As 2018 draws to a close, our team shares their views and opinions on what will be the big trends, developments in 2019 and beyond.

The fall-out from the EAT update forces everyone to think more about their audiences

Scarlett Whittell, Content Executive

Google will keep forcing writers to get back to what we’re supposed to do – create engaging and truly informative content that’s naturally SEO friendly.

Keyword stuffing was on the out long before 2018, yet we still saw examples of content where keywords are shoehorned in, disrupting the flow and feel – even in light of the EAT update and Google’s continued development.

I think 2019 could be the year we finally see the end of some of those lingering SEO-content struggles. The year of digital harmony - that has a nice ring to it.

Peter Adams, Content Editor

Finally, the search engine had caught up with the established standards of quality content, particularly for editorial work, appreciating the value of things like bylines, author bios, quotes from experts, and clearly referenced sources.

These small things show expertise, build authority and earn trust (thus, EAT) – and people are at the heart of it all. Be honest, open and tell good stories.

Grant Woodward, Senior Content Editor

CMOs, particularly in those key “Your Money, Your Life” sectors will need to spend much more time thinking about what makes their brand a genuine authority in their sector or niche.

The last remaining excuses that did exist for doing “me too” content, or “because our SEO agency told us to” content were thrown onto the fire with the EAT update. A brand’s rankings will now be much more heavily influenced by their ability to stand out from the crowd and demonstrate that they are more knowledgable and trustworthy than everyone else.

Anne-Christine Charigault, Senior PR and Social Media Executive

Google’s EAT update earlier this year shows that the search engine is looking to reward personalised, trusted and relevant content on websites, and this will be a topic that keeps cropping up in 2019.

Whilst sectors such as health and finance saw the biggest drops, I think we’ll see the impact of EAT stretch beyond ecommerce brands in those traditional ‘YMYL’ industries in the coming year. The growth and impact of “fake news”, misrepresented facts and questionable opinions means that Google will continue to push the scope of this update across the web – with news publishers being one potential target.

Smarter approaches to influencer marketing

Sarah Barker, Head of Biddable Media Strategy

Influencers are already fully engrained in organic social activity, particularly when it comes to Instagram. You only have to look at the aftermath of Love Island to see users who suddenly acquire one million users and more to push out sponsored post after sponsored post, which is then likely to be reposted by the brand itself. And whatever you may think of this, it’s incredibly effective!

Whilst this trend is probably going to grow to exponential levels as more brands jump on the influencer brand wagon, I think we can also expect to see more of this filtering into paid social activity. We’re already starting to see some retailers begin to tag an influencer’s wardrobe in their paid ads, or feature ‘Instagram Models’ in their paid creative, but I think this is likely to become a much more widespread and adopted practice - particularly with the rise of super engaging social formats like Instagram stories.

With this, I believe there’s going to be much more focus on not only having an integrated paid and organic social strategy, but also one that fully integrates dialogue about your brand from other users on the platform, leveraging trusted testimonials to its full potential. It isn’t just fashion where I expect to see this trend – look out for it in a diverse range of sectors.

William Conboy, Paid Marketing Communications Director

As influencers continue to form major roles in big brand marketing strategies, one wonders how their trust levels are maintained. When Instagram superstars or YouTube powerhouses are pumping out material advertising products that range from hotel stays to food supplements, the targeted nature of their output becomes a little vague. They have enough followers so it’ll resonate somewhere, right?

An alternative to this approach, with additional value for businesses who are priced out from employing the social elite, is micro-influencers. Whilst typically having much reduced followings, often in and around the thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands, these audiences are usually much more closely aligned to the influencer and the subjects they talk about. As a result, there’s more expertise, more authenticity and more trust. Whereas historically, the marketing appeal was with volume (of followers, reach), I’m expecting a more refined shift towards targeting accuracy, and of course, affordability.

Lead generation comes into the boardroom….

