15 Digital predictions for 2017

It’s out with the old year, in with the new. We’ve seen a lot of change over the last twelve months, but what will 2017 bring? We asked our team for their thoughts.

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More stability in search engine results

Lee_AllenLee Allen, Head of SEO

Before, a notable Google update would usually create carnage in the search results and absolute chaos in the offices of SEO agencies everywhere, but it looks as if those days are gone.

We all remember the seismic fall-outs from various Penguin and Panda updates, but recent developments suggest that those ‘earthquake’ moments are going to be much rarer (although of course, we can never completely rule them out).

Penguin has gone from a one-off update, activated at the flick of a switch, to a live update that is continuously monitoring the SERPs for anything that doesn’t fit its idea of the ideal SERP – anybody who isn’t meeting Google’s best-practice will see their rankings slip much sooner and more incrementally, rather than seeing a sudden plummet at the next round of updates.

And of course, the way that brands have gone about their SEO strategy is now very different to how it was when Panda and Penguin were first conceived.

Content vs Advertising

Danny_Blackburn_02Danny Blackburn, Content Director

There’s a huge difference between content and advertising – but many brands don’t have this nailed yet.

Content has a natural audience, advertising does not. More brands will come to realise this and by over the course of 2017 we’ll see fewer brands trying to produce content that’s basically ‘advertising lite’ and is instead, genuinely useful content that attracts audiences, that aids the user in the customer journey and that actually works.

‘Near Me’ becomes ubiquitous in search

Glen_ConybeareGlen Conybeare, Chief Commercial Officer

We’ve already seen a significant shift in the use of, “near me” and in 2017, its use will sky rocket as the masses start to understand the power of this search tool. This presents brands with a huge opportunity, so 2017 really is the year to sort out local search strategy. Are you your locations visible to Google? Is the information presented correct?  Do you active encourage reviews?

Expect “near me” usage to also morph into recommendations as well, for example, “car rental near me” is already common, “Best car rental near me” or “cheapest car rental near me” is a logical next step.

Video finally being added to every brands “Annual Content Strategy”

James_PierechodJames Pierechod, Multimedia Designer

Traditionally video would largely come under the category of a brand’s seasonal ‘hero’ campaigns, envisioned to suit wide demographic audiences and delivered in a blanket “spray and pray” approach. This thankfully is now a thing of the past.

Video creation and production has become a necessity to any solid content strategy, and should become part of a regular content distribution calendar.

Instead of adapting existing content strategy goals to video, try looking at what you’re attempting to accomplish from an overall content perspective, and then figure out how you can use video to complement this message.

The Bots are Marching

Will_ConboyWill Conboy, Head of Paid Marketing Communications

We are going to see more and more brands look to introduce bots (which actually work) as a ‘first point of contact’ for digital communications. Many brands are already working on this, but the technology is developing quickly and it will be sooner rather than later that bots can take on many of the customer service tasks that currently clog-up call centre queues and use up staff resources through live chat.

Innovations such as Amazon Echo, Messenger and Whatsapp bots are going to the idea of interacting with an automated system become much more accepted by the general public, so we really have just got to the tip of the AI iceberg. The bots are an unavoidable reality.

The mobile-first SERP

Michael_HewittMichael Hewitt, Content Marketing Manager

The mobile-first index will undoubtedly be a big talking point when it lands in 2017.

We’ve become used to Google pushing mobile developments and improvements for some time, but these have mostly been from a usability perspective. Updates such as AMP and “#Mobilegeddon” have been about delivering content in a way that is more accessable, faster and less bandwidth-intensive, but a specifically mobile-focused SERP is likely to be a rather different animal.

How brands start to approach mobile, or change the way in which they approach mobile, could get very interesting in the coming year. Google might start thinking ‘mobile first’ with its search results, but are brands going to start thinking ‘mobile first’ when it comes to their content?

PR needs to get even more creative

kate matthewsKate Matthews, Strategic PR Director

Earning high quality backlinks from reputable sources has never been a particularly easy task (at least, not in the post-Panda era), and this is something that is only going to get more and more difficult.

National newspapers in particular, are now well aware of the value that they offer to digital marketers, are increasingly reluctant to provide referring links and so it means that your PR and outreach activity has to be even more creative your stories even more newsworthy and your ‘sell-in’ even stronger. It’s also crucial to take into account all a client’s ‘publics’ and think beyond edited media to reach other sources of authority. One things for sure, mundane press releases don’t cut it.

Keeping it ‘real’ with micro-influencers

Vincent_KrasauskasVincent Krasauskas, Content Executive

During 2016, influencers have put a hell of a lot into achieving a clean, polished look and feel to their presentation. So much so that even TV ads for beauty and hair products are now more likely to resemble vlogger demonstrations. Where before these pieces of content appeared less contrived than the standard ‘science bit’ we used to see more of on TV, the sheer amount of them now makes them appear stilted and much less authentic.

