With only a few weeks left in 2017, the Vivial team has been looking ahead to what’s next. We’ve put together the top trends for the industry heading into 2018 and what they mean for the local businesses we serve.

Our 2018 trends focus on 4 main categories:

  • Search
  • Content
  • People
  • Intelligence

SEARCH

Google will be going to mobile-first searchand where Google goes, we all go.

When Google makes a change, it’s a big deal – they have dominated web searches for longer than most of us have been using the internet. In the U.S., over 63% of desktop searches happen on Google, and the stats increase on mobile with Google searches estimated to be almost 95%.

Digital Marketing Trends Forecast 2018 Google Mobile Search SEO Content Video AI Social MediaGoogle’s move to mobile-first search is a direct answer to consumer behavior. They are choosing to ensure that search results are relevant for the majority of consumers using their service. It makes sense.

But Google isn’t just any business; when they make a business decision it affects hundreds of millions of consumers and tens of millions of businesses – and if you own a business, you’ll be affected too.

While it definitely means businesses have some work to do (and we will talk about what, exactly, can be done in a minute) it’s actually some pretty great news! If businesses set themselves up right, this change means that it will be easier for customers to find them. Being in “the right place at the right time” is something businesses now have some degree of control over.

The evidence has been mounting for years now. Starting in 2015, more searches were conducted on mobile than any other device. That trend has only continued to increase over the past two years. In our latest webinar, Vivial’s mobile experts cited that searches for products or services “near me” have more than doubled in the last two years. Search has been originating more and more on mobile, and so search results will be mobile-first.

We don’t know when this is happening; all that Google has promised is that we can expect the change sometime in 2018. When the change actually happens is less important than knowing that it will.

We put together a list of some things local businesses can do now to be ready for Google’s seismic shift to mobile-first search:

Your business listings – Having your Google My Business listing updated with accurate information (and plenty about what you do) is key – but remember that Google also takes into account your presence across the web, so those hundred or so other listings should be managed as well.

Getting your listings right is a lot of work but it’s well worth the investment. Listings with all fields completed receive 4X the listing views on average than those with only 1 field completed. If you need a little help getting started, you can learn about how to set up and optimize your business listings in our free webinar: How to Make Google Work for Your Business.

Your website – Is your website mobile-friendly, or – better yet – mobile first? Does it have lots of relevant information about your business and what you do? Is it updated often? Google bots very quickly and easily discover all of this information and use it to determine your business’s relevance and legitimacy. The more you have in place working for you, the better your chances are of ranking towards the top.

Your content – Have you ever written a blog post or posted something on social media and felt like no one even saw it? Well, it may feel that way, but it’s important to remember, you’ll always have at least one viewer: Google. Content is also an important search ranking factor for Google, so make sure you have plenty of it, produce it consistently and be sure to write it with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in mind.

Not sure how your business stacks up? Run our free online visibility report to find out.

SEO will be an even bigger growth factorit’s the key to your business’s relevancy.

The shift Google is making to mobile-first search results is one that caters to the consumer’s experience – not to business’s. Search Engine Land sums it up well: “Google is obsessed with the user — and you should be, too. As search results become more and more customized, user experience (UX) is going to play a larger role in search.” The focus may be on consumers, but this is good news for businesses ready to dig into their SEO strategy.

With SEO, the aim for businesses is simple: when someone is searching for what you do, be the business they find. Huffington Post got it right: “SEO is still one of the best growth hacking strategies simply because you are getting more traction from people who are already inquiring about your product or service.” Think of those people searching as raindrops in a drought – SEO is your bucket!

There are a few things that we suggest businesses get started with right now, so they can capture those searchers and ultimately, get more customers:

Your content – Great content is the best way to have your company appear in organic search results. A great post will be full of the words and terms that people will use to search for what your business does, it will be useful to users who land on it, and it will be engaging … if your content is not engaging your users, you will lose out, no matter how great your information is. SEO is more than just good keyword usage, be sure to consider the technical elements like alt tags, indexing, geo-tagging and a list of other important parts of successful SEO.