Glen Conybeare, Chief Commercial Officer

A few years back, boardrooms got excited by content marketing and as a result, companies bought a lot of it. Many were not overly sure what they were buying but they ticked the box and the board reports noted that, “content marketing was being handled”.

Fast forward to 2018 and content marketing is still as prevalent as it was then but the focus has changed from, “get me some content” to “get me some content that works”. Of course, ‘work’ can mean many things but increasingly ‘work’ equates to ‘getting an ROI’.

The good news is content can be measured effectively. A great example is the influence functional and informational onsite content can have on natural search rankings. However, in 2018 we’ve seen a marked increase in using content effectively as part of a brands lead generation activity.

CRM and use of smart data analysis is of course not new. Back in the 1970’s companies like Littlewoods, Readers Digest and Great Universal Stores were using database marketing techniques to select potential customers to mail. In 2018 forward thinking brands started to focus much more heavily on using data to inform what content to send to their customer and prospects via email.  Now commonly known as demand generation or marketing automation, the concept is the same as the 1970’s – send the right thing to the right person at the right time. The difference today is we of course have better data and better systems. Hubspot for example can handle sophisticated email sequencing as well as analytics out of the box. Of course, the same approach can also be used for distributing relevant content via paid channels that can particularly effective for lead generation.

The return is very measurable, which is why many B2B companies in particular have already invested heavily. In 2019, the boardrooms of both B2C and B2B companies will begin to ask whether the content they have invested in is truly working and those that have invested in Demand Generation will be able to answer positively.

… and so does design

Andy Duke, Head of Design & Development

Brands like Apple have pretty much made investment in ‘design’ mainstream in recent years, but in 2019 we will start see ‘design’ forming the central focus of a digital strategy in many large corporations.

It’s increasingly obvious that a digital focus on design creativity at a strategic level can help differentiate a brand, and a strategic focus on UX design can help create everything from brand loyalty to improved conversion rates.

According to Adobe, organisations that describe themselves as ‘design driven’ are 69% more likely to have “exceeded their business goals”. Design is no longer the simple task that comes after all the strategic thinking have been completed - design thinking offers that strategic framework to better leverage the opportunities that better design offers. In 2019, I think this, combined with an increased representation for design at a c-suite level, will see most successful digital roadmaps and strategies start with design.

AI to lead the way in digital transformation

Danny Porter, Account Executive

Artificial Intelligence is likely to power the next phase of digital transformation and play a leading role in digital strategy for businesses in 2019.

There seems to be a race amongst competitors across all industries as to who can effectively adopt AI into their business eco-systems first. This is due to AI consuming the potential to evolve the working environment, allowing businesses to focus on more creative, human led tasks and leave the menial processes to the machine.

This is an important step forward for any brand looking to remain competitive in this digital climate, but brands can’t simply invest in AI for the sake of AI. Find the right use for the technology and focus on using it for the right reasons.

The evolution of voice search

Matt Barnes, SEO Manager

Voice search has been the main talking point of the year as more and more ‘assistant technologies’ hit the market. For all of the cynicism and differing opinion around voice, I still fully expect that it will become increasingly important to build holistic content strategies that factor in both user intent, and the nature of voice devices.

Alexa skills are a prime example of how services can be integrated into the home, making specific brand content more accessible. Moving forward we’ll see video start to tie together with voice with the use of Google Actions to provide answers via YouTube combining visual devices and voice devices into a single cohesive response, and I expect smart TVs and Google Hub products to be the focus of this development.

Up to now, voice search has been very much “all talk”, but there are new developments where voice will trigger other content mediums. Longer term, we fully expect that Google will continue to try and monetise its voice services through linked and promoted content.

Jonathan Brown, Senior Content Editor

I envisage that in 2019, voice search will start to become a bigger consideration in general, but particularly for brands that have large volumes of non-optimised content.

We’ll see more and more brands optimising their deep-level content for voice search, and those brands will also look at ways to surface existing assets as voice results through apps, skills and other methods.

