Digital Marketing Trends to Watch Out for in 2021 (and How You Can Get Ready NOW)

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Even in the midst of a global pandemic, we’ve seen incredible growth and change in the world of digital marketing. Some of it is simply the evolution of existing technologies and tactics. Some of it is still emerging. Much of the growth is addressing the single most profound shift we’ve seen in the world of work: The fact that, almost overnight, there were literally hundreds of millions of people working, playing, and connecting from home. 

2020 was a big year in so many ways. So in this post we’ll cover what changed, and 8 trends that you should look out for. 

How did digital marketing change in 2020?

It’s almost easier to ask what didn’t change. At a macro level, the COVID-19 pandemic absolutely upended everything. Those of us lucky enough to have office jobs that weren’t directly impacted by the pandemic began working from home indefinitely. Entrepreneurs and small businesses that hadn’t already done so were forced to digitize every possible facet of their businesses. At a micro level, the changes are too numerous to count.

We relied on the internet, almost exclusively, to communicate, to find customers, to serve customers, and to deliver products. 

But here are some of the more interesting learnings and insights. 

The insight? Our screens have become even more important tools for both productivity and entertainment. 

What are the most important things happening in marketing in 2021?

We don’t have a crystal ball. But we do pay attention. Based on what we’ve observed over the last year, here are the things we think will be important for small businesses this year. 

1. User-generated content 

User-generated content (UGC) is content—videos, images, reviews, etc.—created by customers or users, rather than businesses themselves.

UGC is often considered the most authentic form of digital word-of-mouth marketing. It plays into the powerful phenomenon of social proof. Plus, it’s essentially free. Using UGC is an excellent way for you to make yourself more accessible to your target audience. 

While it’s by no means a new trend, due to lockdown and social distancing restrictions this year, more and more brands are leaning on UGC to promote themselves. They also cross-promote content through apps like TikTok, Koji, and Instagram Reels.

As Tania Tai, Managing Director at DIA Brand Consultants Malaysia, says:

“The digital surge during the pandemic has put transparency, communication, and trust under the spotlight. Going forward, consumers will continue to demand authenticity in everything, from information sources to experiences. That is why the future of social media will be user-generated and community-driven, by far more trustworthy than branded content.”

For example, the wedding studio, Helen Rodrigues Bridal, posted a photo of a couple who used their wedding service. The business captured the couple’s story, in their words, and shared it with their followers. The end result was real and authentic—an excellent way to inspire other customers to share their stories with the business as well. 

digital marketing trends 2021 helen rodrigues bridal ig graphic showing bride and groom kissing

How to take advantage of UGC

First you need to get your followers to create UGC. There are a number of different ways to do this. For example, a contest or giveaway can prompt users to create content around your brand. Sometimes, simply asking them to tag you in their posts works well, too. Check out this guide to getting more UGC to learn more

Once you see posts that you’ve been featured or tagged in, take screenshots of or repost it to your feed. This works in two really important but different ways: 

First, it creates a connection with the person who created the content. It tells them you’re paying attention. People that are creating content for or about a brand truly appreciate that. It’s impossible to put a price on that kind of loyalty. 

Secondly, it helps you fill out your social media calendar. You can easily repost this content as Instagram stories, retweet it, or even feature it as its own post if it’s especially impressive. 

All of your social channels are a great opportunity to find good UGC. Just make sure the content is optimized for each social platform; Taking your audience, image sizes, and text limitations into consideration. 

2. Live videos and virtual events 

Unsurprisingly, live videos and virtual events have largely taken the place of in-person meetings, conferences, and tradeshows. 

2020 saw more than 8.5 billion broadcasts on Facebook Live. And video conferencing is expected to account for 69% of all business traffic 2021

So it’s clear that live video, video conference calls, and webinars as favored formats are here to stay. It makes sense—they’re easier to plan, cost far less than traditional events, and most importantly, people have adapted to this format.

There are many applications for small businesses. For example, Passionate Blooms shared an Instagram post saying they’ll live stream how they decorate a client’s house. It gave their followers an opportunity to tune in and see the kind of work they do behind the scenes. 

How to take advantage of live video

Figure out what your audience finds compelling about your business or industry. For C2B businesses (like Passionate Bloom), that could be a behind-the scenes look at what you do and how you do it shared across your social networks.

