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Jonathan Saipe

Half Yearly Review of 2013: 8 Digital Trends Marketers Need To Action

14 June 2013, Jonathan Saipe

As we are mid-way through 2013, I thought I’d highlight some of the digital marketing trends we’ve seen most prominently over the past 6 months.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and feel free to add more. However, the following digital trends are ones that regularly appear on our radar and for this reason are well worth sharing.

1. Content Marketing

Over the past year, the phrase content marketing has become the zeitgeist and used ubiquitously among marketers. However, the concept is far from new and is as applicable to old media as it is for new. The theory is very simple and defined perfectly by the content marketing institute namely:

“Content marketing’s purpose is to attract and retain customers by consistently creating and curating relevant and valuable content with the intention of changing or enhancing consumer behaviour. It is a on-going process that is best integrated into your overall marketing strategy, and it focuses on owning media, not renting it.”

Its rise to fame has been aided by the algorithmic changes at Google, notably Google Panda and Penguin. These updates have forced marketers and digital content creators to take a serious look at the quality of their content and how it adds value to their organisation.

Earned media over paid media

Earned media and owned media has now become de rigueur over and above paid media, and this has forced traditional businesses to effectively become publishers as they seek to extend their reach and engagement through SEO and social media strategies.

Last year, Autonomy founder Dr Mike Lynch claimed that 90% of online information was created in the last 2 years. Amidst the huge proliferation of online content, we are now at a stage where the value and importance of content has been propelled to the top of many digital marketers’ agendas.

2. Attribution Modelling & ROI

“Data is the new oil” is the mantra used by many web analysts. It demonstrates the critical importance data has in helping marketers measuring campaign ROI, website performance and user experience.

As customer behaviour becomes more complex involving multiple touch-points, measuring performance and attributing ROI is becoming increasingly challenging. The aim of attribution modelling is to understand how all of your marketing touch-points fit together.

An attribution model will illustrate where your money is working the hardest, subsequently allowing you to make smarter decisions on future activity. Sounds simple but in fact it’s far from simple.

For example, a customer may discover your website by clicking on one of your paid ads and subsequently sign up to your email list or follow you on a social channel. They may return 7 days later having clicked on one of your tweets and then may return a third time via an email campaign, this time to finally purchase or generate a lead. The challenge is to ascertain how the channels worked together to engage that customer.

Multi-channel funnel

Identifying the influence of first through to last interaction, as well as the time decay factor, is critical in understanding the cumulative effect of your marketing activity over time.

Google Analytics has started to scratch the surface with its multi-channel funnel report, which provides some feedback on multiple interactions, but it is still evolving in a big way.

3. Conversion Optimisation

When I was first involved in web builds in the 90’s, there was mad scramble to put your mark down and own a piece of Internet real-estate. Websites were thrown together with little thought around the over-riding marketing strategy. You just had to have one!

As website ownership migrated from IT to marketing (thank god!), and analytics had evolved beyond web logs (hallelujah!, marketers had the capability to make measurable improvements through experiments. And thus we entered the optimisation phase of the web.

Nowadays, acronyms such as LPO (landing page optimisation) and CRO (conversion rate optimisation) are commonplace in our every day conversations. Whilst A/B and multivariate testing may seem like a luxury, particularly when you are under-resourced and just about coping with every day marketing and operational activity, the opportunities for improvement are very strong.

Easy to use A/B testing services such as Optimizely and Google Analytics Experiments have been established to take the pain away from conversion optimisation and these are there for the taking.

4. HTML5

HTML5 logoHTML5 has featured heavily on the radar of web developers for a number of years. In 2008, HTML5 was published as working draft by the W3C and it has since been eagerly anticipated by an entire developer community.

Deployment of HTML5 has grown massively in the last year or so, catalysed by the lack of Flash support by Apple devices running iOS (many pundits saying that HTML5 will replace Flash).

