Digital Marketing Trends 2021-2022 and how to keep up with Google Algorithm Changes
by Zen Family Member, Dan Birkett
Search Engine Marketing is a continuously evolving industry which needs to constantly adapt in order to synchronise with human behaviours and changing technology.
In the early days, a few well-placed keywords and a number of quality backlinks could be enough to achieve credible Google rankings, but in recent years, the focus is predominantly centred around the personal experience of the user and valuable content.
Today, organisations need to be prepared to maintain their websites to keep up with evolving trends to ensure they perform in relevant user searches.
In this article we will look at digital marketing trends over the last 12 months and expected changes in 2022, providing a detailed insight into what goes on behind the scenes of a simple Google search.
Digital Marketing and Search Engine Optimisation Trends in 2021
In 2021, digital marketing trends revolved around two core areas, namely user experience (UX) and the segmentation of campaigns to focus on specific target audiences, rather than appealing to the masses. Ultimately, this boils down to creating websites, apps and marketing collateral which engages the individual.
In this section we will discuss the trends and best practices which have grown in prevalence throughout the year, ranging from the shift in content delivery, to the effectiveness of visual search functionality.
Featured snippets, often referred to as ‘position zero’, as they appear before the first listing of Google search results, are now the top goal for SEO marketing. These snippets are the very first thing the user will see once they have submitted a search term, providing relevant information which best answers the query directly. This means the user does not need to click on the link to find the information they are looking for.
Featured snippets can be presented in many different formats, including infographics, video, standard text, or a simple list like below.
However, this begs the question ‘why would you want to potentially reduce click-throughs to your website?’
Building a reputation as a ‘thought-leader’ and a trusted resource within your field can be far more beneficial than a single visit to your website. Featured snippets can greatly increase the visibility of your brand and are also used in Google Assistant voice searches, further increasing exposure.
Snippets are predominantly used for long-tail keywords/ phrases, such as questions which require a thorough answer. This is why it is important to answer any query succinctly and effectively in a well-structured format that can be easily digested.
The Decline of Display Ads
According to a recent study by Emarketer, the use of ad-blocking software has increased in countries such as France, Germany, the UK and the US as they often impact the overall user experience. On average, around 30% of internet users blocked display ads in 2021.
For many websites, display advertising, including pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is a significant traffic source, therefore impacted websites must find ways to adapt.
Convincing the user to disable the ad blocker in order to view your website will almost certainly result in a high exit rate, so traffic sources must be diversified and budgets adjusted to include alternative marketing campaigns. Influencer marketing and sponsored content are two methods which yielded good results in 2021.
It is now possible to conduct a Google search by submitting an image, or original photo (via Google Lens) to search for related content and additional context regarding the image. This is particularly useful for retailers as a user can take a photo of an item they would like to purchase, with Google Lens then taking them directly to that product or suggesting similar items.
This has led to an increased focus on optimising images and video so they can be found using a visual search. In order to capitalise on this technology, which is rapidly growing in popularity, the following ‘best practice’ should be applied:
- Ensure alt text is included in all image descriptions
- Include target keywords in the image title
- Try to use high quality images and HD video
- Include images within the sitemap, or assign a sitemap just for visuals
Certainly not a new trend, but one that has established itself as a core component of good search engine optimisation – interactivity is now considered a must for any successful website.
Engagement can be achieved in a number of ways, whether it allows the user to make a contribution to a discussion or gives them a chance of winning a prize; users are more likely to return to a website or social media page if they feel there is something to be gained.
Polls, surveys and quizzes are effective ways to encourage discussion and allow you to collect useful data from your audience, while contests and giveaways can greatly improve brand awareness. Many websites also include calculators, of sorts, enabling users to work out their expenditure or environmental impact, for example.
Keeping users on your website for a longer period of time tells any algorithms that it contains engaging and useful content, therefore improving its overall Google rank and search visibility.
Creating a series of small campaigns which target specific audiences, as opposed to a small amount of larger, broader campaigns can usually deliver much better outcomes – continuing the overall theme of personalisation.
Splitting campaigns to target individual audiences, based on behaviours or demographics can help you personalise content and deliverables to achieve a better response. For example, a campaign could be built to target SMEs within a specific region, while another could focus on large organisations across the country, each containing very different, targeted content.
Increased focus on Local SEO
Google places significant importance on its local SEO algorithms, therefore businesses which target a specific geographical location should place equal importance on localisation.
A neglected Google My Business account can severely damage Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) rankings, even if you are a national, or international organisation.
Google Algorithm Changes in 2021
Monitoring Google’s algorithmic updates and implementing the necessary changes to meet its criteria is a must in order to avoid being penalised and SERP rankings being damaged. These changes can be minor but their impact can be hard to recover from if not suitably prepared.
Below is a timeline of the Google algorithm changes in 2021 which had the most impact.
The Passage Ranking update was said to have a 7% impact on search queries as it used its powerful AI to index paragraphs and sentences within pages to improve results for very specific search queries, i.e. Featured Snippets as we discussed earlier.
‘About This Result’ Update
This change did not necessarily affect Google rankings but allowed the user to decide for themselves whether a website is a trusted resource before they even click on the link.
The ‘About This Page’ box (located on the right-hand side of the search results) discloses information such as when the site was first indexed; whether the connection is secure; the search term used; page language; which sites are linked to on the page; and which regions the page is relevant to.
