Before we begin, some musings:
It is that time of year again where I sit down (much later than I planned) and write out our predictions for the following year. I have gotten fairly good at this over the years (if I do say so myself), but I will admit, predicting the trajectory of digital marketing in 2024 is a bit more daunting than usual.
Chat GPT was barely a bullet point in my 2023 post, and I am not sure I had even heard the term “generative AI”. Now AI developments are happening at such a rapid-fire pace that it is hard to keep up with the almost daily new tools, features, and opportunities in generative AI and marketing. This pace of change is only likely to accelerate into 2024.
I am far too humble to profess that I know what 2024 will bring to the digital marketing space, but I do have some ideas about what you should focus on to make sure the ride is as safe and enjoyable as possible! So, I hope you have settled into your seat because even the recap is going to be lengthy on this year’s post!
In 2023 my number one recommendation was to focus on “EEAT” (experience, expertise, authority, and trust). What can I say, I was very, very right. In both May and September, Google released significant algorithm updates dubbed the “Helpful Content Updates”, that caused significant changes to SERP positions (and organic traffic) for many informational sites that have held top positions for years. In 2024, EEAT even MORE.
The legal bills at both Meta and Google are mounting as they spend time mired in defending the ability to personalize advertising globally. And their developers are working overtime to build new systems to ensure compliance.
While the loss of targeting in digital ads was not as significant as I expected in 2023, certainly website data privacy challenges were. Several organizations we work with chose data privacy over collecting marketing data, in preparation for the regulations and enforcement that are sure to come. For most in-house marketing teams, expect to spend time in 2024 on balancing data privacy and maintaining the integrity of your marketing data.
The move to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) has been exactly the headache we predicted. And while the switch over to GA4 was fairly seamless in the summer, the reporting challenges in subsequent months certainly kept our teams busy. We are very much looking forward to the date very soon when all of our accounts have year-on-year comparison data in GA4 and our data-blending skills can take a break. More on GA4 below.
Last year I suggested you start looking at new analytics platforms. And while this is still not a bad idea, I am happy to say that Google released several tools and settings in 2024 that may just help them skirt a lot of the data protection issues of Chrome and Universal Analytics. Take a look at your GA4 reporting identities (to be sun-setted in 2024) and Google Consent Mode (in Tag Manager) as examples of these efforts.
Update: Google announced in late December that Consent Mode will be mandatory for Google Tag Manger users who generate website traffic in the EU by March of 2024
This is still true and still will be true in 2024.
AI came to Google Ads this year and the marketers are being heavily marketed to. Google doubled down on it’s “Google Ads Specialists” to try to push an unheard-of level of automation. Honestly, we stopped taking their calls mid-year. Their recommendations had become so diluted and not at all focused on the goals of the business, only the goals of Google sales targets.
I say this every year, but as the bots take full control, its more true now than ever. You need someone who knows what they’re doing managing your Google Ads, or the AI-enhanced algorithms that now run the platform will do what it has been trained to do; spend as much of your money as possible.
Honestly, I think Meta had a pretty quiet year (relatively speaking). They have their own LLM (large language model) called Llama2 that they are working on, some interesting new AI-based content creation features, and they’re still betting on augmented reality, but on the ads side, things are pretty much business as usual.
There is the small detail where they pulled Canadian news from the news feed as a result of Canadian legislation requiring online platforms to profit share with news organizations. But we have not seen a impact of this change for most of our clients. (And we all breathed a collective Canadian sigh of relief when Google reached an agreement late in November so we can still FIND the news online).
Oh, and they rolled out an ad-free subscription model to users in the EU (as part of complying with regulators). I predict 2024 will be the year of watching subscription models for social media platforms flounder (I am looking at you, too, “X”).
It was certainly a growth year for LinkedIn Ads, with a projected ad revenue increase of 789 million dollars in 20231. While the Microsoft Corporation earnings in Q3 2023 increased an impressive 18% year over year ($49.4 BILLION for you numbers folks). Suffice to say the Microsoft Corporation had a very very good year.
