The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact has crashed across the globe—resulting in businesses coming to a screeching halt and a market slump and now sadly businesses closing. One of the things this year of crisis has made everyone realize is that for a business to stay afloat amid disruption, it needs to have a strong digital marketing presence.
Given the tumultuous year, we decided to do a mid-year trends check in to help our audience hasten its recovery from this pandemic.
Digital transformation accelerated during COVID-19
This trend is not hard to spot all around us. Businesses adapted quickly to the shelter–in–place and started or enhanced their online shopping, ordering, experience, or added delivery to survive. Those that did not might not have the resources to reopen. Customers in high numbers tried these new offerings and have come to appreciate the new options and experiences.
While the COVID-19 pandemic spread like wildfire and affected millions of businesses, we carried out Crisis-Recovery-Growth to help businesses cope in these troubling times. While the Crisis stage was all about empathy and a time for businesses to build a relationship with their customers–by reiterating that we’re all in this together, the Recovery stage has brought about a new sort of approach and a digital transformation–one that banks on building confidence in customers to step out and book or buy with the goal being ‘safety and togetherness’.
The message is clear and businesses are now emphasizing cleanliness and hygiene and the guidelines that are followed to instill confidence in potential customers. We’ve created a recovery funnel for businesses to follow to help them out of the current situation that is focused on building confidence, demand, conversions, and trust. Click on the link to know more.
Recommendation: Optimize digital experiences and keep expanding digital infrastructure as a differentiator that delights your customers. Generate demand by creating more options for payment, pick up, and delivery and allay customer concerns for safety and cleanliness.
Mobile traffic growth decelerated and share drops with people sheltering-in-place and using desktop more during COVID-19, but it will come back strong when the economy reopens
We mentioned that the COVID-19 Pandemic has made changes to the digital landscape and this is a fine example to prove it. While businesses have stressed on optimizing their mobile websites and rightly so, during COVID-19, due to a drop in demand and people working from home, desktop websites experienced a surge and took over mobile websites in terms of traffic ratio. Based on our research data and this trend, having the perfect balance of both desktop and mobile websites is the trick to ensure your business is visible to customers at all times.
Take a look at some of the Milestone Research findings:
- Desktop consumption has increased from 47% to 52%, so the recent ratio of desktop to mobile is 52%:48%
Recommendation: Stay focused on mobile and assume it will largely reverse the traffic ratio in a reopened economy.
Startup valuations and multiples are down with COVID-19 and recession, but fall 2020 will be strong for IPOs
This was predicted even before COVID-19 spread across the globe, the market was leaning towards a recession and the onset of the pandemic rubbed salt on the wounds of startups. According to Global Data, as of 29 March 2020, venture capital funding dropped by 22.5% in just a week, precisely due to the double-whammy of the imminent recession and the spread of COVID-19.
PitchBook reported that deal–making was down -26% in March as well, and while venture capitalists are largely risk-averse during this period, some are looking to see if startups can weather the storm or have a solution that could be fit to serve customers even during the pandemic or in situations like these.
Recommendation: Keep investing in the downturn by securing talent, marketing, new customers, and launching great products, but assume liquidity events are moved farther out on the time horizon.
Speed of recovery post–COVID-19: U-shaped or V-shaped? U-Shaped at Best.
While economists in March 2020 were optimistic of a V-shaped recovery, which means that though the market has slumped rapidly due to COVID-19 it will recover as fast – resembling the alphabet, over the last few weeks economist feel that the possibilities of a V-shaped recovery is less likely and a U-shaped recovery is a lot more probable. The pandemic is lasting longer than people hoped in the US due to an ineffective federal response. This is because there is an air of uncertainty around COVID-19 and most are unsure of when the pandemic will recede to bring life back to normal.
However, on a more positive note, financial institutions such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo Securities, and JP Morgan have recently predicted that though the economy will slump in the first half of 2020, it will make a rapid comeback in the latter half of the year – similar to a V-shaped recovery. To add fuel to this optimism, John Burns Consulting and Harvard Business Review carried out a historical analysis and evidence–based on the previous market slumps due to SARS, 1968 H3N2, etc., and based on empirical data and trends, believe that the recovery of the market is similar and will be V-shaped.
Recommendation: Whether the economy bounces back at a quick rate or more modestly, drive demand by segmenting and making creative problem-solving product or service offers.
Search Updates & Digital Trends:
Google’s Page Experience Update
When Google rolled out the ‘Speed Update’ in July 2018, page load speed was not a direct ranking factor, but now speed is defined as integral to the customer experience of the site. Now, Google will evaluate the overall experience of a page by combining speed in the form of Core Web Vitals with existing user experience signals.
