Most of us have (hastily) closed the door on 2020 and are looking ahead to this year with great optimism. Last year was full of change, and a year most of us will want to leave behind – but there are a lot of things to learn too.

2021 presents a new way of collaborative working, hyper-accelerated consumer trends, and greater emphasis on digital than ever. Digital marketing trends have changed for good, but, what does this mean for the digital marketing industry in particular, and what’s key to look out for to cut above the noise? 

Purpose Media has spoken to 21 experts from some of the UK’s leading SEO and PPC agencies and the best in the industry, to reveal their predictions and “things to watch” and make an impact on your marketing this year.

SEO Predictions for 2021

Kevin Kapezi, SEO Specialist at Experian and Co-Founder of Growthack Digital 

Competition within Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) will grow in line with the growing demand for digital marketing services and the increased investment in digital, strengthened by the pandemic which has forced it into the forefront of any marketing plan. Interestingly, Rand Fishkin highlighted how much interest has grown in SEO this year, far above other related marketing topics. It’s currently at an all-time high.

Considering how much more awareness businesses will have around SEO tactics, it will be even more critical for marketers to ensure they are a cut about the average website.

Google has placed more emphasis on Core Web Vitals being a ranking signal and aligning the SEO team as close as possible to website developers should be a top priority now more than ever before. A strive for technical excellence and high-quality online user experiences will be a continuing trend, following the previous mobile-first index and HTTPS security updates. However, basic SEO elements should never be forgotten and sometimes these are the most difficult to achieve, especially within larger enterprise businesses!

Olly Torrence, SEO Consultant at Purpose Media

My top tip: Make sure you are thinking about user intent at all times. Google is getting better at understanding language and how people search so make sure your content reflects the intent. 

Also, look at the SERPs when doing keyword research, and see what types of pages Google is ranking. E.g. is it a blog, category page, product page? If for a certain keyword all Google is ranking is blogs, it will be a lot harder to rank a product page for it. So, use schema and get rich snippets. These will really help you stand out in search results and Google will understand your pages better.

Trends I see emerging this year will include:

  • More SERP features e.g featured snippets. I can see Google looking to provide even more answers directly on search result pages without people having to visit a site.
  • Mobile search. This is only increasing and with the page experience update coming in 2021, Google is making it clear that user experience is more important than ever, especially on mobile.
  • E-A-T will become more of a factor especially since the rise in so-called ‘fake news and theories’. Google wants to make sure the correct advice is being shown so if you’re in an industry giving advice that can affect people’s lives, E-A-T is a must.

Naomi Francis-Parker, SEO Manager at The Evergreen Agency

Search and user intent is a big thing to focus on this year. It’s no secret that search intent is a big deal, and this isn’t exactly a groundbreaking prediction, but it’s so important that businesses understand the weight of search intent in SEO. 

Content that answers the user’s questions and gives them what they’re looking for without making them pay, sign up or go through some kind of sales process, will ultimately win in 2021 and beyond too. 

Leave the ego and the sales-speak behind and write content that genuinely adds value and serves the user’s needs following an E-A-T approach.

Jack Goldsmith, SEO Manager at Distinctly

Top tip for 2021: Reviewing your web vital performance.

Your website’s pages should be safe, secure, quick, and responsive – all of these fall within the Core Web Vitals criteria. This is not new but with the official rollout impacting the search results in May 2021, businesses will need to ensure their technical foundations are correct and their user experiences meet their audience’s needs.

Also, Google is currently testing out new indicators for the search results to highlight sites that are deemed safe and secure to visit – another addition that may affect click-through rates.

Failing to address this part of your SEO strategy will likely impact your traffic and conversions so start looking at this now.

Hannah Butcher, SEO Strategist at Re:signal

In 2021, businesses will be hoping to have a less turbulent time, but with the ongoing global pandemic and Brexit, there will be more uncertainty to ride out before the storm is over.

I think the best strategy for SEO in 2021 will be all around the simple best practice elements surrounding technical and on-page. Sustainability may not seem like the most exciting concept, but businesses need a solid foundation when everything else is up in the air.

It’s also worth getting into the commercial mindset to understand the other issues within the business, industry, or economy that could be blockers to success. For example, trading and shipping delays, or even ongoing recovery from product shortages due to changed shopping habits in 2020 (e.g. small freezers or hot tubs).

The focus on business sustainability may have a knock-on effect for digital PR budgets, as this could be seen as a “nice to have” rather than an essential investment – particularly as cutting through the busy news agenda can feel like a gamble for ROI.

This would lead to a re-evaluation of existing content and assets, and how to improve these on a smaller budget.

Ryan Darani, freelance SEO consultant

There are three areas of SEO you need to pay attention to; topical authority, publishing velocity, and content distribution. 

