. What’s more is that the technology is expected to power a staggering one hundredfold increase in the number of connected devices. Of course, this brings up concerns of adverse effects on health and the environment from RF (radio frequency) radiation, the electromagnetic emissions produced by wireless phones, but that is a topic for another article.
All that is to say 5G technology will transform how we access online content, from digital marketers to the average user.
Recently, Forbes reported that British Airways was slapped with a £183M fine for a data breach, and the hotel chain, Marriott, got stung for £99M after failing to protect the personal data of 339 million guests.
The aforementioned CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) in trend #26 above will be the most restrictive state privacy law passed in the U.S. when it comes into effect in 2021. Despite opposition from big players in Silicon Valley like Facebook, the world’s fifth-largest economy is pushing forward with its new consumer privacy act.
It’s clear that the people (but not the companies) of the world are getting serious about privacy, and marketers – who rely on those people – have no choice but to play by the new rules or miss out. One of the new rules is that marketers and brands will have to “‘earn’ the contact information of their targets” rather than engage in mass marketing. As Forbes points out:
“In the United States, marketers have become so lax in their targeting practices that every one of us has to take several minutes a day to delete from our inbox – both professional and personal – the dozens of emails that are not relevant and clearly not welcome.”
People want to know they can trust brands, and that their personal data is safe. Instead of being complacent, digital marketing teams should get strategic to reinforce their commitment to privacy so they can earn the trust of potential customers.
Some of the ways brands can earn consumers’ trust is by:
In the same breath as privacy, we need to mention website security.
When a visitor lands on your site for the first time, they’ll make up their mind about your security within seconds. If they don’t feel safe, they won’t hang around, which leads to increased bounce rates. Over time, a high bounce rate is bad news for your business, as you’ll slide down in the SERPs when Google realizes that people don’t want to stay long on your site.
Tech Republic notes that there have been over 3,800 data breaches within organizations – in 2019 alone! While the hacks at huge companies like Yahoo, Facebook, Equifax and Marriott make the headlines, there are plenty of breaches at smaller firms, too. As a result, just 25% of consumers believe that most companies handle their sensitive personal data responsibly.
In 2021, website security is no longer an option. As of August 2014, Google announced that HTTPS is a ranking signal and flags every site as unsafe unless it has an HTTPS (the “S” stands for “secure”) certification:
From now on, the bare minimum is to enable the HTTPS protocol for your site, which will show your visitors a little green padlock icon in the URL:
In addition, prominently displaying a security seal of trust or trust badge on your website will reassure your site visitors that you take their safety seriously:
Learn More: How Poor Website Security Negatively Impacts SEO Rankings
Never mind our mobile devices and laptops – from smart cars to household appliances to wearable tech, the Internet of Things (IoT) is getting more and more connected:
As per QuanticMind:
“These days, it’s expected that connected devices and technologies will unobtrusively, and sometimes stealthily, collect data on our vital functions, what we do, where we go, what we share, what we believe, what we buy, who we know, how we move and even what we eat.”
Which means, of course, that brands and marketers want to use (or are already using) this data for their own business and advertising purposes. For example:
And as 5G technology matures, more IoT devices will present more on-demand content for consumers and more advertising opportunities for marketers.
In 2021, shorter posts won’t get you anywhere – with Google or your audience. Typically, posts that are at least 3,000 words long attract the most traffic, as they offer readers an in-depth exploration of topics. Long-form content allows content creators to establish themselves as an expert on a subject and gives them more scope for targeting keywords.
A study from Search Engine Journal indicates that long-form content gets 77% more backlinks than short articles, which is critical for driving organic traffic:
According to Small Biz Trends, 56% of bloggers generate a better ROI on their content when they spend over six hours creating a single blog post. That may seem excessive, but when it attracts more traffic, increases on-page time, and boosts your organic search rankings, it’s a great business investment.
These epic posts are sometimes called 10X content or pillar content, which is basically content that provides a complete answer to any question a user may be searching for on a given topic. It’s specifically designed to provide value for the reader, and also to rank highly in the search engines.
The benefits of long-form or pillar content are:
Here’s something you need to keep in mind when you’re creating long-form content: You must write for people, not for Google.
Banging out a 5,000-word post every other day is great, but you won’t see the results you’re hoping for if you don’t keep user intent in mind. Also known as search intent or keyword intent, this is the main goal that a person has when they type or speak a search query. It could be to find a product, information or a store location.
Think about how Google analyzes your content. The search engine doesn’t just evaluate keywords in a search box; it considers the content of a query and drills down to determine the user search intent. In this example below, if someone were searching for a missing cat, Google would use semantic analysis to include concepts like:
This analysis is called semantic search, and with AI and voice search on a meteoric rise, it’s becoming a more central aspect of how search works.
Content marketers can leverage this to their benefit by going beyond their primary keyword to include related terms, questions and phrases in their content. Together, these latent semantic keywords will give Google a much better understanding of the nature of your content, as well as the solutions and benefits it offers to users.
In 2019, the annual Content Marketing Institute B2B report revealed that 90% of the world’s most successful marketers put their audience’s needs ahead of promotional targets. The companies with this attitude will rise to the top in 2021.
Among all the digital marketing trends you’ll hear about soon (if not already), there will no doubt be the now obligatory annual claims that “SEO is dead.”
Ignore these claims. Once again, SEO is not dead – it’s a shapeshifter. In 2021, we’ll see that structured data will become more prevalent in search engine results.
