In 2018, New Challenges for SEO Await

In December 2016, I wrote about search trends for 2017. As 2018 is about to begin, it seems appropriate to look back at how accurate my trend analysis was and peek forward into what challenges await in 2018.

voice search
“Sorry, didn’t catch that,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by Ruth Hartnup

Moving into the digital age has left me regretting my tradition of breaking out the new desk calendar during the last weeks of the year. I have kept both daily and weekly calendars for many years; and each year, I would spend an hour or two moving birthdays and significant dates to the new calendar. I also used the time to pause and reflect on what the new year would bring. The blank pages in the calendar were always an invitation to set lofty goals and make large plans.

In December 2016, I wrote about search trends for 2017. As 2018 is about to begin, it seems appropriate to look back at how accurate my trend analysis was and peek forward into what challenges await in 2018.

At the start of 2017, three strong trends/challenges stood out:

  • The imperative for faster site speed
  • The need to put mobile first in all SEO plans
  • The push for secure sites

How have these played out? Did site owners move on these imperatives? What new imperatives await in 2018?

Site Owners Are Still Working on Making Their Sites Faster

Site speed is now a confirmed ranking factor particularly for mobile sites — which is where most of the traffic growth is. If your site does not load in less than three seconds, you still have work to do.

The SEO literature is filled with information on how to speed up the venerable desktop search, but the frontier is mobile. It is a frontier that is increasingly settled by those who have understood the linkage of speed to success in search, usability and conversion.

Achievements are being made. But just as world records will fall in the 2018 Olympics, so, too, will site owners achieve even greater speed in 2018.

To stay in the game in 2018, don’t let up; continue to seek improvements on site speed.

Mobile Is First, It Hears a Voice

The continued growth of mobile is now being fueled by voice searches. Faster than fingers and perfectly adapted for multi-tasking searchers, voice-driven mobile searches will be a major trend in 2018.

Voice search is showing strong adoption by younger searchers, the digital natives, who think off of the box on the desktop.

Highlighted in my 2017 analysis, the need to go fast and mobile is still an imperative in 2108. This has not changed. Mobile is still a fast-hot trend.

The use of accelerated mobile pages (AMP) has been growing, but there are still significant challenges for creating these thin, fast pages for feature-rich commerce sites. The use and applications for AMP will continue to grow and improve over the next year.

Google has recently announced that starting in February 2018, it will be enforcing content parity for AMP users. Some site owners looking for the proverbial easy way out have been creating teaser pages that are AMP that require that user to click again to get all of the page content.

An example might be a news site that gives just a single paragraph on the AMPed page, but forces the user, who wants to see the entire story, to click again.

AMP was developed as a means of creating fast, lean pages — not teaser pages. In 2018, expect to see Google continue to protect the integrity of the AMP initiative by insisting that AMP users play by the rules.

As an SEO Trend, Secure Sites Have Jumped the Shark

A quick breeze through search results will show you that most top-ranked sites are now secure. If your site is still not secure, a pity to you and your impaired search results.

Today, having a secure site is a must if you want to enjoy the fruits of holding top spots in the search results. It is no longer trending. It has gone mainstream.

What New Challenges Lie Ahead for 2018?

For 2018, the question is the answer. As voice search grows, the language and syntax of search is changing. Search queries are no longer just short syntactically challenged typed Boolean strings.

Increasingly, queries are conversational questions: “Where is the nearest supermarket?” This query might be spoken into a handheld device or even a nearby digital assistant.

In response to this new line of questioning, Google now features question-and-answer snippets in the search engine results page. These featured snippets include links to the source of the answer. This is highly prized real estate, and search marketers will be well-served in 2018 to focus on having quality content that answers questions.

In 2018, the changing SERP page cannot be overlooked. Google recently expanded the length of the descriptions that appear in the results to provide more descriptive and useful information for users. This is a key must-do assignment for 2018. Review what Google is presenting in the results page for your key performing pages. Look at the snippet. If it generated by Google, consider if it is what you really want to see. For key pages, give them a rub and scrub, buff them up a bit so that they perform better and watch the results.

From this view, 2018 will be more challenges, but the results will be incremental. It is time to review your individual responses to this changing industry and turn the page to the new year with new, big plans in mind.

Content Testing Before Going ‘All-In’

So you’re thinking about leveraging content? Before you write your eBook or webinar slides, you’ll want to try and make sure your topic will actually resonate with your target audience.

