The 2017 Digital Round-Up

Neil Dawson
Reading time: 12 minutes
22nd December 2017

It’s been another interesting year for digital marketers, to say the least. There were shakeups across the board, from the bigger push toward a mobile first world, to improvements in the way we do Paid Search, to Facebook and Twitter finding interesting new ways for brands and creators to monetise their content. As our holiday gift to all of you, we’ve gone ahead and gathered 10 standout digital marketing stories of the year—and provided an extra present to unwrap at the end.

Google reveals its most searched for terms in 2017

Google’s latest “Year in Search” reveal drives home the point that the past 12 months were filled with political controversy, big-time tech releases, and tragedies of all kinds. This is evident in the most popular general searches alone, which featured two iPhone products, Hurricane Irma (which devastated Florida and islands in the nearby Caribbean), disgraced NBC anchor Matt Lauer, and Prince Harry’s bride-to-be, American actress/humanitarian Meghan Markle.

Elsewhere, the 2017 French presidential election dominated the political sphere, while Wimbledon won out in the sporting arena. Nostalgia clearly played a big role in pop-culture searches, with the IT remake taking the top spot in movie-themed searches and Netflix sensation Stranger Things (which takes place in the ‘80s) ruling in TV land. Google users also couldn’t get enough of Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito,” chicken breast recipes, Ariana Grande, and bitcoin.

If we were to put money on it, we wouldn’t be surprised to see bitcoin, Markle, and Grande owning search real estate in 2018, too.

A piece of Search history disappears as DMOZ closes

This past spring, a Search relic finally met its demise after 19 years in the game when legendary web directory DMOZ closed its doors on March 17. Back in the day, when search engines were in their infancy and Yahoo! Itself was actually still just a directory of links, people turned to sites like DMOZ to find places to go online. And as search engines began viewing links as an indicator of a site’s strength, the earliest of SEOs looks to directories more like link farms (and often made directories themselves with the sole purpose of acquiring links).

Of course, this practice began to come to an end about five years ago with the implementation of Penguin and subsequent Google algorithm changes, but there was something simply nostalgic about seeing DMOZ still kickin’. Sure, it wasn’t being used for the same exact purpose—how could it?—and things had certainly changed, but it represented a simpler, altogether different time online. DMOZ was also part of a learning process for many SEOs, who realized that proper directory links (meaning relevant, useful links) are still important.

It’s a mobile first world—eventually

Expect this to be one of the biggest news stories of 2018, too, because Google hasn’t quite implemented it’s “mobile first” index just yet. While the search giant was looking at a 2017 roll out, Google’s Gary Illyes said this coming year is much more likely because the proposed change isn’t where they want it to be just yet.

As for the change itself, it’s quite literal: Google will begin crawling mobile versions of websites first, rather than the desktop version as it has done for years now. In other words, you need to make sure your website is either responsive or has a mobile version (think m.domain.com), otherwise you may see some dips in Google traffic whenever this change takes effect.

If you need some help figuring out exactly what this means for your website in 2018, Google provided a straightforward set of rules to follow to ensure you’re not left behind in the “mobile first” world. Chances are your site already has a responsive design, but it wouldn’t hurt to double-check—like, right now.

Voice Search grows with release of Google Assistant:

Voice Search was already on the rise the past few years, but it hit new peaks this year with the release of Google Home (powered by Google Assistant) and upgrades to similar, existing products (Alexa, Siri, etc.). These voice-powered devices aren’t just making life more convenient and streamlined, they’re also changing the way we think about SEO.

Of course, our own Rob Kerry talked about this during his Ayima Insights presentation in 2016, but it bears repeating: webmasters need to start thinking about how they will rank for natural language searches. Long tail phrases that someone would actually say will only continue to increase as more people use Voice Search, meaning capturing those long tail keywords is incredibly important.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t continue optimising for text-based searches, but you should begin adding or editing existing content to capture the Q&A-style queries being made.

Close variants help connect people with what they’re searching for

Google aimed to make it even easier for Paid Search campaigns to connect with potential consumers this past March with the reveal of “close variants.” Its goal is simple: close the gap created by certain phrases and terms that are relevant to the query, but not exact, while removing the tedious gap of entering numerous “exact” phrases.

For example, “running shoes” and “shoes for running” will return similar results because they mean the same thing. Google does this by making note of function words (think “to,” from,” “for,” etc.) that they strive to either ignore or reword, when applicable. This doesn’t apply in all cases, of course. For example, the queries “flights to LHR” and “flights from LHR” are polar opposites, and someone searching for the former certainly won’t want to be served an ad for the latter (and neither will the person running the campaign!).

Again, the goal here is to reduce (or altogether remove) the painstaking process of building seemingly endless lists to match user queries. And in early tests, Google said it was looking good, adding that “advertisers may see up to 3% more exact match clicks on average.”

Powering ads and analytics innovations with machine learning

Through the use of advanced machine learning, Google announced this past May that digital marketers using AdWords, DoubleClick, and Analytics would see some major changes. Among them, Google touted improved conversion data in addition to a new feature for targeting in-market audiences.

In terms of conversion data, the tech giant’s goal was to make marketers’ lives easier by providing a more accurate representation of where and how a conversion occurs. It’s part of Google Attribution, a tool that gathers data from AdWords, DoubleClick, and Analytics (without tags, yay!) and analyses performance so marketers can not only report on their findings but use them to optimise their approach.

Those same marketers are also now able to target users who are considered “in-market,” which means they’re more likely to purchase products or services. In other words, machine learning has determined how to find someone (to use Google’s example) who’s ready to buy a new car with specific features. With this data available, marketers can more effectively tailor and deliver ads to those ready to convert based on, say, someone looking to find an SUV with better gas mileage.

