You do not need a crystal ball, and you do not need to be a marketing genius to know Internet marketing is changing quickly. Google kicked off the new year with a core algorithm update, and that was just the beginning of new things to come in the first quarter of 2016.

Do you ever feel like just when you are getting a handle on one thing, the ground shifts and everything changes? When this happens, most people will start to panic — don’t do that. The truth is, if you wait even for just a few moments it will probably change again.

Start by arming yourself with some good information; then take a deep breath, and adjust your game plan.

So, what’s new in the digital world so far in 2016? From organic search and map listings to social media and paid advertising (pay per click), we are seeing big changes across the board.

Let’s take a closer look at a breakdown of the latest digital happenings so far this year.

Maps and local search

The space for map listings and local search is limited and at a premium right now. Google is showing fewer map listings in the top spot than ever before. Currently, you will find three listings displayed on page one; you can access other maps by clicking on “More Places,” but the top slots are reserved for just three businesses.

To help you secure one of those spaces, you must first claim and verify your listing (more information can be found at www.google.com/business).

You also need to understand that a business with an actual, physical location will be given preference. This is a challenge for many service-based businesses covering a geographical area beyond their physical locations. But, this is a benefit to businesses with brick and mortar locations.

To give yourself an edge, focus some time and effort on getting positive Google reviews.

Paid advertising: PPC

Until recently, you could find three paid ad spots at the top of Google search; and then you would see a right column with ads, and even more ads at the bottom of the page. However, in February, the right-hand column of ads disappeared, and now four ad spots appear on top.

It’s no secret the top spots are the highest performing, but why remove all the ads on the right? As Google continues to move toward making everything more mobile friendly, it makes sense anything not optimized for mobile use will be antiquated.

According to an article on Moz, “Since mobile doesn’t support the right column, Google may be trying to standardize the advertising ecosystem across devices.” What does this mean? There is speculation that having more limited space for ads may drive up the cost per click, and it may also make organic rankings (where you show up on a page when someone searches) even more important; but the big winner just might be social media — where you can reach more people for less money.

Organic search: SEO

Google confirmed a core algorithm update this past January, but what exactly is a core algorithm update? Barry Schwartz, who is the CEO of RustyBrick, a New York-based Web consulting firm specializing in customized online technology, explains, “In short, it means that the algorithm that is part of the core algorithm is now pretty solid and consistent — [meaning it] can just join the family of algorithms that Google knows [works].”

A core algorithm update does not really change anything; it just takes what has been tested, and what we have essentially been told by Google is important, and makes it deeply rooted in the algorithm.

Translated in layman’s terms: When Google started saying it was important to have current and relevant content on your website, Google meant it. It is now “core” to the search engine’s algorithm, and not just a passing fad.

Social media

Where are your customers hanging out on social media? Whether they are on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you need to be there, too. This is where you are going to develop relationships with your customers. They are going to get to know, like and trust you through your interactions.

One of the most important factors of social media to remember is: Be social. Do not be too salesy on social media; you can sell other places — like your website.

Social media is about connecting. Be fun, be authentic, be helpful, be the expert but, mostly, be interesting and likeable. Customers will reward you.

Another big component of the digital world in 2016 is that video is flourishing. You can upload a video directly to Facebook, or you put it on YouTube and share it from there. There are advantages to both, but video is an absolute must this year.

Understanding how to make adjustments in your business is easier when you break all the information down and ask, “What’s the point?” Google and Facebook don’t just “do” things without a strategy. So what are they trying to accomplish with these changes?

In almost every update, we see a few common components. Practically everything ties back to providing the end user with a great experience. It’s important to remember that you, the business owner, are not whom Google or Facebook see as their customer. Their customer is the regular person searching and engaging. Their true allegiance is to their user.

This is why Facebook will throttle posts which are too promotional. Facebook knows the user doesn’t want to see it. This is also why businesses who are continually posting current and relevant content move up in the rankings.

When we put these changes under a microscope and try to determine what they mean and how businesses need to adjust their marketing strategies in 2016, we see two big takeaways: content and mobile. Read on to learn more.

Content is king

Have you ever heard, “Content is king”? Well, it’s kind of true. In actuality, good and consistent content is king. Content encompasses a lot of things. It includes copy on your website, your blog articles and also your social media posts. Every post, tweet, image, infographic, e-book and video you put out make up your content.

More than anything, your content needs to be authentic. Find a way to use your content in so it resonates with your audience. Give them what they are looking for, and be mindful that what they are interested in may be different than what you want to sell them, which is perfectly fine.

You have the opportunity to get your audience to know, like and trust you through your content. Be patient — you will reap the rewards in the long run.

Growth in mobile

The number of people searching online via a mobile device continues to increase, and Google knows this. The search engine wants its users to have a good experience when they search from their phones. Hence, hearing about things like “Mobilegeddon,” which was an algorithm update designed to reward the businesses with mobile friendly websites with better rankings.

If your website is still not mobile friendly, the time is now. Maybe even more important than improved rankings, are the opportunities to improve your customers’ experiences when they go to your website. After all, if Google thinks user (customer) experience is that important, maybe you should, too.

We further see evidence of the importance of mobile with the decision to remove PPC ads from the right-hand column of Google search, which was not viewable on mobile devices. There is a really big clue in this move. If it’s not mobile friendly, it’s gone.

Internet marketing changes rapidly. But, as long as you keep focused on a few key factors, you will be able to adjust your strategies just as quickly.

Always keep the customer experience in mind. Be sure you are making your brand easy and enjoyable for your customers. A big part of that comes from giving them great content and making your online presence mobile friendly.

So if you feel the ground shifting, instead of getting scared, get excited; and, move with it.


 

Katie Harris is a founding partner at Spot On Solutions. Spot On Solutions specializes in online marketing for the cleaning and restoration industry. Harris has a degree in advertising and public relations and worked as an award-winning journalist. However, she found her true passion is to work directly with business owners as a trainer and coach. She can be reached by email at [email protected].