The ultimate 2021 Digital Marketing round-up

Written by Emily Petherick

I think we can all agree that it’s been a year of major ups and downs.

We started off the year with the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris became the first female Vice President in US history. Pretty groundbreaking stuff from the get go. In a nod to the ever-growing world of Crypto, known Crypto enthusiast, Elon Musk, became the richest man in the world, overtaking Jeff Bezos. The latter then stepped down as CEO of Amazon after a 30 year run.

Joe Biden at his inauguration in January 2021

There have also been some lows. The dreaded ‘C’ word (no, not that one, the other one), seems to have reared its ugly head again and been the dominant topic for much of the year. But hey, nothing can be as bad as 2020, right?

Back in the world of Digital Marketing, we have seen some great updates from big platforms over the last year. Instagram, for example, released a statement about their ongoing work to help fight against abuse on the app.

January

Instagram introduces professional dashboard

Instagram is constantly claiming that they want to support creators in ‘turn[ing] their passion into a living.’ Committing to this aim, on the 25th of January, the social media platform announced they were introducing Professional Dashboard. Sounds more exciting than it is.

The dashboard is essentially Instagram’s version of Google Analytics, where users can track how their content is performing.

Instagram professional dashboard

Although a lot of the features on the dashboard already existed across the platform, such as performance tracking, Instagram said this move allowed users to to see all their resources in one place.

Why you should care:

We now see this move from Instagram feeding into some of the trends predicted to dominate the next year, like the development of creation communities. Going into the New Year, make sure your social storefronts are up to date with all your business information and that you’re engaging with your audience on socials.

February

Facebook updates Ads Manager for small businesses

One of the most prevalent changes in 2021, and one that is set to continue into 2022, was the use of social media for direct shopping.

We hate to bang on about the pandemic, but bear with us for a minute. Lockdowns brought us boredom. Boredom was relieved through shopping. Shopping was increasingly done through social media. Platforms that had previously been largely used for browsing, like Facebook and Instagram, are now being scoured for new stuff to buy.

Phones showing Facebook Ads Manager

Facebook’s update of Ads Manager in February 2021 reflects this trend and focused on making Facebook Ads easier for small businesses. Their business resource hub shows why personalised ads are so important and how small businesses can use them. They also added options like a menu tab to help businesses develop their social media ‘storefront.’

Why you should care:

Personalisation is one of the best ways to engage with your audience and build trust. Everyone wants to feel like they’re being seen, so create ads that feel personal and use Facebook Ads Manager to build audiences based on your target consumers’ attributes.

TikTok introduces recipe integration

Ah TikTok, a personal time-wasting favourite of mine. Also the platform that was downloaded by 745.9 million people over the last year. That’s not a typo. If that’s not a good enough reason to get your business on TikTok then I don’t know what is.

Recognising the popularity of cooking videos on the app, in February 2021 TikTok introduced a recipe saving feature in partnership with cooking app, Whisk. The feature allows users to jump straight to a recipe from a TikTok cooking video.

This sort of ‘actionable content’ has been popping up on various social media platforms and is a great way for brands to develop stronger and more meaningful connections with their customers.

Why you should care:

This update isn’t directly relevant unless you are a restaurant or food related business, but it is good to note the importance of integration between platforms. Check that all your social media channels link to your website and vice versa. Make it easy for your audience to engage with you across all platforms.

March

Google announces new Maps feature

Ever had that feeling of complete panic when you’ve had the journey from hell getting to the airport and you’ve only got an hour to get through security and complete a 5k hike to your departure gate but have no idea where you’re going? Well Google’s March update is attempting to relieve you of some of that stress.

Google’s new ‘Live View’ update can guide you through airports, shopping centres and other confusing indoor spaces with it’s navigational system. By scanning images of your location through your camera, Google can tell you things like, ‘go down a floor’ to find where you’re going.

The update was initially launched for airports and some other indoor spaces in Tokyo and Zurich, with a plan to be rolled out across other cities in the future.

Why you should care:

We’ll be honest, this isn’t really going to affect your business directly just yet, but it’s pretty cool.

Microsoft launches recommended ads automation

Advertising platforms want you to succeed so you spend more money on your ads with them. In March, Microsoft launched recommended ads to help you optimise your ad campaigns for best performance.

The update will send users emails giving them recommendations for new campaigns. This could be up to 50 different campaign ideas based on your existing ad groups and what has performed well.

Recommendations will always be variations of ads you have already created. They could include things like a change of keywords, headline copy and imagery.

Why you should care:

The update has taken some of the analytics work out of the process for you. It allows you to automate ads based on what Microsoft has detected works well, and easily send out new variations of your existing campaigns.

