As we wind down 2018 this holiday season, it’s a time to reflect on the year’s highs and lows. It’s also a good time to revisit Anvil’s annual digital marketing predictions for 2018 and look forward with new digital marketing predictions for 2019. As we’ve done for the past 12+ years, we sat down and graded our 2018 predictions, then discussed our 2019 digital marketing predictions and are ready to share them below.

2018 Digital Marketing Prediction: How Did We Do?

Voice Search will make massive strides in 2018
In 2018, digital assistants will dramatically affect the way consumers search. The 2017 holiday season will prime the pump with consumers purchasing large quantities of voice-assisted devices, including Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Apple iPhones with Siri and Microsoft Cortana devices. The Android, Windows and Apple device users will speak directly to their devices to conduct searches as well as manage their lives. How consumers verbally communicate significantly varies from how individuals type out search queries. Because of this variation in behavior, you will begin to see more long-tail keyword queries; this will allow brands to create much more accurate and intelligent keyword search optimization strategies, since more granular data will be available around consumer behavior. Voice search is also driving the need for brands to optimize for Position 0 on Google. Position 0 is a sentence, list, or table “answer” to common questions asked by Google users that appear above the organic search results. This coveted position will become increasingly competitive, even as Google heavily moderates results. Lastly, brands will increasingly invest in custom voice “skills” for Amazon, which is now estimated at 25,000, to better connect and engage consumers.
GRADE: B

Voice Search will fully embrace Paid Media
As we predicted in 2017, it’s only a matter of time before Google and Amazon figure out how to monetize voice assistants. As more phones and smart speakers flood the markets and consumers acclimate to utilizing these devices daily, Google, Amazon, Bing and Apple will increasingly explore ways to integrate paid media into their voice-based services. This process has already begun: as we outlined in March, Local Service Ads are in beta and will be rolling out to Google’s Home and Pixel devices soon. Select home service companies have been invited to participate in this paid, Adwords-based experience. More is sure to come. By Q4 2018, consumers everywhere will be asking their voice assistants for shopping help and that paid ads will be at the center of the interaction. You can bet on it.
GRADE: D

Amazon Search will continue to gain ground on Google
According to a Kenshoo study, 56 percent of consumers start product searches on Amazon. That means a minority of consumers are starting product searches on Google. While this behavior shift that has been in the works for the past decade, it will reach a tipping point in 2018.
With Amazon advertisers expected to increase investment by 63 percent in 2018, Google may find itself in a defensive position. In short, Amazon is the new Google in many respects, so brands will adjust marketing strategies appropriately in 2018. Those that take a more aggressive stance and invest bigger and smarter in Amazon organic and paid programs will outperform competitors that fail to do so, in 2018 and beyond.
GRADE: B+

eBay makes an Ad Play
As Amazon reaps massive financial success from its Sponsored Products promotion platform, expect other players to step up. One big online reseller that will be making a play in 2018: eBay Promoted Listings. Once known as the place to auction off that (hopefully valuable) junk from your attic, eBay has quietly started allowing “Buy Now” listings to become more pervasive, representing an opportunity for re-sellers to sell direct using the platform. eBay also allows a minimum bid for auction items to be considered “sold”, for those selling rarer and more valuable items they believe will fetch a premium. Along with new listing options, eBay is increasing ways to get more traffic to customer listings via its Promotions tool, expanding the program to new categories and sellers in 2017. Unlike Amazon and other promoted listings platforms that charge only for a click, eBay only charges for the promotion when an ad is clicked and the item is sold to the clicker within 30 days. This allows them to charge a premium for promotions, but the charge is always attached to an actual sale. Experts predict eBay Promoted Listings will represent a $1B+ market with over 70% margin, prompting a rise in eBay stock valuation in Q4 of 2017. Early adopters of this technology might see a blue ocean of opportunity in 2018.
GRADE: D

