Anyone involved in the digital marketing world knows this industry is truly ever-evolving, requiring all of us to stay on our toes. But how do you know what’s just a “fad” (Pokemon Go, anyone?) and what’s here’s to stay? In this free Digital Drop-in webinar from January 2019, JB Media Institute co-founders and lead instructors Sarah Benoit and Justin Belleme shared the five most important trends for successful digital marketing in the new year.

Trend #1: The Competitive Marketplace of Facebook Advertising

Remember when you could simply boost a post from your Facebook page with a couple clicks, sit back with your cold brew in hand, and watch engagement numbers rise by the minute? Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but those days are over. Put simply: the cost of advertising on Facebook is increasing due to an influx in staffing needs as new hires at Facebook ensure its compliance with new global privacy standards. Additionally, more small businesses and solopreneurs are utilizing Facebook advertising, and bigger businesses are becoming more savvy at advanced Facebook ad strategies, like remarketing. This means the competition to get your Facebook ad noticed has become more fierce, so you’ll need to be more strategic about your ads if you want to see success and a solid ROI.

Be sure to keep your budget in mind as you create ads and remember that certain times of the year are more competitive than others; for example, during the holidays when many gifts and shopping ads are being promoted. (Pro tip: election season is another super-competitive timeframe for Facebook advertising.) Also remember that 2018’s Facebook advertising budget might not cut it in 2019, so you may need to allocate more funds to successfully advertise on Facebook this year.

To learn more about creating successful Facebook ads that convert, we recommend watching our December 2018 Digital Drop-in “How to Create Kick @$$ Holiday Ads for Facebook” to better understand how to create goal-based campaigns. As we discussed then (and again on this January 2019 webinar), a successful Facebook advertising strategy might require multiple campaigns rather than just one ad.

For example, you may have ads focused on creating awareness surrounding your service or product first. Next, you may want to serve up a retargeted ad on Facebook to those people who clicked through that first “awareness” campaign. And even beyond that second remarketing phase, you may want to serve up a third and final ad campaign that focuses specifically on driving traffic to ultimately create a conversion. Yes, three ads in one ad campaign may cost you more money, but the payoff is much greater!

Moral of Trend #1’s story: understand that multiple campaigns should start with awareness as the main goal and then follow up with conversion-focused campaigns. A series of campaigns is best in 2019.

Need some actionable items to beat the competition when it comes to Facebook advertising? Here are Sarah’s recommendations for the top three Facebook ad manager features to explore:

  1. Split test your creative and audiences. This way you’ll see (fairly quickly) which creative or which audience is achieving a better result.
  2. Retarget the most engaged people. Particularly when it comes to  video advertising, be sure to retarget based on metrics, like who watched a video for a certain amount of time.
  3. Diversify the channels and ad types – if you’ve just been boosting posts, try a new type of ad (like a carousel ad, for example), or try running ads just on Instagram rather than both Facebook and Instagram.

Trend #2: Quantity vs. Quality of Content

Within the Online JB Media Institute classroom, students often ask us, “How many blogs should I create a month?” usually followed by another question: “How long should each blog be?” For 2019, we recommend focusing your blogging efforts on really high quality long form content, with each blog containing an assortment of good graphics and no less than 3000 words. Sound like a lot? It is!

A quality blog that produces tangible SEO results can take anywhere from 40-60 hours to create between research, content development, editing, graphic design, and incorporating an accompanying downloadable piece.

Producing a long form blog once a quarter is a good goal for a small to medium-sized business, but note that blogging this sporadically won’t feed your social media cycle, it won’t produce enough regular email marketing content, and it won’t make your site appear active to Google’s crawling eyes.

To combat a “content drought” while you work on your long form piece, Justin offers the following two solutions:

  1. Create a series of articles first that are combined into something larger later.
  2. Create a long form piece first, and then break it down into something that is incrementally shared after the long piece is published.

No matter which solution you choose, keep in mind that the shorter articles can serve as guest posts on other aligned or partnered sites, which can help with your link building authority (more on this in Trend #4) and help promote the larger piece on your own site. Shorter articles can also help fill the content gaps when it comes to your social media and email marketing content needs.

Moral of Trend #2’s story: Be realistic about what long form content you can produce with your given resources. Planning is key and there is no easy formula. And as Sarah references during the webinar,  it all comes down to “Quantity + Quality”, not either/or.

Trend #3: Link Building Ain’t Easy

We can’t deny that link building is daunting, time consuming, and at times confusing. In fact, this trend is so important and in-depth, it gets its own February 2019 Digital Drop-in webinar! But within this January 2019 webinar, here’s what we want you to know about link building.

First and foremost,  social sharing of links is not an effective form of link building. Does sharing links on social media count as distribution and exposure? Yes. But does it count toward your link building efforts? No.

Sharing your own content across social media channels (or having someone share it on your behalf) only sends minor ranking signals to search engines, so sharing links via social media is not a replacement for building links.