So you’re thinking about leveraging content? Before you write your eBook or webinar slides, you’ll want to try and make sure your topic will actually resonate with your target audience.

Whether you’re content magnet is free or paid, or eBook or webinar, it’s important to test the waters before jumping in with both feet.

One of the biggest challenges I hear from clients is determining which “theme” they should choose for an eBook or webinar before investing all of the time, resources and expenses that are involved with writing, production and marketing.

Sometimes, more often than not, just because you think a topic is interesting doesn’t mean it’s something the marketplace will buy into.

Consumers are very savvy these days. There’s so much free content out there, that if you’re asking for their email address (or even more, their credit card) to download an eBook or sign up for a webinar, it better be something mind-blowing … a new perspective … something that gives them that “a-ha” moment.

Clients often feel they have their fingers on the pulse of the market. And maybe they do. But it’s the marketer who needs to help drive the content machine and do some due diligence first before going all-in.

Working in online and print publishing for the last 15-plus years, I have some proven tips and best practices to help you determine the validity of content (i.e., Topic or theme) for your next eBook or webinar.

Of course, there’s no crystal ball to help you see how something will ultimately perform with so many variables that can influence conversions, such as brand recognition, ad copy, creative design of landing page, price point, etc. Ultimately, the market will let you know if it’s interested in your topic or not. But your overall efforts can be a little easier, with some solid pre-requisites …

Surveillance

Look at what you’re competitors are putting out there with eBooks and webinars. You can do some simple competitive analysis to see the types of content topics they’re focusing on. Go to their website. What free reports are they using for organic traffic? Also, check out sites like ispionage.com. This site lets you type in a website URL so you can see competitor’s paid and organic keywords, landing pages, PPC spends and more. The free version is limited. To see full data, you have to subscribe. But this can give you some good ideas.

Getting Social

Sites like Social Mention let you search for keywords, show you how often they’re being used and where they are among the top social media platforms. This is as close as you can get to being a fly on the wall.

Keyword Research

Think of your topics in terms of keyword strings of what your target audience would likely search for. Use a keyword search platform, like Google’s keyword planner or Wordtracker. Look for keyword and potential topics that are not too popular (as the market is likely saturated with that content) but also not under-searched … the sweet spot.

Trends

Sites like Trends.google.com give you a general view of what’s trending on the Web. You can search by topic and see what people are interested in.

Purchase Behavior

Sites like Clickbank.com and Amazon.com (Kindle eBooks) will show you best-selling digital content. Clickbanks is a marketplace specifically for eBooks. You can search by topic, then sort by popularity and other criteria. The more popular eBooks can be a gauge of hot topics. Kindle eBooks can be searched and sorted by topics and you can see the best-selling topics in various categories from health, self-help and more.

Testing

Before going all-out with a 25-page eBook or a 30-minute webinar, test the concept with a 1-pager, quick and dirty digital download. Create a strong PPC text ad or Facebook ad and see what the initial clicks and conversions are. This is a great way to really see how the general marketplace will react to your topic and if it’s got legs. Carve out a small test budget (anywhere from $65 to $250, depending on your marketing medium) and let the ad run for one to two weeks. Keep it simple and remember this is just a test.

Experience

Some things you just see over and over again, so you have a good inkling of what gets your target audience excited. Generally speaking, there are a few things I’ve noticed that will, nine out of 10 times, get people to convert. Topics that:

  • Tie into a current event or are time sensitive
  • Are controversial or a contrarian viewpoint (a “hot button” issue)
  • Tap into an emotion (fear, greed, vanity, exclusivity)
  • Solve a problem
  • Save you time or money
  • Help you be healthier, wealthier or wiser in some way
  • Reveal something
  • A forecast or prediction (this works well in financial newsletter publishing, i.e. Top Stocks of 2018)
  • Are sensational or “forbidden” (this tactic is not for the faint of heart)
  • Include “Top” lists (such as, “Top 10 Ways to Combat Cancer”)
  • Combine two of the above

Remember, the core of direct response marketing is testing.

So view your content testing with an open mind and let the market help dictate your next move.

Being calculated and strategic will help you either hit a home run or, even if your test bombs, save you time and money in the long run.

Consumer Marketing in 2025

We can see a lot of ways commerce is changing today. Amazon and other e-commerce putting pressure on retail, customer experience trumping brand message, interaction moving to the Web and now moving to the mobile Web. But where is this all going? How is it going to look marketing to consumers in 2025 and beyond?

