When you work in the online realm on a daily basis, it can be easy to forget just how quickly things can change. Companies, websites, programs, software and search engines spring up, die off, and evolve at a pace that keeps everyone on their toes. It’s what makes our profession extremely challenging, exciting, and rewarding.
Looking back on all of the developments that took place over the course of 2014, we’ve identified some of the more impactful occurrences in each major discipline of online marketing. In addition to examining what we’ve learned from these developments, we also try to speculate where we’ll be headed in 2015.
Paid Search / SEM
What happened: In August of 2014, Google PLAs became Google Shopping campaigns. This shift brought enhanced management and optimization that led to an immediate impact for ecommerce retailers. In the 3 weeks following the switch from PLAs to Shopping campaigns, advertisers saw revenue grow by 33.78%, ROAS increase by 25%, and ad spend decrease by nearly 30%, all according to a performance report conducted by CPC Strategy.
Mobile advertising also had one of its strongest year yet, with eMarketer predicting that 2014 would be the year that mobile advertising spend surpasses newspaper, TV, and radio. This prediction coincided with the historical shift of mobile devices overtaking PCs in internet usage.
With the path to online conversions becoming less and less linear, 2014 also saw an increase in retargeting efforts among marketers. In fact, 14% of marketers spent more than half of their marketing budget on retargeting according to AdRoll.
Where we’re headed: For paid search, it’s looking like more of the same in 2015. Hanapin Marketing’s State of Paid Search report showed a strong desire among marketers to increase ad spend in Facebook (55%) and Twitter (39%). Search and display will still hold a solid chunk of anticipated ad spend in 2015, with 70% planning to increase their budget for Google Adwords, 52% for Bing Ads, and 52% for display networks.
Organic Search / SEO
What happened: In 2014, Google began cracking down hard on poor quality sites who engaged in unnatural link building and other spammy tactics. The first major example of this crack down was Expedia.com, who reportedly lost 25% of their search visibility for allegedly engaging in unnatural link building practices.
Making things even more difficult for marketers trying to rank sites organically, Google unleashed multiple algorithmic updates in 2014, including Panda 4.0 and 4.1, Penguin 3.0, and Penguin. For some websites, these updates were an opportunity to recover lost traffic and rankings from previous algorithm shifts. For others, these algorithm updates served as reminders that we are all subject to Google’s whim.
Where we’re headed: Given the drastic (and constant) changes that continue to shape the organic search landscape, it’s difficult to toss out predictions for the future. With that said, all signs are pointing to a shift away from explicit link building, and a greater emphasis placed on content creation, on-page technical elements, mobile optimization, and overall usability.
Content Creation & Marketing
What happened: “Stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done.” When Matt Cutts dropped this bombshell on the search marketing world in January, many people were left scrambling for new ways to market their content and build backlinks. While some professionals in the industry felt (and continue to feel) that guest blogging won’t be dying anytime soon, the announcement from Cutts underlined what Google set out to accomplish in 2014 – crack down on duplicate, thin, or otherwise “low-quality” content.
As a result of the Panda roll-outs and other algorithmic shifts from Google, high-quality content creation and marketing became the strategy in 2014. The gradual shift in SEO from a link-focused strategy to a content-focused one saw a sharp increase in 2014. Today, content creation and marketing are at the crux of a successful online marketing strategy, rather than a supporting feature.
Almost contradictory, Google also decided to end their authorship program in 2014. In June, Google started removing author photos from search results, citing low adoption rates and little to no impact on click behavior as reasons to cut the program.
Where we’re headed: With the growing tide of content creation and promotion expected to continue, it will become increasingly important for content creators and marketers to find ways to cut through the clutter. Variety and creativity in both medium and message will be the name of the game. As traditional text-only blog posts become less effective at attracting and keeping an audience’s attention, we will see more and more graphically-driven content being made.
Niche and industry-specific content is for a strong year in 2015, which will breed new thought leaders in highly specialized areas. As a result, we may see Author Rank begin to play more of a role in how Google recognizes and ranks content moving forward.
What happened: Brands continued to invest both time and money into managing their social media accounts and promoting their brands through various social channels. According to Wishpond Technologies, 19% of marketers spent more than 20 hours per week on social media, with 64% of respondents spending 6 hours or more per week on social media activities. Complete automation of social channels gave way to a more hands-on approach to social media management and engagement.
When it came to social media marketing in 2014, “real” engagement became the rule rather than the exception. This led to digital marketers and social media managers paying close attention to social media feedback, commentary, and sentiment in order to facilitate genuine communication between brands and consumers.
Where we’re headed: Brands who continue to emphasize genuine engagement over canned tweets and posts will continue to do well. As more marketers realize that social media is more than just a branding play, but also an important part of the conversion process, additional time and budget will likely be dedicated to managing social channels. Paid social media advertising, and mobile social media ads in particular, are expected to increase exponentially over the next several years. Between 2013 and 2014, social media ad spend increased 40% to over $8 billion. That total is expected to reach $14 billion by 2018.
Give Us Your Predictions
So, where do you think the world of online marketing is headed in 2015? Let us know in the comments section below.