What as online business owners should we be looking ahead for in 2014? What trends should we expect?
As 2014 gets underway you'll see a number of predictions including areas the experts believe you should focus on. Often there are so many predictions that you walk away not knowing what to actually focus on.
To cut down on this, I interviewed 26 small business owners on their 2014 online business predictions. These business owners are all in the trenches daily; many are actively running their own business, a few are strictly marketers, and several are small business experts.
The full quotes are below, but first, I put together a visual on the areas they believe will have the biggest impact on your business in 2014. The percentages are based on the number of times each trend was mentioned in the interviews:
According to the interviews, there are 5 main areas that will see the biggest growth and shake-ups in 2014. They are:
- Social Media
- Content Marketing/SEO
- Paid Advertising
As shown in the chart above, there's also a miscellaneous category.
Mobile Marketing in 2014
With mobile, the two big trends will be a continuation of what we've seen in past as the number of mobile users keeps on growing. The areas to pay the most attention to as a business owner are mobile optimization and mobile apps. The main takeaway is to make sure your site is responsive across as many devices as possible because more and more of your visitors will be coming to your site from a mobile device.
Predictions in Social Media Marketing
Social media is another top area our panel thinks you should pay attention to. In regards to advances, Google + seems to be where it's at, including a crossover with Google + authorship as involved in content marketing.
Interestingly, while social media was mentioned several times, it wasn't all growth related. A couple of mentions centered around how businesses must be able to track direct conversions from social platforms in order for it to continue as a worthwhile medium.
What Will 2014 Bring for Content Marketing & SEO?
When it comes to content marketing and SEO, many of those on the panel think video is the way forward. There is also an emphasis that both content marketing and SEO will continue to grow in 2014.
2013 saw a shift where SEO is not exactly a stand-alone opportunity. Content marketing and SEO now go hand-in-hand.
It's my opinion (and the opinion of many others) that you really don't stand a chance of getting high rankings unless you actually have highly useful and valuable content to promote. I think this shift in thinking will only further continue in 2014.
Ecommerce 2014 Predictions
When it comes to ecommerce the panel believes we should expect to see more competition for Amazon as smaller companies come up with innovative ways to compete. More emphasis will be placed on measuring conversion rates within ecommerce.
Paid Advertising Trends to Follow in 2014
On the paid advertising front, those interviewed believe it will continue to grow and increase in prices. In addition we'll also see even more paid advertising available on social media platforms. As marketers, this offers us even more opportunity to target our exact audiences right where they hang out. Learning how to use paid search at a more advanced level where you can increase your click-through rates with phone numbers, geo-location, and star ratings will only help you gain more traction.
There were also a few miscellaneous predictions I think are worth calling attention to. One was a higher demand in secure, reliable hosting. We've already starting seeing this with the crop of WordPress web hosting and specialization like this will likely only continue in the future. Having not just hosting, but actual tools built into the hosting solution itself would be a nice trend to see in the future. As a business owner I would love to cut out many of the different tools and combine everything into a simpler solution.
Lastly one mention I'd like to see is the rise in companies who care by supporting causes and the market responding to that.
Quotes From the Panel
Here are the full predictions from the panel of small business owners, marketers, and business experts:
1. “Geo-Location Advertising” is Going to be Huge.
2014 is the year that we make the quantum leap in mobile advertising. People are using their phones more and more as their main means of communication, and advertisers want to put their money where their consumers are. I believe a lot of dollars will shift from PC advertising to almost all-mobile advertising.
Another huge trend in 2014 is that 4K (ultra high definition) technology will begin to emerge in cellphones. You will be able to take pictures and videos on your phone in Ultra HD quality, which has really only been available for high-end professional cameras at this point. The cheapest 4K cameras on the market right now are around $4,000.00, so making this technology available on phones will significantly reduce the cost and allow the average consumer to have that ultra high definition quality picture. It will also allow individuals to hook their phones directly up to their Ultra HD televisions, as well.