Digital Marketing Trends Forecast 2018 Google Mobile Search SEO Content Video AI Social MediaYour data – So, how do you know if your content is useful and engaging? On social media, the number of likes, comments, shares and especially clicks a post gets will tell you a lot. It is just as important to be monitoring what is happening on your website. Less than 30 percent of small businesses use website analytics (and 18% of small businesses admit to not tracking anything at all!). Start getting in the habit of reviewing your Google Analytics metrics to better understand what content is working for you.

If all of this is sounding like a lot, then maybe it’s time to consider working with a partner. 85% of Vivial SEO customers appear on page one of search results within 6 months, so give us a call and we can get started on marketing solutions for your business.

CONTENT

Content will (still) be Kingand its reign is predicted to continue, uncontested.

Digital Marketing Trends Forecast 2018 Google Mobile Search SEO Content Video AI Social MediaContent is an opportunity for every business to showcase what they do, who they are and why they’re worthy of someone’s business. There aren’t too many tactics that can stand on their own without content. In fact, Vivial customers that post content see 5X more results than those that don’t. If it’s not yet a key part of your business’s strategy, it should be in 2018.

The importance of content is something that top companies, marketers and publishers have all been advocating. Apple has plans to invest over $1 billion on original content – which is saying something about the value of content, as they’re already one of the most successful companies globally. Neil Patel noted that “organizations that have made consistent and sound investments in content marketing in recent years are reporting those investments paying dividends.”

It is important to keep in mind that content really is an investment – patience, time and diligence are needed to see a content marketing strategy through to success. We encourage companies to really take ownership of their content, to have control over the narrative of their business that consumers engage with. Whether working with a partner or keeping it in house, this should be a chief component of any business’s marketing strategy!

Think about your own experience as a consumer … what kinds of things will peak your interest in a company or product? What kinds of things persuade you to trust that company or product? Word of mouth is often what starts your interest but what do you often do just after something has been recommended to you? If you’re like us – you’ll search around to find out more about it. In fact, 90% of consumers find local, custom content helpful.

You can also think of your own experience as a consumer in terms of what kind of marketing you respond to … that email you clicked on because the company posted an interesting article, the store you visited because it was the closest on Google maps, or the salon that you remembered to book an appointment at because they sent you a text (that included a link to their site). As a business, word of mouth is great – if you can get it – but it’s not a communication tactic you can control. If you’re going to spend time and resources on creating great content, include in your strategy a kit of marketing tactics that will actively get information in front of customers.

Your entire website is content, search results send users to content, social media links back to content, and even paid ads rely on content to convert. All of these marketing tools ultimately direct users to some form of content, and that’s where those users are converted into customers – or they’re not. Content is everywhere – it is needed everywhere … that is why Content is King.

2018 will be the Year of Videowhy “the year of video” may finally – actually – be here.

Content has many types – and we suggest taking advantage of them all. Once you have your blog started, your “About Us” and other pages on your website are fully populated, and you have a consistent stream of content on your social channels, the next content step you take should be towards video. 82% of the global internet is predicted to be video traffic by 2021. Jump in now and get ahead of the pack.

Digital Marketing Trends Forecast 2018 Google Mobile Search SEO Content Video AI Social MediaSo, let’s say you want to get into the video game, but aren’t sure what you should be recording. This will depend entirely on what it is your business does, but in most cases, it will make sense to showcase your area of expertise. On websites that include an explainer video, users are reported to be 4x more likely to watch the video than they are to read the written content on the page.

Local businesses have an advantage here – while larger companies often need to speak in sweeping generalities (which is usually less interesting), smaller companies get to be niche experts, and that kind of authenticity is what draws people in.

With an understanding of what types of videos work for your business (resonate with your audience) you can focus on creating more efficiency with your video production so you can produce more of it. Not sure where to begin, Vivial can help!

Once you have a few videos published, take a look at engagement metrics to see what’s working. YouTube, Facebook and other sites where you can post your video content will be able to tell you a lot about your viewers – including how long they watched, whether or not they clicked, as well as the traditional metrics (likes, shares, comments, etc.).

Facebook is the definitive social network for small businesses with 75% of small business owners stating that the network would be part of their 2018 marketing strategy. However, small businesses are behind in realizing the potential of video on social media – in a recent survey, only 27% of small businesses reported using video to attract customers. If your business has a solid social following start thinking about ways you can leverage live video too.

Digital Marketing Trends Forecast 2018 Google Mobile Search SEO Content Video AI Social MediaFacebook is seeing some stellar results with live video – in addition to seeing higher engagement, live video sees 135% more organic reach than images, on average.

