This last year brought many unexpected changes and challenges to many aspects of life. As the COVID-19 pandemic closed many storefronts, online search volumes changed in ways no one predicted. While a vaccine is likely to bring a much more positive 2021, the effects of COVID-19 are likely to linger. Some of the digital marketing trends in 2021 have changed from last year, while others have only become more prominent. If your online strategy wasn’t up-to-par last year, here’s a few trends to consider in 2021.
The Top 5 Digital Marketing Trends You Need to Know in 2021
1. Longer, Well-Researched Content Will (Still) Win Top Spots
Last year, we noted the importance of creating top-quality, thorough, well-researched content. This is still the case. In fact, this is one digital marketing trend in 2021 that has only become more important. Shallow, cursory content is likely to get kicked off the top search engine results page (SERP) in 2021, and there’s a number of reasons why.
The best result for content creation is winning a top spot on a Google query or keyword. The coveted first or even “zero” spot (AKA, a “Featured Snippet,” which we’ll discuss later in the post) on a SERP wins the most traffic, which means the highest chances for conversions to customers and sales. Uncovering the best methods for reaching these spots is the biggest challenge in content marketing, since Google’s algorithm is kept secret and changes constantly. However, research allows SEO experts to guess at digital marketing trends in 2021 we can expect. One of these is changes in content length and character.
The average length of top-performing content is now around 1,900 words. This means that Google looks for content that covers topics in-depth. It also means using reliable information, and including informative outbound links. It does not mean including extra words for the sake of meeting a recommended word count. Content marketing in 2021 is more competitive than ever, and you’ll need to incorporate all possible strategies to get noticed. That includes in-depth content as well as SEO best practices and effective content distribution.
What’s Changed in 2021: Google Passages
Google recently announced the use of Passages, which will parse and rank individual content passages within a larger page or post. Google explains, “We’ve recently made a breakthrough in ranking and are now able to not just index web pages, but individual passages from the pages. By better understanding the relevancy of specific passages, not just the overall page, we can find that needle-in-a-haystack information you’re looking for. ” This makes thorough, long-form content event more important. With Google ranking individual passages, you’ll have more opportunities to rank well when you cover a broad topic in smaller, informative sections.
2. Video is Growing
Over the past two years in particular, video content has exploded and continues to rise. Cisco predicts that video will represent 80% of all internet traffic as of 2021. More and more users are watching videos for all types of needs and questions, from information to entertainment and everything in between. The growth of video is a digital marketing trend in 2021 that cannot be overlooked or understated.
Video tends to generate more shares and more engagement, and it can also win top SERP spots in video carousels that appear at the top of the page. If you’re not sure about your ability to compete on written content, but you can create exciting, engaging videos, play to your strengths.
The right video can give you an edge over your competitors, even if they have a longer legacy in your industry or more marketing dollars. With the right positioning, you can grab your target market’s attention organically, and benefit from valuable sharing. If you’re getting started with video in 2021, make sure you know who you’re intending to reach, with what, and why. Tread carefully; the right video can elevate your brand, but the wrong one can create a public relations debacle.
What’s Changed in 2021: Video Snippets
Just as long-form content has been a notable trend for several years, video has also been rising for some time. A notable change in 2021 is the increasing use of video snippets. Just as Google is parsing information within text content pages, they are also parsing information in videos. If you’ve ever made a “how to” search, chances are you’ve seen a video snippet. Google directs you right to the segment of a particular video which is likely to be valuable to you. This is particularly valuable for voice searches on connected devices like home assistants, which have more trouble with a traditional text-based SERP.
3. Live Video Presents Big Opportunities
Live streaming allows almost anyone to become a content creator and broadcaster, and it is proving to be a valuable marketing medium and a potentially huge marketing trend in 2021, if you have the right digital marketing strategy to complement it.
Live videos are particularly impactful for younger audiences and the brands that target them. Live streams tend to be watched longer and more often than pre-recorded videos. Some predictions put live streaming rising to a 124 billion dollar industry by 2025. If this digital marketing trend makes sense for your audience and strategy, getting on board this year can mean getting ahead of your competitors and creating real connections with your audience.