Voice is still very much in its infancy and I think there will be a big effort from various areas of the digital and marketing sector to better educate themselves on the potential of voice and how to really use it effectively.

A big focus on accessibility and ethical web design

Lucy Carter, Front End Developer

The emergence of voice search will inspire a greater interest in being able to programmatically summarise a webpage, or even an entire site, in a user-facing fashion. This will have huge advantages in the realm of voice search – but I see this extending outside of that. Meta descriptions, for example, may become obsolete, with search engines choosing to create their own summarisations, focussing on the user rather than site owners trying to boost click through rates.

An even greater by-product of this will be improvement when it comes to accessibility of the web. In order to assist these technologies summarise sites to appeal for voice search there will be an increased focus into semantic use of HTML, an improvement in and of itself. Creating summaries of entire pages will allow users to be able to programmatically assess whether a page is likely to contain the information required, from the page itself or even selecting a link from the navigation.

The ability to make these choices, and in the quickest way possible, is something that can become infinitely more useful when using a browser may require more effort than the easy experience most people take for granted.

Rob Dunn, Digital Project Manager

I predict companies will begin re-evaluating the way their brand is being perceived digitally, and start to take more steps to really address the potential psychological or environmental consequences they’re having online.

Due to the higher cost implications and limitations to creative output, accessibility standards online have often been ignored, but tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft have been leading the way in 2018 to show that an all-inclusive, responsible business model is achievable. I see more and more businesses adopting this in 2019, taking steps towards a more inclusive culture and considering things like how easy their website is to access with limited sight or motor functions.

Additionally, with the average webpage being almost 400 percent larger than it was seven years ago, people will be investing in more sustainable digital solutions to remove or reduce ‘technical debt’ in their organisation.  This will help see a reduction of slow, bloated or inaccessible websites that cause frustration amongst users, and will reduce carbon emissions through the retirement of antiquated hardware.

Lead scoring and automation comes of age

Jasmine Kendal, CRM Manager

Although much of this technology is still somewhat in its infancy, predictive lead scoring is one area that, while more prominent and available in most eCRM platforms, is woefully under-utilised.

Predictive lead scoring essentially provides an insight-led prediction of how likely a lead is to convert, based upon the lead’s behaviour and engagement levels across your multiple channels, and I would fully expect brands to invest more heavily in this area in order to make their sales operations much more effective.

The growth of machine learning allows your CRM software to analyse all the behavioural and conversion data to develop a scoring system for each individual user behaviour, leaving you with high scoring engaged leads.

It’s a process that makes it easier to identify which leads are hot, which are cold, and should help CMOs and CCOs to end those age-old debates between sales and marketing teams about the quality of leads.

A greater emphasis on positivity and doing the right thing

Scott Malthouse, PR Team Manager

The year 2018 was exhausting; the news agenda was relentless and often quite depressing. That has led to a demand, particularly from Gen Z, for brighter and more constructive news. Because of this, we’re going to see more brands launch empowering campaigns and urging people to make a positive difference in the work.

For instance, scotch brand Johnnie Walker made the headlines earlier this year with their campaign, geared towards female empowerment, with a rebrand to Jane Walker. Money from every bottle sold was donated to women’s charities across the globe.

With people wanting solutions to the world’s problems, brands will step into the limelight like never before.

Rebecca Chambers, Digital Designer.

In 2018 we saw customers demand more from brands when it comes to social and environmental issues. Next year there is likely to be even more scrutiny for companies to be more transparent about their supply chains and processes, as well as steps they are taking to improve.

For those brands making positive changes, I predict more investment into creative visual assets, instead of the simple press releases and text-heavy ‘responsibility’ pages of the past. This will include (but not be limited to) more video, content hubs, custom illustrations & iconography, data visualisation and interactive reports. These can aid in making the brands’ message clear and accessible, ensure they stand out from the crowd and engage their customers.

