The digital trends that will shape 2018

From cool new products and innovative ad formats, to a heavy focus on brand safety and transparency in advertising, 2017 was an eventful year for digital marketing. And with the pace of change unlikely to slow any time soon, 2018 looks set to see further dramatic shifts across the digital landscape.

In this article, Croud’s digital experts take a look at what 2018 has in store – from machine learning to voice search to data privacy. Just read on, or click one of the topics below to jump to a specific area of interest.

The rise of blockchain

Mazen Hussain, Director of Paid Media & Creative

The second half of 2017 saw an astronomic increase in interest around cryptocurrencies. One of the key features of this new form of digital currency is how transactions are recorded in a decentralised and transparent database, referred to as a blockchain. Because of the nature of a blockchain, where all transactions are recorded, time stamped, and open for all users of the blockchain to view, it allows for a more open and transparent method of managing currencies.

Digital marketing has faced challenges around transparency for a long time, and with a new way of transacting and storing data in a transparent way, there is lot of interest going into 2018, with new data regulations coming into force in the European Union. It remains to be seen exactly where and how blockchain will fit into the current digital marketing ecosystem, but it’s definitely an area of great potential.

There are a lot of new players coming onto the scene with blockchain solutions for marketing. Our friends at have developed an identity management platform that gives consumers control over their online data, stores personal data of the consumers on their local device and records transactions in the blockchain, which means everyone who is part of the blockchain can use the data as long as the consumer ha value exchanges. It has the opportunity to solve a lot of issues, but it is also early days ands given permission. Anke Kuik, COO & Co-Founder of Faktor, said “Blockchain will change the way we do business – and not only in the advertising industry. We need to pioneer, to test and learn, to understand the full potential.” She also advises marketers to “Get involved. Learn about blockchain and how it could strengthen your business. Work together with blockchain pioneers and focus on the opportunities.”

Seizing position 0 in search

Gipi Gopinath, Head of SEO, Australia

For a long time, Google has been providing snapshots of results on page one for quick answers. These include things like tables, one-sentence answers, and those handy ‘people also ask…’ charts. These results are displayed above the highest-ranking results, earning themselves the name Position 0.

In 2018, we will be pushing more of our clients to aim for position 0. This involves using Google’s data highlighter, and working closely with content producers to ensure content is formatted correctly. Cracking the code of position 0 can reap major benefits – so the focus is no longer simply to get to page one. Read how we helped Virgin Trains rank for quick answers.

Google Shopping on the rise

Adam Rose, Director of Paid Search, UK

Google Shopping saw meteoric growth in 2017, with many retailers’ Shopping spend now outstripping their spend on text ads. Even a $2.7bn fine for violations of EU antitrust laws seems to have had little effect, with the Financial Times reporting late last year that only 1% of Google’s shopping box ads were occupied by its competitors.

So we expect to see continued growth of Google Shopping, particularly as Google continues to expand the functionality available. Absolute top impression share, for instance, offers greater insight into how often your ads appear in the most prominent position – the left-most ad on mobile Shopping results, which results in three times more engagement from shoppers according to Google.

There are lots of considerations for optimising your Shopping campaigns, including how you set up your feed, structure your account, and use RLSA in Shopping – check out our handy guide for some tips. However don’t ditch text ads entirely – there are clear benefits of running both Shopping and standard text ads, particularly on mobile devices. Evidence from Google suggests that conversion rate is 141% higher when both ad formats are running alongside each other.

Optimising for local search

Gillian Kelly, Client Services Director, Australia

Whilst it seems that every year is hailed ‘the year of mobile’, it’s undeniable that this handy device is playing an increasingly important role in many consumer journeys.

Mobile is driving increased research and consideration in search behaviour, even in “low consideration” categories. For example, according to Google’s Consumer Search Behaviour on Mobile study, there has been a 165% increase in ‘best’ mobile searches for water bottle in the past two years. The takeaway here is that strong content and search presence is increasingly necessary, regardless of vertical.

Mobile is also driving local search behaviour, meaning that optimising for local SEO is growing in importance and will only become more important in 2018. Fifty per cent of consumers who conducted a local search on their mobile phone visited the store within a day, and 34% who searched on a tablet or desktop did the same, according to Hubspot.