“Geo-location advertising” is going to be huge. For example, if you are advertising a political application, you are going to see individuals being more strategic about targeting individuals in D.C. and looking at time periods, such as the 2014 election.
Most people also don't realize that the Android phone has gained a considerable market share, especially on the global level. My feeling is that this is going to continue in 2014, especially with mobile developers coding in HTML5. HTML5 allows for apps to work on both android and apple devices.”
– Phil Foley, Senior Vice President of the Communications Division for NanoTech Entertainment
2. “Influence” Will Replace “Sales”.
“Influence” will replace “Sales” as a key metric for Social Media. Companies large and small struggle with quantifying a hard return on their investment as it relates to using social media. When a company is not able to draw a direct parallel between its use of social networks and an increase in its bottom line, justifying the amount of time, effort and resources that go into nurturing that community can be difficult.
All of this could change though if the primary objectives of social networking were Influence and Retention. While a sale may not happen directly off your Facebook or Twitter, the fact of the matter is that you are influencing people who may do business with you or who currently do business with you. It’s the relationships you build, brand consistency and the value you add that will result in sales over time from social networks.
– Stephanie Ciccarelli, Co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Voices.com
3. Get on Google Plus as Soon as Possible.
G+ is my new favorite social network. With the search benefits from Google and the increased user base, it's likely that your audience will be making the move from Facebook to G+. Being a step ahead of the game is a good idea. Plus, they are about to a launch promoted posts feature (+Post ads) that will get your content to a larger audience than ever before. Get on Google Plus as soon as possible.
– Stephanie Frasco, VP of Social Media at Convertwithcontent.com
4. Improved Mobile Marketing and Advertising.
Our top business prediction for 2014 will be improved mobile marketing and advertising. Mobile technology is growing at an exponential rate and people are constantly on the move, making 2014 the year for small businesses to tap into mobile platforms if they haven't done so already.
In 2013, we've seen more and more people own smart phones and tablets, but mobile tech is projected to grow even more in 2014 because companies can reach up to millions and even billions of unique mobile web users. More and more people are doing away with their bulky desktops or laptops and simply using their smart phones to carry out web activities. When you advertise on a mobile platform, you will be casting an increasingly wider net in the future.
– Ian Aronovich, Co-founder and CEO of GovernmentAuctions.org
5. Long-Form Content.
I have more of a plea than a prediction. I’d love to see companies – driven by smart marketers – invest in long-form content rather than the volume play seen today. Google is moving beyond the keyword and showing bias to brands, or companies that can show brand-like signals. They’ve also put an emphasis on in-depth articles, or research pieces that show clear signs of quality. The longer articles give businesses the ability to address two related trends I believe could explode in 2014:
- Answer customer questions before they ever arrive at your site. I (and others) like to refer to this content tactic as “Pain Point Marketing. When someone searches on Google, they have a problem or question that needs answering. Create content that addresses those needs.
- In-depth article optimization. Business can utilize extremely high quality content with original research, microdata markup and brand signals to get a leg-up in the SERP competition. Google loves original research and if that research is centered around customer Pain Points, you can be sure it’s highly relevant. Microdata is html coding that gives Google little snippets of structured information like word definitions, product ratings or even Google+ authorship pictures. The authorship piece is key, but I could go on forever about the shift Google+ has created in content marketing. The combination of authorship, quality content and quality microdata markup will help a piece of content earn citations and links. Those are the brand signals that many small businesses struggle with today.
– Scott Benson, Founder & Digital Marketing Consultant of BensonSEO.com
6. A Mobile Site is No Longer Enough.
We will see a large increase in the use of responsive web design for companies big and small to help with mobile marketing and SEO. As the digital divide evolves and segments web searches over different devices (phone, e-reader, tablet, computer) there is an increased necessity for adaptable websites that are cleanly viewed on each device.