In 2017 we should expect brands to review their relationships with some of their more illustrious influencers (and their hundreds of thousands of social followers) in favour of micro-influencers. Although they may not have the reach of a more prominent blogger or vlogger, these smaller-scale subjects would more than make up for it with a sense of authenticity and community that you wouldn’t get elsewhere.

Greater convergence of search engine and searcher needs.

mike-mcdougallMike McDougall, Organic Search Director

I think 2017 will continue the trend of convergence of searcher and search engine needs. Key usability elements will be up-weighted in Google’s algorithm as they continue to move away from links as the dominant force as to what makes a site rank well in search engines. Content depth and relevancy (analysed en-masse by Google’s enhanced AI capabilities), site speed and great design and UX will all play a bigger part in what gets brands to the top of the digital pile. Businesses who put their customers at the heart of their digital strategies will continue to excel.”

Live video will become more popular

James_PierechodJames Pierechod, Multimedia Designer

We have followed and engaged with many of our favourite YouTubers for years now, watching their lives day by day; from jetting around the world experiencing new and amazing sites, to snowboarding down the middle of the New York streets. As immediate as this level of connection is, 2017 will bring this to real time. We will see a huge uplift in the number of live vlog broadcasts happening, and this will have an impact on how brands plan their video campaigns. XBOX trialled an incredibly simple ‘game giveaway’ in London earlier this year, and it received an enormous level of coverage and engagement.

We have also seen a huge uplift in ‘personal publisher news’, the documentation of real life events, this uncensored view of a situation, brings viewers by the millions to the forefront of the controversial.  One thing is for sure, the live broadcast is here to stay, and it is up to individual brands to learn how to use it.

Search engines get better at understanding sentiment

Danny_Blackburn_02Danny Blackburn, Content Director

Search engines will get better at understanding the sentiment behind a search and understanding the sentiment behind content, because they need to if they are to retain credibility.

At the moment, a big bad news story about a brand can actually end up having a positive impact on search visibility. Of course, the nature of that discussion is not what a brand ever wants, and yet it can be arguably ‘rewarded’ by Google with a higher search ranking.

Google is going to start to get much smarter in this area, rewarding brands which generate positive sentiment and penalising those which generate poor sentiment. This is another reason why brands need to focus on positive engaging content and quality digital customer services.

Virtual Reality

Will_ConboyWill Conboy, Head of Paid Marketing Communications

We’ve heard a lot about virtual reality for some time now, but 2017 could be the time where that technology really comes of age and when brands really start to make it work.

As virtual reality becomes ever more widely accessible, the possibilities of building truly immersive advertising environments could soar to new heights. Admittedly the pricing may remain prohibitive for mass take-up any time soon, but once this hurdle evaporates I expect brands to work on communications that places the customer within the message. This technology could deliver levels of engagement like never before.

B2B Content Marketing starts to mature

Michael_HewittMichael Hewitt, Content Marketing Manager

Whilst B2C brands seem to take all of the glory when it comes to content marketing, there is some excellent work going on in the B2B sector. More and more brands are starting to really look at how their content marketing can help them to achieve their objectives, and many of them are really starting to make it work.

We’re hopefully seeing the end of brands pumping out dry, tedious content that offers minimal value; either because those brands no longer see content marketing as some sort of token effort, or because they are actually starting to ‘get’ what their audiences are looking for, where those audiences are, and how their brand can address those user needs. Even in the driest of topic areas, there is so much potential for genuinely engaging and effective content.

Will the debate over ‘fake news’ change the face of social media

anne-christineAnne-Christine Charigault, PR and Social Executive

The huge political events of 2016 have really put the role and responsibilities of social media platforms into the spotlight, particularly around the prevalence of “fake news”.

The pressure on these social media platforms who, whether they like it or not, are seen as media companies, could lead to some very significant changes in the algorithms that control what content gets seen by whom. It is perhaps too early to speculate on just what that might look like, but if Facebook’s audiences are going to start becoming more sceptical about not just the content that they see but the platform as well, that could have an impact on how effective branded content turns out to be.

Gifs take another leap forward

Alex-o-ConnorAlex O’Connor, Multimedia Designer

Gifs might already be a big hit, but I can really see these taking another leap in 2017.

With WhatsApp finally catching on, the addition of video profile pics on Facebook, animated stickers in Messenger and Instagram’s Boomerang App, Gifs are going to be more popular than New Balance trainers and chokers were in 2016.

Don’t underestimate the “magpie effect” that moving image brings. They are far more impactful than static images, especially when your audiences are scrolling through their mobile feed like they’re playing Track & Field. Coupled with the ever decreasing attention span of Millennials and iGens, brands will be utilising a lot more of this short format, quick win content – if not as a sales tool, then just to stay relevant and engaged with their audience.

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