A number of strategies that can help are NAP citations, schema markup and localised on-site content. Check out our introduction to local SEO for more tips. It’s also important to bear in mind that mobile search is tightly connected with offline results, such as store visits and brick and mortar sales. Measurement is difficult, but marketers with physical distribution channels ignore it at their own peril.

The importance of mobile site speed

Adam Rose, Director of Paid Search, UK

As shoppers, we’re becoming increasingly impatient, so improving (mobile) site speeds is more important than ever – 53% of consumers will abandon a mobile website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load according to Google.

In addition, shoppers now benchmark advertisers’ mobile UI against the likes of Amazon, Uber and Domino’s. They’ve raised the bar massively, meaning that this should be a key consideration in 2018, or you risk falling behind.

There was a lot of talk about Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) and Progressive Web Apps last year, but 2018 is the year we’re likely to see more and more organisations adapt their sites to offer a smoother, quicker user experience.

Progressive Web Apps are a Google initiative that allow for much of the functionality (at least on Android devices) of a mobile app, without the need for a download. Their three USPs are reliability regardless of network conditions, speed, and engagement through an immersive, app-like experience. With push notifications, camera integrations and more potentially available, the possibilities for content marketing are endless. AMP pages similarly offer a much quicker loading time for users, and are already integrated with all things Google.

A continued focus on brand safety

Jon Beeston, Non-executive director

Fake news, extremist sites, and ad fraud dominated headlines in 2017, making trust and transparency key to successfully protecting and enhancing your online advertising efforts.

Programmatic partners continue to improve the quality of their inventory – across ad fraud, brand safety, and viewability. While it has not yet surpassed the quality of direct buys, watch out for this pattern of improvement. Programmatic not only offers greater efficiency, but also insights and tools to make smarter buys.

With over 70% of all internet consumption in 2017 being on mobile, it is fast becoming the channel of choice. In-app viewability is significantly higher than on mobile web. The overall viewability of in-app display is 81%, nearly twice that of mobile web display (43.9%).

With huge focus specifically on brand safety in video advertising, UK advertisers and their agencies need to continue to work with measurement providers in 2018 to ensure that their video spend is viewable, fraud-free and brand safe.

It is important to recognise that media quality varies not only across formats and devices, but also from market to market. Considering quality nuances is key for advertisers when planning campaigns than run across multiple markets.

Machine learning in action

Adam Rose, Director of Paid Search, UK

No 2018 trends piece would be complete without talking about machine learning. Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, articulated the importance of machine learning to the search giant, back in 2016; ‘Machine learning is a core, transformative way by which we’re rethinking how we’re doing everything.’

We certainly saw machine learning play an increasingly important role in digital marketing in 2017. In paid search in particular, Croud’s clients have seen impressive results from leveraging Google’s machine learning products, such as Dynamic Search Ads, Smart Lists, and Smart Bidding.

In 2018, machine learning-powered tools will only become more powerful, enabling advertisers to be even smarter and more efficient in their targeting. There will also be a shift to more sophisticated attribution models, which allow AI to set up and revise models over time – if you’re not already leveraging data-driven attribution, it’s a key area to explore in 2018. But despite the increasing sophistication of machine learning products, human intervention will remain key, and 2018 will be about finding the optimal balance between human and machine intelligence in digital marketing.

The last of last click

Kris Tait, SVP Client Strategy

We’ve been talking about attribution for years, as have clients, but if we’re being honest we’re still a fair way off meaningful measurement. There are still a significant number of businesses who rely on several different vendor reports or just revert to last click.

A lot of this can be boiled down to the fact that attribution is difficult, and to get better at it often requires a monetary investment. When you’re faced with the choice of spending on media or investing in measurement – guess which is easier to show the ROI on to the shareholders or board? Media spend.

Throughout 2018 that’ll start to change. With the continuous rise in media cost and competition across digital marketing spend, there will be added pressure to figure work through an attribution approach that delivers better ROI from marketing investment.

Google are taking a huge step in the right direction with Google Attribution, which will be free to all (in some capacity). The aim of Google Attribution is to simplify the complex problem of multi-channel, multi-device attribution by leveraging the data advertisers already have in Google Analytics, AdWords or DoubleClick Search. It won’t be perfect, but it’ll be a great start in getting a mass audience to adopt data-driven attribution and not just automatically revert to a last-click mentality.

