To say there have been a lot of changes happening within the world of inbound this year would be a huge understatement.
From Google's mobile-first approach to the emergence of virtual reality within omni-channel marketing campaigns, it's becoming quite clear that the definition of inbound marketing in 2018 is going to hold a much broader, and perhaps radically different meaning compared to what we know today.
Let's take a look at inbound marketing's heaviest channels (SEO, social media, email, and content) and discuss where they're heading.
Ready to dive in?
Definition of Inbound Marketing in 2018
Before I dig into each channel, I first wanted to touch on how the definition of inbound marketing is changing as a whole.
"Inbound marketing is an approach focused on attracting customers through content and interactions that are relevant and helpful — not interruptive. With inbound marketing, potential customers find you through channels like blogs, search engines, and social media."
This definition is timeless when viewed as a methodology, but on a more granular level, it will likely change in 2018 to include an expanded set of staple channels and technologies. Those engaging in inbound marketing campaigns will be mixing in the old with the new, with tools like voice search, chatbots, live video feed and others.
Below are some quick links to jump to each section:
Growing Technology & Terminology Redefining Inbound Marketing in 2018
Throughout 2017, we've seen some significant changes to inbound marketing by way of new integrations, increasingly selective buyer behavior, expanding artificial intelligence capabilities and a more global acceptance of PPC strategies within "inbound" conversations.
These critical changes have paved the way for a much more inclusive definition of inbound marketing in 2018.
Here are a few things that stand to reshape the way we think about inbound over the next several months.
Let's check out some of the ways social media has the potential to change your inbound marketing strategy in 2018.
Chatbots aren't just alternatives to traditional social, text and website messaging...they are actually transforming the way brands engage with customers from here on out. And, with 4 billion users worldwide, chatbot adoption shows no signs of slowing down.
Chatbots utilize artificial intelligence (AI) and Natural Language Processing (NLP) to respond and engage with people based off of automated understandings of their quiries and behavior. Thus, they are used for a variety of "top of funnel" marketing initiatives to increase capacity and engagement without sacrificing personalization (ideally).
Here is an example from Wholesome Culture, which users Facebook Messenger for 24-hour customer service: users can order, ask questions, and get sales notifications, all without having to make a phone call or rely on traditional customer service hours.
2. Live Video
Live video has been one of the biggest trends of 2017, and it's still on the rise.
In 2016, only 14% of marketers experimented with live video within their inbound strategies. In 2017, we saw a sharp jump to 43% planning to use it. That's a hefty jump!
Live video gives brands the opportunity to be more authentic and personable, offering real-time digital interaction with a very human audience. No other format can provide that experience which is why it's going to be another significant part of the way inbound marketing is perceived in 2018.
Here's an example from Buzzfeed and Subaru teaming up:
3. Mobile Advertising
Today's growing generation of "digital natives" are also causing mobile advertising to change swiftly. Those brands that invest in an engaging mobile experience could start to see big payoffs, if done wisely.
Here are a few ways brands are engaging in mobile advertising:
- Video Ads: The average amount of time consumers spend watching video ads increased by 19% in 2017. Marketers take advantage of this by testing video ads on specific mobile devices.
- Chatbots: Feldman Automotive Group tested a Facebook ad campaign that utilized chatbots to ask a series of questions that directed potential customers to a lead generation form. This chatbot integration has created 50 to 60 sales per month.
- LinkedIn Lead Gen Forms: 80% of engagement with LinkedIn Sponsored Content is on smartphones. These Sponsored Content campaigns integrate Lead Gen Forms. These Lead Gen Forms auto-populate using the user's LinkedIn profile allowing for easier form submission.
SERP layout has gone through a lot of changes this year -- from featured snippets, direct answers in efforts to PageRank Zero, Google's Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), and a ton of other big shifts.
With so many changes happening so quickly, what can be reasonably predicted as defining facets of inbound marketing in 2018?
Here are a few...
1. Related Questions
Related questions are expanding grid boxes that show up when you perform a Google search. When you click on the question, it expands to show a brief potential answer to your query and a link.
Inbound marketers use the terms associated with these related questions boxes to build their content strategy.
Mobile-first algorithms have dramatically changed the previously desktop-centric strategies behind SEO best practices. Well over the past year, Google has moved steadily toward a mobile-only world.
This became apparent in Google's communications on the importance of responsive or mobile designed websites, in addition to several less obvious advancements (like the mobile app accessibility of Google's automated insights).
In 2018, website designs will become more exclusively responsive across the web, as it becomes common knowledge that responsive design is the only way to go for optimal rankings, traffic and even conversions.
We may start to see more design changes like "hamburger" navigation menus, single column page layouts, predictive text on forms, more easily clickable CTAs and more.
3. Voice Search
Voice search may well be the next frontier of search.
