A famous Bill Gates quote says "Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
2019 is the perfect example: the year didn't feel like much changed in Marketing but looking at the changes since 2010 is substantial.
The rise of mobile. The rise of social. Speed. Encryption. Automation. Influencers.
I'm excited to see what the next decade brings. I'm optimistic and expect this crazy journey to get only crazier.
As the yearly tradition has it, I want to wrap 2019 up with my annual review of predictions and a fresh set of thoughts for next year.
Reviewing my 2019 predictions
A quick recap: I make annual predictions for the following year and review my previous ones. My goal is to assess if I’m keeping up with trends, practice my foresight, and share what’s top of mind with you.
Like last year, here is the point system
- +2 points for being correct
- +1 point for a slightly correct prediction but not to the right degree
- -1 point for a being off
- -2 points for being dead wrong
If I ever hit a 0 or even negative, I should probably stop making predictions.
Following are my 2019 predictions and how on or off I was.
1. Audio and video will gain significant importance for organic search
Podcast consumption is growing like wildfire with 25% of Americans now listening weekly to podcasts. I myself listen to podcasts all the time and predicted that Google would integrate audio and video much more into search results as it can understand the content better. Then, in August, Google gave meaning to words and rolled out podcast integrations in the SERPs.
Podcast episodes and Youtube videos do show up in Google search but don’t have the significance I predicted. I'm also disappointed in the data we get about such integrations. No sign of it in Search Console...
That leads me to start with the following rating:
2. B2B and B2C companies will invest more in building a brand (for SEO, ads, and viral growth, of course)
I’m a bit torn on this one. On one hand, I guess we all agree that there are no more “easy channels” that deliver lots of traffic and that brand is an important way to reduce CAC (customer acquisition cost), drive purchases, and pull direct traffic.
On the other hand, brand trust came in fifth in the 2019 Edelman report and I anecdotally observe a lot more attention to brand building. It seems that a strong brand is key to growth not just to me. But I would have loved to see a statistic that says something like "brand is more important in 2019 than in 2018".
If I had a 0, I'd go for it, but for this one, I slightly lean towards:
3. Viral product growth will become more important for saas
“product is the future of growth” pretty much hits on the head what I was trying to say here last year. I do think that the decreasing returns from paid and organic channels have led to a bigger focus on product as an acquisition channel (referrals). Everybody wants viral growth, not everyone can have it.
However, it’s hard to find evidence that lots of companies shave adopted this strategy over another one. I think I was onto a principle but not really a prediction.
4. Blogs will become more important for thought leadership
Yes, I do see a resurgence in blogs and think I got this one kind of right. More people use blogs to have a destination they own, feed their email lists, and build their brand.
I think blogs are making a comeback.
5. Tech will have a peak year with major b2b and b2c startups going public
Ok, 2019 was a debacle for nobody’s champion WeWork, the company that was once valued at $80bn, then bought Conductor out of nowhere, and then imploded shortly before going public. Conductor is independent again and the Tech scene has a healthy post-puberty phase of asking how smart growth at all cost really is. Spoiler: not much. We all love profit again now.
Aside from that, 2019 was indeed a peak year for tech IPOs: Cloudflare, Chewy, Slack, Fiverr, Zoom, Pinterest, Pagerduty, Beyond Meat, Sproutsocial (full list). UBER and Lyft went public as well but performed mediocre as expected.
The only reason I’m not giving myself a +2 is that some startups like Airbnb, Squarespace, Asana, Casper, Doordash, or Robinhood waited out 2019. And, well, some IPOs went down the toilet.
6. Startups will seek other business models than ads
Patreon and Substack offer content creators alternatives to ad revenue-based business models. Larger companies are looking for alternatives as well: Youtube partners with Eventbrite to sell tickets, Instagram offers shopping, Buzzfeed diversifies revenue streams, and more publishers run subscription-based models.
We in the Western world can learn a lot from China, in fact. Companies like Tencent, QQ, Ximalaya, iQiyi or Dedao get their smallest chunk of revenue from advertising. Instead, they take cuts from creator tips, transactions, contextual ads, and other creative revenue streams.