Data protection in the spotlight

Kevin Joyner, Director of Planning & Insight

Since the European GDPR was published in 2016, the industry has been looking forward to new regulation of the way businesses process Europe’s personal data.

In 2018, things are getting real.

  • The definition of ‘personal data’ is becoming broader and more flexible, and will include, for example, site tracking even for users that aren’t signed in
  • User consent needs to be clear, explicit, and given actively in relation to a specific purpose. ‘Opt out’ won’t be good enough anymore
  • Users must be able to delete the personal data a business holds for them; and it must be portable too, meaning they can take a copy of it to a competitor

For businesses, it’s clearer now than ever before: there is no alternative but to treat personal data like we’d treat the people it describes – with respect. Ad tech companies have traditionally tended towards greater respect for their clients than individual users; and we’ve already seen that beginning to shift. Apple, in contrast, is a tech (but not advertising) business that has long stood out for championing user privacy. In 2017 Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention arrived in Safari, bringing a new level of sophistication to the browser’s privacy protection technology. ITP puts pressure on the third-party ad technology ecosystem, and while Google has the technical and market-position advantages to deliver an effective response, other smaller third-party tech players will be increasingly squeezed in 2018 and beyond.

In fact, the whole practice of third-party data collection for advertising is looking increasingly weak. After May 2018, in a GDPR- and ePrivacy Regulation-compliant world, consumers may only very rarely give consent to tracking for advertising purposes. First-party data is set to be increasingly important, and we’ll continue to see Facebook and Google building out their features for reaching audiences based on email address lists and CRM integrations. The announcement in November that Salesforce is now also partnered with Google (Cloud Platform, GSuite and GA 360; following Amazon’s AWS earlier in the year) is totally understandable in this context.

It does feel like Google has its finger hovering over a big red self-destruct button: the trigger for the end of cookies in advertising. In 2017, YouTube ad audiences became first-party only, defined on matches to Google user accounts, and not by third-party advertising cookies. With the GDPR potentially even forcing that finger down, in the middle of 2018, we might just see Google (and DoubleClick) announcing a step away from third-party cookies everywhere, and so the beginning of the end for that whole area of ad tech.

The unstoppable growth of live video

Ana Zoria, Content Account Director

It’s no secret that producing inspiring, interesting or funny video content is key to a successful content marketing strategy. In fact, Cisco predicts that video will represent 82% of all IP traffic by 2021.

Live video, in particular, will continue its exponential growth in 2018. Search Engine Journal interrogated their own Facebook Live strategy and found that their average Facebook Live engagement was 178% higher than their average post engagement. Not only that, but the average reach of posts more than doubled for live videos.

So if you aren’t already using live video as part of your social media and content amplification strategy, then you’re a step behind. With every major platform (Facebook Live, Twitter’s Periscope, and Instagram Live), it’s easier than ever to integrate live content into your posting schedule – great for product releases, live events, and directly addressing your customers.

Content gets personal

Liam Carnahan , Head of Content, Australia

Successful content connects with the audience and leaves a lasting impression. With most major brands running a comprehensive content strategy, finding ways to make your content memorable is harder than ever – and that shows no sign of changing.

The best way to make sure your content stands out is to make it as personal as possible. While evergreen content is still important for landing pages, you need to segment your audience to find ways to connect with key customers or leads. It’s no longer enough to just target ‘female consumers’ or ‘millennials’. Instead, you should be targeting ‘female consumers at the executive level living in Sydney’ or ‘millennials who own both a mobile phone and tablet and use Apple products’. These are just examples, but try to dig down deeper into your client base. Create content that makes them think, ‘This is exactly what I was looking for! How’d they know?’

There are a number of ways to do this. Take, for example, the trend of weather personalisation on a site. Simple measures like these can lead to a 15% increase in sales, according to Hubspot. Spotify is a great example, with its annual summary of users’ most listened-to tracks, artists and genres. ‘Your Year in Music’ is a highly popular feature that encourages brand engagement, whilst also promoting the value of the product.

Linkless backlinks

Gipi Gopinath, Head of SEO, Australia

Links have been the trust signal for search engines for a long time, and we’ve spent a lot of time optimising and acquiring links from authoritative domains to benefit our clients.

This may change in 2018, however, with the recent improvements to search engines’ reading ability. Bing has already confirmed that it can identify unlinked mentions of a site or brand and use that information to determine a site’s authority and inform rankings, and we predict others, including Google, will soon follow.

