Trends in Digital Marketing for 2021

Trends in Digital Marketing for 2021

On this episode of Legal Marketing Review, John McDougall talks with John Maher about 2021 digital marketing trends and how law firms can use these tactics to improve their digital marketing. They discuss how to prepare your website for Google’s upcoming Page Experience update and how to use social media effectively, and they also look at changes in pay-per-click advertising.

John McDougall: I’m John McDougall, and I’m here today with John Maher, and we’re going to be talking about some trends that are happening in digital marketing. Hey, John.

John Maher: Hey, how are you doing, John?

Google’s New Page Experience Update

John McDougall: Good. Yeah, I thought we talk about Google Page experience a bit.

John Maher: Yeah, that’s coming up.

John McDougall: It’s coming up in May and according to Google, it’s just a new signal that combines core web vitals with our existing signals for page experience, to provide a holistic picture of the quality of a user’s experience on a webpage.

John Maher: Wow.

John McDougall: Yeah. Right. Google language. Basically, it relates to load time, visual page stability, mobile friendliness, safe browsing, HTTPS. And then they’re talking about annoying popups, they say intrusive interstitial guidelines, which I I take it intrusive interstitial is basically an annoying pop-up.

John Maher: Right.

How Google Page Experience Improves Security

John McDougall: So the internet now has really grown up. I mean, you should know that you need a secure website. There should be certain standards of how layout happens, how fast a website loads. But I think this is Google’s attempt to solidify these things, right?

John Maher: Right. I mean, the last big thing that they did, like you just mentioned, is security. So they added it so that you really have to have an SSL certificate on your website. Your website has to be at HTTPS, that means it’s secure. And if not, then you get a little bit of a deduction there. You might not rank as well. That’s sort of the last thing that they did. And even in Google Chrome, the browser, which is pretty popular, if you don’t have that SSL certificate, it gives you a warning, “Hey, this website might not be safe for you to browse.” You don’t want that on your website, for sure.

So that was the last thing that they did. But now this Page Experience update is coming up, like you said, in May. And yeah, it seems like it’s going to be pretty important. It’s not going to be the most important thing that makes a page rank. I think content is still going to be the most important thing. But it’s going to be up there. It’s going to be important. So yeah, definitely a big part of the algorithm, I think.

How Google Page Experience Updates Affect SEO

John McDougall: Yeah, and they’re constantly making updates. HTTPS was definitely one of the big ones, as you said. But they’re just, they’re throwing all kinds of updates around. And you can look at search engine weather reports, SEO weather report, and things like that. And subscribing to Search Engine Land is just one, but that’s a good one where, when you’re on their newsletter, you’re getting constantly hit with what Google’s up to.

But yeah, there are big, big ones, like HTTPS, mobile friendliness. It’s up there with pretty high level things. They announced it, I think it was May a year ago. And then they said, “Well, we’re going to give you six months to be prepared for it.” And then they announced it six months in front of next month, May.

John Maher: Right, I think it was November that they announced it. Yeah.

John McDougall: Yeah. So yeah, they gave us, like they said they were going to, a heads-up. If they’re planning for a year or more for these updates, it’s definitely going to be impactful. I think it really takes the idea, to me, that conversion rate optimization and user experience, not just search engine optimization, where it’s long been dead that, “Just put keywords on the page and the title and metatags and the alt tags, and you’re going to rank.” We were doing that in the ’90s, so people think that, that’s SEO, they got a long way to go.

We’ve had so many different updates, and Google looks at long pages, they look at topic clusters, groupings of content to show that you’re authoritative on something.

John Maher: Right.

The Importance of Quality User Experiences (UX) in SEO

John McDougall: But now it’s like, this is sort of a nice shift where they’re saying the internet, like your SEO, can’t be just about you, all your content all the time. It has to let the user have a great experience with that content. It has to load fast, not have too many annoying popups and a good experience on the site. So I think it’s a good thing. I think it’ll kind of clean up some of the poor sites out there.