April

Google launches instant match rates

Google’s Customer Match feature allows advertisers to use their existing email list to target users on the search engine with ads. Google essentially crawls their data to match the email you have, to an existing Google account, allowing you to create retargeting ads.

Obviously, not everyone you have on your email list is going to have a Google account, so Google would provide a match rate. This match rate is a percentage of your email list that they have been able to match to an account. Previously, you would have to wait to get your match rates. Tense stuff. However, in a world of instant gratification, Google’s update means that you can now view your match rate instantly.

Google match rate display

Why you should care:

Retargeting ads can be hugely beneficial and produce great results. This update makes the Customer Match feature a lot quicker and easier to use. Simple as that.

Bing adds product comparison feature

In a very welcome April update, Bing launched a product comparison feature on their shopping platform.

As a serial researcher, I love when a website makes it easy to compare two products without having to flick between tabs, but these types of websites are few and far between.

Bing’s update allows you to directly compare products against factors such as reviews, price and other relevant features.

Bing product comparison

Why you should care:

To make sure your products show up on the comparison feature, check that your Microsoft Bing Merchant Centre is up to date with all the right information.

May

LinkedIn releases two new ad products

LinkedIn advertising can be a great option for those in B2B with a slightly larger budget, and the platform is constantly adding new features to their ads platform. In May they announced two new ads products: Events Ads and Boosted Posts.

We all know that algorithms can be super frustrating, especially as best practice advice seems to change day to day. The introduction of Boosted Posts gives you the opportunity to increase the reach of a post that you may have spent hours composing, but hasn’t quite performed the way you might have wished it to.

Just like with any other ads manager, you can boost your post based on factors such as job role, seniority and company. The beauty of the feature is that you can utilise the work you’ve already done for your boost, without having to create new content for an ad campaign.

The Events Ads feature makes it easy for you to promote your in-person or online event and include details such as date, time and location. It’s also a great piece of social proof when a user’s mutual connection is interested in the event.

Instagram and Facebook allow you to hide likes

Facebook first started testing the hidden likes feature on it’s platforms in September 2019. You may have even been one of the chosen ones during the testing phases. In May they announced that this was being rolled out as an option to all users.

During the testing phases, Facebook found that ‘not seeing like counts was beneficial for some, and annoying to others, particularly because people use like counts to get a sense for what’s trending or popular.’ As the results were so varied, the May update means that users now have the option to hide their like count.

Why you should care:

It’s no secret that social media can have a huge impact on mental health, especially amongst younger audiences who feel the pressure to get a certain number of likes on their posts.

Think about how your brand can contribute to improving mental health. You could create a fun branded challenge with donations to a mental health charity. Even something as small as a motivational Instagram post could improve someone’s day (just don’t make it too cringey).

You're doing amazing sweetie Kris Kardashian

June

Facebook focuses on ecommerce

In a Facebook post, Mark Zuckerberg announced some big launches for ecommerce businesses.

The update included Shops on WhatsApp and Marketplace, Instagram Visual Search and Shops Ads. After setting up your virtual shop, it will work across all platforms.

Shops on WhatsApp gives customers the opportunity to chat with a business before buying a product. This is a great way for businesses to really connect with their audience, build brand trust and commit to a great level of customer service.

Similarly, Shops on Facebook Marketplace help you better connect with the 1 billion users on the platform.

Almost acting like a shoppable Pinterest board, Instagram’s Visual Search will give users the opportunity to discover new products based on inspiration photos.

Why you should care:

There has never been a better opportunity to drill home that importance of optimising your digital storefront.

First impressions matter and your storefront, much like your IRL shop window, could be the first place new customers come into contact with your brand. Checking that all details are up to date, you have great images and a great brand are all essential in creating love at first sight with your potential customers.

July

Some transparency from Google

After a large number of users reported drops in their website traffic, Google published a blog analysing the key issues that might be causing this.

Google traffic drops graphs

Google published some simplified graphs to help users understand what the issues might be. As you can see, the graphs aren’t overly conclusive, with issues potentially coming from technical problems, glitches or algorithm updates.

The search engine advises you to use Search Console to compare your data over different time periods to analyse what changes have been made and what differences they’ve made. We would advise the same.

Why you should care:

Technical issues are often a big reason for a decrease in website traffic, and Technical SEO is a discipline in itself.

To avoid sudden drops in traffic you should regularly check your website for technical problems like broken links, missing images and illegible text. All of these will damage the user experience and therefore your website ranking.

