While the real world returned to more normal operations in 2022, the media giants took every opportunity to catch up on the past few years, resulting in a very tumultuous year in search AND digital advertising.
While many of our clients had great performance in 2022 (thanks of course to solid digital positioning), we also had our fair share of significant digital marketing challenges as we rode the roller coaster of (almost monthly) significant algorithm updates and ad platform changes.
2023 is shaping up to be a significant year of disruption in the digital advertising world, and we are looking forward to the challenges and opportunities these changes will bring.
- You Need to EAT More
- The Paradox of Ad Personalization In 2023
- Google Analytics 4
- Future-Proof your Web Analytics
- Give your Google Business Profile the love it needs
- Google Ads
- Meta Stuff
- Microsoft Ads & LinkedIn
- Community Building is going to be more important
- Jenna’s Other Thoughts about 2023
2022 Predictions Recap
At the end of my 2022 post, I said, “2022 is going to be a tumultuous year in digital advertising.” Well, I certainly nailed that one. Here are some colorful comments highlighting what happened in 2022:
Slow Death of 3rd Party Cookies
The death of 3rd party cookies is even slower than I expected, with Google pushing out their timeline to the end of 2024 to remove cookies from Chrome. But regulators may push this timeline up, so YOU should not be so slow to implement your first-party cookie plans.
Loss of Ad Personalization
This was a major theme in 2022 and will probably be the most important thing to consider for your overall marketing strategy in 2023. Even our own director ditched Chrome this year!
Rising Advertising Costs
2022 was a vicious year for rising advertising costs. We saw CPCs rise in almost every industry. And then there were economic impacts of inflation and threats of a recession that really upset automated bidding algorithms. It seems Google Ads is pretty terrible at responding to changes in market demand, so make sure you check in on those campaign KPIs.
Decline in Google Analytics
Sometimes I don’t like being right. While none of our clients have actually ditched Google Analytics yet, that is on the near horizon for several of our clients operating in the EU (since they declared it illegal!!).
If you listened to me in January 2022 when I told you to work on this, you should have seen a payoff in Q3/4 of this year. Google rolled out its “Helpful Content Update” over the summer, rewarding websites that focus on high-quality content, while demonstrating expertise and authority.
Google Business Profile
Ok so I missed on this prediction, GBP is still free. But Google made significant changes to the management interface of business profiles in 2022, so that agencies will be BEGGING to have a paid option to make profile management more user-friendly and efficient.
Machine Learning & Modelling
This is almost too trendy a phrase at this point, but Google is all-in on machine learning with predictive modelling. GA4 has entire data collection options dedicated to making this predictive modelling a viable measurement approach for web analytics. Meta is doing this too, but they talk about it less.
Tech Giants Will Be More Giant
Well of course they are. While profits aren’t quite as mind-blowing as in previous years, Google and Meta are still unstoppable players in the digital advertising space. And Google has no risk of losing the top search engine spot in 2023 (but this may not hold true in 2024). Governments and regulators are certainly trying to regain some control over these giants, with many jurisdictions adopting more stringent regulatory legislation and just about everyone launching lawsuits against Meta and Google in 2022. We shall see how that goes.
Top Digital Marketing Trends We Are Watching This Year:
1. You Need to EAT More
Actually, now I should say EEAT more, as Google recently announced another “E” is also important (Experience).
In 2023, it is critical that your website and website content checks all the boxes when it comes to expertise, experience, authority and trust.
In my opinion, building authority and trust is the current SEO equivalent to the aughts days of link building. If you haven’t started connecting the experience and expertise of the people in your organization to your website content, now is the time to do this.
A few years ago, we were not all that worried about your offsite reviews and social posts, now they are essential to prove that your organization is a real business. That means demonstrating you have employees who know what they’re doing and customers providing real reviews of your services or products. (Quick hint, if you are not leveraging LinkedIn or Facebook Business pages, you should probably jump on that).
If you need help with this, you can check out last year’s post or reach out.
Helpful Thoughts on the Helpful Content Update
Google began rolling out its “Helpful Content Update” on August 25, 2022, with the ultimate goal of making search engine results more valuable to the searcher. Using BERT, MUM and other major developments in Google’s search algorithms in the past 5 years, Google is now much closer to evaluating content in a similar way that a human reader would. Keyword-stuffed, formulaic content is simply not good enough anymore.
