What’s In Store for 2021? Our Digital Predictions For The Year Ahead

If 2020 has been anything to go by, do we dare ask what 2021 has in store for us? We’re not out of the woods just yet and we’re likely to feel the effects of Covid-19 for some time to come. In fact, the virus could remain one of the biggest factors impacting businesses in 2021.

Pre-pandemic, we already knew just how important a digital presence was for businesses today, but we’ve never had to rely on digital quite as much as we have this year. Allowing brands to adapt, respond and communicate quickly and effectively – even in the midst of a global pandemic – digital has quite simply been core to success.  

Discussing the possibilities that next year could bring, we asked our digital experts to share their thoughts on what trends, behaviours, technologies and shifts they predict will affect digital in 2021. Here’s what they think is in store…

What digital trends will be more important in 2021?

Budgets may have been tightened for many but online competition has also increased. Now more than ever, marketers need every pound to work even harder for them. Driven by the data, certain channels may become less important to your digital marketing efforts as businesses move away from the desire to seek high-volume visibility, and instead, focus on high-value prospects who are closer to converting.

Looking back on the past 12 months, we’ve considered what could be here to stay and new trends that may emerge next year.

eCommerce will continue to grow

The pandemic has pushed more shoppers online than ever before with 2020 UK eCommerce predictions upgraded from £73.6bn to £78.9bn due to COVID. As the virus took hold, businesses scrambled to adapt and many without an online store reacted fast to get their eCommerce offering up and running.

As a result, merchants have taken to online retail as a way of staying afloat, using eCommerce to recoup lost revenue from their bricks-and-mortar stores. As this increase in online retail continues, there will inevitably be a parallel increase in dependant services such as call centres, chat providers, delivery and packaging alongside refurbishment and clearance of returned lines.

There’s more than Amazon

While we predict that trade through Google – both organic and paid – will continue to grow in line with the demand for online retail, 2021 could be the year that Google takes on Amazon in the eCommerce space.

Throughout the course of this year, we’ve seen the beginnings of Google introducing organic listings for their Shopping channel. In a bid to reclaim dominance from eCommerce giant Amazon, we suspect that shoppers will soon be able to buy products directly on Google Search Results without having to visit a store’s website.

Amazon has risen in popularity over recent years with eight in 10 Prime members now beginning their shopping searches on Amazon over Google. But there could well be new competition on the cards as we predict that alternative marketplaces such as eBay will become an important part of eCommerce strategies, diversifying revenue streams.   

New Google updates will shape the landscape

With a number of significant updates in the pipeline, there’s no doubt Google will (as always) play a central role in shaping next year’s digital landscape.

  • Mobile-first indexing: Kicking things off, Google’s mobile-first indexing, which has been an ongoing effort over several years, will finally be enabled across all sites in March. In line with a continued increase in mobile use, the mobile-first indexing update is a logical one that reflects consumers’ evolving browsing behaviour. 
  • Core Web Vitals: Designed to measure how users experience a website including speed, responsiveness and visual elements, Core Web Vitals were introduced earlier this year. However, these guidelines will become all the more important in May 2021 when they become included in Google’s organic ranking signals. The page experience signal will combine Core Web Vitals with the following to rate overall experience:
    • Mobile friendliness
    • Safe browsing
    • Security
    • Intrusive interstitial guidelines (essentially pop up ads)
  • E-A-T more!: Content has definitely sustained its position as King over the last two years since Google’s major E-A-T algorithm update in 2018. Showing no sign of slowing, high quality, valuable and relevant content will continue to play a major role in your organic visibility and SEO success. Suspecting not one but possibly two major ranking updates, we expect to see Google refine E-A-T content writing guidelines even further. 
  • No more cookies: Earlier in 2020, Google announced that they will stop using third-party cookies in Chrome before 2022. Far from the only technology used for tracking users across the web, the end of third-party cookies doesn’t mark the end of tracking. However, Google’s plans to begin phasing out third-party cookies next year is part of a wider strategy to track users while protecting their privacy online.

A shift in consumer digital culture

In 2020, more people than ever before are researching and buying a wider variety of goods and services online. Combined with the economic downturn, valuable and relevant content is only going to become more important in separating one brand from another online. As such, we expect to see greater depth, quality and quantity of reassuring content across almost all industries as these new and evolved buyer habits stick around beyond the pandemic.

