TL;DR (too long, didn’t read): the web is becoming increasingly crowded. In order to stand out, your brand and your content need to be truly unique, valuable, and authentic. Or you may have to start paying to get yourself in front of people. Don’t be afraid to be transparent. Focus on relevant marketing channels. Get help / hire an agency. Have a great year!
TL;DR Pt II: I’m a busy local business owner, just give me a few things to do in 2019:
- Consider taking advantage of Local Services Ads (with caution: read more)
- Update your Google My Business page regularly: with photos, videos, and posts
- Quit blogging so frequently and instead put your efforts into making your content really stand out
- If your target audience is between 18-35, consider less focus on Facebook, and more on Instagram
- Start using stories (on Facebook and Instagram)
- Hire a skilled marketing team
- Make sure you / your team is reporting on what matters
- Outfit your team with great digital marketing tools
Another year has come and gone and – you guessed it – only a million things changed in the world of digital marketing and marketing strategy for small businesses.
Don’t panic and fall for all the click-bait digital marketing headlines. A lot of things have changed in the last year, but for the most part, we’re seeing that what has been happening is happening more and happening more rapidly. In other words, a lot of the trends and principles we’ve seen in 2018 are continuing on their same trajectory.
You may need to consider shifting some priorities and reevaluating where your focus is. As a small business, your resources are limited, so it’s crucial you focus on the areas and marketing channels that will give you the most bang for your buck.
2019 Search & SEO Trends
Google “air conditioning repair” and find out everything you need to know about the state of local search and search engines in 2019.
You will find:
- 3 Local Service Ads (LSA’s) at the top
- 3 Google Search Ads
- 3 Businesses in a Local Pack (maybe with an ad)
- 10 Organic Results
- 3 Google Search Ads
Some quick math… that’s 22 businesses listed in some way on the first page of Google results for a pretty simple search query. 9 of those 22 are paying to be there.
What’s the point?
The search landscape is getting crowded, and depending on your industry, you may have to start paying to play.
So let’s take a bit of a dive and look at each section of this SERP (Search Engine Results Page):
Local Services Ads (LSA’s)
Local services ads (very similar to Google Ads) are pay-per-lead advertisements that (for the time being) are a new feature showing up at the very top of relevant searches. They rolled out to a few markets in late 2017, and have been slowly rolling out to smaller markets throughout 2018. It appears they are currently, and may remain, only focused on home services providers and some other local businesses.
*A note to our local friends: LSA’s rolled out in Charleston, SC in May, and it looks like they rolled out in Greenville and Columbia in November for select queries. We think you’ll start seeing these more and more.*
Local Services Ads Currently Focus on:
- HVAC contractors
- Garage Door Service Contractors
- General Contractors
- House Cleaning Companies
- House Painters
- Towing Companies
- Auto Glass Repair Companies
- Home Theater Systems
Are They Worth It?
Unlike Google Ads, you don’t pay for clicks, but for leads. It looks like most businesses pay between $10 – $30 per lead. Due to the prominence these ads earn you in search, we think they could very well be worth it.
Having said that, the product is brand new, so Google is definitely still ironing out some kinks. You pay per lead, but if the lead is terrible or wasn’t qualified, there’s still some question as to how easy it is to dispute your claim and get your money back. If you’re tight on cash, it may not be worth it to test the waters. But if you can be patient and roll with the punches until things get ironed out (and you are a local home services provider), we think it could be worth the experiment.
Not long ago, most searches produced two or three super obvious ads at the top of the page. Lots of people didn’t click.
But times are changing. As you saw in the search above, ads aren’t even at the top of the page anymore, and they’re becoming less and less in-your-face. Organic SEO will always be a great investment, but as of now, even if you rank first in the local pack for “air conditioning repair,” your listing is below the fold of a search result on desktop. Mobile? You’re way down the page.
Wordstream reported recently that 65% of people click on Google Ads when searching to buy an item online. Obviously, not everyone is looking to buy online, but this statistic tells us that some types of searches (transactional and commercial) do earn clicks. And as ads become less and less intrusive, we think that number across all industries and intents will rise.
All that said, ads may be a channel you consider dipping your feet into in 2019. And Google isn’t your only option, there are plenty of digital advertising platforms.
The Local Pack and Google My Business
Here is yet another feature that is worth taking advantage of. Unlike LSA’s and Google Ads, you don’t have to pay (although some SERPs will show local ads here). The process of ranking well for local searches like this is called Local SEO – a crucial channel for small businesses.
How to Rank for the Local Pack in 2019
There are countless factors involved in ranking for the local pack. The biggest factor is proximity to the searcher. So don’t expect to rank in this for a search performed a county or two away. In short, the contents of your website, links to your site, and your brand’s reputation across the web (think: reviews, mentions on other sites, etc…) all play major roles – but the factor we want to focus on most in this post is your Google My Business page. The experts agree it’s the most important factor.