To me, the Western world has the problem that companies banked on the ad model too much and now a lot of consumers expect services to be free. It's going to be hard to steer away from that. Right now two companies get most advertising revenue, Google and Facebook, with Pinterest and Amazon on the rise. Amazon is probably best suited for a strong diversification of revenue streams with their marketplace, AWS, audible, IMDB, Twitch, Zappos, Goodreads, Alexa, their own products, robotics, and everything else they own.
As a user, I've always hated ads and hope that the big platforms find different ways to make money.
I think this trend could be a bit stronger but is visible enough for me to give myself +1 point.
7. Social media fatigue will continue
A Pew Research survey that was published in August revealed that 46% of Americans are tired of political posts and discussions on social networks (up 9% since 2016).
63% of participants in a Yougov poll said they use social media less because of trust issues.
Social media use has been correlated with increased feelings of loneliness and lower self-esteem. However, not all questions are answered in this story. Users who give up Facebook don’t show an increase in long-term well-being, for example.
Either way, I conclude that the fatigue is real from a business and personal point of view. People are more cautious about social networks for trust and health reasons. Businesses rely less on organic social for reach.
8. More social features in google search
I was sure to have completely missed the mark on this one. Until Google published Cameos!
I have a strong opinion that Google needs to have some sort of stake in social and will find another avenue after Google+ was buried in 2019. To be exact, G+ was demoted on April 2nd, which is a miss because April first would have better suited what Google+ was from the beginning: a joke.
The fifth estate, social media, gave the people a strong voice, disrupted the balance of the first four estates, and gave a new meaning to the words attention and opinion. It’s too big of a shift for Google not to be involved.
Then, Google suddenly announced Cameos in August. I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time - until some celebrities created Cameos and the videos started appearing in Discover. Then the plan slowly came together for me: Search will be social.
Searching for names will show a knowledge card with social features, such as Cameos (look for Karlie Kloss or Kevin Durant to get a taste). My guess is that instead of being a full social network, Google wants to be the universal social network that's the gatekeeper to all other ones. Just as they are for traffic.
Already today, for name searches it can pull in:
- An Instagram-like feed through Cameos
- The latest Tweets through Twitter
- Videos through Youtube (example: ESPN)
- News through Google News
- Custom information like stats for athletes or movies for actors
There is so much data Google could show. For Kevin Durant and other athletes, it pulls in game stats. For actors, movies. Writers, books. The benefit on Google's side is that it can draw all these elements comfortably from its knowledge and entity graph, add them to the respective topic layer and show them in Search and Discover. No input from users needed.
In total, I give myself 6 of 16 possible points for last year's predictions. Last year I got 9 out of 22 points. So, I guess I’m sticking to the trend (37.5% vs. 40.9%). For my 2020 predictions, I’ll try to be a bit bolder and also more precise.
If you disagree with my assessment of my own predictions, please let me know - no offense taken. Of course, I'm biased as judge and jury but I'm trying to be as objective as possible. Hold me accountable :).
9 Marketing Predictions for 2020
Let's turn our eyes from the past to the future. What's going to be important in 2019? What are the big marketing trends we should have on our radars?
I compile these throughout the year and take notes whenever I read or see something that could be part of a bigger move.
Keep in mind that these predictions are my own opinions and though I try to base them on data as much as possible, I sometimes simply state what I think. I neither claim that those predictions are new nor surprising. Take it for what it is.
1. Social Media marketing will transition from organic feeds to closed channels
Zuckerberg’s pledge to more privacy and focus shift to groups at F8 2019 (“Groups are now at the heart of the experience just as much as your friends and family are”) is more than just a move under regulatory pressure. To me, it’s part of a larger trend from public feeds to closed groups.
It seems to me that netizens lost a bit of appetite for public feeds, except for Twitter maybe. You might think "but what about Instagram!?". Well, there are now tons of people with "Finstas" - Fake Instas (Instagram accounts) - used to pretend a certain image to the public while your real account is closed and only visible to your friends (more).
Instead, conversations move to close environments like:
- Slack channels
- WhatsApp groups
- Facebook groups
- Linkedin groups
For 2020, I predict a noticeable shift to closed groups with more brands advertising and marketing in those environments.
