I’ll go ahead and repeat what everyone has been saying for the last 10 months: 2020 was an all-around bad year. Between COVID-19, the complete rearrangement of our personal and professional lives, and national political and social upheaval, we can all agree that we’re happy to see 2021 is nearly here. While we’ve all been distracted by the mess that is this year, it’s important to start looking ahead, crossing our fingers, and working to make sure 2021 will be better (or at least saner).
One area that hasn’t been watched as closely is digital marketing, which has become more and more important throughout 2020. Companies have become accustomed to digital ad spend, paid search ad placements, email campaigns, and everything else that helps a business expand its online visibility, but this became so much more important in 2020. COVID-19 has changed many things for most businesses, including how they value digital marketing. Now that so many people are home and shopping online more than ever before, it’s the right time to shift your digital marketing tactics.
2021 is only a few days away, so let’s start thinking ahead and considering what happened in 2020, what might happen in 2021, and how best to prepare for what’s going to be a strange, new world.
COVID-19 Isn’t Going Away Anytime Soon – Remember that in 2021
Let’s be direct about this uncomfortable fact before we get too far: just because we’re starting to roll out a vaccine doesn’t mean that COVID-19 has been beaten. Mass inoculations, relaxing state-level mask requirements, restarting regular school schedules, and fully reopening restaurants is still a long way off, so it’s important to plan digital marketing efforts around that concept.
People are still going to be working remotely, taking online classes, and generally staying home for at least the first three or four months of 2021, so don’t expect a sudden change in shopping activity just because it’s a new year. In fact, I recommend that companies reignite digital marketing efforts and start preparing for one of two things:
1. Scenario 1: This is the new norm, which means digital marketing is your best way to reach out to potential customers who might not be exposed to other marketing methods.
2. Scenario 2: The eventual end of COVID-19 means the potential return to “normal” shopping experiences and online interactivity. If people remember your brand from the digital marketing they saw while quarantined, then they might form a connection that benefits your brand
There’s going to be a lot changing in 2021, so be prepared to shift your digital marketing efforts at a moment’s notice to match whatever comes your way.
Google Has Been Busy and Isn’t Slowing Down
Unsurprisingly, Google managed to stay very busy throughout 2020. The search giant released multiple updates, tools, and search result adjustments over the last 10 months, including a massive algorithm update in May. Google then stopped all algorithm update activity for seven months (an actual record) and suddenly released a final update at the end of November. The November Core Algorithm update might be one of the biggest to ever occur, but it’s too early to know exactly what’s happening or what Google was trying to accomplish.
Many online watchdog groups questioned Google’s choice to release the May 4th algorithm change during one of the most uncertain times in recent memory, especially with so many people suddenly working from home or even unemployed. While the change was focused on providing what the search engine saw as trustworthy news sources and improved access to “essential” products, there were smaller changes to commerce search results that negatively affected tens of thousands of brands and industries. Most sites have somewhat recovered from the May update, but with the November core update still making waves, we can’t be sure how 2021 will look.
Expect to see More from GA4
Google Analytics is one of the most trusted tools on the market and is an absolute must-have for any domain. While the search giant regularly adjusts and expands its analytics capabilities and toolsets, there hasn’t been a truly “new” version of GA since Universal Analytics was released in 2012.
A few months ago, Google did what it does best and defied expectations by releasing Google Analytics 4 (GA4), the newest and most unique version of GA we’ve ever seen. While Universal Analytics is very smart and capable of collecting and organizing huge amounts of data, it can’t make intuitive leaps, fill in the data gaps, or fully connect cross-platform usage. In fact, the upcoming changes to global privacy and security (like California’s CCPA and the EU’s GDPR) could end up making Universal Analytics unreliable, as there will be too many possible data gaps.
I’m not saying that it’s what will happen. I’m just saying that it’s a possibility, which means we could see some major changes in how user data is collected, organized, and shared.
GA4 is intended to change all of that. It’s new AI-powered configuration can create models based on user activity, behavior, and device use, even without knowing much about the user. This will help business owners understand customer actions and will give us insight into the current keyword and click activity that’s blocked by cookies, security settings, and more.
There’s way, way more information to share on GA4 and its capabilities, but it’s important to note that GA4 is geared more toward commerce groups. While this could change as the system is updated and expanded, don’t expect GA4 to replace Universal Analytics anytime soon, if ever.
Don’t forget that you can set up a GA4 account for free with a few easy steps. All you really have to do is create a new property, select a few category settings and time zone locations, and let it start collecting new data. Follow Google’s GA4 Analytics Setup guide if you’d like to know more.
New Tools, New Looks, and New Problems for a New Year
GA4 isn’t Google’s only major change in 2020. New and expanded tools, like the new Rich Results Test and a revamped version of Google Tag Manager’s debugger/preview mode, have made waves in the digital marketing world since they were released.
While these tools are already available, Google has been direct in stating that they’re actively updating and fine-tuning these new services. The Rich Results Test is going to completely replace the tried-and-true Structured Data Results tool in 2021, which is going to be a major change for both marketers and developers (I’m still having trouble accepting this unfortunate truth).
I can’t stress this point enough: make sure you’re paying attention to what Google does in 2021. The search giant is watching the world closely and is ready to adjust its services and search results based on its users’ needs, NOT your company’s needs. If you’re paying attention, then you might be able to anticipate upcoming changes and be ready.
Be sure to check out my last article on Google’s new tools and search features to learn more about how these tools will affect your work in 2021.
A Final Consideration: Is Working from Home the New Norm?
One highly influential factor that some people are not addressing is the potential for employers to maintain permanent work-from-home policies. After all, companies around the world are suddenly realizing that they can reduce overhead expenses (rent, utilities, and on-site amenities) and that employees can still be productive and reliable while working in loungewear.
I fully expect to see more people permanently working from home in 2021, which means online shopping and search behavior is going to change. We’ve already seen user activity flip – instead of dips and spikes between weekday and weekend traffic, we’re seeing session activity flatten out. People are able to shop and search with a little more freedom, which means some digital commerce groups could see another booming year. Other companies might see revenue and user activity return to 2019 levels, though it’s anyone’s guess as to what will actually happen.
Contact CQL for More 2021 Marketing Insights
2021 is going to be another unforgettable year but you don’t have to jump into things on your own. Give CQL a call today if you’d like to know more about digital marketing in 2021. We can work closely with you and your team to identify the best possible marketing services, help you develop and implement marketing strategies, and guide you all the way through the new year. Now, let’s all raise our glasses and hope that 2021 is a little nicer to us all.