August

Instagram allows sponsored product listings for all merchants

Much like sponsored posts elsewhere on the app, Instagram is now allowing users with shops on Instagram to create sponsored posts for the shop tab.

Instagram sponsored shop tab

The products will show up marked as sponsored to let users know that they’re paid ads.

Why you should care:

For ecommerce brands, this new feature is a great way of promoting your products to new audiences. Whilst paid ads are shown on a users feed, sponsored products show up in the Shop tab. Here, users are more likely to be in the shopping mindset already.

If you aren’t already using Instagram ads, this could be a great place to start.

Google updates how they generate web page titles

Much to the dismay of many SEO’ers, Google is constantly updating their algorithms and making changes to how they determine the ranking of sites.

In August, they announced that they were changing the way they display titles for a search query. Previously, titles for a single page could vary depending on the individual search, but this update stopped the use of that.

Google believes that their new method is what’s best for the user (that’s what they all say). Their new system aims to display titles as a true reflection of the content on the page.

Without getting into the nitty gritty detail of it all, the overall idea is to weed out all the irrelevant titles, and show users what they’re actually getting.

Why you should care:

This update really hammers home how important good titles are. Spend as much time thinking about titles for pages on your website as you would a great intro for a social post.

A great title could make a user click on your website over one that appears above you. What describes your page? What are users searching for? Is it short and sharp? These things all matter.

September

Microsoft markets with purpose

2021 has been a year of big change and also a year of accountability.

Microsoft’s September update gives businesses the opportunity to show attributes of their business that demonstrate a bigger responsibility.

Microsoft carbon neutral page attributions

Brands are able to show attributes of their business such as being carbon neutral, black-owned or LGBTQ+ friendly.

Why you should care:

You might already be demonstrating responsibility for bigger causes but aren’t shouting about it. With ‘87% of consumers want[ing] brands to act now to encourage future sustainability,’ showing users what you are doing to contribute could mean the difference between shopping with you or not.

This update gives you the opportunity to let users know this right when they’re searching.

October

Facebook rebrands as Meta

The big one you’ve all been waiting for. Facebook rebranding as Meta.

There has been continued discussion around the real reasons why Facebook made this change, and a few conspiracy theories around the timings of it. We wrote a blog on all that here.

The official Facebook statement says that the move represents the brand’s focus on bringing the metaverse to everyday life. Meta will be the umbrella brand for all its platforms including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

Instagram introduces story links for all users

Gone are the days of ‘link in bio.’

In October, Instagram announced that they were introducing a ‘link’ sticker for all accounts, which was previously only available for accounts with over 10,000 followers or the blue verified tick.

Link sticker for Instagram stories

Why you should care:

The previous link in bio method of directing users to a website or outside platform was pretty convoluted and would scare off any lazy social media users with its multiple step process.

Our top tip would be to use this feature with restraint. Remember, people are following you on social media because they love your content, not because they want to be sold something. Use the link sticker when you are truly providing your audience with value. If you wouldn’t personally click on it, leave it off.

November

Google’s Page Speed Insights tool gets a revamp

Google’s page speed insights tool, well, does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s great for monitoring the speed of your site and flagging any problems that could be slowing it down.

Last month the platform got a few little upgrades.

Page speed insights tool

The interface has been modernised and now gives more details on how the numbers are calculated.

It also now shows users where the data has been derived from, distinguishing between synthetic data and data collected by real life people. This gives you, as a business, a better understanding of how users are viewing your website.

The interface has been modernised and now gives more details on how the numbers are calculated.

It also now shows users where the data has been derived from, distinguishing between synthetic data and data collected by real life people. This gives you, as a business, a better understanding of how users are viewing your website.

December

TikTok overtakes Google as the top domain spot

This might come as a massive shock to those of you who are still TikTok sceptics, but the video-based social media app has ovetraken Google as the top searched domain of 2021.

Cloudfare announced that for the late part of 2021, TikTok had been searched more often than Google.

Why you should care

If there was ever any doubt over the popularity of TikTok, this is as good a case as any for the app to prove it’s worth.

Whether you are in ecommerce, professional services or B2B, there is a way to leverage the huge amount of traffic on TikTok to your advantage.

Create TikToks that feel native to the app, leveraging trends and viral sounds. Don’t try to create ads that look like ads. Utilise influencers and creators in your space who already have communities built up. Tapping into TikTok now could lead to great returns further down the line.

It’s been an exciting year full of big developments in the Digital Marketing industry. We’ve seen updates and trends emerging that are going to be big players going into 2022.

Keep an eye on our socials and blog where we regularly post updates and news from the industry.

We wish you all a Happy New Year!