2. Audio and video will be table stakes for marketers
From Aleyda’s Crawling Mondays Youtube channel and Barry Schwarz’ vlog to Jason Barnard’s podcast, Craig Campbell’s podcast, Wil Reynolds youtube channel, and Tim Soulo’s Youtube channel, marketers finally crossed the line. Writing is easy, but recording takes money and knowledge.
My take: because the content game is so competitive now, marketers will revert to audio and video. Having a Youtube channel and podcast will be as basic as having a blog for Marketers.
Brands will follow suit because… marketers work for companies (kinda makes sense). For 2020, I expect a decent amount of new shows (at least 10), podcasts, and video formats from brands and many more marketers to go live with their own format.
3. Companies will hire massive content teams
I predict more companies to hire large content teams (+10 writers) for two reasons.
One, the content game is becoming much more competitive and companies that want to grow fast and big need to double down on resources to create more and keep growing. It’s hard to compete with big brands and their content output. While you can buy a lot of content from freelancers, you come to a point at which it’s easier to take the expertise inhouse, polish the process, and scale operations.
Two, Writers need to be experts and can’t write about everything anymore. As Google is getting smarter and uses technologies like BERT to understand how good content really is, it’s getting harder to research and write about a topic and still compete with legit experts. For companies, it will make more sense to hire top-notch writers full-time.
4. Marketing orbit more around omnichannel
Omnichannel is not new but becomes more viable because the returns form single channels are shrinking. Looking at isolated marketing channels is a luxury we currently can't afford.
Part of the reason we don't see many new marketing channels emerging is Google’s and Facebook’s chokehold on consumer platforms. Tiktok is the exception and was only able to grow because it was born in China. Think about that.
So, it’s just not a good time to bank the farm on a single channel. Exception: young startups. All others should diversify as soon as possible and provide a streamlined presentation and offer across multiple channels.
Remember, the idea of omnichannel is not to be present on several marketing channels but to be consistent across them along the user journey. Think about providing a unique chatbox experience for users coming from organic search or personalized landing pages for visitors from Newsletters, for example. Track your visitors, use remarketing, and email automation flows.
There are so many channels. Some are entry points, some are bridges to conversions. String them together and map what crossover user journeys could look like. Then validate the construct with data.
My prediction is we’ll see more impressive omnichannel case studies in 2020.
5. Purpose and opinions will become more important for brands
Brands need to stand for something. No news. But if brands want to be sticky in 2020, they have to have a stance on the big topics of our time: privacy, sustainability, inclusion, trust. The concept of Product Zeitgeist Fit reflects this is quite well.
In 2020, I expect at least 5 big brands to put one or more of those topics into the foreground of their branding campaigns.
6. The lines between personal and company branding will blur
People follow people, not companies. It’s hard to separate Microsoft from Bill Gates, Amazon from Jeff Bezos, and Tesla from Elon Musk.
However, in Microsoft’s second spring it’s Satya Nadella who leads the pack, not Bill Gates and establishes a strong personal brand along the way. I would even argue that the change in leadership was an important part of Microsoft’s comeback, not just the strategic decisions that he made.
At UBER, Travis Kalanick’s departure was a key part of the company’s detox and image refresh. Adam Newman’s G5 and weed tirades didn’t help WeWork. His departure is very important in the company’s turnaround attempt.
As such, I think in 2020 we’ll realize that strong, positive brands help companies, not just to hire top talent but for positive PR and brand awareness, and push them forward. In concrete terms, I expect way more people with an audience to step forward and display stronger connections with the companies they work for/with.
7. Experience and expertise will become more important for SEO
Other than technical SEO, SEO as a whole is not dramatically changing Year over Year. It’s very different when we look at the last decade because the changes are visible as a thick scar across a face. One prediction I want to make for 2020 is that content creation will focus more on expertise and SEO more around experiences.
BERT seems to be able to help Google when a text was written by an expert or not. To me, that’s the final stake in a progression that started with rel=author and went on with the knowledge graph, specifically entity extraction. Because “expert content” performs so much better, I expect SEOs to focus more on who writes the content.