Will 2018 bring similar changes to Paid Search as it exists through Google?

Brands and creators team up on Periscope

Video creators and brands alike found a new monetisation avenue this past March when Twitter announced its expansion of pre-roll advertisements to Periscope. The popular video app is primarily used for live-streaming events as they happen, and was also part of the social media company’s previous foray into blending branding with live events.

These pre-roll ads expand the reach of brands—and potential revenue for creators—because they can hop onto (and into) trending video content as it’s happening. Periscope video often serves to highlight the bigger, relevant events as well, making it even more of an opportunity for those involved to meet their KPIs.

Testing ways for people and businesses to engage on Messenger:

Considering Facebook’s claim that more than 1 billion messages have been sent between brands and users, it wasn’t terribly surprising to see the social media giant take it all one step further and allow advertisements in the Messenger app. This new means of brand-consumer interaction rolled out in beta form early 2017 in specific markets before making the global rounds to additional users in July.

These displays ads represent another way for Facebook to monetise its platform while providing brands with the opportunity to reach segments of the more than 1.2 billion registered users. When the ads appear in the Home section of Messenger, users can click on them and go directly to the advertiser’s chosen destination such as a specific URL or a conversation within Messenger. In terms of the latter, the brand can then engage in a Sponsored Message with the user, which TechCrunch learned could lead to purchases directly within the app.

This is a big move for Facebook and advertisers alike, especially once it moves out of the beta phase and hits a bigger market.

“Stories”: They’re not just for Snapchat users anymore

Facebook ventured into “familiar” social media territory this past October when it launched a new feature on its mobile app that more than a few of you will likely recognise: ‘Stories’. The feature allows users to share photos and videos that their friends can react or respond to within a 24-hour timeline. Those same images and videos can also be edited by using a variety of preloaded filters and special effects that often correspond with the season, big movie releases, and the like.

So, yeah, it’s a lot like the stories concept we’ve seen from Snapchat and Instagram. The big change here, however, is that that Facebook appears to have learned from previous mistakes where it tried to mimic its competitors. Instead of launching separate apps to coincide with new features—Facebook did this with Poke, for instance—the social media giant integrated their Stories-like functionality into its flagship app (and Messenger app to boot).

Still in its early stages, Facebook’s Stories is something we expect to see take off in 2018 for the platform’s dedicated users.

WSJ implements paywall, sees 44 percent dip in Google traffic

The Wall Street Journal ran into a bit of a double-edged sword this year when it decided to block Google users from reading free articles through search results. Despite seeing a sizeable increase in conversions (visitors turning into paying subscribers), the publication watched its Google traffic dip a staggering 44 percent.

When the WSJ rolled out its paywall, it effectively allowed Google to crawl only the introduction to the article that any non-paying user could see. The pages started appearing lower in the search results, and the publication was left feeling shortchanged. They decided to use a paywall as a means of stopping people from getting around their previous strategy, which was allowing users to read at least one article for free before being forced to pay for a subscription.

The problem was that people could simply copy and paste the article’s headline into Google and read additional pieces for free—apparently 1 million users were doing this every month. The interesting thing, though, is that even as the WSJ’s Google traffic dropped, they claim that their social media traffic jumped 34 percent and that ad revenue wasn’t impacted.

The moral here? We wouldn’t be surprised to see more issues like this spring up as publishers continue adjusting the way they provide their content.

2018: What’s to come?

2018 is nearly here and as usual the digital landscape is expected to change thick and fast. In fact, a lot of the key trends for 2018 have had their groundworks laid down in 2017.

A Peek Into Paid Media

Ian Hyde, Head of Paid Media shared his thoughts

“Machine learning is an area we expected to see increase heavily in 2018, in fact we are already underway to release our own data platform that utilises machine learning at its core. As already mentioned in the top stories above, Google and Facebook have already dabbled in dynamic creative in 2017, but this will be a key feature to adopt in 2018. Allowing the platforms to auto-optimise towards top performing creative will quickly prove to be a key weapon in the digital marketer’s arsenal.

We are already able to collect and store user information and target off the back of it. However, 2018 promises to bring capabilities that will allow custom targeting based on perceived individual personalities, allowing for much more effective engagement.

Elements of digital personalisation are also already in play in the creative we use and the targeting segments. 2018 will look to close the loop to allow us to recognise the users, remember what they have done previously, reach them in the most appropriate way and serve them with the most relevant on-site experience. The full personalised digital experience.”

A Little Look Into SEO

SEO Director Karen Bone commented

“At this moment, SEO trends in 2018 could be driven by optimizing for mobile, and understanding how to leverage voice search. Taking into account links, content and RankBrain as three significant ranking factors in Google’s ever changing search algorithm.

The high-level take is to provide the best search experience for anyone, anywhere (growing importance of user experience and engagement to the algorithm), and creating strategies to target and monitor position 0.

The real danger with mobile-first is not in lacking a mobile friendly site, but in losing visibility for content that can be rendered on your desktop site but not mobile.  When it comes to schema (structured data) we expect to see more opportunities for rich results using JSON-LD markup, which could potentially power voice search and other loT (internet of things) technologies.

There is no ‘definitive guide’ for SEO in 2018. It all depends on who your visitors are and the SEO blueprint suited to your line of business. On-page and technical SEO strategies should take User experience and User-intent into account. After all, if AMP delivers faster loading pages for mobile, and featured snippets aim at answering questions, shouldn’t our work reflect the most salient turning points in the industry?”

We wish all our readers the best for the holidays and New Year and look forward to sharing more of our thoughts and knowledge with you in 2018!

 

Want more? Check out these other top stories from 2017:

Written By Neil Dawson
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