AMP Pages Will Blow Up & Become a Ranking Factor
As Google continues to roll out Mobile-First Indexing, more emphasis will be put on sites utilizing AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) to improve mobile user experience. AMP pages load 4x faster than normal website pages on average, which can significantly improve user experience, CTR and site engagement. Currently, AMP pages do not have the widespread adoption that Google was hoping for. Only 900,000 of the 1.2 billion websites on the internet have implemented the AMP framework thus far. With Google’s continued focus on mobile, it is likely that they will soon factor the use of AMP pages into organic rankings to further increase adoption. Businesses that have yet to implement the AMP framework should consider creating AMP pages for their top performing content, especially if Google intends to make AMP a ranking factor.
GRADE: C-

Link Building will play a much more prominent role
We’ve already discussed the importance of ranking for Position 0 and owning voice search results, but it is worth mentioning that the old-school strategy of securing high quality inbound links to boost domain authority is not only important, it is more critical than ever. To achieve Position 0, ensure that other websites linking back to your website are the most “authoritative” around the query that the visitor is searching. 70 percent of voice search results are Featured Snippets, so capturing Position 0 in SERPs translates to you owning the voice result if someone talks to Siri, Bixby, Cortana, Alexa or another digital assistant.
GRADE: B-

Brands will focus on Fan-Generated Content
When it comes to showing products in natural settings, there are several brands who rely on celebrity photoshoots and repurposing paid influencer content. The influencer scene has become so overblown, that many influencers are pricing themselves out of the market.
Based on this trend, we think the bubble is about to burst, and many brands will switch to sharing user- generated content from fans instead of high-priced influencers. Vans Girls is already sharing fan-generated content for many of its Instagram posts. This works in Vans’ favor by allowing them to save money, while providing incentive to its fans. Fans are already posting great content on their meticulously-curated accounts and tag posts with Vans in the hope of being featured on one of their favorite brand’s social pages. The collaboration strengthens brand affinity with consumers and helps solve a common challenge among brands: content creation.
GRADE: B+

Micro-Influencers are going to become more useful to Consumer Brands Than Big Influencers
In the past few years, Influencer Marketing has become a proven tactic for driving awareness and leads. Seventy one percent of consumers are more likely to make a purchase based on a social media reference. People follow influencers they like and respect on social media, but an influencer doesn’t have to be a celebrity or have at least 100,000 followers to help your brand.
While brands have been pining after mega-influencers, micro-influencers have demonstrated significant value by making an impact with as few as 1,000 followers. They tend to be more authentic and trustworthy brand ambassadors. The smaller price tag, high engagement rates and steady results will raise eyebrows of previous skeptics. Look for 2018 to be the year of the micro-influencer.
GRADE: A+

Chatbots Will take Over Social Media Messaging
According to a study done by Facebook, 56 percent of consumers prefer to handle a customer service issue over chat vs. over the phone. As this trend continues to grow, the need for timely responses on social channels will grow with it. Every visitor to a website or Facebook business page presents an opportunity to enter a brand’s funnel and chatbots help secure that potential lead. Don’t wait and see for yourself: jump on the trend by creating a simple Chatbots that can answer questions and redirect social media visitors to your Customer Service department and/or Sales team. The secret behind chatbot’s is the ability to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to broaden its knowledge and ability to provide sales and service support in a seamless manner. As a result, look for greater chatbot adoption in 2018 than any previous year.
GRADE: A-

Augmented Reality Marketing will finally Take Off
Pokémon Go might have come and gone, but it’s effects on marketing might not be so ephemeral. The first attempts at augmented reality marketing seemed to be a bust. In 2009, a hidden feature named Monacle made Yelp the iPhone’s premiere AR application. Sadly, it never took off. In 2010, the MIT Technology Review even wrote an article detailing the failures of AR campaigns to draw in consumers. Pokémon Go, the fad of 2016, may have breathed new life into AR by introducing it to a mainstream audience and re-inspiring marketers. Ad Age claims that AR is “marketing’s trillion dollar opportunity.” In the Fall of 2017, Apple released the ARKit, which gives developers tools to create their own Augmented Reality iOS applications. An example of an app already created with ARKit is Ikea Place, which lets you visualize how Ikea furniture and décor will look in your home or office. AR marketing use varies from the real-estate and interior decorating spaces to virtual banners and Google My Business information for brick-and-mortar establishments. Apple CEO Tim Cook pronounced, “We are high on AR for the long run, we think there’s great things for customers and a great commercial opportunity.”
With tech giants behind AR and the “Pokémon Go generation” (millennials) starting to buy homes, advance in their careers, and spend more on entertainment, it seems AR marketing might finally go mainstream. Maybe Yelp will even put out Monocle 2.0.
GRADE: B-