Unfortunately, Microsoft Advertising still doesn’t have the market capitalization to make sense for many of our Canadian-based clients. And while we are continuing to experiment with their new offerings as they become available, Google Ads is still the primary platform we recommend for search advertising.
LinkedIn however is a different entity all together. We are all-in on LinkedIn advertising for some B2C clients. More on this below.
Yes, this was important. Brands need to do more of it. Even if you are a smaller, local business, you should do more of it.
Halfway through 2023 there was an awful lot of chatter about the death of SEO as an industry. Why would anyone need SEO when they can just ask Chat GPT to write thousands of pages of search-optimized website content?
Then Google announced its new Search Generative Experience (SGE) and the game changed again. SEO will not die in 2024, instead it will [quickly?] evolve into something broader; generative experience optimization (GEO).
GEO is not going to be an easy game in 2024. It will require agility, human resources, excellent website infrastructure, and a team with strong technical SEO skills to keep pace with the unpredictable nature of evolving AI systems in search. Here’s a quick look at what you can expect to see in Search in 2024:
What’s Coming to Search in 2024
Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE)
What is SGE?
SGE is an early step in transforming the Search experience with generative AI.2
Google’s SGE will allow people to use the search engine to:
- Ask new kinds of questions
- Understand a topic faster
- Get started on something quickly, like creating a draft or generating imagery
- Ask conversational questions
- Get suggested next steps
The new experience will be built-in the search engine your customers are already using, and it will be personalized and customized to every user. SGE is going to significantly impact traditional organic rankings and website traffic (more on this below).
Google is also adding more “social-like” features to the existing Search Engines Results Pages (SERP) and for some, the ability to add publicly-available notes directly on the search results pages. You can also expect to see more social media, individual blog posts and forum posts in the search results in 2024. Read more on this here.
Note: At the time of writing this, SGE remains in beta (and not available yet in Canada!), and my predictions are based on other’s perceptions of the new product.
In early December, Google announced it’s long-awaited (or year-late, depending on who’s stocks you hold) AI model, Gemini. Gemini is Google’s enhanced version of OpenAI’s GPT. According to Google, Gemini outperforms OpenAI’s GPT3.5 on six of eight industry benchmarks.3
This new model has the potential to be very significant in the further development of AI tools, as it is both an large-language model (LLM) and a will use retrieval-augmented generation (RAG) to produce outputs. Gemini is also a multi-modal, which means it can work with many types of information including text, audio, images, code and video.
Some examples of what you can expect to do with Gemini include:
- Computer programming
- Extract data from scientific literature
- Analyze large data sets
- Process and reply to raw audio
- Explain reasoning to better understand a subject
- Understand user intent to provide better user experiences
Gemini will be incorporated into several Google products including Bard (Google’s AI chat service) and the new SGE experience. There will be three “sizes” of Gemini designed for different levels of computational power:
- Ultra (for complex tasks)
- Pro (a high-performing model for a broad range of tasks)
- Nano (for use on devices)
OpenAI remains the dominant player as a generative pre-training transformer (GPT). And since Bing was first to market with its integrated AI Search experience, it is difficult to count them out. However, all the other platforms are rapidly developing and rolling out their own GPTs and generative AI experiences, and I expect the Search market to be highly saturated in 2024 as they all vie to overtake Google’s market dominance.
ChatGPT has become an integral part of ideation, research, and planning for us in 2024. If you haven’t tried ChatGPT4 to support your marketing activities yet, I highly recommend you explore it!
Microsoft Copilot is not exactly in scope of an article about Search marketing, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it. Copilot is going to bring an unheard-of level of task automation to the apps you use daily including Excel, Teams, PowerPoint and Word. Currently restricted to enterprise users, we expect Microsoft to continue to incorporate Copilot into all product offerings through 2024. “Educational staff” should have access to Copilot starting early in January 2024. The full roll out dates have not been announced.
