The future of the web—and digital marketing, by default—is constantly changing. Sure, there may have been a time when you could've dismissed visual search as a fad, or artificial intelligence as a bell and whistle exclusive to large corporations. But, as we move into not just a new year, but also a new decade, we're finding that these behavioral changes and technological advancements are only becoming more in demand and more accessible to businesses large and small.
As you consider your current website and begin to outline your digital marketing strategy for the new year, here are our predictions for where the digital world is heading in 2020.
While many sites follow a strict grid system that organizes design and content into predictable (and sometimes boring) rows and columns, asymmetrical layouts are growing in popularity. These layouts break the traditional grid system and often create more visual interest in a site design.
Whether used as a strong background or in smaller doses to reinforce a brand color palette, bold colors are being used more and more in web design. Big bursts of bold color add interest and personality to pages. They can also be used to draw attention to specific elements or content on a page.
Users are becoming bored of seeing the same types of stock imagery on websites. As a result, illustration is making a big comeback in digital form. Brands like Slack, MailChimp, and Dropbox have all developed unique illustrations for their websites as a way of standing out and defining a stronger brand identity.
Micro-interactions, simply put, are meant to create a tiny moment of delight for the user. While often tied to functional events like clicking a button or tapping an icon, they can improve comprehension, making it easier for users to interact with an interface, and even give useful tips to users. Common places where micro-interactions can be used include:
- Swipe events
- Click or tap events
- Data input
- Status updates
Websites with too many items in the main navigation make it hard to navigate a website. Instead, more websites today are trending toward a main navigation with just three to five items total. These shorter, more condensed navigation bars focus on the most important elements while reducing the number of decisions the user needs to make.
But what about all those other items that you still need to include on your website? Don't worry, additional navigation items can be nested in drop-down menus, secondary navigation, or even footer elements, they just can't all be in the main navigation.
While e-commerce has been thriving for nearly two decades, traditional manufacturers and organizations selling through distributors are part of a growing trend of companies shifting some or all of their sales operations to an e-commerce model.
Benefits of E-Commerce
E-commerce has some distinct advantages over traditional sales channels:
- Direct access to customers and data: Having access to customers and customer data allows companies to not only better understand their audience, but also market and sell to them directly.
- Reach a wider audience and newer markets: While working with distributors and physical stores offers the benefit of a pre-existing audience, it can be limited by geography or each channel’s ability to market/promote your products. Selling online can mean reaching audiences that you may not have been able to reach before.
- System integration: Most companies that sell or inventory physical products can relate to the challenge of having multiple systems for ERP, CRM, warehouse management, inventory, shipping, etc. When selling online, application program interfaces (APIs) can allow these platforms to integrate with each other and an e-commerce platform, allowing a smooth flow of data from one platform to another.
Trends in E-Commerce
While e-commerce has been around for decades, it continues to evolve and benefit from digital innovation.
- Shopping in search: Google has quickly evolved to more than just a link-based search engine, as we see products continue to infiltrate the search results.
- Social commerce: While social media users have seen ads appear in their feed for years, we’re seeing an emergence of shopping ads that can be purchased within social networks without even leaving the platform.
- Chatbots: Judging from a recent Facebook patent, the ability for brands to sell and transact through a platform like Facebook Messenger using a chatbot (read: no human needed) is becoming a reality.
- In-app interactions: Many apps give users the ability to chat with a customer service representative to find exactly what they need, replicating the experience of going to a store to speak with an associate, though without ever leaving the couch.
While you may still be impressed by the ability to merge your audience’s first name into email marketing messages, the bounds of content personalization are being pushed by technology and automation. Gartner predicts that e-commerce businesses that personalize content successfully could see profits rise by 15 percent by 2020.
Some of the key benefits realized through content personalization include:
- Increase visitor engagement
- Improved customer experience
- Increased conversion rates
- Increase lead generation/customer acquisition
- Improved brand perception
Some examples of content personalization include:
- Product recommendations based on browsing or order history
- Content recommendations based on previous reading history
- Interactive recommendations or quizzes that serve up customized product or service recommendations
- Geography-based personalization, such as store locators
- Personalized homepage content or offers based on content viewed from previous visits
Once again, email personalization has evolved significantly from the ability to merge some basic fields into an email. The new era of personalization is delivering the right message to the right person at the right time. That means using marketing automation to send tailored content based on a user’s demographics and behavior and sending it to them exactly when they need it or want it.
From a personalization perspective, sending from an actual person can be a small personalization technique that can pay big dividends. Users are more likely to open an email from a human recipient; especially one they know of recognize. Try to match up salespeople, customer service representatives, or frontline company representatives with your email recipients.
A perfect way to pair e-commerce and personalized email marketing is through purchase abandonment emails. We’ve all had the experience of adding products to a shopping cart and then not going through with the purchase for one reason or another. A friendly reminder from a brand, complemented by an offer or promotion, can significantly increase e-commerce conversion rates.
Remember when we mentioned the right message to the right person at the right time? Segmentation is the key to know the right person. Collecting data to segment your audience by data points like geography, demographics, product/service interest, and more will allow you to send highly targeted emails rather than one-size-fits-all emails.
Personalization can happen on your website and in your emails, but you can also leverage personalization on the ads you serve on other websites, search engines, and social networks. Using remarketing, brands can create segments of specific audiences that visited specific pages or sections of their site and deliver specific ad messaging directly to each individual audience.