Amazon to overtake Facebook as a serious player in biddable media

Tom Clough, Biddable Media Lead

There has been a lot of talk in the last year about how Amazon is becoming a significant player in the biddable media market and, in 2019, I expect that we will see the retail giant overtake platforms such as Facebook when it comes to ad spend.

Brands are already shifting media budgets to Amazon and, when you consider the role that Amazon plays particularly towards the end of the funnel, the business case for this type of paid activity is only getting stronger. Amazon is already cementing itself as “the Google of product search”, and the growth of its ad platform is a natural progression.

Tighter regulations for media platform content

Richard Hird, Senior SEO Executive

New copyright directives are currently working their way through the European Parliament, which has big implications for media publishers that rely on crowd-sourced and collated content.

Article 11, the so-called “link tax”, will force news aggregator sites such as Google News to pay publishers for the use of their articles on their platforms. A similar directive in Spain forced Google to shut down Google News in Spain, so it will be interesting to see what the long-term future is for these news aggregators which can be a significant source of traffic for many publishers.

Article 13, dubbed the “meme ban”, will force media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube & Twitter to effectively self-police copyright laws and be responsible for taking down and removing copyrighted content on their platforms. Essentially, if a brand uploads a video that includes copyrighted content not owned by themselves (music, imagery etc) the platform will be forced to remove the content from their site.

There are inevitably brands that could be affected by this. Whilst most will respect and follow copyright restrictions, those that use collated and third party content that can often stray into the grey and complicated areas of copyright could find that their content strategies need to change.

The integration between Video and SEO will become even more relevant

James Pierechod, Multimedia Designer

As video production becomes more popular amongst brands and content publishers, finding, categorising, and serving this video content to the appropriate targeted audiences will need to become more analytical. With over 300 hours of video being uploaded to YouTube every hour, video content can easily get lost in feeds, channels, and platforms.

Brands and content publishers need to understand the specific audiences more (per target demographic, and platform specialism) to ensure that video content meets the ‘wants and needs’ of the viewer.

How we optimise our content deployment strategy is a huge part of our pre-production process, it influences our creative, production budgets, and editing process.

Big acquisitions from the tech giants

Lee Allen, SEO and Technical Director

While Google, Amazon, Apple et al will undoubtedly continue to refine their existing offerings, over the next few years or so, I see the aforementioned companies pushing forward with more major acquisitions. I can see some big investments from these types of companies in software and digital entities, as well as bricks & mortar, and attempts to try and integrate these into their existing product offerings.

From a search marketing perspective, this will mean a much broader focus on things that we may have to audit, optimise for, and report on.

Developments in AMP

Ryan Hale, Junior Developer

Over the next year I think we will see a major increase in the development and usage of AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages).

AMP is a framework that has been with us for a couple of years, and it allows users to create pages that deliver content quickly to all users. Importantly, it reduces the bottleneck that appears from end users having slower internet connections such as 3G. Using AMP helps to improve user experience, page load speed and content readability, so it is hugely beneficial from a search marketing perspective.

What is interesting is how this could develop for channels such as email marketing. Google is pushing towards implementing AMP into Gmail in the next year and this allows so much more interactive content to be added into emails.

AMP integration will allow marketers to have carousels, sliders, animations and will even allow users to submit forms within an email, which will hopefully improve email engagement rates. I feel that if AMP is adopted by developers, it will really change how companies can interact with their email subscriber lists, and add a whole new perspective on marketing.

Moving Thumbnails

Sarah Worcester, Motion Graphics Artist

In 2017 YouTube rolled out moving thumbnails, where the user hovers their cursor over the thumbnail and can essentially get a three second preview of the video. This feature so far is only available on the latest versions of Chrome and doesn’t work on mobile devices, but my prediction for 2019 is that the gif thumbnail is potentially another thing to consider when enticing viewers.