What will be harder for Search in 2024
With big changes coming at a rapid pace in Search, here are some approaches I think you should re-think in 2024:
The internet already has far too much content. Throughout 2022 and 2023, we saw declines in the number of new pages automatically indexed by Google on our client’s sites. There is simply too much on the internet to crawl, index and rank.
This problem will grow exponentially as some websites begin using LLMs and other automation to write and publish large quantities of website content. We expect it will get much harder to get new content indexed in Google Search. Your website’s EEAT signals may factor in to how quickly your new content is indexed. In my opinion, it would be a good year to dust off some of your outdated (but indexed) webpages and improve them, rather than creating 400 new ones.
SGE (Google’s new search experience) will also dramatically impact listing placements in the search results, making it more challenging for your business to be found via Search. Queries that generate an SGE result are going to push the traditional organic results further down the page. If your business is not appearing in the SGE result, it will be less visible, even if it still holds the top organic position. Listings below position 3 are likely to be bumped to page 2 if an SGE result is displayed.
All of this means less visibility for your hard-earned organic listings.
Website Organic Traffic
We don’t yet know how significantly SGE will impact website traffic, but we do expect to see declining organic website traffic in 2024, as SGE provides more answers directly in the search results. Success in this new era will require a Search strategy that aims to dominate both SGE and organic search results. Easier said than done in some verticals (see my thoughts on Helpful Content below).
If your website traffic is primarily to informational resource or blog content, you can EXPECT to see significant declines in organic traffic in 2024 (honestly, you probably already started experiencing this in 2023).
The days of gaming SEO by buying links have been gone for a while in most industry verticals. With the incorporation of LLMs into Search algorithms, I am calling link building officially dead. These powerful new AI models will easily detect inauthentic links in content. Combined with algorithm updates that have a high focus on authority and trust, your 10,000 backlinks just do not mean anything anymore. Don’t waste your time or money here. Instead explore how you can use your in-house communications and PR teams to build better, more authentic connections with meaningful content online.
Hint: Sponsorship, community engagement, partnerships, and news stories (that link to your website) are great ways to build authority signals in 2024.
Creating “helpful content”, that is content that demonstrates a high level of experience, expertise, authority and/or trust, is going to be harder in 2024.
Google’s algorithms, powered by new AI models are already much better at evaluating trust signals. The September  Helpful Content update hit some informational websites very hard. Google is now prioritizing very high authority websites in the SERPs, which means many long-held organic positions have been sacrificed to Government and Institutional websites that provide similar information. While I don’t think that coveted top position will be easy (or even possible in some cases) to reclaim, 2024 will still be a critical time to build your website (and business) EEAT before AI models change the game completely.
The best way to navigate the focus on helpful content is to engage in legitimate brand building activities (more on this below) both online and off.
Throughout 2022 and 2023 we have seen a significant decline in queries generating coveted featured snippets. Combined with a higher bar to demonstrate expertise, capturing a featured snippet in 2024 is going to be more difficult.
We do not exactly know how SGE and featured snippets are going to look in the SERP in the coming year. Certainly, as SGE evolves into a fully developed product, featured snippets will most likely disappear. Lucky for you the same signals that make a page likely to trigger a featured snippet are likely to be important in SGE too.
Ok enough doom and gloom. What will really matter for Search in 2024?
EEAT EEAT EEAT
If you have been reading this post (hey good for you! It’s super long!) then you should already know that I am going to tell you that I think focusing on EEAT signals is the single most important thing you can do for your business online in 2024. For many businesses, these are simple updates that can really help:
- Make sure you have good “Team” pages for at least 5-10 individuals at your business.
More if your business is large, fewer if your business is small.
- Make sure the biographies on your team pages convey EXPERIENCE and EXPERTISE.
Sally likes cats. That’s great. But what Google is looking for is that Sally has worked for your business for many years, and she has the matching credentials. Make sure experience and credentials are front and center on those bio pages.
- Brand mentions and social links.
Dust off your PR hat. Make sure when other people mention your business online, they link back to you. Claim your social profiles, post regularly on the platforms that make sense to your business, and link to your web content whenever possible.