Including HTML5 in your project planning is important for a number of reasons:

  • It offers developers new opportunities to enhance the online user experience
  • Combined with CSS3, it offers opportunities to create dynamic visual effects
  • It is mobile friendly and offers a clear alternative to Flash (on iOS devices) and Silverlight
  • It makes development faster (and sometimes cheaper), enabling developers to write web applications
  • It can and will increasingly offer SEO advantages to HTML page structure and crawling issues

If you’re planning web or mobile development projects, HTML5 should be firmly on your radar.

5. The Open Graph

Open Graph logoIt has been over 3 years since Experian Hitwise reported that social networks were more popular than search engines (in the UK). And the relationship between search and social marketing strategies has become closer and closer ever since.

The Open Graph protocol is not new. It was originally created by Facebook enabling any web page to become a rich object in a social graph. Nowadays the key channels such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ all support it. You will see support for the Open Graph when looking at the source code of a web page.

Open Graph metadata

For example, it enables online content creators to control how content is displayed within social channels or indexed by a search engine. Next time you share a YouTube video or BBC news story on Facebook or LinkedIn, you may wonder where those social channels are finding the displayed thumbnail or title and description: the answer – your Open Graph metadata.

So, if you want better control over how your content is treated and its chances of engagement within a search or social environment, look at your Open Graph implementation.

6. Agile Methodologies

When I wrote a post on why Agile is right for web 2.0 projects, it highlighted the need to adopt a responsive not predictive approach to digital project management methodology.

As our websites and apps become increasingly user orientated – where users heavily interact with content and expect a suitable output in return – their expectations of a slick and simple user experience are become increasingly high.

User-centred design

To adequately meet those needs, it is critical to include a user-centred design (UCD) approach during development. Agile methodologies such as Scrum or Kanban, among others, allow for greater flexibility and prioritisation of user-orientated functionality, with the ultimate goal of providing not only a better user experience, but a happier project team and client.

While the concept of Agile is not new (the Agile manifesto introduced the term in 2001), a high percentage of digital projects are still being managed through more traditional methods such as Waterfall. Agile is however increasingly being adopted by agencies as the de facto standard and with very clear benefits and reasons.

7. Mobile Optimisation & UX

Mobile content

In 2013, a list of key digital trends wouldn’t be justified if mobile didn’t feature. Mobile usage is so prevalent, that consideration over how content is consumed on a mobile device should be considered critical to improving ROI.

Planning for responsive design has important ramifications for user experience as well as search performance. It has been well documented that Google wants to visitors to engage with your content on a mobile device. If searches bounce from your content and immediately return to the search results, Google will flag this as potentially inappropriate content and UX. It is therefore no secret that Google favours websites optimised for mobile in search and recommends responsive web design.

If you don’t have a mobile site at all, 61% of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site that they had trouble accessing from their phone; and 40% go to a competitor’s.

The same applies to email marketing where content that isn’t mobile optimised has poorer click-throughs than campaigns specifically tailored to mobile consumption.

The case for responsive design

If you’re unsure how to build a business case for responsive design, take a look at your website and email campaign analytics.

If your web analytics indicate that the proportion of your web visitors using mobile devices is above 15-20%, or time on page or conversion rates are suffering due to a lack of mobile support, you should be making plans now for responsive design.

As far as email marketing is concerned, according to Litmus, as of April 2012, mobile email opens took the lead over desktops, so as of now, responsive email design should be a given.

*Image source: Tate

8. The Google+ Factor

Google+ logo

Opinions about Google+ vary hugely. But one thing seems constant – its levels of engagement are no way near as good as they should be. Indeed, Mashable recently reported Google+ visitors spent an average of about 7 minutes on the site in march. Whooops.

Google tends to refer to Google+ as a social spine with Google+ sitting in the middle of its other flagship products such as Google Maps, Gmail, search and Hangouts. To back up the social spine theory, the Guardian recently wrote that Google isn’t a social network, it’s The Matrix.

But one thing is irrefutable. Google owns search (in most territories), and the evidence that Google+ influences search performance is irrefutable; from improving click throughs in search results with author snippets to an improved search rank via social citations.

If you’re a blogger or journalist, be aware of the positive impact authorship could have on your reach. And if you’re a business or organisation, invest time and resource in your Google+ page(s), content and activity.