In 2016, only 14% of all marketers were using live video, while well over half of them were investing in creating video content. That leaves businesses a chance to wow their followers with live video before their competitors do. It’s a trend worth following in 2018, because doing so could make your business one of the trendsetters in your industry.

PEOPLE

Everyone will be a potential customermarketers are focusing on diversity (because a bigger prospect pool means more potential business!).

There is a distinction between “knowing your customer” and “deciding who your customer is.” When it comes down to it, the concept of a customer is wonderfully inclusive – all that is required is that the customer have something to offer in exchange (usually, money) for your products or services. That means that everyone has the potential to be a loyal customer for any business.

Digital marketing technologies have given us the ability to hone in on who it is we believe our audience is and target our marketing message to them. But lately, brands are starting to demand more action on diversity and gender balance. If everyone is a potential customer, and your company is looking for more business, make sure more of those potential customers feel represented in your marketing too.

Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Unilever, Keith Weed spoke at AdWeek: “Really, a customer is a customer – everyone and anyone has the potential to become a loyal patron of your business. Marketing to a broad and inclusive audience is a great way to make sure that your business is seizing as many opportunities as are available.”

This is something that brands can have fun with; it’s a challenge to focus more on the value of your products and services, and to come up with more and better perspectives on your business’s potential.

Micro Influencers will be even more influentialit’s not the end of big celebrity, but it does mean a major attention shift.

The internet has leveled the playing field considerably in terms of who is able to influence the public. Just a few decades ago, news was delivered by only a handful of networks, and high-profile figures consisted of movie stars and political figures (those that newspapers and magazines deemed interesting enough to cover, anyway). Now there is a powerful cohort of influencers somewhere between superstars and your next-door neighbor: Micro-Influencers.

You no longer need to get Beyoncé to endorse your business to successfully leverage influencer marketing (but if you can actually get Beyoncé, definitely use Beyoncé). Micro-influencers include internet stars who have somewhere between 10,000 and 10 million social media followers – that’s it. That’s all they need to make an impact.

Digital Marketing Trends Forecast 2018 Google Mobile Search SEO Content Video AI Social MediaThe best part about micro-influencers is that they actually experience higher engagement on average than “macro-influencers” (those with that superstar status – more than 10 million followers). Micro-influencers are 4x more likely to get a comment on a post – overall, they are considered to be peers more than celebrities. That impression is made even more significant when you consider that 90% of consumers trust peer recommendations.

Figure out who the influencers are in your industry and have some fun thinking up ways that your products and services could work into their content. These partnerships will need to be considered in your marketing budget for 2018, but with the right micro-influencer endorsing your business, it will be money very well spent.

INTELLIGENCE

Artificial Intelligence will be something to watchit may be a young technology, but the consensus is: it’s here to stay.

It’s estimated that Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications related to marketing, advertising and media make up 20% of the AI market globally. That share is the largest that any one industry currently has. AI technology is young – its potential has only just starting to be developed … we’re at the beginning of a new technological era.

As AI continues to develop – to “get smarter” so to speak – it will mean big changes in almost every industry. But for marketing, growth is coming quickly and it means exciting advances are in store. Marketers estimate that their use of AI will grow by over 50% over the next two years.

So, what does this actually mean? What does an increased prominence of AI look like in our daily lives – in our work as marketers? You may already be experiencing improved AI! Have you ever found yourself seeing ads for something that you searched for? Maybe you didn’t even search for it, maybe you clicked on something related, or even just mentioned something like it in a post. The capacity we have to generate highly targeted, specialized ads and content is growing.

AI technology can learn about people based on all of their available digital activity. Where you are (based on what places you tag or even where your cell phone registers you), what you buy, what your interests are, where you spend your time online, and so much more.

One of the arenas in which marketers are already working with AI is voice search. In 2017, more than half of U.S. teens and 41% of U.S. adults used voice search daily. This has a direct impact on the way marketers will be (and some are) approaching their SEO strategies. The way we optimize for voice search is actually quite different from optimizing for traditional, typed searches – mainly because we speak differently than we write (or, type, in this case). One of the ways marketers can get ahead of the coming increase in voice searches is to understand the different ways people search – when they speak their query, the phrases are often longer, which would mean much longer keywords than we’re accustomed to optimizing for.

