The year 2015 is about to come to a close, but before it does, I'm venturing out on a limb to give you my forecast insights for 2016. This year, I'm referring to these as "insights" and not necessarily as "predictions" because these things are what I already see happening in a small way, and steadily growing. They are in no particular order...
Social Media Change with the Young Generation
The current teenage generation is struggling to hide from their parents online. Many of them want nothing to do with Facebook because the grown-ups have taken it over. While Facebook might have dominance today as the most popular social network, their dominance could be doomed within 10 years as the current wave of teenagers matures.
What will take its place? The teens I've spoken to are heavily using Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat on their smartphones. Take note of what I just said... On their smartphones. The current teen generation is growing up in a 100% digital world. They never knew life without computers, and even today's 19 year old could have used a smartphone by the time they were 11.
While you might not be worried about the teen generation right now, I should also tell you that Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat are very popular with the 20 - 25 year old group. According to what I explained yesterday, 24 is the average age of engagement. To put it differently, your target customers are using social networks that are still greatly untapped by retail jewelers. Most retail jewelers are just now starting to understand how to use Facebook for marketing.
Although Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat might seem too simple to use as a marketing platform, they will evolve further. Twitter is already working on a way to expand their tweets beyond the current 140 character limitations so they can provide a service much like Facebook and Google+. When they do, this will give the younger generation more freedom to post like those who are currently using Facebook.
More Visuals Please
Advertising is becoming more visual. In 2015, Instagram changed from a photo square format to any photo dimension, Facebook changed how they handle video, and also started allowing animated Gifs. As Instagram and Snapchat build in popularity, the methods of using all image mediums for marketing will have to return back more visual creative marketing methods.
I'm not suggesting that creative visual marketing is a lost art; indeed it's quite alive, especially during the holiday season when you see things like this:
What I'm saying is that, in recent years, there's been a huge surge in written content creation. After all, it's what the search engines needed in order to understand who you are and what you were trying to sell.
If you want to compete in these more visual mediums, you have to use modern hashtags and brief descriptions accompanied by old school creativity using photography and artwork.
The usage trends that I see foretell a future where social media is dominated by amazing visuals, while organic website traffic requires seriously honed written content.
Seriously Honed Website Content
I'll explain what I mean by seriously honed website content a little more. I've written a few times about creating written content based on topics rather than keywords, and I've seen the positive results of it more in 2015 than I have in previous years.
In 2015, I worked on a few websites that started ranking well in search results for single sets of related keywords while ranking for broader keyword groups declined to nothing. Simply put, those websites producing deep content for specific keywords and related keyword topics are performing better.
If the progression of topic related content continues on its current trend, within the next 12 months, if you want your website to rank for a particular topic, you will need much more than a single blog post on that topic. You might need several posts, in addition to fully written product descriptions to support those topics.
Search Engine Optimization Becomes Less Understood
The year 2015 was a pretty difficult one for me when it came to explaining the hows and whys of specific SEO techniques. I could point to this list of ranking factors and tell you to work through them all, but I also know that those ranking suggestions are subjective.
In years past, it was we were once able to rely on simple SEO techniques like including your keyword in your domain name and keyword density, but both techniques are now frowned upon and might even lead to Google penalties.
Now that Google is using artificial intelligence to order search results it's becoming more difficult to use cookie cutter SEO tactics to accomplish results. By the end of 2016, I expect you'll be having a conversation with your SEO professionals where they struggle to explain this huge strategy shift.
When it comes down to it, you simply must provide content on your website that your customers will enjoy reading and looking at. People do read in-depth content just as much as they like to look at pretty pictures. Creating consumable content simply seems like the best SEO strategy you can take.
Paid Content Will Grow
I have to list this one after my SEO and content writing insights because those changes in SEO tactics require a lot of time. If you've struggled to learn SEO methods, you might want to change your tactics right away. There's a huge chance to drop in ranking if you screw up your SEO.
Instead of fixing SEO issues, or experimenting with new ones, many business owners are being lured into easy to use social media advertising before they are truly ready. Social media advertising isn't bad, but you truly should have your website house in order before you pay for visitors.
Paid ads are easy to set up on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and on Twitter. Facebook built fantastic methods of targeting customers that are so easy to use, meanwhile the power of Google AdWords gives you the far reach of potential customers, but only if you can deal with the complicated management of it.
Google AdWords Express hasn't had a significant feature improvement in a while, and this is what I see potentially happening in 2016. In order for Google AdWords Express to better compete with the ease of use of the other social networks, they will need to create an interface that provides better targeting and easier use than what they provide now.
The overall usage of paid ads as a method of acquiring website visitors will grow in 2016 because it's a much easier way to attract customers instead of dealing with the continual need for content creation and changes in SEO tactics.
Holiday 2016 Shopping Behavior
As the 2015 holiday shopping season comes to a close, I am reflecting on what I noticed this year compared to 2014 and 2013. The most significant change was how and when people shopped.
In November 2015, some department stores touted that they would stay closed on Thanksgiving Day so their employees could enjoy the holiday with their families. While everyone still seems to be looking for the best deals, it's quite obvious that those deals are available every day when buying online. There's no longer a need to shop on Thanksgiving evening, or get up early for those Black Friday doorbuster specials. This year, my in-laws decided to stay home and relax on Thanksgiving evening, and my cousins had no interest in getting up at 4am to be one of the first 100 people to get a doorbuster special on Black Friday.
Ecommerce has leveled the playing field, and perhaps the internet is finally moving in a direction that can make family holiday time more enjoyable.
Therefore, during the Holiday 2016 season I expect we'll see more department stores once again closing on Thanksgiving Day and fewer people shopping on Black Friday. More shoppers will look for free shipping deals and many more people will sign up for an Amazon Prime account to just to get free shipping. Even if it doesn't happen in the jewelry industry, 2016 will see more shopping online than what comScore reported for 2015.
Shopping online is faster, uses less gasoline than driving to retail stores, saves aggravation, and more importantly, it saves time. That said, the only way for a retail jeweler to really compete is to have good product photography.
How good are my insights? We'll find out a year from now when I revisit them again!