This means that from here on, Loading (Largest Contentful Paint), Interactivity (First Input Delay) and Visual Stability (Cumulative Layout Shift) will be factored into determining the user experience of a page. Hence, by factoring the Core Web Vitals, Google’s algorithm will display more prominently websites that users love interacting with on the top searches. In fact, Google even replaced the Speed Report with the Core Vitals report on Google Search Console (GSC).
Recommendation: Continue to improve speed, consider implementing AMP, and reduce image and page shift in addition to all the prior approaches that increased engagement and decreased bounce.
AMP improves visibility, experience, and traffic, yet only 4% of sites are using it (Milestone Research)
Considering that page speed load is now an important ranking factor as part of Google’s Core Web Vitals, the emphasis for the need of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) could not be higher. AMP basically strips down the code and displays the priority content of a page, thus improving the experience of website visitors, and inevitably, traffic and visibility of a page.
To prove this, Milestone Research surveyed the performance of clients over Q4 2019 (Pre-AMP) and Q1 2020, and the results that our clients experienced with their AMP were startling. Apart from an 84% increase in click-through rate, take a look at the results that AMP produced for a set of clients:
Impact on Visibility and Traffic:
- 36% increase in clicks from Google search
- 15% increase in mobile clicks from Google search
- 59% increase in CTR from mobile devices
Impact on Mobile Traffic:
- 69% increase in traffic to the website
- 101% increase in bookings
- 85% increase in leads
- 27% decrease in page load time
Recommendation: Implement AMP to outperform the 96% of sites that do not yet use it.
Error-free advanced schemas are vital to improving visibility and traffic (Milestone Research):
While basic schema tagging gives search engine bots a clear context of the website content and structure, advanced schemas define the hierarchy of the entities and their relationship with each other. In the process, this simplifies the indexing process of the page and Google displays the content as rich results on search. Since rich results are attractive and compile relevant information that answers the query, it helps a business improve its organic traffic, impressions, and clicks. In fact, Milestone Research fetched data on the effectiveness of error-free advanced schemas for clients of ours, and the results were as expected:
- Increase in search impressions, organic traffic and clicks by 30-50%
- 25-60% increase in organic search impressions and traffic
- 20-40% increase in rich snippets results
However, despite the known benefits of implementing advanced schemas on websites, our latest research told a different tale and reflected the lack of emphasis that businesses are giving to schemas and their role in visibility on search. Here are some results from a cross-industry sample of 1620 websites analyzed in April and May 2020:
- 97% of sites sampled do not have error-free advanced schema
- 59% of sites sampled have no schema
- Only 5% of sample uses more than 8 schema types out of 818
- 39%+ of sites in the sample using schema show errors
- Sites with advanced schema outperform sites without schemas 2-3X
- Only small number of schema success stories visible on Internet
This means that the opportunity for growth in visibility for your business is huge and error-free advanced schemas is your ticket to edging out your competition.
Recommendation: Implement error-free advanced schemas to outperform the 97% of sites that do not yet use it.
SERP volatility is increasing with more rapid algorithm adjustments and could be driven by AI
SERP volatility is nothing new and a website that was a top result for a query could be replaced any day and it’s possible it could not even be on page 1 today. SERP volatility is based on trends, relevance, and more importantly, Google’s algorithms. Take a look at the SEMrush’s Sensor which displays SERP volatility over a certain period. To us, it looks more obvious that SERP volatility is increasing and Artificial Intelligence to match content and SERP type to query intent and rapid algorithm changes by Google could be the cause for it.
Listed below are SERP features and their volatility. Top Ads have dropped the most and for obvious reasons considering the pandemic. That said, despite SERP volatility, experts believe that sticking to core SEO principles is vital, and following the latest trends and what’s relevant is important.
Recommendation: Consider all the different asset types that can represent your content: text, images, video, local, knowledge panel, FAQS, How-tos and how error-free advanced schemas can help you expose that content.
FAQs are more important than ever for experience and SEO performance
Consider the evolution of search up till Google’s BERT algorithm, search has moved from keywords to conversational and long-tail queries. Relevance of content is the key with the BERT algorithm, and FAQs are the perfect ingredient for businesses to be visible on search for queries of local businesses. And the benefits of FAQs don’t stop there, in the quest to land the ‘zero-click’ spot or featured snippet and ‘people also ask’ section on search, FAQs are integral when it comes to voice search, as having conversational content gives voice bots the right signal to pick up the content as the voice answer.
In fact, by implementing the FAQ module on a client website, the business experienced a sharp rise in FAQ impressions as compared to the previous period.
Recommendation: Invest in longtail content and questions and answers to increase visibility and help customers find the answers they need to engage with your product.