John Maher: Yeah. I mean, you said the annoying popups and things like that. There’s so many sites that I go to where, especially when I’m browsing on my phone, where I go to scroll, and as soon as I go to touch the screen, all of a sudden something pops up and it moves the text up. And all of a sudden, I ended up clicking on an ad or something like that when I really meant to click on a link or just touch the screen to scroll. And now I’m off on some other page.

John McDougall: Especially news sites.

John Maher: I think that’s the kind of thing that they’re trying to crack down on.

John McDougall: Yeah. News sites and some over-the-top affiliate blogs solely make money from their blog. And we all got to make money and magazines and blogs have to make money. But I think Google is saying, “Yeah, but don’t do it in such a way that it’s so over the top that you just can’t even use the site.”

John Maher: Right, yeah.

SEO: Shifting From Keyword Focused to Quality Content

John McDougall: Yeah, so your SEO now, just keep that in mind, you can’t be so keyword-focused. Doesn’t mean you don’t pick keywords. Of course search engines are, at this moment still, keywords are important. They’re less important than they used to be, just focusing on them, because now Google can look into volumes of content and look past just individual keywords.

But at the same time, think about your keywords, cover your topics more importantly with volumes of good content, and then focus on user experience. And I think people will get through this May update. And yeah, if your site loads slowly and you’re not HTTPS and you’re not mobile friendly, I could see you getting hurt, or if you have too many ads and page jumps around.

John Maher: Right, if all those things are piling up on top of you.

John McDougall: Right.

John Maher: You’re making five different mistakes. One mistake you might be able to get over, but yeah.

John McDougall: Yeah, you can’t do all that stuff. Just cause you have a weekly blog post doesn’t mean you… if you don’t have all those things and fresh content, you’re not going to make it.

John Maher: Right.

John McDougall: That’s how hard SEO is now.

Quality UX Breaks the Tie When Content Is Similar

John Maher:       Yeah. I did read an interesting article on Semrush recently where they were talking about the page experience update. One thing they did notice, like I said before, that content is still going to be important, and if you have a page and it’s absolutely the most relevant page for a search term, even if that page loads slower, doesn’t have a great page experience score, it could still come up first in Google. So it’s not going to be, again, the most important thing in the algorithm. But if it’s you against somebody else and you’re kind of equal, but you have a bad score.

John McDougall: Right, tiebreakers, yeah.

John Maher: Yeah, you’re probably not going to be the one that comes up with for that. And likewise if somebody is searching for your brand name, you’re obviously the most relevant result for your brand name. So Google’s not going to say, “Well, we’re not going to put you on the first page of results just because your page loads slow.” Still, absolutely the most important thing is the relevancy.

John McDougall: Yep.

John Maher: But like we’ve talked about, given all the other things equal, and your page loads slower than somebody else’s, that’s a tie-breaker that’s not going to go in your favor.

67% of Traffic Goes to Top Five Search Engine Results Pages

John McDougall: Yeah, and with 67% of the clicks, or thereabouts, going to the top five results, you just can’t afford to be even, preferably even six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11.

John Maher: Right.

John McDougall: If you’re certainly second page, you’re just really not getting the… People wonder, “Oh, SEO doesn’t work. We’ve been doing this so long.” Well, the reality is, you really do need to be extremely high up for it to really work.

John Maher: Right.

John McDougall: So you can’t afford not to make those tie-breakers. So go check out mobile, sorry, the Google Page Experience, if you haven’t checked it out, and get your ducks in a row.

John Maher: Absolutely.

Google Pay-Per-Click Vs. YouTube and Facebook Ads

John McDougall: Yep. And so the next thing I thought we’d talk about as a trend I’m seeing, and I know you are with our clients, that Google paid ads don’t always work as well as they used to. And they do in many cases. We actually have some awesome stories and some high converting pay-per-click campaigns. But we are seeing more of a trend with the rise in click costs, and the alternatives of Facebook ads and YouTube ads, that traditional Google pay-per-click isn’t always converting as well as YouTube ads or Facebook ads.