SkyNet may become a Reality, thanks to the rapid evolution of AI
We don’t typically wear our tin foil hats in public, but there are already signs that AI has the potential to go very, very wrong. From the “highly aggressive” DeepMind AI to some of the worlds brightest minds warning us about the dangers ahead, 2018 has the potential to bring a Terminator-like problem front and center. It may not be as obvious as this guy running amok through the city streets with his army of buddies, but it will be very real. We are turning more aspects of our lives over to technology at an alarmingly fast rate. Self-driving cars, bank accounts, smart refrigerators and even medical procedures are being managed by AI, with little to no control or regulation. The rate at which machines can learn already far exceeds our ability as human beings – setting the stage for a potential showdown in the future. We predict there will be at least one major event in 2018 that will clearly demonstrate the threat.
GRADE: A-

2019 Digital Marketing Predictions

Without further ado, here are Anvil’s digital marketing predictions for 2019.

Brands Will Make Major Strides with In-Game and eSport Sponsorships and Related Advertising Opportunities
While online gaming, especially multiplayer, has been around since Doom in the early 90s, recent explosive growth, thanks in part to games like Fortnite, have changed the game for brands looking to target GenZ in particular. Online gaming enthusiasts range in age from 10 to 65, yet a whopping 73 percent of 14- to 21-year-olds in the US identify as a competitive gamer (including 56 percent of females in that same age group), according to a WaPo study. Anvil believes game makers will not be able to resist lucrative partnerships, sponsorships and advertising opportunities. Recent examples include Wreck-It Ralph Breaks the Internet and Fortnite including a brief cameo in the movie and an Easter Egg embedded in the popular game. Look for more cross-over partnerships in the future. There is another large audience relating to gaming and that is spectators and fans. Electronic sports (esports) are increasingly a spectator sport, drawing millions to global competitions (physically and virtually). While most gamers play for social reasons, 35 percent play to win prizes or acclaim. Look for brands to increase sponsorship budgets to get in front of gamers by associating brands with high profile players.

With Search Growing More Prevalent, Google Will Introduce Campaigns Specifically for Voice-Assisted Devices
With voice search becoming more prevalent, we believe the trend will affect Google search with a new campaign type. This campaign type would specifically be for voice search and would allow targeting with bid adjustments by the type of voice search device including mobile phone voice search as well as the specific voice-assisted devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home.

AEO and REO Will Replace the Outdated SEO Model
Search Engine Optimization will fall by the wayside in favor of Answer Engine and Research Engine optimization. SEO is becoming a broad term that is beginning to encapsulate digital marketing as search engines are more and more able to anticipate user intent. At the same time, SEO is becoming more siloed as websites are beginning to focus more on their own specialty. As a website’s optimization aligns more and more with where users are in their specific journey, websites will have to think about how to optimize to answer questions, allow for research, or convert from search engine results pages directly.

Voice Assistants Enter More Home–sand Businesses–Than Ever Before
Use of voice search will continue to increase. Facebook, Google, and Amazon have all doubled down on in-home voice assistants and Amazon have just stated that their biggest Cyber Monday saw the most sales of their Amazon Echo and Echo Dot. Voice search isn’t going anywhere, and these massive companies are attempting to make it easier and easier for users to utilize voice in their everyday lives. Not only that, but voice assistants are moving into the business sphere more and more.