Being able to focus on better experiences is the second logical result of Google’s improved understanding of a good vs. bad result. Gone are the days in which we need to fill every page with text until it spills over. I’m not saying content isn’t necessary anymore, but that a good experience will matter more and can be provided through images, video, or tools as well.
Is that new? No, but in 2020 we’ll finally accept it and become more creative in the way we create experiences as SEOs.
8. Zero-clicks will grow
Google "mortgage calculator" on your phone and you'll quickly find a Google widget that has no context or further information. It doesn't explain or help, just display your monthly payment or purchasing budget.
It’s clear by now that Google is not the search engine it used to be. The increasing number of SERP features will increase zero-click keywords or at least decrease the clicks passed on to other sites substantially.
In the Bay Area Q&A, Gary Illyes kind of admitted that Google looks at clicks for universal search integrations. I expect the same thing to happen for SERP integrations and because they’re displayed so prominently, Google is probably going to stick with them.
For 2020, I expect zero-click searches to rise noticeably and for more SERP features to be rolled out. I also think we, as the SEO community, will be pretty outraged about what's to come.
Goodbye, mortgage calculators.
Hope Google gets a lot of backlinks. pic.twitter.com/BgUGpYsZbjNovember 30, 2019
9. Freemium and subscription models will expand for startups
Last but not least, a little prediction for the startup world. Just as I see more publishers trying to break out of the advertising monetization model, I see most startups going down the freemium/subscription route. It’s just too attractive, the hurdle of adoption too low, and the recurring and predictable revenue too juicy.
The freemium trend started in the gaming world and then took over SaaS. Notable examples are Atlassian products, Google Suite, Slack, or Zoom. I strongly recommend looking at slides 100 to 120 of Mary Meeker’s 2019 internet trends presentation for the full story.
From what I see in my mentoring position in and outside the GermanAccelerator, this trend will continue and grow in 2020.
My personal 2019 review
Let me finish with a personal review of 2019.
The year felt a lot like…
I would say “turbulent” is an accurate way to describe.
After leaving Atlassian in December, I spend some time with my family in Germany, spoke at Optimisely in Cambridge, flew from Frankfurt to Chicago for two days to interview at G2… And eventually got lucky to catch the job.
By the way, I can strongly recommend to take some time off between jobs and putting yourself out there. I had so many conversations with great companies that didn’t have the job publicly published, yet. It was also nice to step out of the rat race for a little bit and explore what else is out there.
Then I moved back to California in March and started the adventure that is G2 and comes with everything you can imagine: success, failure, joy, sadness. Letting people go. Hiring new people. Hitting goals. Missing goals. In the 9 months I’ve been there now I’ve developed so much, it’s unreal. I’m lucky to have a large team of talented people and gather a lot of experience in a highly competitive field.
I spoke at Advanced Search Summit in Napa, CA, Swivel in Bend, OR, and MN Search in St. Paul, MN. In September, I fulfilled a lifelong dream and went to SEOktoberfest - which was stunning! On top of that, I was invited to the Ryte Technical SEO Allstars Team together with Bartosz, Cindy, Eric, Nichola, Aleyda, Marcus, and Izzy.
Recently, I launched my podcast/videocast Tech Bound Conversations as an add-on to my newsletter Tech Bound. I’m proud of the line-up of smart people I was lucky to record with and I’m excited to publish so much more great material. I’m not yet sure where to take audio and video as a format. I guess I’ll do it as long as it’s fun but I will never stop writing.
Speaking of Tech Bound: the newsletter has grown well this year: +230%.
I also plan to speak more next year. I can’t tell much, yet, but I’m planning on going on a speaking spree and already have 5 conferences confirmed. I'm waiting for 10 more to reply and have a couple of guest posts lined up. Time is actually the bottleneck here.
Lastly, I’ll try something new: live SEO audits on Twitch. The platform is growing fast but remains untapped by Marketers. I want to try a format in which I run a deep audit over several hours and see how people react to it. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. We’ll (literally) see.
Here’s to 12 productive months of meaningful work and a happy 2020 🥂.