Have your partners and collaborators do you a solid by not just sharing your links on social media but also (and most importantly) embedding your link on their websites. Before you put out a major ask to these partners, start by a) making sure you’re providing amazing content (like the long form content you created using Trend #2’s tips, right?) and b) prioritizing outreach based on what partners have the highest website authority. When you conduct this link building outreach, it may feel extremely manual, and that’s because it is. Each link will require a literal “ask” on your behalf.

Sarah recommends these three “white hat” link building strategies to help you build truly authoritative links:

  1. Create evergreen content for your best link building opportunities. Time sensitive content is great for more on-trend issues (like last year’s GDPR uproar), but evergreen content will ensure your links maintain their value.
  2. Make sure your website is included in resource pages and roundup posts. Think your content good enough to be included in a “best of” or a “top ten” list relating to your service or product? Do the research to see if this type of content exists surrounding your topic, and see if your information can be added.
  3. Position your brand to take advantage of PR opportunities. Make sure your website is set up in a way that you can respond quickly to PR opportunities when they arise. This includes having a media kit, testimonials, and an internal media contact close at hand so you don’t find yourself scrambling to take advantage of these opportunities when they knock. (And of course, if you do get coverage, make sure you ask for the link once it’s been shared!)

Moral of Trend #3’s story: Links shared on social media or within enewsletters are great for brand awareness but are not valuable for link building and increasing domain authority. Understand that link building takes time but has a huge pay-off if done well.

Trend #4: Stories Are the Future of Social Media

According to Buffer, people are posting more than one billion stories collectively everyday on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. Stories are popular because they provide a way for users to opt-in to content rather than scrolling through news feeds, which are becoming more and more cluttered. Stories also provide a look “behind the curtain” of brands and businesses because stories are often unscripted, low production, and to-the-point. In a way, stories help reveal the true colors of a company and provide an authentic capture of life beyond a perfectly edited piece of content.

So how can you utilize stories for your brand or business if you aren’t already?

Sarah recommends that your first step should be, as it often is, looking at the efforts of your competition when it comes to stories. What works for them? What are they doing well? What makes their stories entertaining or engaging?

This is not to say that newsfeed in content is dead. But we definitely recommend utilizing stories to complement your social media strategy if you aren’t already.

Moral of Trend #4’s story: Social media is no longer about sharing “perfect” moments. Stories can enhance brand personality and reveal values shared between company and customer.

Trend #5: Redefining the Marketing Funnel

A traditional marketing funnel is often visually represented as a linear path with a clear beginning and end. In 2019 and beyond, we’ll see the marketing funnel become more and more circular as customers use the internet to educate themselves, read reviews, and expand and contract upon their options before making a final decision.

The traditional linear marketing funnel also suggests that all potential customers are entering the funnel at the same place, knowing the same information. With this more recent circular funnel (can we still even call it a “funnel” if it’s a circle?), potential customers are entering the pipeline at multiple stages.

To help clarify this point, Sarah referenced this Think with Google article in which Google analyzed thousands of users’ clickstream data to convey that every customer journey is different, even when two people are searching for the same category of product.

Make no mistake, the traditional marketing funnel still matters when we’re talking directly about sales and conversion. But when we are thinking about audiences and behaviors in 2019, we have to realize people aren’t as predictable as they used to be because of the sheer amount of variables involved in making a decision.

We can’t mention “audience and behaviors” without including “tracking and reporting” in the same sentence. How do you know who your audience is or what makes them react if you don’t review the insights of your efforts. Utilize the information you glean from tracking and reporting to better understand your audiences and successfully deliver the info they want and need.

Moral of Trend #5’s story: Move away from formula when it comes to making a sale, and understand that each person’s customer journey is unique to them and can evolve as people do different things on the internet. (For example, consider the journey of a customer who utilizes a mobile app to make a purchase vs. someone on a desktop computer).

Other Important Digital Marketing Trends for 2019

Before Sarah and Justin signed off January 2019’s DDI, they were sure to include these additional trends that will surely matter to successful digital marketers in 2019:

  1. Micro-influencers: Influencers across social media don’t have to have 1 million followers to increase awareness of a brand or product. Accounts with 10,000 or less followers still possess a lot of power and should not be overlooked when considering an influencer marketing campaign.
  2. Chatbots: What do we want? Customer service! When do you want it? Now! Chatbots will be more and more important in 2019 as customers seek real-time answers to questions.
  3. Voice search: With the rise of mobile, we’ve all seen this one coming. By 2020, about 30% of web browsing will be done without touching a screen, according to this KnoxNews article.
  4. Messaging: Similar to chatbots, messaging on social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp will be key to connect brands with current and potential customers.

Now is the time to take stock of your resources and prioritize your digital marketing efforts for 2019. Do you have the personnel on your staff to put these trends into practice? Is your marketing budget appropriate for the goals you want to accomplish this year? Are all of these trends applicable to your product or service? We think you have the power to be a great digital marketer; the key is planning ahead now to ensure success this year and beyond.