It used to be enough to simply have a mobile site, and it still is because there are a 55% increase in smartphone usage in 2013, but a mobile site is no longer enough. Rather than developing a site for each device, a responsive site is designed to adapt to the browser size and make for a great experience for your user. It displays the information that is desired so that it is readily available, reducing bounce rates.
It is a great use for not only a UI (user interface) perspective but also for SEO because it will help your site perform better with increase visits, better SERP rankings, more return visits and more shares.
– Jayme Pretzloff, Online Marketing Director at WixonJewelers.com
7. All About Video.
Online Business in 2014 is ALL about VIDEO. Video for Website SEO/CRO, Video for Content Marketing, Video for Email Marketing, Video for eCommerce, Video Video, Video.
– David Mitroff, Ph.D., Founder and Chief Consultant of Piedmont Avenue Consulting
8. Omnichannel Approach.
While consumer shopping habits shift online and into mobile, many industry experts predict the demise of brick-and-mortar retail stores. However, our culture will always demand an in-person, hands-on experience. Today’s market objective is as much about maintaining in-store traffic as it is balancing that with the new online and social buying habits of consumers. This is why the omnichannel approach has become widely recognized as the new, successful strategy throughout the retail industry.
As a result, 2014 marketing dollars will be spent on cohesive, well-rounded campaigns across all channels. Budgets for online advertising have increased slightly for big retailers in 2012 and 2013, but the majority of ad budgets are currently still spent on television ads. As the popularity of print magazines and newspapers declines, retailers are shifting their ad spending to display advertising and other forms of online marketing.
As a result, instead of taking budget away from in-person or in-store marketing, marketers will keep their investment the same, while working hard to incorporate the key elements of a campaign across all channels, from in-store signage, to social and digital content and mobile apps.
– Jake Weatherly, CEO of SheerID
9. Image and Video.
What you'll likely see in 2014, regarding online marketing, is a further increase in the use of mobile apps. They generated $12 billion in global revenue last year, a projected $20.4 billion this year, and are expected to account for $63.5 billion in revenues by the year 2015, according to Portio Research. Content marketing will continue to shift more towards image and video next year as well, especially as social media portals like Instagram, Vine, and Pinterest continue to grow in popularity. In addition to mobile apps, email marketing and social media will be two of the other main methods of communication with prospects, clients, and leads in 2014.
Regarding SEO, marketing professionals will begin to focus more on understanding the buying behaviors of customers and target their content towards that data, as opposed to generating it around specific keywords.
Paid advertising will revolve around social media websites considering that all of the major platforms now offer this option.
– David Bakke, Business Expert at MoneyCrashers.com
10. Delivering a Superior Online Experience.
In the e-commerce world, everything is now being driven by how to compete with Amazon. While Amazon has fulfillment speed, pricing, and inventory advantages, competing online retailers are learning to use their expertise and unique assets augmented by 3rd party providers to fight back.
For example, they’re showcasing their domain expertise online through the use of videos and on a growing variety of social media. Additionally, they’re looking to service providers to handle critical areas of their website like search, shopping cart and check-out, mobile design, personalization, and more in order to surpass Amazon’s actions in these areas.
By focusing on delivering a superior online experience and providing highly responsive customer service, online retail brands can steer customers away from the online behemoth.
– Shaun Ryan, CEO of SLI Systems
11. More Effective Marketing Campaigns.
The role of video in digital marketing will grow considerably. Consider the following 3 areas where we’ll see the presence of video and more effective marketing campaigns:
- Comparison shopping engines and similar will start pressuring retailers for multimedia content – we¹ve already seen this with HomeDepot and PriceGrabber
- Video will replace static images in locations external to the site, such as paid search, retargeting ads and Facebook ads
- Email campaigns will start incorporating video more than ever before.
