The inbound and digital marketing sphere has changed quite a bit in the past year. Where last year, we were just hearing about personal assistants like Google Home and Amazon Alexa, this year, they’ve been fully installed in thousands of homes. Fewer consumers are searching with desktops, and the great majority of all web searches are conducted via mobile device. In addition to all the technology improvements and changes, there’s been a noticeable shift in consumer habits to the hyperlocal. More and more people are searching businesses, restaurants, and services within their own area, which provides a lot of opportunities for digital marketers but does require a bit of a change in tactics.

As inbound marketers ourselves, we’ve been reviewing our progress this past year and looking forward to new trends likely to arise in 2018. If you’re working on optimizing your inbound and digital marketing strategies in the new year, here’s our inbound marketing forecast for 2018: a few of the biggest changes we expect to see that will directly affect how we do our jobs and help our clients.

Greater Focus on Mobile

Mobile devices continue to function as the number one way consumers search the web, meaning mobile search is going to change the game in 2018. No matter whether they’re looking for a nearby restaurant or searching for a video on how to change their own oil, most people Google their questions first via a mobile device. The idea that searches are primarily done on mobile devices first isn’t a huge surprise; Google has been optimizing their indexing system to prioritize mobile users for a few years now. Just because it’s old news, though, doesn’t mean digital marketers shouldn’t pay attention. All SEO initiatives should be implemented with mobile users first in mind, and anyone without a mobile responsive website should really consider an update within the year.

It’s good to remember that Google launched their Mobile-First Indexing system in 2017, and we’re just beginning to see the full effects. That system prioritizes mobile versions of sites first and foremost, and indexes websites based on the content hosted on the mobile version, rather than the desktop version. So, if you’re still running an “m.” mobile site with abbreviated content, you’ll want to make some changes to ensure your site continues to rank well for competitive keywords.

New SEO Trends to Watch For

When it comes to SEO, digital marketers are always aiming at a moving target. 2018 is no different, and new technology like personal assistants, as well as the rise of video marketing, shift our target yet again. Google also holds a heavy influence on SEO best practices, so we’ll start there:

Nix Mobile Pop-Ups

As part of Google’s revamped mobile-first indexing, they’re frowning upon mobile pop-ups that interfere with user experience. Where in the past, pop-ups were a great way to get the user’s attention and convince them to give you an email address, Google has determined that they frustrate mobile users. Now, mobile sites using pop-ups that cover a certain percentage of the screen could receive slight penalties that will affect search rankings. Check Hubspot’s article on pop-up mobile marketing for the nitty-gritty.

SEO for Voice Search and Personal Assistants

Probably one of the biggest trends we see coming down the pipeline this year are voice searches and searches via personal assistants like Amazon Alexa, Siri, and Google Home. They’ll be a big game changer for SEO experts, but if you get ahead of the game, you’re likely to rank highly for relevant long-tail keywords with low competition.

When it comes to voice search, the name of the game is intent, and it’s actually a great boon to digital marketers. Basically, instead of typing in keywords like “blueberry pancakes” or “snow shovel”, a consumer is going to ask Alexa, “Where can I find the best blueberry pancakes near me?” or “Where can I purchase a snow shovel?”. The difference is that in the voice search, you know exactly where a consumer is in the buyer’s journey, and you can bid on long-tail keywords that you know point to qualified leads who are ready to buy.

It’s all well and good to bid on paid ads you know will get you leads, but you’ll have to do a little bit more work than that if you’d like to rank for some of those key voice searches. Digital marketers and inbound marketers alike will be focused on creating more natural content that’s centered around questions and phrases a human would actually use, rather than Google’s search bots.

