Agency life is challenging. However, rising to these challenges is why we love to do it.
2020 has been especially challenging for one big obvious reason…
Yes, the elephant in every room all over the world, the novel coronavirus, designated COVID-19 was the most disruptive issue of the year.
This particular coronavirus variant spread globally and has caused an ongoing pandemic, affecting life at every level from the personal to global institutions.
COVID’s waves of influence touched the digital world too. Firstly, and most obviously, searches for coronavirus information increased massively. In December 2019 the were hardly any searches for the term. However, by the 29th of December, searches started to increase. By March 2020 search volumes were at their peak as people across the world sought information.
Coronavirus was the most searched term of 2020, as noted in Google’s year in search results earlier this month. Our clients nearly all benefited from traffic for COVID related searches. One of the first things we did for all website owners was to help them with their messaging, informing visitors of their business continuity during the pandemic and providing the correct signposting.
Other clients were able to provide specific advice on the subject, relaying business and legal information to search audiences in their fields of expertise.
For us as a digital marketing agency, we were directly affected too, especially with having to all work at home. The great positive of having to work from home was that it accelerated the adoption of all our collaborative tools. You know all the stories about the incredible boom in Zoom meetings. For our business we all rejoiced in the new world of Microsoft Teams.
The pandemic affected other digital agencies too. We had applications from their former staff, we saw them suddenly and very publicly drop prices in attempts to win new business.
Some businesses folded, both the agencies and their clients. Some firms decided not to take on new recruits, others cut back, some furloughed workers. We saw the affect on search as people looked online for answers and solutions to every aspect of life affected by the pandemic.
COVID-19 certainly changed the world in 2020.
Staying with the subject, as well as the explosion in searches for the new virus, the nature of search presentation changed too.
To cater for the public information service, Google’s results pages became far more focused on providing the most relevant COVID-19 data.
“Fake news” became a real problem too, affecting search as misinformation gained greater visibility. The search engines provided public duty by furnishing the results with only the best, most accurate and reputable sources. This was surely the best example of strictly following their owner Quality Raters’ Guidelines and flexing their E-A-T muscle, showing primarily results from sources with Expertise, Authority and Trust.
With scientific advice from medical experts being to wear a mask then that was the sort of trustworthy, peer-reviewed information that needed to be shared. Positive and life-saving knowledge was more important than opinion.
Now Google provides significant news stories and valuable resources on statistics, testing and health information with national and local health authorities providing trustworthy resources.
With social media being such a powerful tool, the good, and the not quite so good, all continued to show their faces in 2020.
On the plus side, Black Lives Matter came to the world’s attention, putting racial equality firmly on the table, people shared jokes about lockdown, Joe Wicks became an internet phenomenon for his daily exercise classes for lockdown kids and the NHS received tons of love and appreciation from a grateful and supportive British public.
However, false information thrived with Donald Trump saying that injecting disinfectant could fight the coronavirus, as well as throwing tantrums about losing the election. You’d expect better from a 74 year old, but then this is the person who likes to shout “fake news” at channels he disagrees with before spouting his own divisive and toxic mistruths.
Twitter did a good job of starting to label false and misleading information as such:
We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election. We will never let them do it. Votes cannot be cast after the Polls are closed!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 4, 2020
There were also permanent Twitter bans for the likes of hate speech promoter Katie Hopkins, conspiracy theorist David Icke and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, amongst others.
Google Core Updates
We had a few Google broad core updates this year, all now following a logical naming convention as Google took ownership of correctly labelling these algorithm changes.
In the past we’ve had the SEO community and high profile SEO experts give names to updates; Hilltop, Hummingbird, Penguin, Panda, Pigeon and Caffeine were prominent early names. But latterly we’ve had more obtuse versions like Medic and Maccabees. Luckily the Mountain View search giant has now called them easy to remember names like January 2020 Core Update and August 2020 Core Update – so much more logical and obviously less abstract.
As always, these core updates generate lots of chatter in the Search Engine Marketing (SEM) communities with the usual talk of how they may have benefited or otherwise affected rankings and search traffic. As disclaimers always say, results can go up as well as down. Google tends not to say what exactly will be affected by its updates, why or even how businesses should work with these core updates. This is probably to avoid webmasters gaming the system.
