2022 in Digital

At the beginning of 2021, despite a world of uncertainty, we cast our eyes forward to what the coming year would bring for the world of digital.

One year on, and with uncertainty still very much present, we are going to do the same. We spoke to some of our senior leadership team about what went on in 2021 and what they see ahead for 2022.

As always, we will be looking at…

So without further ado, let’s return to our crystal balls.

Digital reflections and trends

with Ben Foster, Managing Director

Ben Foster

2021 was another year of twists and turns, and consumer behaviour has perhaps changed more in the last 18 months than ever before. Themes that were taking early hold before the pandemic have been accelerated further by the shift to hybrid working for a sizeable section of the working population.

The use of the high street and physical venues for leisure and socialising have been impacted. Online shopping and digital subscriptions (including streaming services) have grown rapidly, and new techniques have evolved to make online content more “shoppable”. New pet owners are booming, and environmental awareness has increased.

In 2022, as marketers we should keep abreast of these changes and adapt our thinking to further our understanding of who our new customers might be, and how our existing customers’ views and circumstances may have changed. Be prepared for marketers to lose access to more data they have come to rely on, with a further shift to first party data collection as the foundation of many marketing initiatives.

with Paul Friend, Head of SEO

Paul Friend

Core Web Vitals seemed to steal the limelight in 2021. But although the rollout was well publicised by Google, in broad terms, it doesn’t look like the update itself has (yet) had the seismic impact on rankings many people expected. Still, page experience signals will continue to be meaningful throughout 2022 and there will be updates and tweaks aplenty in this area. Ensuring a snappy, intuitive experience for the user will remain high on Google’s priority list.

Google’s ever-expanding comprehension of search queries will likely be a major consideration for SEO strategies in 2022. The better search engines get at understanding complex search intent, the more opportunities this presents for SEOs – whether that’s thinking about the whole search journey or what sophisticated search tasks Google can now help with where it couldn’t previously. Validating your content ideas and grounding them in data is going to be more important than ever before. 

SEOs should also be thinking more about where their clients’ target audiences are discussing their brands. Are they on Reddit, Discord, Facebook? What issues are being discussed and what pain points can you see? Let this intelligence inform your SEO strategies. 

And, as ever, expect new or tweaked SERP features to vie for attention with traditional organic results. Showing consistent brand messaging across all channels and platforms to help cut through the noise should be a focus in 2022.

with Kathryn Pearson, Head of PPC

Kathryn Pearson

Automation and AI continued to advance during 2021, with the limitation of data escalating across all paid advertising channels. 2022 will be no different, with automation and AI continuing to evolve and pick up speed over the next year. This offers PPC Advertisers both advantages and disadvantages when optimising their campaigns, challenging them to explore data in a new way.

However, we did not see the planned phasing out of Google third party Cookies in 2021, with Google announcing, instead, an updated timeline where they will delay plans until 2023. This allows marketers time to plan accordingly, for the inevitable, during 2022.

Nonetheless, we will still see a greater focus on first-party data this year. It will be more important than ever for brands to establish a direct relationship with their customer – sharing data knowingly and with permission. Our advice would be to ensure your first-party data is well connected, cleaned up and maintained during 2022.

We will still see a big focus on understanding your audience and customers’ journey during 2022, with audience targeting and segmentation very much front of mind. PPC advertisers will need to refine their approach as we become less reliant on keywords and audience habits become much more important.

We will also see in 2022, the removal of Expanded Text Ads (ETAs), as Google pushes forward Responsive Search Ads (RSAs) to all advertisers. Our advice would be to ensure you include RSAs in your Ad groups today.

with Graham Jones, Web Team Leader

Graham Jones

As Google continues to rank businesses who provide rich relevant content whilst considering UX and optimised web vitals, WordPress continues to be the CMS of choice for developers and content creators alike.

WordPress 5.9 is finally set to release at the end of Jan 2022, which promises FSE (full site editing). This will allow users the luxury of controlling both the page content and global aspects of your website via the CMS as standard (at last!).

Following the growth-effect lockdowns had on Ecommerce, 2021 has seen an influx of requests from clients wanting to update existing ecommerce systems to ensure they continue to provide the security for robust operation (primarily Magento 1 to 2). Unfortunately those with older clunky template sites are starting to feel penalised by Google as web vitals highlight inadequacies in mobile performance and page load speed.

As much as 54% of the Internet traffic consumed is with mobiles and tablets. So no surprises that web design trends tend to be more about small mobile screens than horizontally-oriented desktops. Expect: less decorative meaningless elements, reduced page numbers, avoiding use of columns, ‘triggers’ with mobile-oriented calls to action (eg. for online calls), use of vivid contrasting colours and geometric shapes, use of illustration taking advantage of hi-res displays, to balance things and engage users. 

The “headless” website architecture will continue to gain traction and popularity and we will no doubt continue to see a clearer adoption for a ‘decoupled’ approach in web architecture. This will mean using Javascript and APIs to handle the delivery of content or key functionality on a site. This will shift responsibility for the user experience completely into the browser, removing some of the shackles faced by front-end devs due to limitations in the back-end, offering improved site speeds, and allowing for further ‘true’ interactive experiences.

with Alex Hill, Sales Director

Alex Hill

Despite the unrest experienced in 2021, with further lockdowns and general disruption to life and business, 2021 has still proved to be a great year for us from a new business perspective – with many new exciting clients on-boarded and further retentions.

We’ve experienced noticeable success from many of our integrated campaigns that have allowed us to research, plan and execute an SEO focussed ‘phase zero’ to our web builds, enabling that site to benefit from amazing and speedier progress organically.

We’ve also worked incredibly hard on how we market and position our own brand in 2021, and can now boast a really well strategised and considered marketing approach, brand positioning and consistent messaging. This has strengthened the volume and quality of prospects gaining increased confidence in our capabilities and pedigree before knocking on our door, and allowing our teams to then work on some really interesting solutions and client pitches.

We’re delighted to have developed our Digital PR offering into a standalone service this year, and have gained some really amazing backlink and publication success for a number of our clients. I can’t foresee any shortage in demand for this service in 2022 and it’s something we’ll be shouting loud about from our Sheffield rooftop!

And finally, as accustomed to video pitching as we’ve had to become in the last 20 months or so, we’re looking forward to (fingers firmly crossed!) welcoming many more clients and prospects to our brand new shiny offices in 2022. Hopefully, some form of normality around pitching/meeting again in person, and establishing a real-world rapport in 3D, something I’ve always been a huge advocate of.

Year in Search 2021

And finally, here’s Google’s roundup of 2021 in video form…

Be prepared for change

Despite the uncertainty, there’s one thing you can rely on in the digital world – change. Our industry has been adapting and moving before the pandemic, it will adapt and move throughout it, and it will continue to do so when it’s a distant memory.

But this is why it’s such an exciting and interesting place to be.

Change doesn’t have to be scary if you’re prepared for it, and a good agency can help you do this – get in touch with our expert team.