Dan Richardson, Managing Director, Australia

Google Home, Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod – the smart speakers that bring digital assistants into our homes will fundamentally change the way we interact with technology.

There will clearly be implications for both SEO and PPC/SEM strategies as Google especially starts to monetise voice search.

Brands and their agencies will need to figure out exactly what voice optimisation looks like, especially if local search is important for them, and create content that provides the very best answers to the many questions being asked of digital assistants. (Pro tip: Croud is already cracking the code.)

Catering to millennials

Holly Gilmartin, Business Development Manager

Move over baby boomers and Gen-Xers. Millennials are ruling the digital space now for a big portion of brands. This generation demands trust, transparency, and connection. Relationships start with a connection, and trust isn’t built immediately or through instruction. Millennials may choose to purchase from brands who have the best offering in the moment, but that doesn’t mean they’ll return later – unless you give them a good reason to.

Brands don’t get second chances any more, and so we have to capture them on first engagement, or they will just become another piece of data. Transparency, effective communication, and a genuine interest in improving society will be big winners for brands hoping to court millennials. Shady policies, poor treatment of your own employees, and hiding the uglier parts of your business will only backfire in 2018.

Shared experiences

Dan Cheung, Account Manager, Paid Social

We all know about Facebook posts, Twitter rants and Instagram flexing. But what is next? VR? 360 video? The return of vine? My prediction for 2018 is an increase in shared experiences.

The latest shared experience craze is a new game called HQ Trivia where over 400,000 people log into the game at 3pm and 9pm ET to take on 12 trivia questions of increasing difficulty to split a cash prize of up to $15,000. This game is highly addictive and has people rushing to people nearby; leveraging them as a collective lifeline to answer multiple choice questions within ten seconds.

Twitch is another fast-growing platform for shared experiences. Twitch concurrent streamers grew by 67% in Q3 of 2017 and shows no signs of slowing down. Being able to interact with the entertainers makes the experience far more intimate than tapping through Instagram stories. On Twitch, people can be found singing, telling jokes, playing games, watching sports and actively participating in a shared chat room where successful streamers interact directly with viewers.

We have been inundated with endless posts and stories where you are along for a ride rather than being an active participant. In 2018, experiences like HQ Trivia and Twitch will help revive the “social” in social media.

Amazon as an advertising player

Nelson R. Elliott, Head of Biddable, US

In digital advertising circles, Amazon has always been whispered about as the biggest extant threat to Google’s empire. The thinking goes: as consumers increasingly shift to Amazon as the first stop for shopping, Google will lose lots of its most monetizable, commercially-driven searches.

That has yet to play out, and Google is experience plenty of growing search volume in other key areas (e.g. “open now” searches, which have tripled in 2017). However, it’s tough to miss Amazon’s building momentum as player in the performance media space. Amazon has quickly staffed up media sales teams in key locations and won test budgets from many advertisers. Additionally, their AI-assistant products have a strong foothold in the burgeoning voice search market, where they compete with Google head-to-head.

While it may be too early to celebrate the waning of the Facebook-Google duopoly, Amazon will generate a lot of conversation this year. Agencies and retail brands that aren’t watching the space in 2018 will risk being left behind as Amazon’s offering matures and test budgets turn into material commitments.

Facebook reaches equilibrium

Nelson R. Elliott, Head of Biddable, US

In 2017, Facebook continued their inexorable rise to the top of the media world – reaching more users and making more money than ever before. Their (relatively) new Pixel and automated bidding solutions continued to earn increased adoption and breathless press.

As growth in user base slows and ad load hits its limit, competition for inventory has heated up. Across Croud’s global portfolio, CPMs climbed steadily through the year, ending up 30% higher than the same time last year. Even with high-impact ad formats and sophisticated targeting, some brands have started to consider the tradeoffs between Facebook’s sophistication and the media efficiency of smaller platforms.

In 2018, more brands will have to make tough choices about Facebook’s role in their media plans. Competing in the ever-tougher auction will require investments in top-notch creative, CRMs that can deliver top-quality seed audiences, and effective landing pages. Facebook has some impressive capabilities, but – for some buyers – lower CPMs and higher ROI may be found in other places, like Pinterest and Snapchat.

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