Cross channel strategies will prevail

At a time when everyone wants more bang for their buck, it’s all about making your budget work as hard as it can for you. Considering the events of 2020 and just how important digital has become, more and more businesses are likely to see a direct correlation between their marketing activity and conversions.

As a result, we expect aligned cross-channel strategies to take precedence next year. Connecting each strand of your marketing activity and using data to fuel every element, synchronised campaigns across multiple channels will become key. Empowering brands to tell the same story across their sponsored Instagram posts, display ads and site content, a cross channel strategy could help you form the digital foundations for success in 2021.

Whether you choose to work with an agency or in-house specialists to deploy this approach, cross channel alignment is only becoming more important for businesses to consider.

Digital transformation could impact marketing investment

The past 12 months has seen a huge shift in behaviour across more markets than just retail. Approximately 85,000 new businesses launched online between March and July, and it’s likely that more will follow to recover lost visibility and establish a digital footprint.

We’ve witnessed industries where digital wasn’t a major focus pre-pandemic now doubling down on digital investment to leverage new opportunities. In many cases, the pandemic hasn’t necessarily provided these industries with the opportunity to use digital. It has simply accelerated a digital adoption both by users and businesses, forcing companies to become more agile by aligning digital with their business strategies.

Could this make having an offline presence less important? Whether that’s due to fewer physical locations, changed customer behaviour or reduced investment in out-of-home ads and printed marketing materials.

Navigating the changing media landscape

The media landscape is constantly chopping and changing – and that’s before you consider the impact of a worldwide pandemic. So, what can we expect in 2021?

Distinguishing media content types

Our Digital PR team keep a close eye on the ever-changing media environment and anticipate a growing divide between two core forms of media content – shareable lifestyle content versus data driven news backed by expert opinion. Currently, lines between the two are blurred but as publishers look to crack down on their sources and fake news is tackled, this separation will become more distinguishable.

Loss of print media

An unfortunate impact of COVID has been the loss of multiple print medias across the nation. It was reported that sales for some titles fell by as much as 39 percent as publishers struggled to sell copies with shops and transport hubs closed. Sadly, we expect even more print media organisations to cease in 2021 with some online media subsequently moving behind paywalls or subscription models.

We’ll remain a social bunch (despite social distancing)

Social media has given brands the platform to maintain and build connections with their audience – particularly important as stores have faced rolling closures. Usage continues to grow, and influencer marketing has exploded into our lives and onto our screens. Shoppers are turning to their favourite influencers, Instagrammers and YouTubers for advice, recommendations and inspiration on what to buy and where to buy it from.

Nano-influencers in particular have grown in popularity. These everyday people have an approximate follower count of 1,000 – 10,000 accounts and are known for building niche, engaged online audiences. Often the people at the forefront of the conversations your brand wants to be a part of, these influencers work hard to find new ways to build their audience.

More relatable than well-known celebrities, brands are partnering with nano-influencers to create engaging and valuable content. Crafting natural, relatable and trustworthy content, this is a strong marketing trend which can be used to speak directly with your audience in an engaging way. With 49 percent of customers depending on influencer recommendations to make a purchase, this is a trend we don’t see declining any time soon.

While influencer marketing is set to rise, there are rumours of an Instagram update that will prohibit giveaways with accounts that flout this rule being blocked or deleted. A sure-fire way of increasing engagement and followers, a giveaway ban could potentially drive influencers to other platforms such as YouTube.

Who really knows?

Back in March, we were faced with a whole load of uncertainty for the year ahead. One thing is for certain though, it’s been a challenging year for most. But we made it to December and that in itself deserves a celebration! With 2021 just around the corner and uncertainty still lingering in the air, predicting what next year could bring feels like a bit of a guessing game. After all, who predicted this?

While nobody can know for certain, our digital experts having a pretty good idea of how the digital landscape is shaping up for the year ahead. Whatever next year brings our way, brands will still need to have a strong online presence. If you’re in need of advice or support as you prepare for 2021, call upon our specialists. We’re happy to review your marketing strategy and help support you through your digital challenges.

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