– Melody King, VP of Marketing at Treepodia
12. Simple Marketing Messages.
Brands with online personalities: As more consumers are engaging brands on social platforms, it’s essential that they start developing online personalities, much like consumers now have a digital personality on different social platforms. This will help brands to start developing long lasting relationships with their target audience.
Content Marketing is Getting Smarter: Increasingly, brands are marketing themselves via social media platforms to directly connect where their consumers are spending most of their day. They are using brief snippets of conversation and humor to engage their target audience.
According to a report from Bain & Company, consumers who engage with businesses through social media channels are likely to spend 20 to 40 percent more money than other customers due to the loyalty that they have developed with the brand.
Less is More: Consumers are starting to prefer simple marketing messages instead of in-depth messages.
As consumers are hit daily with a constant barrage of information, they are starting to tune out advertising. Marketers, who may be experiencing this from a customer perspective, are building campaigns that go in a different direction. They are now creating advertisements that are clean, simple and don’t offer a ton of hype.
– Michael Lee, Director of Global Marketing at Alibaba.com
13. Things That Get Measured Get Improved.
My prediction for 2014 revolves around an old business adage, “things that get measured get improved,” and how the ability to gather data, set goals, measure success and make smart decisions will continue to be revolutionized.
Companies will continue to move away from “gut feelings” about what’s right and continue moving to measurements, KPIs, web traffic trends and quantifiable data as the barriers to collecting and analyzing data – especially with online businesses – continue to fall with online tools and cloud-based databases. By doing this, everyone in your company will be working with one version of the truth. At no other time in history has so much information been available so readily, so quickly and so affordably to so many different industries and business disciplines – from finance to marketing to HR and just about every other segment of a business.
The amount of information that technology has put at our fingertips – information that just wasn’t available or accessible even just a few years ago – is amazing. The bar has really been raised on what it takes to make smart decisions today for the smallest start-ups to the largest companies. In 2014 more and more businesses will begin accessing and assessing data – their own and data from other providers – to help them make smart decisions.
– Jim Minnick, Founder and CEO of eVestment
14. E-commerce Opportunities Overseas.
My online prediction for 2014: This is the year business discover e-commerce opportunities overseas. With the U.S. e-commerce marketplace maturing, there are plenty of opportunities in other markets around the world.
To put it another way, if a product works on-line in the U.S., there is a strong likelihood it will also work in other markets, though not always to the same extent. Our firm focuses on China and it is striking to me the success U.S. consumer brands can reach in the China on-line market, even with the differences in culture and purchasing power.
– Frank Lavin, CEO of Export Now
15. Growth in Online Research.
Consumers will continue to turn to the internet to research purchases, especially major purchases. In 2012 61% of all consumers used the internet to do research before making a major purchase. In 2013 that number rose dramatically to 81%. You can do the math … it’s going to be basically 100% in the next year or two.
Combine this with the fact that consumers are spending an average of 79 days doing this research, and the importance of direct response marketing is clear. Companies that don’t take advantage of the internet as a source of consumer education and lead generation will lose significantly to those that do.
– Dave Stokley, Digital Marketing Consultant at DaveStokley.com
16. Caliber of the Company.
I predict that in 2014 there will be an increase in focus on the caliber of the company customers are buying from. These days, the bar is pretty equal in terms of the products being offered and the prices. However, B Corps are starting to gain traction and with social media there’s an increased ability to understand who you’re supporting with your purchases.
Personally, I’ve repurposed my business specifically around this trend, moving from a model where all the profit goes directly to me, to one where approximately 50% of my company’s profits go to amazing causes selected by my customers.
– Dave Mason CEO of FlowOver
17. A Premium on Copywriting.
There are three major trends that will happen in online business in 2014. First, content marketing will be the new “buzz” phrase in 2014. Second, SEO will become more confusing and more nebulous to most, but extremely effective to those who understand it. Lastly, mobile marketing and mobile technology will make a big breakthrough for most businesses and merchants that have previously ignored its importance.