AI technology will develop over time – not overnight – the progression may not even be noticeable to many of us, we may just chalk it up to our devices “working better.” Over time, as the machines learn patterns and understand content, results will get more and more accurate. The important thing to consider is how your business can keep up with the technology – by contributing the right information to it. That will require professionals who are trained to do that – human intelligence.

Human Intelligence isn’t going anywherebut we will need to adjust the way we all approach and value it.

Over the last few decades we have seen that even established local businesses have needed to make a shift into digital technology. Whether it be to manage their customer lists more efficiently, to make sure they’re found in online searches, or even just to participate in the larger communities and discussions that social media has created.

This trend toward using digital technologies is projected to continue, and businesses of all kinds and sizes will be compelled – in one way or another – to adapt. Whether they’re keeping up with technology or using it to get ahead, they will need people who specialize in using these technologies.

Marketing is a practice that only works if it is driven by people who know what they’re doing. The marketing technologies available to us don’t work on their own, they require human input to be successful.

The best marketers are the ones committed to learning, who are excited by new technologies and who embrace the change. If a local business has or can get one of those in house that’s great news, but this is one area where it makes sense to partner up with an expert.

The backbone of America will continue to be small businessesnot even Amazon can change that.

Small, local businesses are fundamental to our communities. They contribute to so much more than just our national economic health. The exchange of goods and services at the local level is a cornerstone of our society – those interactions are essential to the way we build connections with one another. Without local businesses, we wouldn’t – as people – be who we are.

The technological advancements we’ve discussed in this article come as both opportunities and threats. Small business will need to prepare themselves to adapt if they wish to thrive in the changing marketplace. If they don’t, they may find themselves buried in search results or lost in the clutter of competitors’ ads. If they do adapt, then they may see themselves consistently ranking above even the largest franchises and brand-name corporations.

If the right tools and tactics are invested in, local businesses can successfully compete with even the giants, because their status as being truly “local” is key to being relevant (and Google thinks that’s a pretty important thing for a business to be).

Speaking of the right tools, there are a few honorable mentions that can be added to our list of big trends for 2018 (these tactics could be the tools that make all of your investment in content worthwhile!). Getting the message out is just as important as creating it. In addition to including SEO, influencer marketing and paid and organic social to your distribution strategy, make sure you give some serious thought to email and text message marketing (if you’re not using them already).

Digital Marketing Trends Forecast 2018 Google Mobile Search SEO Content Video AI Social MediaEmail has been a steadfast marketing tool for years now – 72% of U.S. adults prefer communication with companies to happen through email. Text message marketing may be considered by some to be email’s kid brother, but we anticipate that when it comes of age it will be the bigger and stronger of the two. An estimated 97 percent of text messages are opened by consumers in less than 15 minutes, making it a highly effective way for companies to get in front of customers.

Even with all of the compelling reasons for investing in these tools and tactics, about 15% of small businesses don’t plan to do any digital marketing in 2018. That may seem like a small, maybe even reasonable percentage – but it’s not when you take into account that most small business owners feel they don’t have the time or resources for marketing. That means that the 85% who are using digital marketing, aren’t necessarily seeing success with it.

Business owners are experts at running their businesses, and unless their business is a marketing agency, then it’s likely that they are not a marketing expert. That’s why so many companies that do have digital marketing in place still struggle to gauge the success of it.

46% of small businesses aren’t sure if their marketing strategies work, and another 17% know their strategies aren’t working. It was also reported that nearly half of small business owners handle their own marketing. We would wager that the majority of those who aren’t sure if their digital marketing is working are managing it on their own.

The great news is that small businesses have options, the best one being to partner with a digital marketing expert. Let the marketers do what they do best so that you can do what you do best – run your business. Talk to Vivial about how you can get started on giving your business a bigger online presence.

Small businesses are in a great position to be marketing themselves right now. The big move by Google to mobile-first search will be a win for local businesses who are able to put the work in to prepare. SEO, content, video and analytics are all going to be important focuses in the coming year and beyond. And ultimately, digital marketing tools, tactics and technologies all exist so that we can connect – to share who we are, our stories, our purpose and what we have to offer. And because you are small, you can be authentic in a way that a big business simply can’t.