How to Optimize Your Google My Business (GMB) Profile
The GMB profile isn’t only important for ranking in the local pack. In general, we’re seeing lots of people searching for brand names (read: you forgot the exact URL and it’s 2019, so you just type it into Google). From here, lots of people aren’t making clicks. This means they’re finding everything they need on your GMB profile! It’s very important they can find what they need.
The first step is to claim (or create) your Google My Business profile. Google your brand name and see if your company appears in the left-hand panel. If so, look for an “Own this business?” prompt. If you don’t see it, this means someone has claimed it – perhaps someone in your office or an old web provider.
Second, fill in everything you possibly can:
- Photos (inside your office, outside your office, and your team at minimum)
- Description (a great place to pitch yourself)
- Any relevant attributes
- Make a post
- Respond to reviews
Posts are a relatively new feature in GMB. They’re an easy way to let your audience know of recent news, offers, deals, products, or simply a recent blog you’ve published. Include a photo and a link to learn more.
Don’t set it and forget it. It appears Google is paying attention to engagement, relevancy, and recency. So here are some signals that appear to be influencing the local pack more and more:
- Most recent review date
- Quality and relevance of reviews
- Regularity of postings
- Phone calls made from GMB
When it comes to organic rankings as a whole, the biggest shift we’re seeing is a sort of specialization of SERPs based on industry and intent. It appears Google is honing in on certain searches and intents and crafting the results in their own way. For instance, “digital marketing in greenville” might display digital marketing companies’ services page and a local pack, but “digital marketing company in greenville” may display job boards.
To succeed in digital marketing via search in 2019, you have to segment the queries you’re trying to rank for. Because how you attack one query may look a lot different than another. Competitor analysis and finding out why company x is doing so well for y searches, but company y is doing better for z searches – this has to be happening in 2019.
In addition to competitor analysis, backlinks are still crucial. Don’t back off your link building activity.
SEO To Do for 2019
- For home service providers: Get ahead of the curve with Local Services Ads
- Consider Google Ads if you’re struggling to rank organically (or even if you’re not)
- Make sure your GMB profile is 100% complete
- Regularly update your GMB: photos, videos, and posts
2019 Content Marketing Trends
Our industry tosses around the word “content” a lot. What are we talking about?
When we refer to content / content marketing, we’re talking about anything your organization produces that your audience would find valuable – that doesn’t pitch your services / your brand.
Here’s a quick quiz:
A brochure that talks about why someone should work with you? Not what we’re talking about.
A page on your website that walks through the process of working with you? Not quite.
A blog post that outlines how much it usually costs to work with someone like you, some tips for working with people in your industry, and some red flags to look for when hiring someone in your industry? Great content.
Now that we’ve addressed that, what is happening in the world of content in 2019?
The Internet is Saturated with Content
Very similar to what we’re seeing in search, the internet is becoming crowded, even for small businesses in local contexts. Everyone and their mother has a blog. So many businesses are pushing out content – and some of it is even pretty good. Depending on your industry, a short blog post titled, “3 Tips for x,” and published in 2015 might have gotten a lot of attention. But in 2019, it’s probably not doing a lot for your business.
So how can you succeed in a saturated content market?
Make Your Content Better
Rand Fishkin coined the term “10x Content” a few years back. The idea is that when you’re thinking of publishing something, in order to truly stand out, you need to make it ten times better than the next best piece on that subject. How can you do that?
- Tackle a subject no one has addressed yet
- Address a popular subject in a new way
- Address a difficult subject in a way that’s easier to understand
- Make a piece more beautiful / with better design than everyone else’s
*Unsure of how to find out what else is out there? Google the topic and see what appears.
For example, if you’re in the air conditioning repair industry – instead of a simple text filled “How to Identify What’s Wrong with Your AC” post, you create a visual with illustrations and photos that outline some key issues someone could be having, and exactly what to do to fix them.
Or, as a pool builder, instead of a post on “3 Options for Pool Lighting,” create a great case study that looks at three different clients, their lighting considerations, how you helped them decide, and beautiful photography of the finished products.
These are just a few ideas, read more about Rand’s take and find some great examples on 10x content.
Use Your Resources Wisely
One of the biggest problems we see with small businesses who have limited budgets and resources is the idea that they need to blog every single week. So over the course of a few months, they’ve logged 10 hours on 10 blog posts – all of which are pretty good posts, but won’t do anything more than get a few clicks upon publishing.
Instead, we would recommend putting those ten hours into two or three really great, creative, and unique pieces. This will be of greater value to you in the long run.