Technically this falls under the previous heading, but it is critically important for most B2B business! Get your company LinkedIn page in order. Make sure your employees are all properly connected. And link their LinkedIn profiles to their team bio pages, and vice versa.
- Use structured data.
Get your developer to implement “Person” and “Author” schema on all the relevant pages of your website. Schema is an efficient way to tell the search engines what is on the page, without the need for LLM analysis. In the short-term, it is going to give you an advantage.
- Citations and statistics.
Some early research in suggesting that adding citations and statistics to articles is leading to higher visibility in GPTs. For many years we have all been lazy about crediting sources online, but it is time to dust off those old English essay skills and start crediting your sources properly in online content.
Keywords, keyword research, keyword stuffing. These practices are out of date in 2024.
Many SEOs at the forefront of their field (including us!) have already begun the transition to an entity-based approach to website optimization (read more here). As generative AI begins to be incorporated into ranking algorithms, entity-based SEO is going to be critically important to the success of your website in 2024. If you want to dig into the full technical details, you can look at this slide deck. Right now, entity-based SEO relies heavily on structured data (Schema), but as the LLMs evolve the ranking algorithms are going to be much less reliant on structured data and better able to decern entities from page copy alone.
To stay competitive in 2024 I recommend you invest in your structured data AND your on-page copy, so you have your bases covered.
Did I mention these incredible new AI technologies are extraordinarily demanding on computational power and energy?4 I expect that in 2024, Google and OpenAI are going to teach their models to be more decerning about where they spend that energy. For this reason, as well as for your own human users, you should pay close attention to the architecture of your website. This could include things like:
- Page structure.
Is your information organized in a logical way, with a clear structure? Is the most important information easy to distinguish on the page (without reading the full page)?
- Internal Linking.
Search still uses web crawlers to index websites. Is the structure of your internal linking logical between pages? Does it create “clean” pathways to navigate your site? Or is your content cluttered with useless links to every corner of the internet?
- Page Taxonomy.
Is your website built so the most valuable information is easy to find and access. Is your navigation easy and fast? Or are you hiding your most important page, 3 clicks deep in the navigation?
So yeah, this is really, really not new. But Google is better and better at telling when your user experience sucks. Websites that were built more than 5 years ago are too old and too slow to compete in a modern search experience. Be ready for what AI might bring and plan to update your website soon!
Good user experience encompasses too many things to fit in this post, but I highly recommend you get the basics down quick; site speed, accessibility, and easy task completion.
Just for Fun
I asked my robot friends to predict what 2024 would look like for SEO, and this is what they “think”:
SEO is an ever-changing field. With search engines becoming smarter and more user-focused, marketing professionals should keep up with SEO best practices. This includes optimizing for voice search, understanding the impact of Core Web Vitals on search rankings, and focusing on user experience.
Voice search! I think my robot friends are still living in 2021…but an excellent example of why you still need real humans at the helm of your online marketing strategy.
While there is tremendous uncertainty about what SEO as an industry is really going to look like as generative AI is rolled into the search experience, there is no doubt that businesses will still need a steward to help navigate the complex changes in online search. Remaining visible in Search in 2024 will require innovative approaches, better websites, and better content.
Many businesses will not have the in-house tools or human resources to dedicate time to understanding the new and rapidly evolving search landscape, or to create the assets that it may require. This is where an “evolved” SEO team will play a pivotal role helping businesses with generative experience optimization (GEO), rather than just search optimization.
Need some help in 2024?
Ok so that previous section was crazy-long right? Well, I will keep this short. Be prepared for some painful year-on-year reporting in 2024, depending on when you migrated to GA4.
Last year I was pretty concerned about the long-term viability of using Google Analytics, but it looks like Google is playing-nice and developing tools to keep their analytics products compliant in 2024. And in my humble opinion, other analytics platforms still do not offer the same functionality to warrant a mass-migration elsewhere. So, I will say the same thing as last year, keep using your Google Analytics, but start looking at building some redundancies in your website data (I am personally a big proponent of HubSpot right now). Oh, and if you are not collecting first-party data on your website yet, that should be your number one data priority in 2024.
