The online world was an exciting bubble of activity in the year 2017.
When looking at digital marketing trends over a given period, the data can be analysed on a global scale or narrowed down to fit the South African business context.

Our team put together an overview of what worked and wowed in the space, for both the business side of digital marketing and the less intense, aspect of the day to day online activity of the average user.

If 2016 was the year of finding your feet in the mobile-optimized framework, then 2017 was the time to kick up your business’ digital marketing strategy to the highest available gear, to stay relevant in the evolving market and make the best use of the new features, plugins, add-ons and AI bots.

Here’s an overview of the Top 3 Digital Marketing Trends in each Discipline:

Social Media and Content Marketing

The year saw many businesses increase their presence on social media platforms and make amendments to existing content marketing tactics. These tweaks were all part of efforts to help with better targeted implementation (find the user where they spend most of their time) and better results in line with business objectives: Reach – Engage – Convert.

  • Social Messaging

Private social messaging (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger etc) have come to the communication party in a big way. WhatsApp with its 1.2 billion + monthly active users, and Facebook’s Messenger with a billion monthly active users.

  • Social e-Commerce

Apps have gone past simply streaming music and tracking your steps or heart rate. The social media big gun platforms are offering their users the convenient option to purchase products within their apps.

Statistics report that social media is the 2nd most favourable platform that users visit when looking for something to buy online. It’s like “word of mouth”, but on a far larger scale.

Any brand would be wise to incorporate the option into their marketing and sales funnel.

  • More video- LIVE feature video.

Social media algorithms are playing besties with content published in video format. The numbers show that newsfeeds on both Facebook and Twitter (predominately) will show video content 52% more than other types of published content.

Secondary to the favourable time for video, the “live” video feature is also gaining momentum. This is a big opportunity for businesses. It’ll afford brands the opportunity to interact with existing customers and potential audiences, in real-time.

AdWords (Pay-Per-Click Advertising)

In 2016, mobile drove a massive increase in search spend and 2017 kept the momentum.

Mobile optimisation isn’t a question of “what if” or “will it” anymore, the following trends and developments gave sure-fire ways for ROI, on a well-executed strategy.

  • Machine Learning

Automation isn’t new to display campaigns on the GDN, but the introduction of Smart display campaigns saw an enhanced creative feature, plus options for automated targeting, bidding and ads runs- all powered by machine learning.

  • Conversion tracking & attribution

A better interface makes for a better working experience. AdWords account pages load faster—on average, 20% faster. Much of the Clutter has been removed and these tweaks have made navigation a breeze.

This in turn provides easier access to key insights about customer engagements with campaigns.

  • Ads

Flexible daily budget means AdWords spends up to double your specified daily budget to help you hit desired advertising goals.

In essence- clicks and conversions will provide ROI, but the platform will never spend more than your monthly budget.

Search Engine Optimisation 

Well hello SEO.
We take great pride as a consultancy in the SEO-centric approach we apply to work we do for each client, so any advancements within the digital ecosystem are bound to get us excited.
Some of the major highlights were:

  • Mobile-search Traffic Growth Across Industries

Out of 24 industries that analytics data is available for, 20 saw an increase in Mobile Search Traffic.

Overall sentiments for 2017 by users and search engines (based on updates through the year) present a clear picture that mobile will continue to dominate the “Search Conversation” well into the coming years. It reiterates the notion that Mobile Is the Future of The Internet and businesses should be continuously working towards improving the users’ mobile experiences on brand websites.

  • AMP Optimization

Amidst vocalised concerns by news publisher giants and SEO professionals alike, Google has continued to apply pressure on website owners to adopt Accelerated Mobile Pages as the technique of choice for articles and blogs.

This pressure ties into a Google News optimisation strategy and indicates that the framework is here to stay and that it will, without fear or favour, expand to other contexts of the internet.

  • Voice Search

Can’t type right now but need to know something urgently? Do not fret, Google (as always) has got you covered with the launch of Google Home early this year and rumours of a roll out for Google Voice Search Reporting in Search Console.

The increasing emphasis on work by teams at Google to enhance conversational search shows the importance that the platform will place on the optimisation of a website at the core of your On-Page strategy.

Elements of SEO campaigns like; keyword selection and optimisation must align with a conversational method of writing by framing Meta Data and copy in body content, such that it answers a question more conversationally.

Like a conversation with a friend over lunch.

SEO is vast and in depth. Covering all the highlights would take us a while. The core of the matter is clear: Search has become a mobile-first environment. Considerations into how we optimise websites for conversation search will play a massive role in many keyword strategies going forward.

Web Development

Technology changes constantly. Websites require constant enhancement and optimization to trends and Google compliance.

Therefore, the following digital marketing trends in 2017 stood front and centre.

  • Responsive designs

WordPress have put a lot of effort into creating a truly responsive platform for developers to work off.

  • HTTPS Migrating

Due to Google’s increased strictness about the security of the websites they deliver under SERPS, on their Chrome browser, a large spike in the need for secure sites has been recorded in the year.

If your site accepts passwords or banking account details then an HTTPS migration (done professionally and timeously) is the deciding factor between a site that users trust and make return visits to, and one that Google changes from ‘normal’ to the red triangle warning.

  • Hacking

There has been a notable influx of hacking attempts across the board; from SQL injections to vulnerable plugins, and even website themes with back doors built into them.

To combat the threat of hacking, use the following CMS plug-ins to help protect and strengthen against vulnerabilities on websites is paramount:

1. Wordfence: Brilliant plugin with incorporated features like live traffic monitoring, country blocking and SQL protection.
2. Defender by WPMU DEV: A great plugin if you have the WordPress Multisite Developer system. Also comes with decent security and customization tools, plus manual scan options.

UI and UX

Design (interface) of your business’ website or app is becoming more important than ever before. The usability of your platform is one of the key elements that define a product or service’s success.
With continued advancements in technology and the users’ needs and preferences, we cannot shy away from user interface and experience anymore. Mediocre and “just enough” simply won’t cut it.
Here are a few of the influential UI and UX aspects:

  • Consistent (omnichannel) user presentation.

Always keep in mind the following: You are designing/building a journey for people, not machines. Keep it the same; for the user’s comfort and your brand CI.

  • User personalisation.

Develop platforms with the user’s point in the buying journey in mind.
Where a user lands on your website or app should afford them customised capabilities to address that specific part of their journey.

2017 saw an increase in custom icons and illustrations, to provide a better and relatable experience.

  • Web-based mobile apps (Progressive web apps)

The old ways of interacting with devices is phasing out and shifting towards more modern alternatives. Users want to (quite) literally speak directly with the app they have installed, and receive a response to their query/command, in the shortest possible time. Conversation interfaces are the new customer care.

2017 was truly a progressive year. On the technological and digital marketing trends side of things; Google is making sure that the Internet of the world is always ready and waiting to service the user in the best possible way.
WE as a team are right on track; continuously learning, optimising, implementing and monitoring said digital marketing trends to ensure that objectives are met (and surpassed if we can help it) for all our clients.
We’re geared up for more of the same in 2018.

Author: Kekeletso Mabizela, Social Media and Content Specialist