For professionals or B2B companies, that could look like a webinar that addresses some of the bigger problems your potential customers face, like the best way to organize your finances for tax time, or how to make cold calls that work.

No matter what kind of business you operate, 2021 will see a huge increase in video consumption. So make sure that it’s part of your marketing tool kit.

3. Privacy and the death of third-party cookies

According to SmarterHQ’s Privacy and Personalization report, 86% of consumers are worried about their data privacy, with Baby Boomers and Gen X being the least trusting. Is user privacy and data security fun? Not really. Is it important? Absolutely. Penalties can be steep—especially for small businesses. 

In 2020, we saw the launch of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) that limited the ability to use some data to target certain people. In the last few years we’ve seen the implementation of General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR), reflecting a growing nationwide concern for user privacy protection.

Also, watch out for the death of the third-party cookies. For years, cookies were useful to track website visitors and run targeted advertisements. But the way we use cookies could change dramatically with Google’s announcement that it’ll phase out the use of third-party cookies on its Chrome browser by 2022. 

Users are demanding greater privacy–including transparency, choice, and control over how their data is used–and it’s clear the web ecosystem needs to evolve to meet these increasing demands.

How you need to address privacy

Keep yourself updated with news related to CCPA, GDPR, third-party cookies, and other privacy laws that could impact your business. If your advertising strategies rely on third-party cookies, consider alternatives now like Privacy Sandbox or reverting to older strategies like contextual advertising. And be sure to update your compliance with CCPA on your website if you’re targeting customers in California. 

But the most important takeaway from this is: get to know your customer better. Find out who they are, what they do, what they like, and what their biggest challenges and pain points are. Learn everything you possibly can about them. Understanding your customers’ demographic profile allows you to create compelling content and messaging. And being able to speak to your customer in a way that resonates with them is more powerful than simply following them around the internet. 

4. SEO + User experience 

SEO isn’t new. But it’s always changing. Good SEO can be an extremely powerful tool for small businesses. However, ignored, it could leave you wondering where your customers are. (Hint: They’re on Google, looking for you, but can’t find you). Here are some trends in search engine optimization (SEO) for 2021 you need to know:

Featured snippets and no-click searches: Position zero refers to Google’s featured snippet, which works differently than other search result entries. It’s separated by a special box and after paid search ads. It displays relevant information with the attempt to answer the user’s question without them needing to click on it, prompting the nickname “no-click search.”

digital marketing trends 2021 google's featured snippet

Local SEO: Google frequently updates its local SEO algorithm. Also, in the midst of COVID-19 more people are looking to support local, small businesses. Take advantage of local SEO so people can find and support you. 

Long form content: A continuing trend in 2020 is: longer is better. According to Ron Lieback, Founder and CEO of ContentMender, “blogs over 2000 words consistently outperformed blogs of 1000 words or less”. 

How to address these SEO trends

Featured snippets are mostly questions that people are asking Google, like “how to decorate a Christmas tree.” They come in different forms, from step-by-step lists to straight-up definitions. If your business is in a position to answer specific questions that your customers might be asking, create content that’s formatted in that way. Make sure you answer the keyword question clearly and succinctly, preferably with bulleted lists or a table structure. 

For local SEO, keep updating your business’ appearance in local results. If your business hasn’t been verified by Google, sign up for Google My Business and claim your listing or create a new one. Also, incorporate local keywords like the name of your city or town prominently into your SEO strategy.

Finally, keep creating long-form content. Cover topics that your customers want to read about. And while longer is better, it is equally important that you are creating quality content that is of value to your readers. If you don’t have the time or the skillset to do this yourself, it’s worth hiring a competent blogger or copywriter to do it for you. 

5. Voice search

Hey Siri. Ok Google. Hey Alexa. Voice search is exploding. In 2019, almost 60% of searches on mobile devices were voice searches. Projections for 2022 put voice commerce at $40 billion in sales. With so many people owning smartphones, it only makes sense to optimize for voice search in addition to traditional search. 

What does that look like? If someone was looking for a laptop repair store in Dallas, they might Google “laptop repair Dallas” either from their phone or mobile device. This makes it relatively straightforward when planning your search terms, meta descriptions, and keywords.