What’s Changed in 2021: More Traffic and Services
As predicted, live streaming saw considerable growth over the last year, and will continue to grow in 2021. Though Twitter will be mothballing it’s live streaming service Periscope in 2021, they’ve already effectively replaced its functionality with Twitter Live. Other platforms have also placed more emphasis on video content, both live and pre-recorded. This past year saw a notable rise in the use of TikTok, as well as the controversy around it. Facebook and their picture-oriented platform Instagram have both placed increasing emphasis on video services as well. Others, like Amazon’s Twitch.tv, which dedicates itself to live streaming exclusively, increased traffic by 10% in a single week during the American peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March.
4. More Optimization for Voice Search
Hey, Siri! Okay, Google! Hey, Cortana! Hey, Alexa!
A number of virtual assistants are now ready to answer your questions and provide results based on voice searches alone. Users can search from their smartphones, laptops, smart speakers, even smart tvs and watches. The number of smart devices that do not use a keyboard is growing, making voice search the optimal way to get answers from these devices.
As the number of voice searches and smart devices grows, content optimized for voice search is becoming more important. Optimizing for voice search is similar to regular SEO, except with a few extra layers. It’s important to keep in mind how people use voice search. While text searches may use single words or sentence fragments, voice searches are generally more specific, using entire questions.
When optimizing for voice search, it is important to consider context. How might someone use a voice search to find your content? Since voice searches generally utilize entire questions—usually containing who, what, when, where, why or how—informational and instructional content is ideal. For example, a post from a landscaping company about how to transplant a tree might appear in a voice search that’s useful for gardeners in the midst of planting. A more detailed post about ideal soil, water, and sun conditions for particular trees might be too in-depth to arise in a voice search. This content may still be valuable, and may even attract more conversions since it indicates deeper interest, but it simply isn’t right for a voice search query.
What’s Changed in 2021: Increasing Local Use
Experts predict that by 2024, there will be more devices equipped with digital voice assistants that there will be people on Earth. Once again, as more people moved inside this year—and are likely to emerge slowly in 2021—voice assistants and voice searches are becoming increasingly important. Most voice search results also appear as featured snippets, which we’ll discuss more in the next section. Voice searches are particularly important for local business, as many users conduct voice searches in their cars in order to find a nearby business.
5. More Featured Snippets
Featured snippets—the boxes that appear at the top of a SERP which attempt to directly answer a user’s query without the need to select a page—first began on Google in 2014. These began by answering the most simple and direct questions—what’s the capital of Thailand? How many ounces in a pound?—and have since become much more sophisticated.
Since they appear before the actual search results on a page, the featured snippet box is considered SERP spot zero. As previously mentioned, many featured snippets answer voice search queries. However, this has also had notable impacts on click-through-rates. Why would users click on a page if the answer to their question is already displayed? Click-through-rates have dropped about 40% since 2015, likely due to the snippets and other features Google has added to the top of SERPs.
What’s New in 2021: More Snippets
From 2016 to 2019, the number of featured snippets increased 165%, with almost one fourth of all SERPs now containing a featured snippet. This digital marketing trend expanded significantly last year, and will continue to expand in 2021. In addition to Passages (see above), Google has also expanded featured snippets to include different types of snippets, multiple snippets, video results and more. This sometimes pushes the other results well down the page. Though some users won’t click any page at all, taking the featured snippet spot can give you a big advantage in grabbing what clicks remain.
Keep in mind, though many featured snippets come from the first organic result, this is not always the case. This means it’s possible to occupy SERP spot zero and improve your Google rank even if you’re second, third, or even fourth or fifth down the page. To win this spot, your content and overall site must be excellent, and it’s also helpful to restate the question with your answer, and use bulleted or numbered lists where appropriate.
These five digital marketing trends in 2021 won’t result in a dramatic shift from current best practices, but they do present an opportunity for first adopters to get ahead of their competition. Those that adapt to changes in digital marketing, consumer preferences and media consumption can continually improve their overall strategy, while those that do not will steadily fall behind.