Structured data is any data that is organized in such a way that makes it easier for search engines to crawl and categorize. Content creators can do this in their back-end code or by neatly organizing information in tables with labeled columns and rows.
When it’s done right, structured data delivers a big SEO boost, as you may rank in that coveted Position Zero in one form or another, such as a Knowledge Graph Box, which displays important information about your business:
Another possible boon of using structured data is that you can generate Rich Snippet results, which display images, review stats, and pricing. These rich snippets – also known as rich cards – are excellent for driving clicks, especially on mobile.
Schema.org is a semantic vocabulary of tags that enables website owners to embed structured data on their web pages so that search engines can clearly understand, interpret and represent the content in response to a search query. The list keeps growing but so far, here are the content-only schema.org types that Google is actively using:
With almost 50% of all global Internet traffic now happening on mobile devices, the competition for these rich results is heating up, so we’ll see a lot of marketers focusing on leveraging structured data in 2021.
Learn More: How (and Why) to Create an Effective Content Structure for Better Ranking
Research from StatCounter shows that over 92% of all traffic on search engines is through Google, dwarfing its “closest” rivals, Yahoo and Bing:
The world’s most dominant search engine is a sophisticated juggernaut of innovation, finely-tuned to deliver the most relevant, recent and comprehensive results for any user search query. It’s hard to fathom a catastrophic collapse happening any time soon, making it seemingly impossible for any other search engine to give Google a run for its money.
That being said, DuckDuckGo – a privacy-focused search engine founded in 2008 that has gained a niche popularity among privacy-minded users – has made some waves recently with its tagline “the search engine that doesn’t track you” because “search engines don’t need to track users to make money.”
According to DuckDuckGo’s general counsel and head of policy, Megan Gray, this model is profitable: “We make a ton of money. We are a privately held company, so I can’t tell you exactly how much we make. But we are subject to the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which requires at least $25 million in annual revenue, and we are well above that.”
In the spirit of online privacy (trend #33 above), while Google has become embroiled in data scandals such as the Cambridge Analytics fiasco, DuckDuckGo has meanwhile seen massive growth as it hit 1 billion searches in the month of January 2019:
Just recently, the engine got another boost when it was endorsed by Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey:
Ultimately, marketers should consider their audience and think about where their brand’s content is likely to be viewed. With that in mind, optimize your content for more than just one search engine.
We already mentioned the impact of voice search earlier in this guide (trend #11). What we didn’t explore was the cumulative impact that voice-enabled devices and voice search will have on a fundamental aspect of business: your marketing funnel.
With these rapidly growing digital marketing trends, there’s no way that your traditional funnel can stay the same. It must evolve. In 2021, the linear funnel will cease to be relevant. In fact, that transition is already underway.
In the new voice marketing funnel, leads can enter the funnel at different stages of the customer journey, as many consumers now conduct a lot of their own research online. This updated model demands that each customer is treated as an individual instead of a generic prospect. As a result, the funnel must cater to the demand for customized solutions:
Another way that the sales funnel is being revolutionized is from funnel to engine, in which the brand no longer dictates the buyer’s journey – rather, the brand and customer “synergistically interact with each other”:
The bottom line is that we can, and should, expect that technology will continue to metamorphose, so marketers must develop funnels that are capable of reacting to constant shifts in the digital landscape.
Search Engine Journal asserts that the first brands to adjust to the demands of voice search will reap the greatest rewards, increasing their digital online revenue by 30% or more.
Related Reading: How to Create the Ultimate Marketing Funnel (Templates Included)
In 2021, we’ll see brands tapping more into the potential of video and interactive content on social media to get attention, but they must follow it up by being authentic on their social channels, and by working hard to nurture a community of engaged, loyal followers.
As social media strategy consultant Neal Schaffer puts it:
“If your business wants to survive in organic social media in 2021, I believe that this sort of humanization of your brand will be necessary.”
This growth is unlikely to falter in the wake of Instagram removing likes from the platform.
From Social Media Today, here are some social media trends to keep an eye on:
Dive Deeper: The Beginner’s Guide to Crafting a Highly Effective Social Media Strategy in 2019
Last, but certainly not least, we’ll dip our toes into one of the most wow-inspiring digital marketing trends of 2021: neuromarketing. While this may sound like we’re quoting from a sci-fi movie, the reality is that this technology is advancing quickly and may become a viable tool for marketers soon.
For the uninitiated, neuromarketing is a strategy that analyzes measurements of a person’s brain activity and nervous system to determine which types of content they find engaging.
It is essentially designing marketing materials (including your website, ads, email campaigns and content) to evoke specific neurological reactions that trigger emotions or responses that are linked to purchasing. You can use this information to optimize your content accordingly and adjust your strategies, improving the effectiveness of your marketing.
SPARK Neuro, a neuroanalytics company that measures emotion and attention to optimize advertising and entertainment, is a leader in the space. The company combines biometrics, neurometrics and complex algorithms to analyze attention and emotion levels, effectively helping marketers figure out what content to focus on and what to avoid.
Forbes reports that the company is expected to work with political campaigns in the future. But whether that happens or not, we can be sure that neuromarketing will have a major impact on the future of marketing. The richest consumer data resides in the brain and any tool that helps companies understand the brains of their prospective customers is sure to be worth its weight in gold.
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So, there you have it – our definitive guide to the 42 most important digital marketing trends you can’t ignore in 2021.
As John F. Kennedy once said: “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”
For anyone in digital marketing, change is an integral part of the job. You must keep looking ahead and strive to embrace new technologies, tools and strategies in order to gain an edge over your competitors.