My biggest successes last year came from focusing on topic modelling and keyword clustering at scale, and I don’t imagine it’ll be much different in 2021!

Building out the breadth and depth of your content is going to be a guaranteed way to win. Plan out content to cover as much of a topic as you can (breadth) and then maximise your on-page, through creating a page that aims to cover the topic in as much detail as possible (depth).

Use entities and semantic relevance to generate a much larger corpus of words in your content. This will allow you to rank for hundreds of keywords; instead of just a few.

Chloe Fair, Senior SEO Strategist at Impression

After a lot of learnings around intent and demand in 2020, where businesses have had to pivot strategies from brick and mortar to online or have unintentionally had a brand new audience come to them, this will inevitably be a focus moving into 2021 too. All businesses should be focusing more on understanding the search landscape and looking at their competitors more, understanding what competitors are and aren’t doing well, and also monitoring SERP features. 

Last year I noticed the local SERPs changing a lot too and this is something that I have been reviewing and reporting on more than ever in tools such as Searchmetrics and Seomonitor. There were a lot of fluctuations in 2020 due to the changes in local lockdowns etc. and this will inevitably continue in 2021. Local SEO is more important than ever!

Content Trends for 2021

Rachel Gascoigne, Head of Copy at Purpose Media

As investment in digital marketing continues to rise, so does competition and content saturation. It’s only getting harder to capture attention.

Brands are already going niche with their content by investing in solid SEO strategies, hoping to draw in a more specific customer… but I suspect consumers will want more.

It’s already so difficult to attract attention. And once you have it, it’s becoming increasingly harder to maintain due to lower attention spans and higher bounce rates. So, in 2021, I anticipate more rich media – infographics, videos, downloads, and more. Presenting information in a new way that aligns more closely with the ever-changing needs of the consumer.

It’s time to diversify skillsets and the way we present content online by being creative and flexible in our strategy.

Victoria Affleck, Content Marketing Lead at Reboot

After a year of uncertainty, the world had a lot of questions in 2020. In fact, “why” was searched more than ever before. With Google launching more than 4,000 new features and improvements to help people find high quality, reliable information on the search results in 2020, it’s clear that SEO will continue to play a significant role in content marketing strategies in 2021. (No, SEO is not dead).

With more businesses than ever trying to stand out online after a tough year, content marketers should be spending more time developing a strong SEO strategy and conducting thorough keyword research, to find that all-important niche and long-tail keyword opportunities that target searchers at every stage of their journey. The content must be valuable, unique, and engaging to be in with the chance of grabbing the top spots on the SERP. Long gone are the days of ‘ultimate guides’ and 30-something listicles…

Elle Pollicott, Content Strategist at Connective3

If there’s one thing 2020 has taught us, it’s that we’re living in unpredictable times. In 2021, you can’t afford to play it safe with your content. Think bigger, more experiential ideas – don’t be afraid to shake up your ideas and try something new.

Alongside this, I think 2021 will continue to place increasing importance on creating accessible content. That means ensuring everything you create is inclusive and empathetic, so it can resonate with all of your readers.

Ellie Buckle, Head of Digital and Strategy at Purpose Media

This year I expect content to have a much more blended approach with other specialities. Content has always been a really malleable specialism, and I think it’s just going to become more and more ingrained with the marketing mix as time goes on. 

I’ve always been a believer that content marketing isn’t really a thing. It’s more the creation of content and the channel on which you market it. The creation of content is already starting to evolve. We are seeing more people focussing on intent when it comes to SEO, and broadening their own websites relevancy where necessary.

The real change in 2021, for me, comes with the amplification of those pieces of content. Marketing is always becoming more digitalised, and utilising effective digital strategies. So the creation element naturally evolves with cultural trends. But amplifying content with a blended approach to SEO, PPC, Social, and PR and how they work together is the best way to really make an impact on your bottom line. I should think it won’t be too long until ‘the SEO team’ is a phrase of the past.

The most important thing to focus on this year is around your customer journey. Make sure you are really taking time to map out and understand every step of your customer’s journey. Create content with a purpose, that can impact and amplify across channels – that way you are really making the most of your investment.

Digital PR Predictions for 2021

Rebecca Moss, Digital PR Director at JBH 

1) We’ll see brands and agencies adopting a blended approach to digital PR, with larger hero campaigns complemented by more proactive and reactive content bubbling along underneath.

2) Careers in digital PR move fast and because of the opportunity to progress quickly, we’ll see more graduates seeking out digital PR roles.