However, someone using voice search might say, “find me a laptop repair store in Dallas.” The subtle changes from keyword to conversational searching will make a big difference for SEO rankings moving forward.

How to take advantage of voice search

Make sure your local SEO is up to snuff. Focus on long-tail searches, FAQs, and Q&As because most voice searches are phrased as questions. 

Write your content with a conversational tone, using keywords that people will speak rather than type. This will help you achieve the coveted position zero or featured snippets on Google. 

6. Visual search

A picture can literally be worth a thousand words. Instead of typing out search terms and keywords, visual search allows you to search using images. For example, you see a picture of an appliance you like. But you don’t know the make or model. Visual search allows you to submit the image (instead of keywords) to find that item online. 

Visual search is expected to completely change the SEO landscape in 2021. According to Gartner, early adopter brands that redesign their websites to support visual and voice search will increase digital commerce revenue by 30% by 2021

How to take advantage of visual search

Visual search may sound complicated from a business standpoint, but it really isn’t. Include alt text in your image descriptions to provide search engines with the context they require to find items. You can also add images to your sitemap or create a dedicated image sitemap. And don’t forget to include your target SEO keywords when naming image files.

7. Truly personalized user experiences 

Conversations and connections with others are more important now than ever before. And that’s especially true for business. Communication has to be personalized to drive engagement, sales, and even future retention. 

72% of shoppers will only engage with personalized marketing. Omnisend further states, “When a customer sees a message or advertisement that’s relevant to them, it doesn’t even register as marketing. Consumers want personalization, and they’re willing to pay more for it.” 

Makes sense. After all, in a world that’s operating at a distance, personalization makes us feel a bit more connected.

How to create personalized user experiences

Building out a personalization strategy is a process and not something you can just do overnight. It’s something that you start small with and grow over time. The good news is that you may already have started.

For example, if you’ve built a healthy list of names and email addresses you’re well on your way to being able to personalize content for them. 

Over time, you’ll learn more about your customers based on how they interact with your products. This will enable you to map out the customer experience and better understand what they need and when, allowing you to personalize the messaging along the way. 

This can take on many forms, including pop-ups, opt-in forms, landing pages, emails, social media posts, PPC ads and more. 

Not building your email list yet? Leadpages makes it easy to get started with easy to build landing pages and pop-ups that turn web traffic into leads. 

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10. Interactive content

Interactive content like quizzes can do wonders for your business. They’re fun, engaging, and sometimes useful to educate your target audience.

According to Outgrow, 93% of marketers rate interactive content as highly effective at educating the buyer. Many small businesses have been using quizzes to generate sales and grow their email list

Here is an example of showing a quiz on the website from Bodies by Rachel

digital marketing trends 2021 bodies by rachel quiz

Another reason why interactive content works is that it is part of the greater trend towards personalization. Allowing your visitors to answer questions allows you to better tailor content and products to them in your marketing. 

How to use interactive content

Write a quiz that’s relevant to your business. For example, an aesthetician might create a quiz that helps users determine what kind of skin type they have. Once a user completes the quiz, the aesthetician now has a key piece of information about that user (their skin type), and can instantly offer them a product that’s suitable for it. Furthermore, they can send more personalized and relevant marketing material to that person in the future. 

There are lots of different quiz makers available—many of them free. And they only take a few minutes to make once you have your questions and answers lined up. 

Things move fast out here

When you’re a small business, it isn’t exactly easy to keep your finger on the pulse of all the new marketing trends and technology to look out for. Heck, it’s hard to keep track of when you’re a full-time marketer. 

Above are some of the larger trends we’ve noticed and kept an eye on over the last year. Some of them may be very relevant to your business. And, some, not at all. Some may be accurate. Some may be a bit before their time. But we hope that they offer some insights that you can use to better connect with your customers. 

By simply taking the time to discover what’s happening in the world of digital marketing, you’re showing a willingness to learn and be a better business to your customers. And that’s a quality every entrepreneur should have. 

This content was originally published here.

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The Digital Report editorial staff is a team comprised of digital marketing communication professionals dedicated to providing timely and relevant information that occurs in the digital marketing ecosystem. It's our mission for our readers to stay informed and educated on all things digital.

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