Write More Helpful Content In 2023
Now that the search engines are getting better at being human, how do you write search engine optimized content in 2023?
You don’t. Instead, write for your customer and the search engine will reward you.
Google recommends content that:
- Is focused
Make sure your webpage is focused on a single topic. The purpose of your website should also be clearly focused on the thing you do. Avoid straying too far from your business purpose in your blogs and resource content.
- Comes from first-hand experience
Don’t write the same thing everyone else is. Content will be rewarded for demonstrating first-hand experience and insights on a topic. Google is trying to reduce having 40 pages of listings that say the exact same thing.
- Answers a question
Write content to answer a question. That is what most people are doing when they query a search engine. Make sure your content gives a fulsome answer to the queries your clients or customers have.
- Keeps it “real”
Make sure your content is factually accurate. Avoid making unfounded predictions or speculation and presenting them as fact (unless of course you are writing a blog post that is all predictions and speculation…)
ChatGPT and Other AI-generated Content
While ChatGPT and similar tools hold significant promise for creating efficiencies in research and repetitive writing tasks, I strongly caution against using these tools for your actual website content. The Helpful Content Update is specifically engineered to devalue this type of content in search results.
Furthermore, the inclusion of ChatGPT and similar AI algorithms in search engine results is going to result in more “zero click” searches, making it more important than ever to make sure your content, page titles and meta descriptions demonstrate value, expertise, and unique perspectives so readers choose to visit your website for more information.
Sidenote: Did you notice the odd featured image on this blog post? It was generated by an AI tool, not a human.
Another way to build EEAT on your site is to ensure that all your digital assets signal the same information about your business. SEO in 2023 is not just focused on website optimization. Make sure your video assets, images, podcasts, LinkedIn profiles and social posts are optimized, focused on your business offering, and point to/mention your website.
2. The Paradox of Ad Personalization In 2023
Between the loss of ad targeting options in both Google and Meta’s ad platforms, wider adoption of cookie opt-out banners, ad blockers, and more challenging regulatory environments (especially for Google Analytics), the hay days of freely available personalized data will come to an end for many businesses in 2023. Unfortunately, the value (and consumer expectation) of targeted, personalized advertising is higher than ever.
Violating Ad Personalization Laws Gets Expensive
In 2022, regulators in several EU member states effectively declared the use of Google Analytics illegal and has begun fining business who violate privacy regulation through their use of it. More recently, EU regulators have fined Meta 390 million Euros after a decision that their terms of service violated EU privacy regulation.
While I don’t expect these fines to destroy these powerhouses, the ongoing litigation is certainly going to affect advertisers’ access to data, as the ad platforms are forced to comply with regional regulations or face significant fines.
This means less personalized advertising for us, and a significant potential for higher advertising costs (they’ll need to pay those legal fees!).
Personalized Advertising Is More Important Than Ever
Consumers are savvy, and they have a lot of information at their fingertips. Personalization of your advertising efforts is non-negotiable online (at least if you expect any ROI). What that looks like in 2023 will continue to include personalized ad targeting options, but (if you are smart) should also include a larger emphasis on gathering first-party website data and more business intelligence about your customer.
Use 2023 to prepare for when those ad targeting options are no longer personal. And maybe dust off those marketing textbooks from the ’90s…. we’re going to need them.
3. Google Analytics 4
If you use Google Analytics for anything important, it is time to make sure you have Google Analytics 4 (GA4) setup.
If I were to go into detail on GA4 this post would be excessively long (ok, I know it is already excessively long). We have several great resources about migrating to Google Analytics 4 if you want to dive deeper.
Here is what you need to know:
Google says you only have until July 1st to move to GA4
While I have serious doubts GA3 will stop working anytime in the next year, you should still prepare for the possibility this is true.
If year-on-year comparison data is important to you, you are already 6 months late
Google Analytics does not look backward. Plus, GA3 and GA4 data are not directly comparable. This means that you need to set up GA4 event and conversion tracking that is important for your business intelligence ASAP.
This will break stuff
While Google happily declares you need to switch by July 1st, we do not expect the various plugins and tools will be prepared to integrate GA4 into their code by that deadline. Your shopping carts, booking engines, WordPress plugins and call tracking will all need to rebuild their Google Analytics integrations. But since GA4 is still considered by most to be in beta, it is doubtful most of these 3rd parties will take action until closer to the deadline (or after).