Content marketing will emerge as a necessary focus for online publishers and advertisers alike. Not that it hasn’t been a focus until now; after all, good and relevant content is the foundation for a strong online business. But with the proliferation of content readily available on the internet, the competition for consumer’s attention is at its highest level. There will be a premium on copywriting, original content, and appropriate ad targeting to go with that content.
SEO ties into this; Google has made it very clear that when it comes to SEO, their algorithms place a heavier importance on on-page, relevant content as opposed to back-end SEO elements or trickery. We’ll see the changes in the SEO industry from 2013 bleed into 2014 as businesses struggle to figure out the right approach. Those who do will thrive, since SEO remains one of the most valuable marketing channels out there.
Finally, for all the talk about mobile device compatibility and marketing on mobile devices for the last 5 years, 2014 will be the year this industry hits home at critical mass for most. The need for businesses to embrace the mobility consumers now have, and the expectation they have for marketing via mobile devices, will be too great for businesses to ignore. We’ll see mobile strategy be the driver, not the follower, of overall digital strategy.
– Mike Sprouse, President & CEO of Sprouse Marketing Group
18. Creating Phenomenal and Highly Targeted User Experiences.
User First Marketing. Businesses that are successful in 2014 will need to put their user first like never before. The user might be the businesses customer, prospect, influencer, members of their local network or any combination.
Google and Facebook are going to continue to tighten the noose and make it increasingly more difficult, if not impossible, for businesses to be organically found. Bing will likely follow Google’s lead. Other popular social networks will become more aggressive about bringing in revenue. This means that businesses who don’t play by the rules will suffer. Businesses that don’t even know the rules will disappear. And businesses that don’t invest in their online marketing by allocating expert resources to it are going to struggle mightily.
And the main driver of success for businesses that do get wise and invest in 2014 will be creating phenomenal and highly targeted user experiences. Throwing backlinks out there, posting self serving marketing onto social media, blogging about themselves and the old and outdated black-hat SEO tactics are not going to cut it. Businesses must know their user on a deep and intimate level. They need to understand what that user really wants more than anything else. What keeps them up at night? What motivates them more than anything? Then invest in scratching their itch by creating compelling and strategic content.
The big shift is in getting real with the user. They are no longer numbers. They are no longer targets to reel into your sales funnel. They are savvy and sophisticated human beings who want real relationships with meaning, trust and honesty. Businesses that approach their online marketing this way in 2014 will be eating their competition’s lunch. Cream always rises to the top.
– Mike Brooks, President of NuclearChowder.com
19. Personalized Content to Consumers’ Handheld Mobile Devices.
My 2014 online business prediction is about mobile applications. I predict that small businesses will gain a much larger foothold in the marketplace by leveraging the power of mobile applications that deliver unique, personalized content to consumers’ handheld mobile devices and redirect them to mobile responsive websites.
There is still a major lag in online businesses who adopt the mobile responsive platform for their online presence. Those businesses that adapt to the shift towards mobile will see exponential growth in lead generation, click-ratios, and conversion ratios. Those who do not adapt will fall behind.
– Niquenya Fulbright, President and Chief Executive Officer of Building Bridges Chicago LLC
20. Buck the Trend.
Social Media will decrease in effectiveness. Marketers and business owners will buck the trend and demand marketing with measurable ROI and an effectiveness gauge. Savvy business owners will grow their companies by looking inwards. How can they increase the value of their current clients? How can they maximize customer retention? How can they build community structures around their current customers? We will see less of a focus on “new customers” and a greater focus on taking care of our existing customers.
– Noah Fleming, President of Fleming Consulting & Co
21. Websites Can Do More Than Just Look Good.
We’ll see small business owners realize that their websites can do more than just look good. Business owners will start to take their websites seriously and move away from the budget, unsecured, unreliable hosting solutions they trust their businesses to today.
