As an agency, we’re expected to stay on top of trends to keep our clients ahead of their competition. We’re lucky to be surrounded with marketers of all backgrounds and passions that make it pretty easy to share knowledge, trends, and most importantly tactics that work.
Still, we don’t just stick to our internal knowledge base. Just like marketers in all industries, we find ourselves exploring new trends as the new year commences. And after thumbing through more than a dozen “2017 trends” articles (and working through quite a bit of fluff), I found a lot of trends that make me go “eh” but also five that hit home based on what we saw in 2016. And those trends feel a little like this:
The core competencies of marketing in the digital age aren’t changing. Mobile matters. Content matters. Paid channels matter. Data matters. And they’ll continue to matter. But what we’re seeing evolve is marketers honing in on data and trends of the past few years to get more nimble and more custom to truly implement marketing programs that matter.
So here’s what we think should matter to you in 2017.
Responsive & Adaptive Design Meet in the Middle
Well, 2016 finally accomplished it. I’ll go as far as to say the majority of businesses mid-size and larger have gone responsive. And though resounding efforts have been made, most have been met with silence in terms of results. Here’s the thing. When Google said go mobile-friendly, a lot of ambiguity opened up. Mobile-friendly doesn’t just mean your site renders (or responds) on mobile. It’s more than a functional thing; it’s a user thing. And unfortunately, a lot of responsive sites squished desktop-friendly content onto mobile sites.
So then we saw companies going further with “mobile” first to ensure they weren’t overdoing it in terms of content, images and functionality.
I’m here to stay, stop that. Stop it all. We don’t live in a world of desktop or mobile-first or responsive only. We live in a world of ever-changing screen sizes, and our customers’ experiences vary widely across these screens. It’s our job to give them the best experience to match their user intent (not just their device).
This is where adaptive design steps in. To some, adaptive can mean separate mobile and desktop URLs. But a broader discussion about a responsive design that adapts to the user’s needs is emerging. And thus, adaptive design lets us create multiple experiences within one responsive site. For example, we know users are much more likely to call from a mobile device than a desktop device, so we may want a call icon on mobile that we don’t want on desktop. Also, we may want comparison charts on desktop that will feel cumbersome on mobile. Using adaptive design doesn’t just allow us to resize and stack content, it allows us to reshape content.
Taking an adaptive approach ensures you’re meeting needs based on what your user is trying to accomplish. Instead of choosing mobile or desktop, you get both. Adaptive can be more expensive upfront, but in the long run, I expect this truly user-friendly mentality to win out.
Global Navigation will be Front and Center for SEO
This is a trend that, like adaptive design, isn’t all that new. Navigations and I/A have long been driven by SEO. Where we’ll start to see the shift, though, is rather than search (i.e., keywords) driving navigation decisions that impact UX, we’ll start to see UX research at the forefront of global navigation and sub-navigation decisions.
For those non-SEO or old-school UXers out there, you’re probably thinking…“HOW IS THIS NEWS?” It shouldn’t be. But in reality card sorting, concept modeling, and other UX basics aren’t widely accepted below the enterprise level. Even recently, a Fortune 100 company approached us, wanting us to lead an SEO-driven navigation exercise.
But luckily, times, they are a changin’! As organic search become more reliant on engagement metrics like bounce rate, time on site, pages per visit, etc., navigation decisions become a lot more about keeping visitors on your site and getting them to content quickly than making sure your navigations are optimized for search phrases.
Facebook Advertising Costs Will Rise
You may be thinking, “but it’s soooo much cheaper than search.” And you’d be right. For now. But do a simple search, and you’ll find Facebook forums and articles dating back nearly two years about rising prices. 2017 will see the highest hikes yet. Here’s why.
Just last quarter, we ran a campaign using both Facebook and search ads. Both channels had similar conversion rates and drove the similar amount of visits and leads. The big difference? Cost per click, which made our Facebook cost per lead about a third the cost of search. Here’s the thing. We aren’t the only ones noticing this cost savings. As more people invest in Facebook ads, and more data emerges about its efficacy (I was a doubter at first, too), they will raise their prices. Why? Because they can.
A Pandora rep was in our office a few months ago, and she told a story about working for traditional radio when streaming services emerged. As streaming picked up traction, did it use lower ad pricing to attract advertisers? Quite the opposite – cost went up for streaming and traditional ads as demand shifted.
Expect to see the same with Facebook (and Google) as the competition stiffens and demand for Facebook grows.
Content Marketing Will Drop the “Strategy”
Ok, this was probably my favorite section to write. It’s a bit of a soap box for me. I get that there’s an irony here as I am, in fact, executing content marketing as I type these words. And on top of that, I’m writing about annual trends… I mean how appropriate is this?
All laughter aside, I have a serious beef with content marketing. And I’m not just talking about blogging. When I read things like, “blogging four times a month increases inbound leads by 6X,” and “video is the highest-converting form of content,” I want to rip my hair out. These metrics are quite misleading, and thus content marketing becomes misleading. The days of passing email captures off as “qualified leads” and video views off as “conversions” are over.
Honestly, content is too expensive and closed-loop reporting has become too accessible for this to continue. So am I saying halt all content? Nope. Definitely not. I love content; I pitch content projects all the time. But here’s the thing: everything is content. Rather than approaching content marketing as your strategy and focusing on making your content “better” in 2017, approach your projects from their goals. Are you trying to drive leads? Great, you’ve got a lead gen campaign that’s using content marketing as a tactic. And really (I mean really this year), think outside the blog when it comes to content.
For example, a client came to us wanting to boost organic traffic. We of course addressed their blog, but we also built a hub of interactive content that addressed pain points throughout the funnel. People can enter where they choose, they can click between the pages, they can get straight to products. And guess what! We didn’t even focus on keywords. The result? Almost double the organic traffic to the new content compared to the pages they replaced, and a conversion rate that’s 3X better than other pages on the site.
This project definitely falls within “content marketing,” but we started with the client’s goal and the user’s need. Thus, content marketing became more of a production tactic than a strategy. You won’t see us removing “content marketing” from our website in 2017, but you will see us approaching it as production.
Dynamic Content for Web: A Technology Race
I’ll keep it short here. People throw dynamic content around A LOT. But really, it’s mostly being used as personalization tokens in emails. Marketers prophetically speak of it as a simple tactic, ready to be implemented across multiple channels, including your website. Okay, the technology does exist. Just check out what SmarterHQ is doing. But it’s not accessible to non-enterprise e-commerce brands.
In 2017, watch the dynamic content technology space. Evaluate progress, start thinking about how you’ll implement it in 2018. This year, big leaps will be made to close the accessibility of this technology for smaller brands.
Whether your company is slow to adapt to digital marketing or you’re a veteran with lots of resources, these trends will impact you in 2017. As you finalize and begin executing your 2017 digital strategy, keep these in mind.