I’m just seeing a lot of our clients now, where we want to tell everyone, “You got to keep an open mind,” that we should really be testing different ad platforms. Not just, “We need AdWords.” AdWords is great, but it’s going to convert well for some people and not for others. An example is a college we’re working with right now, and younger people tend to be pretty heavily on social, and I think they’re still on Google. One of the people at the college said, “Oh, young people don’t search Google.” Well, I mean, Google so many billions of searches, I don’t think it’s that per se. But you certainly have a very dense grouping of young people on social, so testing Facebook ads, depending on who you’re targeting, what type of product, what age group, is really worth doing.

And then we’re even seeing some people, we had one recently, where we tested pay-per-click, then we tested Facebook ads, then we tested YouTube. And one of our guys running the ads is up to hundreds of thousands a month in spend on the YouTube ads, but starting with pay-per-click, trying Facebook ads and then going to YouTube ads and saying, “Hey, that’s actually what’s working right now for this particular client.”

John Maher: Right.

John McDougall: So you just can’t get overly focused on, “Oh, it’s got to be Facebook ads.” Or, “It’s got to be pay-per-click.” Try different things, including YouTube ads right now.

John Maher: Right. Like you said, the click costs are just so expensive now. I started running Google Ads, but when Google Ads first came out.

John McDougall: Well, you were doing it before.

John Maher:      And even before that. Yeah. It was Yahoo.

John McDougall: But there weren’t even Google Ads when you started running that for us.

The Cost of Pay-Per-Click Ads

John Maher: Back then, if we got charged 25 or 30 or 50 cents for a click, we were like, “Wow, 50 cents for a click. That’s incredibly expensive” because most of them were maybe 10 or 15 cents a click, or 5 cents in some cases. And you could be on the first page of results for that click cost. And now what are we up to, John? Hundreds of dollars, even.

John McDougall: Well, we’ve paid $600 at the peak, with a Mesothelioma law firm campaign. We didn’t pay a lot of $600 clicks, but we did pay some. And ironically, some of those super expensive clicks did work out well. I mean the single word Mesothelioma isn’t necessarily the logical choice. It’s very broad.

John Maher: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

John McDougall: But when we have a client that’s got an endless budget, why not? Go after every stage of the buyer’s journey from symptoms to, “Hire a Mesothelioma lawyer now,” to just the word, Mesothelioma. If you have the budget, you can test all kinds of things. But yeah, we’ve paid $600. We’ve paid on average for some campaigns, $200. But yeah, now it just depends on the client. I mean some are two bucks, some are 20 bucks, some are 60 bucks.

John Maher: Right.

John McDougall: Managed IT services, that’s a pretty pricey one. Colleges are pricey. MBA programs are way up there.

John Maher: Right.

John McDougall: Certainly insurance. Yep. So anyway, I think the moral of the story on that one is diversity, and experiment before just settling on one.

John Maher: Right? Absolutely.

The History of Social Media Marketing

John McDougall: Yeah. And then I think the last thing for a trend for today is in social media. When social first came out, you remember, John, we had a guy working with us that was super excited on Foursquare. I hate to admit, we probably even did some MySpace back in the day. We’ve been around a while. But when we had one social guide that was super focused on, “Oh, Foursquare, it’s the latest thing,” and every client had to be doing it and it was all about organic. I think at that stage of social, it was so early on that everybody saw it like early SEO, like you put a tiny amount in and it was like buying a penny stock that blew up and you just got these… and we have those stories.

We got in the news for Rock Bottom Golf. We got an internet retailer, and their shopping cart was going to break because of our SEO. There was a mold testing company where I mean, they were a very small company, but we kind of rocked their world. They were getting inundated. Early SEO with a small effort, you got a huge bang for your buck.

And I think the initial dream of social media was that, you put in a small effort and you post some stuff that your company is up to, doing some charity work or you’re doing something in the office, making a product or whatever it is, doing a service, then you would share it on social and your friends and the friends of the friends of the people that are connected to your clients that see that all come rushing in and hiring you.