We can see a lot of ways commerce is changing today. Amazon and other e-commerce putting pressure on retail, customer experience trumping brand message, consumer interaction moving to the Web — and now moving to the mobile Web.

But where is this all going? How is marketing to consumers going to look in 2025 and beyond?

Today’s Trends Played Forward

Yesterday, I had the chance to catch Matt Britton’s session at Voxburner’s Youth Marketing Strategy 2017.

Britton is CEO of Crowdtap and considered to be an expert on marketing to Millennials and younger generations. His talk aimed to extrapolate out from the trends we’re seeing in those cultures a model of how the class of 2025, who’s roughly 10 years old today, will see the world.

From his point of view, the trends impacting marketing to young people in 2025 are closely tied to the socio-economic trends developing today:

  1. The key jobs will be deeply artistic or deeply scientific, and the rest will be automated. So you need to be able to do what machines can’t (art) or be able to program and build the machines youself (science and engineering).
  2. Young people are moving more and more back into cities. “The creative class is now taking over cities, and because of that, the landscape of cities are changing,” said Britton.
  3. Because people are moving into cities, they’re trading privacy and space for proximity and access. This means they need fewer things like cars. He see car buying and house buying both decreasing rapidly.
  4. People in the city without a car tend to prefer to have things delivered. “Amazon is destroying retail,” he said, and a big reason why is that young people are in the cities and they no longer have the car to drive to stores and shop conveniently in-person. It’s just much easier to stay home and have it delivered.

Consumers of the futureThat all will continue to put pressure on retail, according to Britton, but it will also feed into different consumption habits. Living in the city is more experience-based — collect less stuff, do more things. So he sees commerce moving further from buying things and toward buying services or experiences. Services like Ikea’s newly acquired handyman gig company Task Rabbit, or sites like GTFO Flights that let you get as far as way as possible as cheaply as possible.

A Post-Text World? Stick It In Your Ear

So that’s the mentality shift, but Britton also sees extreme changes coming to how people buy as well.

“Will we even need screens,” asks Bitton? “Amazon says no.”

Why Customer Experience Trumps User Experience

Whenever I’m asked to explain customer experience, I’m always hard-pressed for a short, easily digested answer. It’s just so huge! What doesn’t it cover? Not much. And the real stumper: Who is responsible? Customer experience is often translated into user experience as the front-end digital experience of users. Although they’re not the same, they aren’t that different. So which comes first? Here’s how user experience can inform customer experience strategy, and vice versa.

Whenever I’m asked to explain customer experience, I’m always hard-pressed for a short, easily digested answer. It’s just so huge! What doesn’t it cover? Not much. And the real stumper: Who is responsible? Customer experience is often translated into user experience as the front-end digital experience of users.

Although they’re not the same, they aren’t that different. So which comes first? Here’s how user experience can inform customer experience strategy, and vice versa.

Our first contender: user experience
Digital experience provides some simple and convenient ways to connect with customers, gain real-time feedback and allow for innovation. Consider the following:

1. Website analytics highlight user behavior, which is usually more factual than what they tell you. Watching where users drop off, where they linger and where they act can put your entire organization on the right path.

2. Users visiting your site are there with a purpose in mind. Inviting feedback in that critical moment allows you to collect emotional and immediate responses. In the heat of a disappointing moment or the happiness of a successful mission, customers will provide real-time feedback reflecting what they REALLY feel, not just the option on the survey that best suits their reaction.

3. Customers can show you what they really want through A/B testing and experience innovations. Ever since the dawn of the digital era, we’ve been testing and experimenting. We test context and see what works better. We experiment with design and gain knowledge on what resonates with customers. It’s so much easier to do this with user experience than any other channel or touchpoint.

Remaining mindful of reactions and analytics can absolutely inform your customer experience. But what about trends? There’s an ongoing debate about how user interface design is based on current trends (as well as guessing at future ones), and therefore is always at risk of being overshadowed. Consider what happened to MySpace, Netscape and others of yesteryore. The problem, as I see it: Too often, user experience is based on what works in the moment rather than the overall mission.

Customer experience takes the lead!
Customer experience is about understanding how customers interact with your organization at any touchpoint. Here are some tips to providing the best experience possible for your customers.

1. Customer experience must be tied to brand promise. The brand promise, often touted in marketing context, is what drives the experience. If you’re promising one thing (convenience) and delivering another (pain), then customers will likely desert you.