Ultimately, we understand that Google is continually trying to improve search results for its users and so, as digital marketing experts, we’re happy go along with these adjustments, whatever they are. The best advice is always to create websites that are the best user experiences, that your content fulfils their needs, and Google RankBrain likes natural language, so write for people first and leave the SEO consultants to boost this copy for the search engines.
Core Web Vitals
Back in May, Google announced that it would start measuring user experience using a simplified set of metrics it called Core Web Vitals.
Previously, in Google Lighthouse, the engine that measures web page performance, there were numerous metrics that website owners needed to keep a close eye on. These included First Paint, First Meaningful Paint, First Contentful Paint, Time To Interactive etc.
Google decided to simplify the signals it uses to gauge user experience and settled on three core metrics, the new Core Web Vitals;
- Visual stability.
However, from a more technical standpoint, these are better known as:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP).
- First Input Delay (FID).
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS).
Further to this development within a month, on the 29th May, Google said it would use core web vitals as signals for users’ page experience ranking.
Google has also said that sites on mobile which focus on these core web vitals will be able to perform well against AMP websites (Accelerated Mobile Pages). Reading between the lines, we think that AMP may be less of a competitive edge for websites over the next few years and we believe that it could be phased out or no longer supported from a particular date. This is very similar to the WAP (Wireless Access Protocol) websites that we had to build back in the late 1990s/early 2000s.
Working From Home
We mentioned working from home earlier, as part of the early disruption most businesses felt during the lockdown to protect public health from the coronavirus. However, working from home (WFH) was a key aspect of digital marketing in 2020.
Initially it was quite a shock, especially for our design team who are desk-bound and work from their professional Apple Macs. However, after the move, the team adapted really quickly. There were, of course, immediate concerns for people’s health and wellbeing. As a tight-knit team, we thoroughly enjoy working with each other, so it was quite a wrench to be all working remotely. The office and studio buzz disappeared and we all had to adjust to the new way of working.
On the plus sides, we adopted the tools rapidly and became well-versed in the use of MS Teams, keeping in touch regularly via chat and conference calls. The team kept an eye on each other, and we ensured our quality of work was maintained, keeping in close contact with our clients and continuing to provide the same level of excellence our customers have come to expect.
The only downside to the first period of lockdown was for the single parents in our team who had to home school and entertain their children whilst trying to work a full week – that was a real challenge.
The Rise and Rise of Online Shopping
With the initial pre-warning of an imminent lockdown, stories abounded of panic buying amongst the British public, mainly pasta, tuna and toilet roll, with many empty supermarket shelves across the country. Then once lockdown began, in March 2020, UK residents took to online shopping to fulfil their needs. The first three weeks of lockdown had zero free slots for supermarket deliveries, so those with empty cupboards and no chance of a delivery had to chance the open stores. But soon the big stores increased their delivery capacity to be able to serve the country’s online ordering habits as best they could.
Turning online for our groceries, essentials and even luxuries, ecommerce took over where traditional “bricks and mortar” retailers were unable to operate. The downside was that businesses unable to have an online model were instantly disadvantaged. Pubs and restaurants rely on footfall so they were immediately hit by the new reality.
Where traders could provide booze delivery, garden products and DIY sundries, online activity boomed. Faced with the lack of real-world options, the nation went digital to feed its needs.
The Outlook for Digital in 2021?
We will all be working from home a lot more again, buying and selling online ever more, so usable websites and ecommerce SEO with online shopping strategies will be key.
We know that Core Web Vitals will be so important with User Experience Ranking coming to the fore in the first half of the year. So website owners need to focus on creating faster, more stable websites that run perfectly on mobile then desktop too.
Voice search should continue to rise as smart speakers continue to gain popularity in households. Businesses and website managers must continue to create rich content for their audiences, trying not to focus on mere keywords but fulfilling the intent of businesses and consumers.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) will continue to play a subtle part in our work, from powering chatbots to filtering the best data in our keyword strategies.
But overall, 2021 will be a year when digital really drives progress, stabilising life in the online realm as more and more we rely on search, ads and social to find digital solutions to all our questions.
Looking to go more digital in 2021? We are experts in web design and development, conversion rate optimisation, SEO, PPC and paid social. We’ll build you a website that gets you noticed, converts visits into leads and performs as a website should.