Content Marketing To Do’s in 2019
- If your resources are limited (you’re a small business without a huge team of writers), focus on quality over quantity. Instead of one post / week, consider one great post / month.
- Set your goals around reach, traffic, and engagement – not frequency of posting
- Treat your blog as a collection of resources instead of a place people come to browse
2019 Social Media Marketing Trends
Facebook has managed to stay in the news (the global news, not just the digital marketing news) all year long. The company has seen privacy push-back, endured hearings, made significant changes to their algorithm, and more. Some think the entire company and platform is nearing the end, with many employees admitting the platform no longer makes the world a better place. We’re not sure if things are that dismal, but here are a few things we do know.
The News Feed is Dying
Some of the biggest 2018 marketing news came early in the year when we saw a significant algorithm update which severely limited businesses and publishers from organic news feed real estate.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, said in January, “Recently we’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content — posts from businesses, brands, and media — is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.”
Later, Facebook stated, “Because space in News Feed is limited, showing more posts from friends and family and updates that spark conversation means we’ll show less public content, including videos and other posts from publishers or businesses.”
Stories Are Gaining Steam
Snapchat first introduced stories in 2014, and since then we’ve seen Instagram, WhatsApp, and now Facebook add them to their offerings. There seems to be a ton of opportunity here for businesses. Instagram found that one in three claimed to have become more interested in a brand or product after seeing it in Instagram Stories.
Instagram’s User Base Continues to Grow
Instagram has been growing steadily for years now, and its primary audience is young people between 18-34. If this is your target audience (we would argue that even if they’re not, they will be soon), there’s a ton of opportunity for your business there.
Social Media Marketing To Do in 2019:
- If Facebook is a viable marketing channel for your business, begin exploring stories
- If your target audience is between 18-34, make sure you’re on Instagram
- Consider Facebook and Instagram ads
Transparent Marketing in 2019
We talked a lot about transparency and authenticity in last year’s trends post. Truthfully, it’s not a trend, and it’s not a new idea. Hubspot wrote on why you should display your pricing as far back as 2013. But we continue to see small businesses fight the idea that transparent marketing is good marketing.
Label Insight performed a study of more than 2,000 people and found 94% of consumers are more likely to be loyal to brands that are completely transparent. The same study also found that 56% of people would stay loyal to a brand for life if it was completely transparent. (Success Agency.)
We’ve seen this most relevant to companies who sell products – what kinds of materials are they sourcing, how much are they paying your employees, etc… But we’re most definitely seeing the shift to the services industry as well.
For example, Buffer, a social media posting platform, shares their entire team’s salaries in an effort to be transparent. Affordable Language Services began sharing their pricing model on their website way back in 2013 and saw their leads per month double.
Maybe neither of those ideas quite make sense for you, but you get the idea. Transparency sells.
Reviews in 2019
Speaking of transparency and authenticity, we continue to see the importance of reviews rise in local markets for small business. We view reviews as a source of transparent marketing because they are generated by customers without your input – they give other consumers a firsthand take of your products and services.
We see consumers’ consideration of reviews grow each year. This year, 86% of consumers said they read reviews for local businesses. Additionally, consumers claim to read an average of 10 online reviews before feeling able to trust a local business. (BrightLocal, 2018)
The trend we’re seeing is toward recency and relevance. Having a million reviews may not be as important as the date you received your most recent review. And having a 5 star rating may not be as important as the contents of your reviews.
What should you do about this? First, ask every customer for a review. Life’s too short to live in fear of a potential 3 star review, and it may even give you an opportunity to rectify a poor experience. Second, ask customers to be transparent and not to be afraid to give detail on their experience. What you shouldn’t do is ask for a certain star rating and put words in their mouth. Google doesn’t like that.
How to Embrace Transparency in 2019
- Consider displaying your pricing (or at least your pricing model)
- Show off photos of your staff and team
- Talk about your processes and products
- Ask every customer for a review and encourage them to be honest and thorough in their reviews
- DON’T bribe or request “5 star reviews”
2019 Marketing Speed Round
Here are some trends, tools, and ideas that will gain (or continue to gain) major marketing ground in 2019. These are trends and ideas that are more relevant for larger businesses. Perhaps these aren’t marketing efforts your small business makes moves on this year, but be aware they have arrived. Instead of going into much detail, we’re just going to point you to some other sites who have given great and recent insight:
- The Customer Experience
- Video + Live Video
- Social Listening
- Influencer Marketing + Local Influencer Marketing
- Augmented Reality + Virtual Reality
And there you have it: everything you need to know about digital marketing to succeed in 2019. Have questions? No clue where to start? We’d love to hear from you and do our best to point you in the right direction.
Happy New Year!