Social Media Shift

As you’d imagine, the social media world has continued to shift into 2018. Facebook has long been the primary platform for marketers, but other social media sites are beefing up their advertising platforms to remain competitive. What’s more, because consumer needs and desires have changed, the way we’re using social media is set to shift this year. Here’s a look at a few of the bigger changes we expect to see in 2018:

Instagram for B2Cs

Since no one’s really figured out how to monetize Twitter, and possibly never will, many B2C companies have turned to Instagram, and the numbers are looking pretty good. Though Facebook will continue to be the social media ad-king through 2018, thanks to its exceptional targeting tools, many B2Cs have been seeing increasing success with Instagram. In less than a year, its new Instagram Stories have become more popular than Snapchat, and companies are seeing a great deal of engagement from brand influencers on the platform. What’s more, you’ll see Instagram continue to bulk up its advertising controls to ensure that digital marketer’s messages get through to the target consumers.

LinkedIn for B2Bs

No surprise here: LinkedIn continues to be a key social media platform for B2Bs. What’s new, though, is LinkedIn’s improvements to the platform. They refreshed their interface, for starters, but they’ve also made significant, positive changes to their advertising platform, which is looking pretty slick. Marketers can choose the shape, size, and style of their ads, target the ads to certain industries and even specific companies, and LinkedIn also offers an expansion feature, where they choose audiences similar to the ones you’re targeting, so you can expand your ad’s reach in an educated way. This improves LinkedIn’s worth to B2B advertisers and makes it easier to speak to those target buyers where they live.

Increased Engagement Across Social Media Platforms

Social media marketing has long been an integral part of any marketer’s toolbox, but in 2018, it’s looking like increased engagement is what sells. Today’s consumer wants their experience with any company to feel genuine, rather than pushed on them. That’s why companies like Starbucks are seeing tons of positive engagement from campaigns like the “White Cup Contest” where consumers were invited to draw on Starbucks cups and submit their designs to social media platforms via the #whitecupcontest hashtag. The winning design was then printed on a reusable Starbucks cup and sold across the country.

Today’s consumer wants to feel like they’re a part of the process, and have a say in what their favorite companies do and produce. Customer reviews have long held a great deal of sway in Google rankings, but in 2018, we’ll start to see consumer engagement surpass just reviews. If you’re looking to get the word out about your company, we suggest you invite increased engagement across social media platforms in whatever way you can, whether that’s asking for consumer opinions, or starting a contest like Starbucks’ White Cup Contest, that gets consumers invested in your brand.

New Marketing Platforms to Explore

New technology invites new marketing opportunities. In 2018, we expect to see a great deal of changes as to where, and how we market digitally thanks to video media’s rise in popularity, and the ease of use that home assistants provide. Again, technology isn’t the only thing that’s causing a shift in how marketers get their jobs done. Changing consumer habits will affect how we market as well this year. Here are three big changes we expect to see in 2018:

Voice Marketing

We’ve already talked about voice marketing a bit, but it really is a burgeoning aspect of digital marketing that we can’t ignore. If you’re looking for new ways to expand your digital marketing efforts, keep voice search and personal assistants in mind. Consumers are searching with those long-tail keywords, which means content that’s targeted to more natural, native phrases will start to see better rankings and more engagement.

Video Marketing

In addition to the fact that mobile internet use will increase, mobile video consumption is predicted to grow by more than 25% in 2018. Live video was one of the biggest new trends to hit social media this past year, and as attention spans grow shorter, many marketers are finding that video marketing is a key way to grab and hold onto new leads. Video marketing also speaks to the transparency that younger consumers appreciate and search for.

When you show consumers how your product works, what your employees look like, and exactly what you do every day at your company, you’re providing a genuine experience for new potential leads, and that’s what younger consumers appreciate, and are latching onto more often. Break into video marketing easily with a simple tour of your company’s store, factory, or facility. People love to see “how things are made” and an up-close look at what you do makes it easier for consumers to associate you as more than just a brand—a marketing strategy that’s proven to sell.

Local Marketing

With the rise of voice search and local-first movements encouraging consumers to support their community by purchasing from local, small businesses, local marketing has begun to see a significant increase in the past few years. Expect to see considerably more local marketing in 2018, as Google has now rolled out Google Posts for small businesses, Facebook’s introduced Facebook Local, and Google has rebranded their home services advertising platform to Google Local Services.