Continuous Improvement Over Complete Overhaul
We know that the average lifecycle for a website that remains untouched is only a few years. Just like a brand new car, from the moment a new website is launched, it begins to lose value if it’s not properly maintained. Think of all the things that need to be kept up with: technology, content, brand/imagery, SEO, and on and on. That’s why we’re seeing more websites go through continuous and ongoing improvement rather than more frequent and complete overhauls.
Continuous improvement focuses on a more thoughtful approach to keeping a website up-to-date through monitoring, feedback, development, deployment, and testing. It’s the reason we haven’t seen sites like Google and Amazon go through a major redesign during the past couple of years – just thousands of minor improvements over time.
Tools for Continuous Improvement
Trying to predict which site updates and improvements will lead to more leads and sales can be a tireless game. That’s why leveraging tools to better hypothesize and measure opportunities is a good idea.
- A/B testing: Platforms like Google Optimize allow you to run small experiments with one or more variations to a page or site with the goal of improving a specific goal metric. For example, you can test two variations of website copy for a product page to identify which one leads to a higher “Add to Cart” conversion rate.
- Heatmaps: Heatmaps allow you to get a better perspective on the viewing, scrolling, and engagement habits of your website visitors. This can help identify areas that need to be emphasized or de-emphasized, pages that are too long or too short, and other opportunities to implement a test to improve site interaction.
- User tests: There’s nothing like having a real user test a site and attempt to perform a critical function or follow a common user path. Tools like UserTesting allow you to hire a real person and instruct them to perform certain website tasks, all while receiving verbal and written feedback about the process.
- Analytics: Simply diving into website analytics can provide a treasure trove of information, such as landing pages that result in the most conversions, low-engagement pages that have high bounce rates, and points in your conversion funnel where users get stuck.
In our 2019 trends article, we covered GDPR, and much of that information is still relevant today:
“Under GDPR, people must opt-in, consent and have access to their data and the data must be securely stored. These laws give consumers greater transparency and control over their personal data, and written policies and privacy statements on your site will make it more trustworthy.
If your business operates or collects data in the EU, then you must ensure that your site is GDPR compliant, but regardless, it’s still a good idea to implement similar protections now. While such strict laws have yet to be implemented across the U.S., some states like California and Vermont have already passed data protection laws, with more states sure to follow suit in 2019.”
We were right. Well, almost. On January 1, 2020, California will pass the California Consumer Privacy Act. With many similarities to GDPR, some describing the law as “almost GDPR in the US.”
Bottom line: Being GDPR compliant is simply a good idea, and with legislation coming to the U.S. starting in 2020, it will likely move from being a nice-to-have to being a must-have.
While legislation in the U.S. has made visiting physical locations more accessible for those with disabilities, accessibility for browsing websites has lagged behind. Perhaps until now. The Supreme Court recently made an example of U.S.-based pizza chain Domino’s after a complaint about their website and mobile app became a highly-publicized story – in this scenario, a blind man was unable to order food from a screen reader.
Some examples of web assets that should be accessible (but often are not) include:
- PDF titles
- The reading level of a web page or website
- “Read more” links
- Color contrast
- Image alt text
We recommend working toward WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) AA compliance, which requires a website to meet certain requirements. The W3 Web Accessibility Initiative has published a useful Quick Reference guide to understand requirements and success criteria to reach each level of WCAG compliance.
AI and Machine Learning
For a long time, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have graced the content of trend reports, articles, and blog posts. For much of that time, the technology has been expensive and out-of-reach for most businesses. As we approach a new decade, we’re seeing the barriers to entry (cost, expertise, etc.) continue to fall, making AI and machine learning more accessible than ever.
We used to only be able to search with text. Then, we were able to search with voice. Soon (now), we’ll be able to search with pictures. Projects like Pinterest’s visual search and Google Lens allow users to search for information or similar images using just an image with no words or context.
Generative Adversarial Networks (GAN)
Imagine a computer being able to create nearly any kind of content you need instantly and with just a spoken command. Think: "Alexa, make me a picture of an otter riding a bicycle that looks like it was painted by Van Gogh." With Generative Adversarial Networks, this is on the very near horizon.
How do they do it? Without getting too technical, they basically make two computers try to outsmart one another until the results are so good, even a human can't tell the artificially generated content isn't "real". Don't believe it? Check out: This person does not exist.
Smarter Digital Advertising
For years, advancements to digital advertising have driven costs lower and opportunities for exposure higher than ever before. Now, we’re seeing advertising networks take advantage of the massive amounts of data they have collected and using that data to help advertisers make better decisions.
For example, Google Ads now uses machine learning with its smart bidding strategies to allow advertisers to focus on a specific outcome (Maximize Conversions, Target CPA, Target ROAS) and let Google optimize bidding for the desired outcome.
For large brands or brands that garner a lot of social media conversation, monitoring the overall temperature of customer feedback can be challenging. Many social media monitoring platforms, however, have made this easier by using sentiment analysis to help brands understand how many of their mentions are positive, negative, or neutral.
Pokemon Go may be the best example of augmented reality going truly mainstream. Fun and games aside, though, we’re seeing plenty of useful examples of augmented reality from a digital perspective. Business and brands are taking advantage of augmented reality in some of the following ways:
- Product feature training for employees and buyers
- “Try before you buy” e-commerce (think seeing a sofa in your living room to see if it matches your décor)
- Facility tours
- Warehouse logistics (using augmented reality to navigate employees to a specific warehouse location)
- Field service (employees leveraging augmented reality as a guide to repairing equipment on location)
- Branded content at events and conferences
Implement These Digital Trends
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