Digital Trends Small Businesses Should Know For 2021

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At the start of 2020, no one could have predicted the year that was to follow and the impact coronavirus would have on all our lives and businesses. No market was spared from the turmoil the pandemic brought. Businesses were forced to pivot and find new ways of operating in order to stay in operation. Some businesses had to change their models completely, some may never operate in the same way they did pre-coronavirus.

 

The pandemic has had a huge impact on how customers interact with businesses and brands during lockdowns and restrictions. Thanks to the lockdowns, government-enforced restrictions, and also fears of infection, we witnessed an exodus from the high street and a mass influx of customers online. It has been estimated that a shift to customers engaging with E-Commerce accelerated by 5 years in 2020, a switch that looks like it is here to stay. Businesses that were already online with a strong presence and E-Commerce have done quite well out of the pandemic. Others still have some work to do. Throughout this piece we’ll look at some of the trends and activities businesses can adopt to help them get on top online for 2021.

 

2020 Trends that never materialised

 

A simple search on Google for “Digital Marketing Trends 2020” will take you to articles from the end of 2019 and January last year that predicted 2020 was going to be the year that small businesses started to embrace Voice Search. Some predicted that SMBs would start to benefit from changes in AI (artificial intelligence) in their everyday business use. It was even predicted that customers had enough of technology and would instead return back to the high street! In truth, the pandemic derailed a lot of 2020s predicted digital trends.

 

The following trends outlined below may not have the sexiness of Artificial Intelligence, but businesses that get these things right in 2021  will reap the benefits far beyond and should have a good ROI to show for their efforts.

 

E-Commerce


Yes, E-Commerce was huge in 2020, and 2021 will be no different. There is a reason why Jeff Bezos and Amazon are looking to take the likes of Shopify head-on in their attempt to lure a greater number of small merchants onto more Amazon-owned platforms; the market still has a lot of growing to do.

 

We still have at least a few months left of lockdowns and restrictions. But, if there is one thing we learned from last year it is that customers are still spending their money, only more and more are doing so online. Year on Year data for 2019 compared to 2020 showed that searches for “Buy online” increased by 50%. Website and digital agencies saw record numbers of SMB customers looking for E-Commerce websites. Spotzer recorded an increase of 180% for small businesses looking to take their stores online by October 2020 compared to all of 2019.

 

NBC reported that small businesses that were E-Commerce ready for Black Friday 2020 saw record sales, stating that “small retailers have seen an average 110% increase in online sales.”

These are numbers that SMBs that are lagging behind in terms of getting their business selling online can no longer ignore. While in another study, Salesforce found that “Over two-thirds (68%) of U.S. shoppers expect to buy essential goods online after the health threats of COVID-19 have subsided.” In short; E-Commerce is here to stay, and will continue to grow into the long term.


Local


Businesses can, and many will take advantage of the growing number of customers looking to support their local economies.

 

The pandemic has changed a lot of things we once took for granted, this includes the local businesses in our towns and suburbs. We have been forced to do most of our shopping online. According to a report conducted by Big Red Rooster, 68% of participants have now realised just how important mom-and-pop stores are to them. It is predicted that this newfound appreciation will live on as the pandemic dies. A similar report by ZypMedia found more than half (53%) of consumers indicated that they would prefer to buy from a local business instead of a national retailer. So what does that mean for businesses that want to take advantage of customers returning back to physical stores?

 

Local businesses need to do all they can to help customers find them online. The good news is that doing so is actually pretty straightforward. Here are a few steps every local business can follow to get your business ranking for local searches so those customers that are desperate to support their local economy in 2021 and beyond can;

 

    1. Have a verified and fully optimised Google My Business profile.
    2. Ensure your business can be found in relevant business directories.
    3. Make sure your website’s content is optimised to include mentions of your business’ location and the areas that you service.
    4. Your NAP profile (Name, Address & Phone number) is consistent anywhere your business information can be found; Social Media Channels, Directories, Google my Business, throughout your website.


 

The return on investment in terms of improving your business’ local SEO and chances of showing up on Google and Google Maps for local searches is huge. Having your online presence optimised for local is also imperative for mobile search. According to Google, 76% of mobile “near me” searchers visit a related store the same day, and in most cases, the first listing a user sees after they have conducted a local search is a Google my business listing. Sometimes small, simple changes are all you need to do to generate large returns, yet there are so many businesses out there that have spent a lot of money on their websites that have not gotten these things right.