3) The open-ended campaign: Newsjacking will become more important for hero campaigns – the news agenda moves so quickly that larger campaigns (and the people running them) will need to be flexible, willing and able to pivot at any given moment. The client/agency relationship will benefit from this and agencies/freelancers will become closer with the brands they work with.

Alex Hickson, Digital PR Strategist at Rise At Seven

I’m gonna’ be a bit controversial and say that digital marketers love to try and predict what the biggest trends will be, and if you look back at what we predicted for 2020 it may fall sadly flat due to the chaos and unpredictability of last year. I would say a continuing trend into this year is that adaptability is key. 

Because something worked once doesn’t mean it will work again even a month or two later. I think marketers have to be on the pulse of news more than ever and try and predict how a campaign will land amongst an audience. We’ve seen lighthearted campaigns land in one month whereas similar haven’t been appropriate for a darkening news cycle due to coronavirus the next. I’d suggest having a look at what worked from March 2020 to now and look at what your plan is for that time next year…

Fran Griffin, Freelance Digital PR Consultant

Although the industry is seeing one of its biggest growths in digital PR at the moment – judging by the sheer number of digital PR jobs advertised (which is great to see) – I think this year’s focus and demand will move away from big, viral, creative campaigns and time-intensive data studies, to more focused, quality digital PR efforts that carry value beyond just SEO. The lines with traditional PR will merge more than ever in 2021.

With 2020 shaking up the news cycle and causing the biggest migraine for digital PRs (EVER!), I think this is a positive change! I personally favour the campaigns or prefer to be working on strategies that are super relevant and will actually help to do more than just add SEO value. By that, I mean looking at the wider PR picture with things like social media engagement, general brand name fame, product sales, and new business for clients, brand alignment and partnerships, etc. 

To fuel this, digital PRs are going to have to approach PR plans slightly differently from the “X campaigns per quarter” mindset. Think interviews in industry publications, reactive commentary on topical matters, broadcast interviews for spokespeople, or campaigns that focus on and are super relevant to services/products.

A lot of these added PR benefits and wider thinking probably stems from my earlier traditional PR career, but it’s why I’m confident it will become more popular. I’m already seeing an appetite for a hybrid approach to PR with the SEO and traditional PR worlds merging. I have clients from both backgrounds, and they are increasingly interested in my experience in the other side and bringing both together in their projects and strategies.

ROI, pandemic panic, and digital upscaling have put pressure on brands/clients to see results that matter to multiple departments. And whilst big, all-singing campaigns can look good and are super fun to work on, I believe it’s the niche, more relevant links that will be in demand for clients in 2021.

Stephanie Finch, Digital PR Director at Propellernet

For 2021, I expect to see plenty more job creation in digital PR teams, as we rise to the increased demand for our work. 

The pandemic, and its resulting supercharged shift into online shopping, has really shone a light on the value of digital PR, with more clients seeking to improve both their organic rankings as well as building their brand presence in online media. 

Teams will need to create attractive working environments to draw-in established talent, but also heavily invest their (already precious) time in the training and development of people at the start of their digital marketing careers – creating larger teams of different ages and backgrounds to produce campaigns that have a creative edge.

Abi Bennetts, Digital PR Manager at Digitaloft

I think that the biggest trend for digital PR in 2021 will be the continuing shift from data-led campaign focused digital PR strategies, to those which revolve a lot more around traditional PR tactics, including reactive comments, expert insights, and ‘tips’ pieces. It’s been super interesting to see how the pandemic and people’s ‘new normal’ has affected the type of content that audiences want to read and subsequently, that journalists want to write about.

We’ve seen that simplicity is now ruling all when it comes to consistently landing quality links and coverage – though the big boy data-led campaigns will always have a time and place to build links at scale. I think it will be these insights that are closely related to the brand, and that provide value for readers (or customers), that will become more and more important for digital PRs to be incorporating into their strategies this year.

Chloe Deans, Senior Brand Associate at Capital One

Going into 2021 (and beyond), I think that PR specialists need to be working closely with HR and Internal Communications functions – after all, goodness starts from within! I think a lot of businesses often segregate PR from HR and Internal Communications functions when really they should be allies. 

With a massive shift to working from home in 2020, more employees probably having to at some point this year, and adapting to another new way of working, I think we can expect to see a lot of queries from journalists relating to culture, D&I, and wellbeing in the coming months.

If you are aligned with internal functions from the offset, it will be easier to share your stories reactively, but will also allow you to build on your (or your clients’) internal proof points and utilise them in a more proactive way for long-term success.

PPC and Paid Media Predictions for 2021

Salome Joia, Paid Media Consultant at Aira 

As advertisers, understanding the user’s journey and the audience we want to target, will be a key point in order to deliver the best results. This has already proven its importance during the coronavirus pandemic, with the need to quickly adapt campaigns and strategies to meet the users at the right time in their buyer’s journey. This will be linked to AI and machine learning which I expect to see more of in 2021.