And not to sound like I’m being negative on social, obviously. I just don’t like when sometimes people get so wound up that organic social is going to be the be-all end-all answer. And I think part of the reason that it shifted was Facebook had to compete with Google making crazy amount of money. They’re literally all printing machines now, money printing machines. Amazon, Facebook, and Google basically run marketing now. But there was a time when it was like, “Oh, Facebook is this cool thing, it’s kind of free.” And that’s how Google was at first. There were no pay-per-click ads when we started. It was 10 blue links. Then Yahoo and Google figured out how to monetize. And after they did, then Facebook kind of came out and started to get… People were excited, but then it was like, “Oh crap. Our stock price is high, but where’s the money?”

John Maher: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Organic Versus Paid Social Advertising

John McDougall: And that’s all done now. Facebook’s making crazy amount of money and the way they did it in, in brief in some ways, is that they kind of turned off the spigot of organic free love from social media, so that you had to buy ads. In a way, they kind of pissed people off, because it was like, “Oh, all of a sudden, my people are not really seeing. I’m not getting the visibility on my organic posts.” And, “Crap. I better buy some ads.”

John Maher: Right. It used to be that when you posted something on your wall or whatever, on Facebook, every one of your followers would immediately just get that. Everybody would see it. And now it’s only maybe a small portion of the people that are actually seeing that, when you post something.

John McDougall: Yeah, the percent just kept going down, and people started to get annoyed, and people would say, “Oh God, now we got to buy Facebook ads.” And it was like, “But crap, they’re cheap.” You know?

John Maher: Right.

John McDougall: I wish we could go back some few years ago when Facebook ads were super cheap. Because it was like, “All right, well, uncle. I give in. I’ll buy Facebook ads.” And “Geez, these things work.”

John Maher: Right.

John McDougall: And, “Jeez, they’re cheaper than Google pay-per-click ads.” And everybody jumped on and now they’re expensive. They’re definitely still working quite well, and that’s why, again, we say go try different things. But Facebook pulled it off. They became heavily monetized and they had to make a shift in their, how much organic they let people get. So it is what it is. I think social ads, you can run YouTube ads through Google AdWords and you get an admin account and run Facebook ads.

So try them all. It’s definitely a trend where I don’t think the average small business that runs organic social is really getting maybe what they had hoped. So I would recommend a strategy where you know that you should have a budget for paid social also, and then use your blog to spread great thought leadership content, that you can either then share on social or even automatically share on social. Now it’s a little bit more, not as engaging to just auto share it, but if you don’t have the budget for a more aggressive, intensive social media campaign, you can use, What’s one of the tools you’ve used, John?

Tools to Enhance Social Media Marketing

John Maher: IFTTT is helpful for that. That’s short for “If this, then that”, and that tool can be good for connecting your blog to your social media. So you just go into the tool and you just connect your Facebook account with your blog. And then whenever you post something onto your blog, it automatically gets fed in into your social media accounts. So, that’s one way to do it. There’s other tools that will help you with that. Hootsuite can help with that. MeetEdgar is another tool that we’ve used that we like a lot, to help schedule things.

John McDougall: Yeah, tell us about MeetEdgar, because I love this tool.

John Maher: Yeah. It’s really simple to use. I’ve found it a lot easier than other tools to connect with your social media accounts. Some of the other tools that I’ve used-

John McDougall: You tried SocialOomph and some other ones.

John Maher: Yeah, exactly.

John McDougall: It was a brutal learning curve, right?

John Maher: Yeah. You had to read this 10-page document with the instructions on how to connect it with your social media account and jump through all these hoops. And I don’t know why some of them take all those hoops to jump through in order to connect to your social media account, because MeetEdgar-

John McDougall: We call it social hoops. I mean, it’s a good tool.

John Maher: Yeah.

John McDougall: I don’t want to say it’s a bad tool. It’s just got a learning curve. It’s definitely a reputable, good tool.

John Maher: Right. And I’m sure that once you have your social media accounts connected to it, then the tool itself is great.

John McDougall: Yeah.

John Maher: But I know it’s difficult to set up.

John McDougall: I know people that use it and love it.

John Maher: Yeah.

