Last year was pretty action-packed for paid search, SEO, and conversion rate optimization, and it looks like 2018 will be even more exciting. Based on what we’ve learned in the past year, we predict that the biggest changes in digital marketing in 2018 will come from these developments. None of them are completely new; they’re all the products of continuing evolution in data, technology, and marketing.

In the next week or two, we’ll explore how these factors will affect paid searchSEO, and CRO. In many cases, the factors combine to produce specific developments, which is only natural, as marketing becomes more integrated and holistic.

A seamless marketing experience focused on customer expectations

Icon for "a seamless marketing experience"As marketing channels continue to proliferate, the need for a consistent brand presence across all channels and all stages of the buying cycle becomes increasingly clear. Not only must that presence be consistent, it must be appropriate as well, focused on what customers need, want, and expect when they choose to interact with a brand.

Today’s digital ecosystem offers brands a chance to be present in just about every part of a customer’s daily life, through mobile/desktop, on-site, in-app, social, video, voice/Internet of Things, messaging, and other channels. The challenge for brands will be to coordinate when, where, and how they connect with customers, and to ensure the right balance of interaction to nurture positive relationships with customers.

Achieving that coordination will require breaking through the silos within marketing departments: every discipline (SEO, paid search, video, apps) will need to share planning, messaging, activities, and especially data with each other. We believe that the cultural shifts necessary to tear down silos will be a major concern for CMOs this year.

Increasing personalization

Icon indicating "personalization"The sheer volume of customer data now available to brands is allowing them to personalize their messages, offers, and even experiences for customers with different needs. This can be a time- and labor-intensive process, so the goal of personalization at scale is, for the moment, still out of reach.

However, brands can still increase the level of personalization they offer customers without sacrificing efficiency. Email is the perfect channel for initial personalization efforts, such as subject lines. Marketing data analysis tools can provide insights on how to segment campaigns based on customer data; while it’s not quite the same thing as personalization, it’s a good start.

The good news is that customers both know about and respond well to personalization. According to a 2016 Accenture study:

  • 65% of consumers are more likely to buy from retailers that know their purchase history
  • 58% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase when they get recommendations based on their preferences or past purchases
  • 65% are more likely to buy from retailers who provide them with personalized promotions relevant to them

AI, machine learning, and deep learning

Icon indicating "AI and machine learning"Both artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have gotten a lot of buzz in the past year—so much that the terms have been used interchangeably in some cases. However, they’re two distinct concepts.

As Google’s Marvin Chow explains it, “Artificial intelligence is the study of how to make machines intelligent or capable of solving problems as well as people can.” It’s a fairly broad category, encompassing everything from Deep Blue, the chess-playing computer of the ’90s, to self-driving cars. Machine learning is an application of AI that allows systems to “learn” based on experience rather than explicit programming.

Machine learning has been revolutionizing search results, ad bidding, customer service, and many other aspects of marketing for a couple of years now, maturing into a new subset: deep learning. Deep learning is the closest approximation of human thinking yet, using sophisticated neural networks to develop predictive capabilities based on millions of data points. Given how much marketing data is unused, deep learning could be the technology that can process all that data into recognizable patterns, giving marketers a fuller picture of their customers.

Data security and transparency

Icon indicating data security and privacyIf your company does business in European Union nations, you’re probably well aware of the General Data Protection Regulation, which goes into effect on May 25 of this year. However, even if you operate outside the EU, your company will still almost certainly be affected by the GDPR.

Because fines for violating the GPDR can go up to $24M or 4% of global annual revenue, whichever is greater, you’ll want to stay on the right side of the regulation. The most expensive penalties are related to data breaches, and are only levied after a process of notifications and warnings, but this should give you a sense of how serious the European Union is about this law.

In particular, make sure your email service provider (ESP) already complies with GDPR standards for protecting the data of people on your email list. In their excellent guide to the GDPR, MailChimp advises:

Basically, if you are collecting, managing, using or storing any personal data of EU citizens, you are processing EU personal data within the meaning prescribed by the GDPR. This means, for example, that if any of your MailChimp lists contains the email address, name, or other personal data of any EU citizen, then you are processing EU personal data under the GDPR.

We think two of the most interesting developments of 2018 will be how the GDPR affects automation and machine learning in marketing, and how those technologies adapt not only to respond to the GDPR but to assist in its purpose of bolstering privacy and transparency in personal data. Look for more content resources on the GDPR from us in the next few months.

Mobile. Still.

Icon indicating mobile digital marketingAs we said, none of the phenomena on our top five list are new, and mobile’s got a full decade on the other four developments. But mobile’s impact and importance continue to shift, as it’s gone from a separate marketing channel to the central hub of marketing for many industries and segments. As TUNE’s John Koetsier says, “Mobile isn’t a channel; it’s an ecosystem within which all the digital channels increasingly live.”

Marketers continue to invest more in mobile; as Digiday reports, “Mobile advertising will account for 63 percent of online spend and 26 percent of total media spend by 2019 — more than all traditional media, except TV, combined, according to Zenith’s latest ad forecast.” We expect brands will also increase the level of investment in strategy, consideration, and optimization regarding customers’ mobile experiences.

Each of these developments is interesting on its own, but we’ve been especially interested in the ways they can combine to affect the major digital marketing disciplines: paid search, SEO, and conversion rate optimization. We’ll discuss those in the next week or two.