2. Mobile, digital and all other touchpoints should reflect the overall experience. Real Simple, which promises “life made easier, everyday” prominently on its print magazine and website, created a user experience to reflect that mantra. The digital experience is one where it’s easy to find things, full of surprises and offers choices for how users can consume the content. The site even includes “Today’s Thought,” fitting right into the everyday promise.

3. Customer experience is still about trends, but anchored in mission. Yes, experience must change to reflect the times. Car culture changed casual dining forever. The digital era ushered in global shopping, education and more. Mobile and social engagement allows for convenience and immediacy not available in the past. However, reflecting just the changes in how customers interact with their environments won’t serve an organization long term. The experience must be anchored in a bigger mission. Amazon.com started off selling books, but it was never about the books. Now it touts its revolutionary e-commerce experience in commercials. Not a book in sight.

So which came first, and what are the benefits of focusing on one experience over the other?
There aren’t hard-and-fast rules around this, as we’re still learning every day. Humans are so weird. We like something on Facebook and then can’t recognize the logo again to save our lives. We swear we won’t be one of “those people” who use a text message/tweet/email over calling, then we fall in line. Life moves very quickly, so taking advantage of the pace of user experience feedback is critical.

Trends and fast-paced innovation only work, however, if the bigger picture of customer experience is in focus.

3 Game-Changing Direct Marketing Trends for 2014

Today, we share three trends that direct marketers should give serious thought to in 2014. Combined, we believe these trends can be game-changers for direct marketers to grow revenue and profit. In this video, we reveal the trends we’re observing, and we explain why

Today, we share three trends that direct marketers should give serious thought to in 2014. Combined, we believe these trends can be game-changers for direct marketers to grow revenue and profit. In this video, we reveal the trends we’re observing, and we explain why they are on our short list of 2014 action initiatives for direct marketers.

  1. Direct marketers need to become lead generation machines. By using magnetic marketing strategies, you must draw prospects and customers to you so they opt in to learn more about your product and the values of your organization.
  2. Once a prospect opts in to your sales funnel, we recommend a lead nurturing program, using marketing automation software. But beware: our research suggests that not all marketing automation software is well-suited for traditional direct marketers who use direct mail.
  3. As customers are savvier today than ever about sales messaging, it’s no longer enough to sell, based on features and benefits of the “what” and “how” of our products or services. You must sell with real reason marketing and get to “the why.”

Learn more about these three trends in today’s video, and share your comments below about what you’re seeing for 2014 and why.

(If the video isn’t just above this line, click here to view it.)

The Bowels of the Mail Beast

While my duties have shifted (radically) over the past few months, I still review our giant mailbag (over 1,000 pieces a month) in order to uncover the trends in direct mail, along with finding intriguing new pieces or others that have stood the test of time. Recently, I took a look inside many of these increasingly colorful mailers to see what trends were popping up.

While my duties have shifted (radically) over the past few months, I still review our giant mailbag (over 1,000 pieces a month) in order to uncover the trends in direct mail, along with finding intriguing new pieces or others that have stood the test of time. Recently, I took a look inside many of these increasingly colorful mailers to see what trends were popping up.

First, just like the outside, the slimmed-down approach is also visible inside, with more 2-page letters instead of 4-page letters, for example. More reply cards are perfed to the letter, which usually means that the letter is only one page.

I’m also seeing fewer copy tactics like the Johnson box, bolded copy, subheads, margin copy, multiple P.S., etc. It’s almost as if the marketer no longer believes that prospects 1) have much time and 2) even remember what a letter looks like anymore! Apparently, prospects don’t want to read much, yet with the scarcity of long letters in the mailbox, perhaps the chances for long copy succeeding are actually better than ever today?

Funny enough, the letters — long or short — with shorter paragraphs and readable font (that’s large enough, even up to 14 pt.) still strike me as the most effective. The small, cramped copy in long paragraphs on a single page are a turn-off, in my opinion, compared to the letters that still take their time, lead with a great story, etc.

Of course, many mailers these days don’t bother too much with story and simply get right to the punch, with their offers, their missions, etc. They often start with the reply card as the first thing the prospect sees when cracking open the envelope. This seems ludicrous to me, but it happens more and more.

Component-wise, there are fewer of them. Buckslips are an endangered species, while brochures are holding steady, largely because they sometimes replace letter copy entirely, or at least in part. Freemiums are also disappearing, but when they do appear, they’re less bulky and likely to be simple things like a bookmark, decal, a certificate of appreciation, etc. Even address labels have decreased, while calendars have become rare.