GA4 tracks data differently
GA4 is engineered to collect data in more than one way, likely to give website owners flexibility depending on the jurisdiction they are operating in. Understanding what type of data collection options you should select is going to be a complex undertaking that needs to consider your business goals, regulatory policies, and the data you collect that is used for other purposes (i.e., Google Ads).
GA4 is likely to be better at cross-device tracking and user behaviour analysis (for the users that opt-in). However, it is also likely to leverage more data modelling and sampling than its predecessor. I am hoping we have access to GA3 and GA4 for a while longer to better understand the validity of the data it is collecting.
Your current reporting and dashboards are toast
GA4 has a completely different interface, new metrics and dimensions and new capabilities. But this also means most of your reporting and dashboards will need to be (at best) updated or (at worst) scrapped and rebuilt.
In my opinion, the current learning curve on GA4 is too high to expect wide adoption of the tool. If this is not resolved, Google is going to help people along to the decision to ditch Google Analytics or they will adopt alternative website analytics (more on that next).
4. Future-proof your web analytics
Have you heard? Google Analytics is illegal.
In 2022, several jurisdictions in the EU effectively declared Google Analytics illegal. In North America, the adoption of more privacy-centric browsers, cookie opt-outs and ad blockers is growing. If you use your web analytics for any purpose, 2023 is the time to think about building a redundancy to Google Analytics. We are exploring a few alternatives with some of our clients and will share what we learn along the way.
Another important consideration for future-proofing your website data for loss of personalized data and cookies, is to act now to understand the relations hip between your website data and your CRM, so you can do your own data modelling.
Before the data is lost, calculate what proportion of your business is generated through your website. Understand the current alignment between leads tracked through your website analytics and what is tracked in your CRM. If you understand those differences now, you will be better able to interpret your data going forward. If your CRM and web analytics are not in alignment already – let’s fix that while we can!
5. Give your Google Business Profile the love it needs
Maintaining your Google Business Profile is a critical business practice in 2023. It is also a really annoying one now. Google has changed the management interface of GBP to make it a little more irritating to anyone who is trying to make more than a single small change.
More importantly, we have seen some serious changes in ranking position in longstanding GBP profiles in 2022 for several of our local business clients. Google is continuing on its path to take serious steps toward ensuring the legitimacy of GBP listings and reviews, and some businesses are being caught in the crossfire. Make sure your profile is up to date, be active by adding photos and responding to reviews, and PLEASE DO NOT try to “game the system”. It will backfire.
6. Google Ads
At this point, I feel like I say the same thing about Google Ads every year. The trend is (of course) towards more automation and less user control. We expect this to continue in 2023. It is easier than ever to spin up an ad account, and (especially with GA4) more challenging than ever to determine what is working. If you are spending any significant amount of money on Google Ads, make sure someone with ad experience is managing your account.
Instead of predictions, here are some cautions for 2023:
Be ready to verify your business
Most accounts will be asked to do a business verification within the next year (or already have). Be prepared to demonstrate to Google you are a legitimate business. You will likely be asked for proof of address and business licence, possibly also tax information.
Stop implementing Google Ads Recommendations through the “Recommendations”
We think Google Ad recommendations are useful about 20% of the time to begin with. Google has recently made changes to “Recommendations” where people who had previously accepted a recommendation about “removing redundant keywords” will now find them applied in a different way than the original recommendation (read more here). If we were cautious before about “Recommendations” we will pretty much stop implementing them through the interface now. Instead, if you think a recommendation is useful, implement it manually in the campaign.
Slow down. They changed the interface again.
Google Ads is constantly changing the campaign interface and has gotten quite tricky. If you want to maintain control over your campaigns, be very cautious about all of the various options you select as you build new campaigns or ad groups. Make sure you have auto-apply recommendations turned off! Be cautious of automatically generated keywords and copy.
Just because Google is calling, doesn’t mean you have to answer it.
In the last several months we have been contacted by DOZENS of “Google Ads Specialists”. Google has clearly outsourced this work to telemarketing firms who have little to no advertising experience and get paid based on the frequency at which they speak to you (note this is conjecture).