Mobile-First Indexing Update
Mobile traffic has seen a significant rise since 2010 due to the advancements and popularity of smartphones and tablets which enable a browsing experience which is almost on par with a laptop or desktop. As a result, Google has worked hard to ensure its ranking algorithms pay strong attention to whether a website is ‘mobile-friendly’.
Now Mobile-First Indexing is the default for all websites, both old and new, following the latest update in March 2021. This means all websites must be fully responsive, use compressed images, provide quick loading speeds, and functionality such as forms and popups must work on mobile.
Multitask Unified Model (MUM)
A significant upgrade on the Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers algorithm (BERT), the Multitask Unified Model uses upgraded AI to find the correct answers to complicated questions, combining a range of sources in a contextual manner. This allows users to search for multi-faceted, long-tail queries and find relevant answers.
The algorithm works across 75 languages, allowing Google to return web pages in different languages to the one the query was written in, which can then be translated.
Google has re-prioritised its Core Web Vitals to improve page experience for the user. These priorities include page load speeds, the webpage’s response to the user’s first actions, and the stability of the layout so elements do not unexpectedly move.
Applied to web and image searches, but not local searches, the latest Link Spam update is rather secretive but quite self-explanatory, encouraging websites to implement effective spam protection to avoid low quality, or harmful links being posted.
An invalid SSL certificate can have an adverse effect on rankings, so it is important to renew them before they are due to expire. The Google Search Console can also highlight any security issues and provide a report of manual actions which can be taken.
Marking low quality pages as NoIndex or NoFollow prevents them from being indexed by Google. Allowing these pages to be indexed can damage the trustworthiness of the overall website – this is recommended for any pages which contain user-generated content which needs to be moderated.
Over the years, Google has changed the page titles of web pages to better relate to the search query, however, this sometimes had an undesired impact for some websites. In August, Google announced that it would no longer adjust page titles based on the search query, but instead they may be adjusted based on the overall page content.
So far, this reactive algorithm has been met with a largely negative response, with many websites seeing a reduced click-through rate as a result of the change.
Expected Digital Marketing Trends in 2022
A personalised experience for each user will continue as the overall theme throughout 2022, but there are also other factors which will need to be considered for an effective marketing strategy over the coming year.
Google intends to phase out the use of Third-Party Cookies in its Chrome browser in 2023, focusing more on anonymisation and aggregated data to improve consumer privacy – following the likes of Mozilla, Apple & Microsoft.
As a result, the use of artificial intelligence to predict user behaviours, provide automated reporting and to generate keyword recommendations is expected to rise considerably.
This was touched upon previously, but voice searches on mobile have become commonplace, as users require almost instantaneous information. Studies show that around 27% of online users now utilise voice search.
Becoming the norm during the pandemic, online events such as webinars and virtual conferences are expected to continue to help boost brand awareness and build relationships with your existing client-base and potential clients.
Online events are not considered as a method to drive revenue, but instead they are a valuable way to build a reputation as a trusted and informative resource.
Games hold a 36% share of all app downloads and are a proven way to engage with potential customers. This is why investment in games across interactive ads and on websites is expected to increase even more during 2022 as businesses adopt new ways of reaching their target audience.
Social and environmental responsibility is of course a must for every organisation over the coming decade, whether the business is large or small. The need to prove that your brand is ethical is paramount as studies show that the willingness to boycott a brand if it is guilty of mistreating animals, damaging the environment, or involved in fraud or corruption is higher than ever.
Google Algorithm Changes in 2022
Accuracy and Relevancy
Google will increase its efforts to provide the most relevant content for search queries in 2022, with websites no longer able to rank on the first page with misleading titles. Algorithm changes to dramatically improve Google’s ability to recognise irrelevant content are expected to be implemented, increasing competitiveness and emphasising the need for high-quality and relevant content.
Recent searches generating personalised results
It is expected that Google will look to improve the way it delivers search results, to improve the overall searching experience by generating results which are based on a user’s history, commonly searched for queries, and previously visited pages.
For example, this is similar to how the YouTube algorithm works, displaying suggested content based on the user’s interests. Again, this relates back to relevancy which will no doubt be a common theme throughout 2022.
Building on 2021
Trends in 2021, such as Local SEO, Featured Snippets, Visual Search and Voice Search will also see further advancements and stronger focus in 2022. Further emphasising the need for accurate content which can answer a user’s query quickly and comprehensively.
There have been three clear themes which have continued throughout this piece… personalisation, relevancy and interactivity. Although none of these factors are new from a marketing perspective, the methods in which to achieve the desired results are shifting at a rapid rate which could leave many businesses under-prepared from a digital perspective.
- Campaigns need to be diversified across a range of channels, with a segmented approach.
- Content is as crucial as it has ever been, not just in terms of well-written, engaging text, but also video and imagery.
- Technology needs to be utilised to reach audiences via online webinars, games and discussion.
- Brand awareness is key to emphasise ethical and social values.
The advancements in the industry will no doubt stretch budgets and result in some trial and error, but it is certainly an exciting time for the industry, with a myriad of channels to promote your brand and reach new audiences.
Dan is part of the marketing team and responsible for search engine optimisation and digital marketing campaigns across the Zenergi Group.