John McDougall: To be fair, I’ll give them that. But you-

Benefits of Using MeetEdgar for Social Media Marketing

John Maher: But I found MeetEdgar to be just super simple.

John McDougall: Right.

John Maher: We just literally just clicked the button, logged into the social media account, hit go, and then it was connected. Very, very simple. And you can just create, easily create a post right in it, whether it’s a link to one of your blog posts or whether it’s something new that you’re creating. You can just put it in there. You can schedule it. You can publish it right now.

You can automatically get fed to all of your accounts, if you want a post to go out to Facebook and Twitter and your LinkedIn, it can go out to all of those. You set a schedule for each of those. So you can say, “Okay, I want two posts per day, at these times, to go to Twitter. I want one post a day to go to Facebook. And I want one post every other day to go onto LinkedIn,” or something like that. You just set that schedule. You create a library of all your posts.

And then you can sort of set it and forget it, in a way, where all of your content from your blog is in there and it’s getting recycled and sent into your social media accounts,

What to Post on Your Social Media Accounts

John Maher: So by using MeetEdgar to post your blog content, you have this sort of base level social media presence, where your content that you’re creating on your blog is regularly getting posted to your social accounts. Then, if you want to add to that by going in manually and posting articles that are relevant to your business and by curating those articles, and you want to send that out to your readership, to the people that subscribe to you, you can say, “Hey check out this article about this topic. I found this really interesting,” put that in there.

John McDougall: And your in-office pictures of the company party and the charity? And all the custom copy ad on top of that. Add those things in there. And now your social media looks more alive. You’ve got this regular base level content that’s going up from your blog and the occasional posts based on your thought leadership content, too.

John Maher: Exactly.

John McDougall: Not just, “Hey, happy donut day.”

John Maher: Right, yeah. Absolutely. Yep. And then you can add the happy donut day thing in there every once in a while.

John McDougall: Right.

John Maher: And that’s okay. And that’s just part of the social media presence that you have, and that’s good.

Creating an Archive of Evergreen Content for Social Posts

John McDougall: And if you don’t, the key is, you still have acres of content. And if you’re creating hundreds of articles over the years, then you really have an archive to share and a lot to post… All the evergreen content is basically what you’re putting in a tool like a MeetEdgar or SocialOomph.

John Maher: Right. Yeah. And if there’s not something that’s evergreen and it just, you want it to get posted once, well you can just say that, “Okay, I only want this to be posted once, and I don’t ever want it to be posted again.” That’s fine. That’s just a check box.

John McDougall: Yep.

Tips for Reposting Evergreen Content

John Maher: So you can just send something up, something that’s very specific just for this day or this event or something like that. But your regular evergreen content gets recycled. And maybe that article is getting posted up once every couple of months or so, something like that, and that’s fine.

John McDougall: Yeah, depending on how many articles you have, and you do have to, for Twitter and certain things, you have to write multiple little blurbs, so that when it comes back to that article, it’s not posting the exact same blurb.

John Maher: Yeah, Twitter, in particular, doesn’t allow you to repost the exact same text.

John McDougall: Yeah. It has to be different.

John Maher: You can post something that has the same link, but as long as it has different text. So you just have to rewrite it. And there’s a way in the MeetEdgar tool, as well, to create what they call variations. So you’re just rewriting that post a little bit, so that it’s unique, but still linking to the same content.

How to Prepare for Google’s Page Experience Update

John McDougall: Yeah. So I think in summary if you get your website organized for the Page Experience update, it’s fast-loading, it’s easy to use, you create regular blog content that you share on social, whether it’s using, at the very basic level IFTTT, or MeetEdgar, which ironically isn’t hard to use, but is amazingly sophisticated, and then you can use paid Facebook ads or other methods to promote that content. And of course, as we said, try pay-per-click Facebook ads and YouTube ads for not just promoting content, but promoting your products and services. And that will be a few good trends to think about moving forward as we get deeper into 2021.

John Maher: Yeah. Great. Sounds good.

John McDougall: All right. Well, everyone, thanks for joining us today. And we’ll see you next time on Legal Marketing Review.

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