If you have experience running Google Ads, it is highly unlikely you will get any value out of talking to these people. If you do choose to connect with them, be extraordinarily cautious about implementing what they suggest before testing it yourself.
In the last year, we have run several experiments with performance MAX. We can confidently say that we don’t know what performance MAX is doing. This campaign type offers so little inputs and nearly no data, so it is really difficult to evaluate the success. If you decide to test Performance MAX, we highly recommend you try to tie your conversion data from Performance MAX to your actual lead/sale data in your CRM to see if you can identify if it is working for you or not. In our experience, this data is rarely aligned.
7. Meta Stuff
Facebook advertising is still a really important part of the marketing mix.
Despite the huge challenges Meta as a company is facing, Facebook/Instagram are still powerhouse platforms for effective digital advertising. The phrase “make hay while the sun shines” comes to mind when thinking about Facebook advertising in 2023. Now is your opportunity to gather business intelligence on your website users while you still have the tools available.
Just like Google, Meta is introducing more and more automation in their ad platform. So be cautious and make sure you double-check everything before you push your new campaigns live.
8. Microsoft Ads & LinkedIn
Microsoft’s quietly growing advertising platform is poised to grow its market share in 2023 (actually they say they want to DOUBLE it!). Thanks to its own entities and some very strategic purchases in the past few years (LinkedIn, Skype, Outlook, Xbox), Microsoft now has some significant options when it comes to audience targeting that Facebook and Google simply can’t offer. In 2023, Microsoft has plans to partner with Netflix to deliver ads on their new less-expensive subscription.
Microsoft now also has shopping and automotive ads, and a feature that lets you run your Microsoft Ads on Google and Facebook! All this to say, you should probably test some Microsoft Ads in 2023.
With the right type of ad campaign, we are also generating some good brand awareness and consistent leads on LinkedIn. As LinkedIn becomes widely adopted as a business social media platform, we expect to spend more advertising dollars here in the coming year for our B2B clients.
9. Community Building is going to be more important
TikTok, LinkedIn, the Metaverse, micro-influencers. You have heard of these things, maybe you are even doing some of these things. Not all of these platforms will be relevant for your business, but the core idea of developing a community around your product or service is certainly an advantageous approach to marketing in 2023. Organic community building is one alternative to personalized advertising that your business should consider this year.
What that looks like for your business is going to vary by industry, but we have lots of ideas to get you started. Community building is not easy. It requires significant assets (videos, graphics, imagery) and a lot of time. You will also need to connect with the right people to build your audience, but done right, it can be very effective.
Jenna’s Other Thoughts about 2023
The TV Commercial is BACK!
Ok, so I have kids now, and you know what I saw on YouTube this Christmas season, TOY COMMERCIALS. Full, 30-second-long produced commercials that harkened back the days of my youth.
With the rise of CTV, commercials are back! Even Nielson has resurfaced with new ways to measure TV reach in a digital age. You have known for years you need to do more video, don’t keep sitting on this one.
More privacy regulation and enforcement is coming to North America. Many businesses in North America have been slow to adopt the best practices imposed by GDPR legislation in the EU. But many jurisdictions on this side of the Atlantic are adopting or expected to adopt increased privacy regulation in 2023.
Geeze Amazon, get it together
Normally I contemplate Amazon advertising around this time each year. But Amazon has had such a decline in user experience in the last year, I am not offering it up this time around. Of course, they are still an e-commerce powerhouse, but Walmart (and just about everyone else) is catching up. Empires will rise and fall I suppose.
It’s going to be a tough year. Don’t make any rash decisions.
Parts of the world are certainly headed for recession in 2023. Plus, inflationary pressure is driving down consumer demand across the board. Often businesses will consider pulling back their marketing spend in conditions like this, but I advise you to be cautious about that plan.
Recessions often create opportunity, so make sure your marketing decisions in 2023 position you to leverage those opportunities rather than leaving you to play catch-up when business bounces back. Let us help you with a marketing plan that positions your business for success.
Ontario SEO is a boutique digital marketing agency serving clients in Canada, USA, Mexico and the EU. We partner with our clients to deliver customized SEO and digital advertising solutions that deliver on results. If you need help hitting your growth targets or integrating your digital marketing efforts in 2023, we can help.