Small business owners will realize that in addition to being their most cost-effective marketing tool, their website is also their most underutilized employee. We’ll see small business owners incorporate their website into the work flow to automate repetitive administrative tasks, assist with customer on-boarding, and manage customers service by integrating with cloud apps.
The revelation that this kind of enterprise power is now available to small businesses for a fraction of the cost will change the way small businesses work. The hesitation small businesses often feel about adopting new technologies will diminish as the pressure to grow margins and increase productivity continues. The rate of adoption will increase further towards the end of 2014 as small business owners realize how simple the new practices are to implement.
– Gabriel Mays, Founder of Just Add Content
22. Gain the Advantage with CTR’s.
I really think paid search advertising is going to continue to grow, and the cost per clicks will continue to rise. I’ve yet to see an advertising medium that can allow you to put yourself in front of the customer at the exact moment they are searching for the exact product or service you have to offer.
I also think you’ll see more and more companies using unique techniques to get their ads more real estate at the top of Google. Things like third-party review services like Trustpilot which will show your star rating right in your Google ads are going to continue to improve. The competition is becoming so fierce that companies are looking for new ways to gain an advantage with their CTR’s (click through rates).
– Brian Kaldenberg, President and Founder of ProofreadingPal LLC
23. Consolidation and Innovation.
Convergence of technologies in the collaboration space. There are a lot of players, big and small, that do one thing well, but I believe that tools like email, chat, video conferencing, and other messaging will need to converge into a single platform. I expect both consolidation and innovation in this area in 2014.
– Dan Schoenbaum, CEO of Teambox, Inc
24. New and Creative Video Formats.
Video is such a powerful and impactful way to reach consumers. There needs to be a holistic view of the marketplace that takes into account the interests of advertisers, publishers and consumers. People want to be informed and entertained, not marketed to, so advertisers must not only provide relevant, engaging content, but capture them on the go and cross-device to increase the success of their video advertising campaigns.
New and creative video formats will emerge that advertisers will leverage to reach, engage and connect with audiences, such as quizzes, Q&As, slideshows.
– Bob Regular, CEO of Kitara Media
25. Be Relevant.
Customers’ perception, feedback and influence can each make or break your sales, instantly. If your company is pushing a product or service that’s not closely matched to what customers are asking for or need (not what *you* think they need), you won’t be able to fake or force its relevancy to them. Thanks to Facebook, Yelp, YouTube, et. al., your buyers and prospects have instant and impenetrable influence among your entire audience. Be relevant to their needs or die.
– Jordan Malik, CEO of JordanMalik.com Inc
26. Online Marketing to Split its Time Between Mobile and Desktop Commerce.
I believe that the technology we use is beginning to tip to the advantage of mobile technology. I’m talking about apps, smartphones and tablets. Comscore.com reports that during Black Friday, this year, 21% of online purchases were made from a mobile device. Cyber Monday saw 17% of purchases from mobile devices.
Now, taking into account that holiday shopping historically gets a tremendous lift in sales, these numbers are showing a trend for 2014. Not only are consumers going mobile, but so are companies and businesses that are seeing the possibilities for growth.
Many websites are becoming optimized for mobile devices and marketing over the past few years has gone from mostly desktops to sharing with mobile devices. Google purchased Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. a couple of years ago for around 12.5 billion dollars! What they did was increase their reach and the opportunity for innovation in mobile commerce opportunities.
They have positioned themselves and many other companies are doing their best to position themselves as well. While mobile commerce is growing, it has not overtaken the current commerce option of using desktops for purchases. I believe that we will see online marketing begin to split its time between mobile and desktop commerce.
I think this will raise the online marketing competition for local searches online to advertising even more on smartphones and tablets. As the trend begins to separate itself as a different entity, those that position themselves could possibly have an advantage if mobile commerce becomes even more mainstream.
– Brian Ford, Business Coach and Consultant at Blessed With Business Growth
Your 2014 Predictions
What do you think 2014 has in store for online businesses? What do you plan to spend the most time on next year?