Voice search allows customers to search directly for the sites they need based on vocal queries, rather than typing it into the search box and these vocal queries have the potential to change the way many people choose to tackle their search efforts.
We'll start to see inbound marketers optimizing website pages for more natural-sounding phrases and questions. Voice search is forcing marketers to rethink their content marketing strategy pushing for a more conversational tone. Google calls these micro-moments.
Convincing customers to open your emails has always been one of the biggest challenges faced by inbound marketers. In 2018, inbound marketers have to take your email creation to the next level.
Personalization is driving most of the content in emails. Inbound marketers are diving into persona's to find out what motivates a recipient and why they choose to complete a purchase or form before developing a personalization strategy.
Here are some examples of how brands are personalizing content:
- List segmentation
- Dynamic content
- Automated behavior triggered emails
2. Email Interactivity
Email interactivity is pulling many of the interactions you would usually leave on a landing page into the email itself.
Here are a few examples of email interactivity:
- Pre-filled form
Email interactivity increases your top-of-funnel goals by helping to educate potential buyers and increase lead generation.
Automation is now a staple part of the email marketing landscape, becoming one the the handful of technologies required to deliver successful inbound results. When buyers engage in key identified behaviors, they automatically trigger pre-created emails that will provide them with the next set of information to ideally move them further into the marketing and sales funnel.
Here's a look at some examples of email automation messages:
- Welcome email series
- Abandoned cart reminders
- Cross-marketing product targeting
- Product or service recommendations
The process of creating content that gains and maintains attention isn't getting any easier.
In 2018, we'll see some critical changes that will start to reshape the largest component of any inbound program...content marketing.
1. Virtual Reality (VR)
Virtual reality allows users to connect more fully with brands in a much more immersive and novel way.
TOMS, for example, uses virtual reality to showcase its "One to One" mission, where it matches each new pair of shoes purchased with a new pair for a child in need around the world. TOMS offers a 360-degree virtual reality video to create a first-hand view of the impact its mission is having.
2. Visuals & Video
With the highest engagement rates of all content types, visuals and video have steadily redefined what inbound marketing programs look like from a deliverables standpoint.
Google's recent acquisition of start-ups like MoodStock and EyeFluence suggest that it will focus more heavily on video and images in the coming year. Video marketing has increased massively in the past year, and savvy marketers are moving into this critical area.
Changes to pay-per-click (PPC) ads, like expanded text ads and the removal of the ads on the right side of Google's search results, have transformed the way inbound marketers are utilizing PPC advertising.
1. Machine Learning
PPC marketers can leverage machine learning with Google's Smart Display Campaigns, Close Variants, and Ad Rank thresholds.
Let's break these down:
- Smart Display Campaign: Utilizes machine learning to automate the connection between a business and a customer by using data from apps and sites on the Google Display Network.
- Close Variants: This feature provides re-wording and re-ordering of exact match keywords. Thanks to machine learning, Google will ignore word order and word function.
- Ad Rank thresholds: Google will now take into account if a query is about recent news vs. consumer products.
2. Google Attribution
Google Attribution is going to mean another big change for data collection, and by default, inbound marketing's definition in 2018.
The first half of 2017 saw a significant shift away from last click attribution and a heavy focus on Google Attribution - the biggest product release announced at the 2017 Google Marketing Next conference.
PPC marketers have had access to some attribution data in AdWords and Analytics, but Attribution pulls in more omni-channel conversion data and feeds back into AdWords for smarter bidding strategies. Conversion tracking has also improved by allowing more online-to-offline conversion tracking as retailers are allowed to upload loyalty cards or customer loyalty lists.
Google can also track and report store visits from YouTube campaigns, a serious step forward for many retailers who are hoping to see serious changes in conversion tracking.
Inbound Marketing Predictions for 2018
The changing face of inbound marketing throughout 2017 creates some interesting clues that have led us to these predictions about what 2018 will look like for progressive inbound marketers.
In fewer words, here are the three biggest changes to inbound marketing for 2018 that I feel will change the definition of inbound as we know it:
Mobile will become an even more powerful avenue for traffic and sales. As an increasing number of customers use their mobile devices to connect with companies, companies will rely more heavily on mobile marketing.
PPC ad spend will be a necessity for traffic growth. Competition for high-traffic keywords will become even more fierce, and obtaining organic ranking without some PPC spending will become more difficult than ever.
- AI, chatbots, and virtual reality
Future marketing strategies will be shaped by AI, chatbots, and virtual reality. These additions to the marketing field will substantially change the way marketers approach customers and the way customers choose to interact with their preferred brands.
What's Next for Inbound Marketing?
While I've provided my predictions for the face of inbound marketing throughout 2018, there's certainly a ton of room for additions here.
What are your thoughts?
How will inbound marketing in 2018 look different from the way it does right now and how will it look the same?
Let me know in the comments below.