I expect to see rapid evolution of the data collection practices in both Google Analytics and Google Ads this year. For example, Google recently announced all EU Google Tag Manger users will need to enable “Consent Mode” by March of 20245, which may come with significant technical challenges for some. If maintaining the integrity of your marketing data is important to you, make sure someone in your organization is tasked with staying on top of these updates.
I am not envious of those of you planning marketing budgets for 2024. Ad costs continue to rise right along with the cost of everything else. If you are reading this, you probably already understand that digital advertising is a critical component of an effective marketing strategy.
While it may seem an easy fix to your cash flow to cut back on advertising spend or pause your organic SEO program, take a moment, and consider some of the long-term implications of taking a few months pause in one of the most dynamic times in digital advertising history.
It is of course exceedingly difficult to predict what 2025 will look like, but I can guarantee if you pause your digital marketing this Spring to save budget, you are going to find yourself well outpaced by your competitors who did not.
If you work with an agency like ours, know that you have options. We can tailor a marketing program to fit into your “recession” budget. There is no need to get left behind in 2024.
A special note on Digital Advertising
It may be hard to believe, but our modern digital advertising platforms like Google Ads and Meta ads have not really experienced a true contraction in consumer spending. The last major recession was in 2008, when digital advertising was still in its infancy. It is quite difficult to predict how ad costs are going to behave in a context of lower consumer demand, and fewer advertisers. While I would hope ad costs will fall, I am not so naïve to believe this would be true. Your best approach to advertising through this economic contraction is to have a trusted digital advertising partner managing your best interests online.
I don’t think I could really get away with writing a 2024 predictions post without talking about AI. Here are some quick and fast thoughts about AI in 2024.
AI is a skills-leveller
AI is going to help bad marketers be better. It is going to help new marketers learn faster. It is going to help good marketers do better work faster. All of this means that marketing departments can do more, in less time. But whether that “more” equates to more business for you will take some delicate balancing.
If you are not using AI-based tools in your organization, you can bet that your competition is. Make sure you have a plan to keep pace with your competition by leveraging AI tools and features. However, a caution from our years of experience with working with automation in advertising; putting too much confidence in machine automation can be dangerous. Test but verify my [human] friends.
AI let’s us do stuff better, faster
We have been adopting ChatGPT in our marketing workflows for about a year now. Here are some of the marketing activities we find generative AI incredibly useful for:
- Data analysis
- Keyword research
- Image creation
- Ideation & outlines
- Rephrasing content
- Copy writing for ads
AI is going to transform your digital advertising efforts
As AI models are rolled into new tools and advertising features on Meta and Google, savvy marketers are going to need to stay up to date on new features and changes.
We already know that SGE will transform how Google Ads are displayed in the search results, especially shopping ads. This will likely lead to new ways to measure performance and innovative approaches to campaign optimization. I also expect it to cost you more.
AI will likely make generating creative for your advertising efforts much easier. Already Canva, YouTube, Meta and Google Ads have generative AI features built into their platforms. Make sure your team is leveraging these new tools in 2024.
Machine learning combined with AI is going to supercharge algorithm-based campaigns in Meta and Google (i.e. PMAX), as they learn to better understand user intent. We are looking forward to continuing to test these in 2024.
Generative AI is a great helper and can really improve both the quality and efficiency of your work. Helping you stay competitive, with fewer resources in 2024.
In 2024 your business is likely to have to make some decisions between balancing data privacy and collecting website marketing data. I wrote a fairly lengthy (shocking!) post about this back in the fall (read it here).
Google has released a new tool in Tag Manager, Google Consent Mode, and they are updating features in GA4 to give more data privacy options for your website. Make sure you are keeping up to date on what is happening with your internal data collection policies and be an advocate for your marketing data. If you need help navigating this challenging situation, reach out.