There’s a huge push to stand out in the local area, and these advertising options are making it much easier for local businesses to be seen, and discovered by local searchers. Continue to optimize your local marketing strategy by pushing keywords focused on location, ensuring NAP is consistent across platforms, and regularly updating your business’ Google Business Page, as well as your Facebook Page and website.

Inbound Marketing Strategies to Implement in 2018

At HA Digital Marketing, we’re firm believers in the power and success of inbound marketing, which is why we apply the inbound philosophy to everything we do for our clients. Inbound is proven to draw in qualified leads, and turn them into long-term customers, which is why we’ll be implementing the following inbound marketing strategies as we move into 2018:

Better Understanding of Buyer’s Journey

Today’s consumer values transparency, trust, and information. They don’t want to be marketed to, but they do appreciate information that’s relevant to their specific pain points. That’s why in 2018, digital marketers should strive to use data to identify pain points for each and every step of their company’s buyer’s journey. Learn what sort of content they appreciate, and when, and use that data to better inform your overall marketing strategy. Potential clients will thank you for the attention, and your optimized marketing strategy will shorten the sales cycle.

Personalized Content

In the same vein, 2018 is the year to forget mass email blasts and generalized ads. Consumers can spot them from a mile away, and they don’t get anyone’s attention anymore. Instead, focus on hyper-segmenting your content and emails, and ensuring you’re generating a personalized experience for each potential client. It doesn’t have to be difficult either. There are a number of tools out there that can help you automatically incorporate each lead’s name to different landing pages, emails, and advertisements. From there, it’s a matter of segmenting your content by industry and job title so that each lead is receiving content that speaks specifically to their job, and their unique pain points.

Topic Cluster Content Strategy

Another inbound marketing strategy that’s on the rise in 2018 is called topic clusters, or content clusters. A topic cluster content strategy offers an organized way to create content that hits every major long-tail keyword related to each major focus area of your company and boosts your search engine rankings by linking those different pages of related content together. It sounds confusing and difficult to implement, but it’s probably not all that different from what you’ve been doing, if you’ve got a comprehensive content strategy already. Here’s a visual of what a topic cluster for content strategy looks like:

Not so scary after all, right?

Start with a pillar page. This is a page that offers a general overview of one topic in the broadest terms. Think of it like a topic 101 page: the basics that everyone should know about your topic. Let’s say you’re the owner of a coffee roasting company looking to generate some online traffic. Your first pillar page might be “Roasting Coffee 101: The Basics.” You’ll give your readers the most general information about roasting coffee. Then, your subsequent topic pages will be related to that pillar page, but will offer more depth on one specific subject, allowing you to target a long-tail keyword like “The Best Way to Roast Arabica Beans.” Each cluster content page like that one will link to the pillar page, offering your readers more information on the subject they’re already interested in.

But helping your readers dive further into your site, and understand your product more fully aren’t the only benefits of topic clusters. Topic clusters also function to link content for one target audience or buyer persona together, and they link all of those similar-themed keywords together as well. This helps you boost your search engine rankings, as if one page does really well, the others linked to it will also see a positive boost in rankings, thanks to your strategic hyperlinks. So, if your company’s New Years resolution was to boost your Google rankings, know that topic clusters are an ideal place to start.

Conclusion

We’re going to see a ton of changes to the digital marketing sphere this year, some we can predict, and others that we can’t. What we know is that mobile traffic will only continue to rise, as will local marketing and targeted advertising via social media platforms. Savvy digital marketers will recognize these trends early in the year, and work to optimize their marketing strategies to accommodate them, as well as newer technology like personal assistants and live video. As we mentioned before, digital marketing is always a bit like trying to hit a moving target, and 2018 will be no different.

If you’ve got any questions on the trends and strategies mentioned in this article, or if you’d like more information about digital marketing in the new year, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’ll be optimizing our digital marketing strategy to fit with new 2018 trends, and would love to help you out too! If you’re interested in making use of our years of experience and digital marketing savvy, it all starts with a conversation.

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