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The digital marketing landscape has changed a lot over the past year.
A lot has changed in the world, so it should be no surprise that the marketing landscape has been shaken up as well.
But don’t worry, we’re going to help you expertly navigate the new year and set yourself up for marketing success in 2021. 

What Happened in 2020?

A lot. But the two events that will have the largest impact on the marketing landscape in 2021 are COVID-19 and the legal microscope that now seems to be permanently fixed on Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon.
It needs no introduction. The world was ravaged by a highly contagious virus, forcing businesses to close and forcing others to work from home. Businesses went through digital transformations overnight, adapting to a new life where little business happened in-person. 
Events moved online, retail stores threw up eCommerce platforms, and businesses scrambled to figure out how to market in this new world.
The impact of COVID-19 will continue into 2021. We’ll walk you through some implications and how you can continue to adapt. 
Distrust of Big Tech
Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple were all subject to antitrust hearings back in July. Facebook was sued by the FTC in December for illegal monopolization, while Google was accused of search manipulation in a similar suit the same month. 
The two of them are responsible for over 50% of all online advertising dollars. 
In addition to their bout with lawmakers regarding monopolization, Facebook is under the microscope for how they handle hate speech and misinformation on their platforms. 
You may have noticed some censoring and flagging over the last few months. Some believe Facebook should ramp up their efforts while others feel any censorship at all is unconstitutional. The conversation died down a little after the election, but was brought back to the center of attention following the events at Capitol Hill on January 7th.
It’s unlikely a great deal will change in the very near future, but you need to be prepared for shake ups in digital advertising moving forward, and wary if you’re heavily relying on a single platform.

Marketing Trends That Will Always Work

While a lot in marketing does change year to year, some things never change. We’d be remiss not to mention a few “trends” that should always be at the top of your mind when planning your annual strategy.
These aren’t the shiniest or most glamorous concepts, but in a world where everyone is chasing the latest and greatest, getting the basics right might be the best thing you do this year.

Know Your Audience Like the Back of Your Hand

Your marketing will only be as successful as your knowledge of your target audience. 

  • Who are you marketing to? 
  • What are their interests? 
  • What are their preferences? 
  • What questions do they have regarding your industry? 
  • Where do they spend their time on the internet? 
  • What are their dreams and aspirations?
  • What frustrates them?

Being able to answer these questions with confidence will prepare you for anything 2021 throws at you. If you can’t answer these questions with confidence, it either means your audience is far too broad and undefined or that you haven’t put in the time to get to know your customers.
If your audience is too broad, maybe 2021 is the year to narrow your focus.
If you just haven’t taken the time to get to know your people, consider interviewing some of your top clients, building out an ideal customer profile, and creating buyer personas for your company.

Commit to an Excellent Product / Service

Businesses that aren’t growing as planned like to point the finger at the marketing department. But in reality, a sub-par product or service is often the biggest issue with underperforming businesses.
Remarkable products and services market themselves, while promoting poor products and services only amplifies their shortcomings.
If you’ve been struggling to see growth, consider taking a look at the product /service itself in 2021. 

And then, ensure your product and messaging is shown off well through excellent web design.

SEO and Content Marketing in 2021

There are a number of big SEO and content marketing headlines to be familiar with as we head into a new year.

Expertise and Trust

E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, Trust) has been a hot button topic for the last two years – and nothing is changing. Google is continuing to double down on the importance of expert content. 
The acronym has been around for quite awhile, but the community started taking it more seriously after the May 2019 update. We saw them prioritize it further with the December Core Update. 
Rest assured, authoritative content written by experts will continue to perform well – especially in spaces like health, finance, legal, or any advice on high-stakes topics (parenting, investing, home remodeling, etc…). And haphazardly written articles with little sourced evidence will continue to drop in ranking.
heathline focuses on E-A-T
Healthline, a big player in health content, does a great job of establishing E-A-T through writing expert content, always referencing medical journals, and having their pieces peer reviewed.
What to do in 2021:

  • If you rely on SEO and content marketing, make sure the content you’re producing showcases expertise, authority, and trust. Use bios that highlight relevant credentials, reference authoritative sources, and write in a way that conveys trust.
  • Seek backlinks from authoritative sources in your industry.

Core Web Vitals

Google announced in late 2020 that another core algorithm update is coming in May 2021, focused on user experience.
google's core web vitals announcement
The update will be focused on page experience as a key ranking signal. Core Web Vitals were introduced to us early next year and are designed to measure how users experience the speed, responsiveness, and visual stability of a page.
The big metrics at play are: 

  • Largest Contentful Paint: The time it takes for a page’s primary content to load. You should be looking for 2.5 seconds or faster.
  • First Input Delay: The time it takes for a user to be able to interact with a page. A good score is less than 100ms.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift: The amount of unexpected shifting of visual content on a page. A good measure is less than 0.1.