Blockchain Is Going to Lie Low
After the crypto gains in 2017, many companies engaged in the marketing ploy of launching blockchain products, trying to ride the media coattails surrounding the emerging technology and buzzwords associated with it that most people don’t truly understand. A year later and crypto markets are in the middle of a tailspin. As mainstream attention cares only about the dollar signs associated with crypto, companies will keep quiet about their blockchain products until the next bear market. As for crypto, many projects will lose funding; the deadwood will burn. But the community is thriving as ever. Keep your ear to the ground for projects looking to go to market and take advantage of the opportunity to get into this industry on the ground-level by keeping your prices low and goals reasonable.

Video Trends Will Increase in Marketing, Messaging and Media
Live video content (streaming) encourages high-engagement and will be an even more valuable tool for brands in 2019. This type of video content will be more search friendly with more prevalent use of closed captioning and the power of artificial intelligence. AI can transcribe audio to make video more searchable. Video previews (silent) will auto-play on most platforms. With the ease of video production essentially being in everyone’s phone, video will also take on more of a 1:1 approach. Personalized video messages will start replacing chat, email, and phone calls as ways brands communicate with customers. Videos will be created to thank a customer, delivers support, or follow-up on customer questions.

Virtual Reality (VR) Will Finally Go Mainstream
2019 will see Virtual Reality move from a niche-gaming system or novelty experience to a much more accessible platform with higher use than we’ve ever seen before. While it won’t even come close to the usage of mobile, computers or television, the technology, cost and ease of use has taken many giant steps over the past year – which see a payoff this year. Look no further than the new Oculus Go. No longer is a high-powered computer needed to run VR. The Oculus Go is making VR more accessible due to its simple setup and relatively low cost. Facebook, the owner of Oculus is already betting heavily on the success of the Oculus Go by launching an entire multi-platform campaign that spans from social to television. Online radio advertising will see increased impressions and decreased performance as Virtual Reality hangouts become more popularized. The Oculus Go also allows users to play online radio stations while in hangout rooms and will increase the available ad space for online radio such as Pandora and Spotify. However, as these placements aren’t clickable, advertisers attempting to drive site traffic will see decreased performance.

Local SEO Will Get Sexier
Yes, voice search is trendy, but should optimization focus on voice search alone? No: rather voice search should be an integrated part of a larger focus. According to a 2018 BrightLocal study, smart speaker owners usually use their devices to perform local business-related search on a weekly basis. Over half of smart speaker owners perform this type of voice query every day! Voice search optimization shouldn’t live in a vacuum. It should be part of a holistic on-Page or on-SERP optimization plan or Local Search strategy. With an increasing amount of no-click searches and Google-owned content eating up more space (and often all above-the-fold real estate) for local SEO SERPs, on-SERP and voice search optimization is and will continue to become more paramount to Local SEO in 2019.

GenZ Will Call For Increased Brand Transparency & Purpose
Brand transparency and purpose will go beyond affecting ad targeting and be a critical component to developing successful marketing strategies & campaigns. As Generation Z ages and their buying power grows, it will be important for brands to think about their story and how to connect with this new consumer group. To effectively connect with GenZ, brands will not only have to authentically convey their values & purpose but actively live it and prove their commitment.

Amazon Will Create Its Own SEO Position 0
As Amazon gains a larger share of not only online shopping but consumer purchases in general, it will become more and more like its own search engine. We expect increased importance on SEO for product pages, and possibly even position 0 and “featured snippets” in the form of a promoted product that matches one’s search query.

So, there you have it. Feel free to leave comments regarding your 2019 predictions or provide feedback on our 2018 review and 2019 digital marketing predictions. Happy Holidays!

Kent Lewis
Kent Lewis is a co-founder and the first President of SEMpdx, a professional trade organization based in Portland, Oregon that provides educational opportunities for local businesses and individuals interested in a career in search engine marketing. To pay the bills, he plays the role of President of Anvil Media, Inc., where he is responsible for managing operations, marketing and business development to achieve the company's mission: to build Anvil into the one of the most respected search engine marketing agencies in the world. In 2001, Lewis created pdxMindShare to build businesses and careers through networking and weekly emails featuring jobs and industry events. He is also an adjunct professor at Portland State University.
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