The future of search: voice search & smart speakers
We’ve already covered how FAQs are integral in the voice search process and how Google’s BERT algorithm is centered on delivering users with the most relevant answers. Now, let’s dig a little deeper into what we call the ‘Future of search’ and the impact that voice search has in the market and where it is leading. But first, to instill the need for your business to jump on to the voice search bandwagon, consider these market research numbers.
- 55% of all-American homes will own a smart speaker by 2022
- 72% of people who own voice-activated speakers say that their devices are used as part of their daily routines
- Voice shopping is set to jump to $40 billion in 2022, up from $2 billion today
- Global smart speaker shipments have almost trebled between Q1 2018 and Q2 2019, growing from 9.36 million units to 26.1 million units
Being the single-right answer is not the end of the road for businesses when it comes to voice search, optimizing the customer experience to build loyalty as Digital Marketing Insititute rightly put it, is the goal.
Take a look at these brands that have already embedded voice search in their digital marketing strategy to deliver value-based content effectively to their customers, according to Digital Marketing Institute:
- Patrón Tequila helps consumers access personalized cocktail recipes
- Domino’s allows pizza-lovers to order from the comfort of their couch without having to pick up the phone or even place an online order
- PayPal users can engage Siri to send money to friends, family or businesses
- Nestlé created a skill that provides voice instructions as you cook
- Campbell’s has a skill that helps hungry consumers choose and cook recipes
Artificial intelligence has helped fine-tune voice search over the years and currently, Google Assistant has 2,000 “actions” and Alexa has 30,000 “skills,” which enables these assistants to give users a pin-point answer.
Going ahead, voice search is not just about brand awareness, voice ads are the next big step – which means that smart speakers will deliver results from paid campaigns. So how will brands capitalize on their ad being featured as a voice answer? Well, the voice commerce space is taking shape swiftly, which means that customers can make purchases with just voice commands and Jetson seems to be the front-runner in this digital transformation.
Focusing on ensuring that your website content is conversational is the first step for it to be picked as a voice answer or in other words, optimize for featured snippets, but keep in mind, voice search is moving towards giving customers a fulfilling and more connected brand experience.
Recommendation: Address the voice opportunity through understanding your audience’s frequently asked questions and provide the very best answers. As voice search grows, you will be there as the answer.
The boom in video marketing
While content marketing is the backbone of any business in terms of reaching out to their customers and visibility on search, to no surprise, video marketing is equally important and will soon replace content or text in many aspects of a business. In fact, Google has been bumping up websites that have video content precisely because they are informative, easier to digest and users prefer to watch a video to learn about a product or service than read content. In addition, video content is likely to drive 50 times more organic traffic to a website than text.
Take a look at these stats that prove that video marketing is now an essential in the digital marketing space:
- 70% of consumers say that they have shared a brand’s video
- 72% of businesses say that video has improved their conversion rate
- 52% of consumers say that watching product videos makes them more confident in online purchase decisions
- 65% of executives visit the marketer’s website and 39% call a vendor after viewing a video
Yes, YouTube has the largest piece of the pie, but other formats like video posts or live broadcasts on Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn have gained traction and let’s not even get into its proliferation during COVID-19.
Here are some other video marketing trends that have gained momentum in recent times:
- Live videos
From webinars to live demos of products or behind-the-scenes of a brand and interviews.
- 1:1 video
This could very well supplant business emails and text messages or phone calls in the future as personalized video messages are becoming easier to create.
- Video SEO.
If you thought SEO was limited to content, you were wrong. To improve visibility on video platforms like YouTube, using video SEO techniques such as text overlay, closed captions, descriptions, title and file names are essential.
- 360-degree video content
A step towards creating a real-life scenario to improve the customer experience, brands are adopting the 360-degree video content to give potential customers a taste of what they are in for.
Recommendation: Take the time and make the investment in video for experience and organic visibility on Google, YouTube, and other platforms. It is harder to produce than text articles and now more popular with most market segments.
Paid search economics have improved following COVID-19
Paid search came to a standing halt during the onset of COVID-19 primarily because demand had hit rock bottom as most businesses were forced to stop supply and COVID-19 brought about severe logistical challenges. However, the good news is that based on our data, paid search results have improved.
In addition, Ad extension call outs and sitelinks have improved as well. Take a look.
Recommendation: It is time to reactivate paid search and digital media. The prices are lower and paid media gives you better control of your messages and timing.
These are indeed difficult times that we live in, but businesses should understand these trends and use them to rebuild, recover, and grow again. Milestone ensures that, keeping the customer journey in mind, our clients are paced with the latest search and digital trends. To know how your business can bounce back from this pandemic while staying afloat with all the changes in the digital landscape, call us at +1 408 200 2211 or email at [email protected].