 

Voice Search

 

It’s unlikely 2021 will be remembered as “The year of Voice Search” in the same way 2020 will be remembered by many as the year of E-Commerce.

 

The evolution of Voice Search will see users gradually build up how often they use Voice Search. It is estimated that currently around 20% of all search queries conducted on Google are done through voice search. It’s unlikely Voice Search will become the dominant way we search and find information, products and services in the way mobile search has. This doesn’t mean Voice Search should be ignored. 20% of the search market still represents billions of queries that need answers, and Voice Search is predicted to grow by over 20% in the coming year.

 

There is also the fact that we’re now a lot more conscious about what we touch when we’re outside our homes, this will work in Voice Search’s benefit. There has also been a huge growth in wearables such as the Apple Watch and Fitbit. More of us are using headphones like AirPods and of course, smarthome speakers such as Alexa continue to be popular. All these devices have voice assistance capabilities. Newer cars also support Voice Search while driving so it’s only logical that more of us will embrace using voice as it becomes more convenient. It is also safer to search online through voice compared rather than touching our devices or taking our eyes off the road.

 

So what can businesses do to their websites and online presence to take advantage of customers using Voice Search?

 

The good news is everything you do to optimise your business for local searches applies to being Voice search ready. There are a few more tips that can help of course:

 

  1. Use natural language when writing content. This means write in a way that mirrors how users are likely to search for your business, your products and services.
  2. When adding written content to your site, steer clear of essay type articles in favour of articles heavier on lists and bullet points.
  3. This point is worth repeating: Treat Google my Business and local business directory listings seriously. Get your business citations on these sites sooner rather than later and make sure your NAP is consistent across them all.
  4. Be informative and helpful: FAQ pages and How-to-Guides are great for answering user questions, so share your knowledge online through your website, blog and social posts.

 

New(er) Social Media Players

 

Perhaps the most ambitious predicted trend for 2021 will be the utilisation of TikTok as a marketing channel for SMBs. Facebook and Instagram will continue to dominate the social marketing space, but TikTok may turn out to offer the best ROI of all social media channels for smaller businesses.

 

It’s unlikely that you haven’t heard about TikTok last year. The Chinese platform was in the media a lot in 2020. From Donald Trump’s war on the video app to the countless viral TikTok videos we consumed. The platform has enjoyed dramatic growth over the past 3 years and is currently the most downloaded app on both Apple’s and Google’s App Stores. In January of 2018, TikTok enjoyed 54 million active monthly users worldwide. By the end of 2020, this number was at 800 million. It is predicted that over 1 billion active users will be using TikTok by the end of this year.

 

So how can a small business use TikTok to its advantage?

 

Even with active users closing in on 1 billion it is still early days for most small businesses that are adventurous enough to take a punt on TikTok. The same cannot be said for Facebook. Facebook is reportedly losing +2 million users per month, and Facebook’s reputation has seen better days, especially amongst millennials and Gen Z. Some of the reasons SMB’s have a better chance of seeing a higher ROI on TikTok compared to Instagram and Facebook are;

  1. Marketers spend 69% of their social advertising budgets on Instagram, that’s a lot of ads spend to compete with.
  2. Over 100 times more is spent on Instagram ads by businesses compared to TikTok. This creates a lot of noise for consumers.
  3. The cost to advertise on TikTok can be as little as 20% of the cost to advertise on Facebook and Instagram,
  4. but the reach can be 3 times higher.


Even though the TikTok platform's popularity continues to grow, and as mentioned in the most popular App on Apple and Google savvy businesses can take advantage that very few SMB’s and local businesses have yet to start advertising on the platform.


Online will be an SMBs most important sales channel in 2021


It’s highly likely that 2021 will be another manic year for Digital. More companies will invest in E-commerce and ensuring their websites’ presence is as good as it can be. As the market heats up it can make it more difficult for businesses starting their online journey to be found, but by investing some time and effort into the aforementioned points you can be sure you will be giving your website and online presence the best chance to start working as one of, if not the most important leads and sales channel for your business.

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