2023 was the year of the lawsuit at Meta, Google, and Amazon. All the major platforms are mired in regulatory entanglements in jurisdictions around the world. There have been some fascinating details revealed during the ongoing Google anti-trust lawsuit. And Facebook has had to change its business model to include an ad-free subscription model in the EU to comply with regulators there. Around the world, countries are battling with Meta and Google to pay news organizations for sharing their content online. This brought a full news ban for Canadian Meta users. Luckily, this was narrowly avoided with Google, as they recently settled with Canadian regulators with an agreement that will likely set a precedent for other counties. Oh, and then there are the organizations suing OpenAI and Google for their use of copyrighted material to train AI models.
The evolving regulatory landscape in 2023 has [finally] forced Google and Meta to adapt by revising their privacy policies, restructuring business practices, and investing heavily in compliance and legal defence. The ongoing tension between technological innovation and regulatory compliance in 2023 is ushering in a new era of digital governance at the same time that there is a rapidly changing global tech environment. While there is not much any individual business can do in this climate, digital governance is certain to impact the way platforms advertise and grow in 2024, and therefore you can expect your business will also be impacted.
Normally my annual predictions post contains some predictions about advertising platforms. However, this year, my teammates assure me they are going to write a blockbuster post on the subject. So instead, I will just highlight a few things I think all businesses should test (or test again) in 2024.
Reels/Short Form Video
Ok everyone is watching short-form video. Not everyone is watching in the same place. In 2024 I highly recommend developing some short-form video and testing it across platforms (YouTube, TikTok, Meta) and see what resonates most with your target audience.
YouTube is an incredibly inexpensive place to test short-form video to a targeted audience. While both Meta and TikTok allow for some very sophisticated user targeting.
CTV (Connected TV)
CTV has been quietly growing in market share for a few years now. TV commercials are back, just in a shorter, modern format. CTV ad placements are now available across streaming services, gaming and of course, YouTube. We highly recommend creating video assets similar to your traditional television commercial, with the exception they need to be much shorter and punchier to grab attention.
LinkedIn is growing at a rate of 3 users per second and their revenue increased 21% in Q1 of 2023.6 Even if you have tested LinkedIn ads before, the new features and targeting, combined with the rapidly growing daily active users (141 million a day), mean LinkedIn is an essential channel to test for any B2B business in 2024.
BING made big headlines at the end of 2022 with its revolutionary partnership with OpenAI and ChatGPT. While Bing has certainly had a successful year of growth, it still pales in market share compared to Google. However, if your Google Ads performance is maximized, testing an expanded campaign on Microsoft Advertising is a good opportunity for growth in 2024.
Just kidding. X (formerly twitter) has been so volatile this year, it is not a platform we generally recommend. They do offer some pretty niche targeting, so they are still a good fit for some businesses. However, the constantly changing verification and ad-free subscription models, make performance both hard to measure and hard to predict.
We are also watching anxiously to see what X’s AI chat “Grok” does with a far less restrained data model than the likes of Google, OpenAI or Meta. It was designed to be “anti-woke, with less censorship of potentially sensitive topics” – what could go wrong?
Some Final Thoughts
While AI reshapes the marketing landscape and challenging regulatory entanglements persist, 2024 will be both an exciting and challenging year. A focus on high-quality website content, good user experience, and an agile marketing team will be essential for success in digital marketing in 2024.
Ok, so you made it to the end of this tome. Excellent! Hopefully, I have inspired some ideas and preparation for the roller coaster ride that 2024 promises to be. Have some thoughts or comments on this article? Find me on LinkedIn or reach out to us.
- https://www.statista.com/statistics/275933/linkedins-advertising-revenue/ ↩︎
- https://static.googleusercontent.com/media/www.google.com/en//search/howsearchworks/google-about-SGE.pdf ↩︎
- https://blog.google/products/bard/google-bard-try-gemini-ai/ ↩︎
- https://www.washington.edu/news/2023/07/27/how-much-energy-does-chatgpt-use/ ↩︎
- https://support.google.com/tagmanager/answer/13695607?hl=en ↩︎
- https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/28-linkedin-stats-you-need-know-2023-joe-apfelbaum/ ↩︎