To say that 2020 has had some lows is an understatement, and the digital marketing industry hasn’t been immune. Consumer habits changed, budgets were cut, and marketers had to work out how to promote products and services during a crisis.
We’ve also seen some positive shifts throughout the year, though, and that’s what we want to focus on going into 2021.
Here, I’ve rounded up five positive digital marketing news stories from the last 12 months. Although 2020 has been difficult for most online businesses, there have been plenty of highlights, we’ve learned a lot of lessons, and there’s a real sense of optimism as we head into the new year.
Online shopping became more popular than ever before
When the UK went into lockdown, most of us were forced to spend a lot more time at home, and unessential shops were closed. This was certainly a difficult time for everyone here in the UK but, as we covered in our blog post about how the pandemic has affected shopping behaviours, we did see a huge shift towards online shopping, which served as a lifeline for a lot of businesses.
Companies that previously only had physical stores were able to pivot and set up an online presence, while those who have always been online-only could continue to make sales. Some online retailers even saw their sales surge, as people were no longer able to nip to the high street when they needed something. Of course, the uncertainty of 2020 meant that many of us were watching our pennies, so the rise of online shopping certainly didn’t mean that retailers have had it easy. But it has helped to prevent a lot of businesses from having to close down permanently.
Now that more people have discovered and benefitted from online shopping, it’s likely this avenue will continue to be particularly popular, too. In fact, according to The Big Ask report from O2 Business and Retail Economics, 44% of consumers believe the pandemic will have a permanent effect on the way they shop, and this shift toward making more online purchases is likely to be a huge part of that.
Google My Business became far more flexible
Google has really gone out of its way to support businesses this year, as the company knows that it’s been a very tumultuous time for companies across the globe. And one of the most effective ways it has helped businesses to survive is through making its Google My Business listings more flexible.
As we covered in our blog post about optimising your Google My Business listing during the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of new features have been introduced to help companies keep their customers updated during these uncertain and unprecedented times. These include:
- Being able to add extra shopping hours, like takeaway-only periods or times that are reserved for the elderly and vulnerable
- New local messaging options, so consumers can ask business owners direct questions and get a swift response
- And the option to specify which COVID-secure measures your company has in place to keep everyone safe
Hopefully Google will continue to offer this level of flexibility throughout the pandemic and beyond, as it’s great to see how the platform has listened to its users and quickly introduced features that are beneficial to both shoppers and companies that are trying to survive this difficult trading period.
Brands removed Facebook ads as part of the #StopHateForProfit campaign
As we covered in our June 2020 SEO news bulletin, another positive shift we’ve seen in the digital marketing industry is that some big companies have become more mindful of where their adverts appear. More specifically, a survey conducted by the World Federation of Advertisers found that around a third of advertisers were planning to join a month-long Facebook boycott in July by withholding their ad budgets. A further 40% were also considering doing the same.
This boycott was in response to the fact that the social media platform didn’t seem to be doing enough to fight the spread of hate speech among its users. Companies decided that withholding their ad budgets for a month would make their positions clear and show Facebook what could happen if it didn’t start cracking down on the problem.
The list of businesses that took part in the July boycott includes big names such as Ford, Adidas, and Unilever. Plus, there were others, such as Starbucks and Coca Cola, who paused their social media advertising for the month but didn’t officially affiliate themselves with the Stop Hate for Profit campaign.
The organisers behind the boycott have made recommendations that would take some time to implement, so we’re yet to see what the full effects of this boycott will be. But it’s great to see that huge companies that heavily rely on online advertising are willing to pull their budgets to make their feelings plain. Hopefully, Facebook has heard them loud and clear, and other social media platforms will have taken note, so they take a much harder stance against the kinds of hate speech we’ve seen online over the past few years.
Google started using BERT to match stories with fact checks
The spread of misinformation is a huge issue where the internet is concerned, and this year’s combination of the coronavirus pandemic and the 2020 US Presidential Election really turned up the heat in this area. So, as we covered in our September 2020 SEO news bulletin, Google has started to provide fact-checks for certain pieces of content that might mislead people.
The search engine is always doing its best to provide internet users with relevant search results but, in this age of fake news and conspiracy theories, it’s also having to put a lot of effort into making sure this information is factual. That’s why, on 10 September, Google announced that they would be using BERT to ensure they provide the most suitable fast checks with potentially inaccurate stories.
BERT is the Google algorithm that helps the search engine to better understand content based on the exact wording used. The idea is that, by analysing the language used by both searchers and publishers, Google will be able to do a better job of providing the most appropriate fact checks.
The spread of misinformation has been a huge issue in recent years, and it’s great to see Google making moves to ensure that it isn’t contributing to the problem. This is certainly a move in the right direction and will hopefully have ensured more internet users were given reliable information during what has been a very uncertain and stressful year.
The EU introduced new guidelines demanding more transparency from search engines
At the beginning of December, the European Union introduced new guidelines that asked digital platforms like Google and Amazon to provide an explanation of how their search results are ranked. The idea is that this will make it much easier for non-marketing professionals, and especially small business owners, to understand how rankings work, making the playing field more level for them. It could also help to ensure these companies are operating fairly, rather than always promoting their own products or pages.
The new regulations ask that search engines, marketplaces, and travel sites disclose their ranking factors and provide updates whenever these change. They also demand that it’s made much clearer when a listing has been paid for.
These guidelines aren’t legally binding, and we’re yet to see how the platforms concerned will respond. However, marketers have spent years trying to decode Google’s algorithms, as there has always been an air of mystery that surrounds them. If the search engine was to provide more transparency about how their results are ranked, and which factors are most important, it would give businesses and marketers a clear indication of exactly where their efforts needs to be focused.
If you would like to learn more about this situation, check out our news story about the new EU regulations, which goes into more depth about the guidelines.
2020 has certainly been a heavy year, but it’s also had its positive moments. In the digital marketing industry, we’ve seen companies taking a stand against hate speech, Google rallying around businesses to help them survive, and the EU has asked for more transparency from search engines, plus much more. We’re very excited to see how things develop throughout 2021, too.
There’s also been a lot of positive news here at Glass Digital. In 2020, we were nominated for a number of industry awards, and were able to help our clients weather the coronavirus storm. If one of your new year’s resolutions is to make more sales, our SEO, PPC, and affiliate marketing experts will be more than happy to help you, too! Get in touch today and we can discuss your goals.