The new Google Analytics 4 backs that up with customer-centric measurement. It will give us a more complete view of how customers interact with the business across their entire lifecycle. It will also allow us to create audiences based on data trends and future user actions so we (advertisers) can respond to them and improve results.

I personally am keen to see more integration with voice searches and how we can better target those consumers, possibly a new type of ad specifically for those searches to provide the best user experience and consequently, generate the best results.

Matt Cocking, Head of Paid Media at Purpose Media

2020 gave digital marketers a huge list of exciting new technologies, but also tons of new issues to overcome. PPC-ers are facing an automation take-over and, more recently, a huge amount of now hidden data from reports. 

With that in mind, 2021 is going to focus on how we can continue to strategise amidst the smoke and mirrors. My advice would be to focus on two things:

  • PPC can drive the traffic that you so desperately want and need. It can also ensure that business flows easily through your doors. But driving the right traffic is only one thing. If you walked into a clothes shop (mask on, of course) only to find clothes thrown everywhere, sizes all mixed up, and complete chaos – would you stay long? If you did stay, would you expect to then pay a premium price for any of the garments? This question applies to your digital space too. How your website is laid out, structured, and how it intertwines with your digital strategy is key in 2021.
  • Assuming you’ve cracked the above, the next step is one for your PPC specialist… don’t fall into the trap of automation, automatically. You’ve still got time to experiment! Split test those campaigns that are on the brink, and see if you can make them profitable. Retry those historical campaigns but with a target CPA. Give them all a go and be proactive in your PPC efforts – if you don’t, I can’t promise you’ll make it out of 2021 unscathed!

Jason Dexter, Freelance PPC Consultant

My predictions for 2021 in PPC would be two things:

1) Firstly, a big push for automation across channels. Google Ads is already doing this heavily, with scepticism from agencies and freelancers but used correctly it can be very powerful. The issues arise from the lack of control and the lack of data visibility. For example; a client I work with sells radiators, so we tested a theory where we created a single campaign, with a single ad group, and one broad match keyword (radiators) using Maximise Conversion Value. After 2 weeks and £20,000 of spend, it provided more volume at the same cost as other keywords.

2) This leads me into the second bit; attribution. I’m having more and more conversations with large e-commerce brands around build and deploying attribution models across multi-channel campaigns. Whilst automation and AI takes away data from us as marketers, attribution gives us some data back.

Some of the most successful campaigns recently have been on Facebook with zero targeting but absolutely shit hot creatives. This allows Facebook to find our customers and put the right creative in front of them.

Facebook is a nightmare for being greedy in attribution. It’s default setting is to attribute a conversion to facebook if someone viewed an advert and then converted. However, what is the true value and impact of that? What if someone viewed on their phone, and then went into the site directly via a laptop. We need to pinpoint that.

PPC in 2021 is less about keywords and more about AI. Less about audience targeting and more about creative.

Callum Leonard, Head of PPC at Embryo

I think one of the biggest trends to watch in PPC in 2021 is platform and network expansion. Google Ads, Microsoft ads, and Facebook ads are the ‘bread and butter’ of pay per click, with almost all account managers within agencies actively managing each platform. The next two platforms to exponentially grow in 2021 will be Amazon and Tik Tok. 

Amazon stepped up their game in 2020, introducing more analysis and optimisation features and the platform is generally much more reliable than before. It has introduced improved segmentation, negative keywords for automated campaigns, larger ad carousels, and more suggestions when it comes to bidding and optimising.

It has a long way to go, even now, with it still being unrefined in various areas of the platform, but with its huge budget and a mission for the sales team to get more retail giants using their platform, you can expect huge growth of the platform in 2021 and beyond.

Tik Tok is new to the scene of advertising but is already resulting in extremely high view rates and engagement. The current most cost-effective bidding method on the platform is CPM bidding, which is currently at £6.50 per one thousand views. I have seen, even in this very initial raw stage of advertising ROAS values of 5-10+ already.

As the Tik Tok paid advertising platform grows (as will the CPM unfortunately), we can expect to see more optimisations and targeting values with more brands adopting Tik Tok ads and influencers to drive sales.

2021 will be an exciting year for all PPC account managers. Those that keep up to date with the emerging and changing platforms will be primed to perform excellently for their clients.

A massive thank you to every single person who took the time to share their advice.

Hopefully, you found these tips useful for pulling together your Digital Marketing strategy for 2021. If you would like to find out more about optimising your website to get the most of your digital marketing, get in touch with our team today.

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Posted by Ellie Buckle