The traditional thumbnail, as a still-image, is proven to be one of the biggest attributes as to why a user will click on to a video. If you want to stand out in the search terms, bold colours, text placement and imagery are key elements that will favour your viewing figures. If creators had the capability of actually selecting a three second clip (which they don’t currently have control over) then the user will take less time searching for what they’re looking for because a glimpse of what they want to see is already available. This may be the difference of getting a user to select your content especially for product explainer or “how to” videos.

With competitors such as Instagram already having auto playing videos and introducing IGTV earlier this year, this is definitely something I imagine YouTube will explore in the future. The key will be not making the page look ‘busy’ and making the viewer feels like they’re being oversold content.

Marketers overcome some big challenges with attribution

Jonathan Briggs, Data and Analytics Manager

There’s a lot of discussion about how GDPR has complicated how user data can be collected to link conversion journeys, as well as Google’s Attribution product being delayed to 2019, and this is going to make attribution a big challenge in the New Year.

But despite these challenges, the future of attribution is looking promising as more and more brands look to move away from the traditional ‘last click’ model. Google is still continuing to develop attribution focused elements of Google Analytics, with lifetime value and cross device reporting betas becoming available. Store visit tracking is also due to appear in Analytics in the coming weeks.

So 2019, although potentially challenging for Attribution, is still full of promise and should bring us closer to properly attributing marketing activity and being able to optimise activity effectively beyond last click.

Uniformed approaches to outreach

Aimee Sutcliffe, PR Campaign Manager

Outreach strategies will become more united in the coming year. The rise of “fake news” and the evolution of Google’s algorithm has seen publishers become much more careful and considered about what content they do and don’t publish. This means the PR industry needs to be much more intelligent about how, and where, it secures coverage.

There needs to be a stronger consideration for integrating activity across the board. PR teams need to consider, for example, how they can work more closely with SEO departments to understand coverage gaps – those websites which competitors have secured coverage on, but a client hasn’t yet - and be more open to paid coverage approaches to help get hero content in front of the best possible audiences.

Ultimately, PR remains a great way for businesses to build brand awareness, expertise and trustworthiness. As ever though, it needs to evolve further, become smarter and more strategic to offer even greater value!

Collaborations to empower the specialists

Matt Shields, Lead Developer

It takes a lot of people with specialist knowledge to create truly great work, but over the past few years it has become apparent that rarely is one specialism ever enough. As collaborations between specialists have become essential, such as content being an integral part of any SEO strategy, I think this will continue and bring more disciplines into the mix. Specialists and specialisms will of course continue as well they should, but people will start to invest more into an awareness and understanding of the other parts of the process, beyond content and SEO – including copywriting, UX, social, design, development, outreach and video to name a few.

As people invest their time, the quality of output will be elevated, achieving results in multiple ways beyond the initial requirements. As appreciation and awareness of all parts of the process spreads it means it becomes integrated into the very foundation of any project, also allowing people working in digital start to think from new perspectives then they previously would.

The design trends for 2019?

Adam Pickard, Senior Digital Designer

In 2019, designers will be looking at more visually impactful styles with a heavy use of 3D and vivid colours. Design is leading towards expression and tapping into the viewer’s imagination.

Animation and typography will play a big part in complimenting these styles to give a more meaningful message. We are seeing a lot of outlined typography coming through towards the end of 2018 and this will only increase over the next year.

What does this mean for the websites of the future? More than likely we'll start to see bolder and brighter landing pages coming through for a variety of industries. These sites will use a combination of 3D and bright colours to tap into your imagination and make your experience more memorable.

Sam Smyth, Web Developer

We’ll start seeing people going against the flat design aesthetic we’ve seen across the web, phones and other devices for the past few years as the trendsetters try to stand out from the crowd again.

That said, many of the technical reasons that have driven flat design remain (good UX, vector graphics look great on retina screens and download really quickly), so we’ll be keeping within current accepted best practices. That still leaves plenty of room for the return of hard bevelled edges, patterned backgrounds and not-so-subtle colour palettes though.