In addition to these vitals, Google will continue to prioritize page speed, safe-browsing, HTTPS protocols, and an easy browsing experience free from disruptive interstitials (like full page email signups and intrusive ads).
What to do in 2021:

  • Run your site through Google’s PageSpeed Insights to see how you score. Your overall mobile and desktop scores are important, but use the above measures to see how you stack up.
  • If your scores are less than stellar, it may be worth talking to your developer about how to make improvements.

Alternative Search Engines

Google is still the most used search engine around the world, and it’s not even close.
google market share
But as mentioned, Google has been dealt a couple recent lawsuits that call out the way their product works. One lawsuit specifically takes aim at Google’s market power and ability to push specific sites and services within search results.
It’s unclear how much these lawsuits will impact Google, but it’s worth being familiar with other search engines should any of their use skyrocket this year.
Thankfully, most search engines use similar signals for ranking. So if Yahoo or Bing were to grow in use this year, it’s likely you would see similar organic traffic. Nonetheless, you should be aware.
What to do in 2021:

  • Be aware of other search engines and how you rank on them. A few to take note of are Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, and Yandex. 
  • Consider setting up Bing Webmaster tools to keep eyes on your rankings and traffic from Bing.

Digital Advertising in 2021

Digital advertising platforms could be in for a shaky year. The two largest advertising platforms on the web, Facebook (who owns Instagram) and Google, were both hit with lawsuits as 2020 came to a close.
As mentioned, we don’t know exactly what – if anything – will happen as a result, but marketers should be ready for potential shake ups. 
If you invest primarily with Facebook or Google, one alternative is programmatic advertising.
In short, programmatic advertising is a way of using artificial intelligence and machine learning to buy digital display and banner ads across the web through real-time bidding, without negotiating directly with publishers.
For years it was too expensive for smaller businesses, but it has become more affordable. It’s a great alternative for digital advertising if you’re nervous about Google’s Display Network or you’re considering another Facebook boycott in 2021.
What to do in 2021:

  • Have a contingency plan and be ready should lawmakers force Google or Facebook to change the way they operate.
  • Check out some of the top programmatic networks like AdRoll, Pubmatic, or TripleLift
  • Consider diversifying your digital ad spend a bit if you rely heavily on Google, Facebook, or Instagram

Social Media in 2021

Social media is becoming an increasingly interesting place. 
Last year we wrote about the rise of social media detoxes. This awareness of how social media affects our mental and emotional health has only grown since last year. 
The 2021 Hootsuite Social Trends report notes: “The smartest brands will understand where they fit into customers’ lives on social media, and they’ll find creative ways of fitting into the conversation.”
A report from Deloitte states that, to do this, brands need to “be deeply attuned to why they exist and who they are built to serve”. 
These sentiments are true even for small business. Those who promote goodwill and convey purpose driven missions will see success on social in 2021. 
To Do in 2021:

  • Audit your social media platforms and ask, “Are we conveying a sense of purpose?”
  • Consider aspirational and macro themes when piecing together your 2021 strategy.

Stay Digital

If you made a big digital pivot in 2020, keep it going in 2021. Even if things do start heading back toward “normal” later this year, it’s likely consumers’ habits and preferences will remain the same.
Even the not-so-techy folks in your audience have likely grown accustomed to ordering online, virtual appointments, and checking your website to find out your availability.
And if you began investing in digital marketing, keep it up in 2021 as well. These channels are only going to increase in opportunity for you.

Whatever You Do, Be Agile

COVID-19 tested our agility last year, and a shakeup among the biggest advertising brands has us poised for another year of potential change.
Harmony Murphy, GM of Advertising at Ebay UK, agrees that marketers need to be prepared for uncertainty. 
“While planning has always been crucial for brands, the ability to pivot is becoming increasingly important. If there’s one thing we’ve learnt this year it’s to expect the unexpected and, with brands facing lots more uncertainty in the year ahead, they should be prepared to adapt their strategies as necessary.”
Brands who adapted quickly were able to take advantage of the opportunity, while those who were slow to adapt had a tough year. Adaptation in 2020 looked like shifting marketing spend to digital, learning to use Zoom for events, and trying to figure out how to tactfully adjust our messaging in light of a pandemic.
Things changed rapidly in 2020 and there’s not much reason to believe things will slow down this year. 
So, how can you become more agile? 

  1. Nail the basics. Knowing your audience, having a premium product, and being confident in your messaging makes adapting to change much easier. You’ll know what your audience is thinking, you’ll have a loyal client base, and you’ll be more confident in how to communicate.
  2. Be aware of macro industry trends. No one could have seen COVID coming, but maybe you will see the next industry shakeup on the horizon. Keep an eye on the news and what’s happening in your industry. Ask yourself regularly, “Could this impact the way we market in the future? If things keep going like this, how can we be ahead of the curve?”
  3. Take notes from bigger brands. Smaller and mid-sized companies get the privilege of observing how bigger brands react first. We don’t have to be the first to move when change occurs. Look at the bigger players, take notes on what works, observe what doesn’t work, and use their best ideas for your own marketing.

Plan well, and be ready for anything. 
Here’s to a successful 2021.

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