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The festive shopping season is expected to start earlier than ever this year as consumers turn to digital stores in droves to avoid last-minute logistical nightmares. This busy online sales period represents a great opportunity for brands to drive revenue and engagement.

Review last year’s performance

The best place to start is by looking at what worked and where you fell short during the holiday season last year. Google Analytics can be used here to review your website’s performance. You will be able to track general metrics such as session duration and bounce rate, which can highlight consumer behaviours and habits.

You should also be able to see what channels people used the most to reach your site and the products or services that saw an uptick in activity during a sales period. You might also find that a compelling blog post delivered a considerable spike in traffic.

You can use these insights to support your decision-making in the run-up to Christmas this year. For example, you might need to update product copy, republish a gift guide article, or tweak on-page SEO to get the best results.

Use local SEO

While COVID-19 will reduce the clamour for shopping at physical stores this year, local SEO should still be used to attract consumers in regional markets as many people will be eager to secure deliveries from suppliers nearby.

Optimisation here is relatively straightforward. All you need to do is update your Google My Business listing with relevant information, including contact details and opening hours. You can also use Google Posts to promote offers or new product offerings in the local section of SERPs.

Include internal links in content

Internal linking provides structure to your website, but more important in ecommerce is its ability to guide a visitor from one page to the next. Consumers want to see more relevant articles, blogs and product sections when they navigate to your site. This information could be enough to convert and close a sale.

Optimise images

Images are important for keeping customers engaged, especially during a product-driven shopping season. People want to see high-resolution images of products before they make a purchase. These images need to be optimised to ensure that the customer experience meets expectations — large files can weigh down pages. You can do this by resizing and compressing them and by optimising placement near relevant text.

Make sure to tag your images correctly. Google says that “adding more context around images” can make your content “more useful”, which leads to higher-quality traffic sources. You should include descriptive titles, filenames and captions for images for this reason.

Target top of the funnel

Content is readily deployed by marketers at the top of the funnel, and this works well at Christmas as consumers will want to research products before making a purchase. You can use content to provide timely advice, reviews and comparisons. Aim to inform and educate. This type of ‘research-stage’ content is incredibly valuable at this time of the year and it aligns perfectly with SEO and social media output.


With the average person set to spend more than an hour and a half a day watching online videos in 2021, there has never been a better time to invest in video marketing. Here are five more reasons why video can benefit your business during the next 12 months.

Educate and inform

The old adage that a picture can tell a thousand words rings true for many consumers who defer to visual content when attempting to gain a better understanding of a product or service. 97% of marketers believe that videos help to communicate the features and value of something to audiences, according to research by HubSpot.

Sales pitches in videos are unlikely to resonate though. Brands should instead attempt to provide added value by offering an in-depth, balanced review of a product, showing how it works and the best way to buy it.

Optimise for SEO

Google is all about serving high-quality content in search. Video fits neatly into this objective and will be readily consumed by viewers. Cisco forecasts that over 80% of all web traffic will consist of video by the end of next year.

To optimise your video for search so that it has a better chance of featuring near the top of rankings, you will need to include a meta description for SEO with the right mix of keywords and a detailed overview of what it is about. A strong title is also helpful.

Competitive edge

Videos are being deployed in content campaigns by 81% of all businesses, according to HubSpot. While written content is excellent for exploring certain subjects in detail, video usually has the edge for storytelling and delivering succinct and memorable messages.

If you fail to invest in some form of marketing, you may lose out to competitors that have a more mature approach to video marketing. Social media is also a hotly contested battleground where a viral clip can do wonders for awareness and engagement.

Live video

Video is also a space where brands are being more creative to reach audiences in new ways. Live video has emerged as another potentially important lever in the marketing toolset as it helps to build a sense of community by offering real-time interactions.

Cisco believes that live video will make up 13% of the web’s traffic in 2021, with Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat among the key drivers in this form of content consumption. In the continued absence of physical events, you could use live video for digital conferences and webinars. 


Nine in 10 consumers say that videos are a valued resource when attempting to make a decision about a purchase. Furthermore, 74% of people who get to see how a product works in a video then go on to buy it.

This highlights again how content that is customer-focused, rather than brand-related, can actually have a greater impact on sales. Videos on landing pages are particularly effective at converting customers who have clicked through from a link in an article or via a search engine.

Meanwhile, videos published on webpages should aim to increase metrics such as ‘time on page’, as keeping people around and engaged is usually more than enough to move them on to the next stage of the sales cycle.


Optimising technical SEO will make it easier for Google and Bing to crawl, index and surface your pages in search results. This quick-fire checklist will help to run through some of the issues that could be flagged and make adjustments to improve rankings.

Use ‘hreflang’ to identify multilingual content

Have you been focusing on transcreation in recent months for pages that will be tailored to international audiences? Using the HTML attribute known as ‘hreflang’ for this content will communicate specific details to Google about language and geographic targeting.

Why is this important? Google would otherwise view the same pages in different languages as duplicate content. This means that it may only index one of them, which is not ideal for SEO. Implementing hreflang can also help pages in different languages to rank higher in SERPs in the regions that you are targeting.

Optimise pages for fast load times

Ensuring that pages load quickly is a well-worn technical SEO objective, but it is really worth taking the time to tweak HTML and other on-page elements to improve the user experience. Google’s PageSpeed Insights will give you an overview of how your pages are performing here, with a score of between 0 and 100 for both mobile and desktop.

There are several things you can do to boost page speed. You can resize and compress images to reduce the overall weight of pages, minify HTML and JavaScript files by removing whitespace, and install a caching plugin for a better distribution of assets. Asking IT to switch to a faster DNS provider can also help.

Create a sitemap

Google says that sitemaps are the second “most relevant” source of URLs, so it makes sense to create one for your site. A sitemap will list all of the pages on your website. There are three main sitemap formats, but XML files are generally used to detail structured listings that help web crawlers to index pages in search.

Fortunately, you can automatically generate a sitemap using any of the most popular content management systems (CMS). Google also uses the URLs in sitemaps to identify the master copy of a page, which is something that can also be achieved with the use of canonical tags.

Fix duplicate content

A common thread running through many technical SEO fixes is duplicate content. While content that appears multiple times on a site will not be directly penalised by Google, it can lead to backlink dilution, undesirable URLs being surfaced in SERPs, and wasted resources.

To see if you have any issues with duplicate content, head into Google Search Console, bring up the ‘Coverage’ report, and tick the box to show ‘excluded URLs’. Any problems will be listed here. To fix the problem, you only need to select one of the URLs to be the primary version by using the ‘rel=canonical tag’.

Use HTTPS redirect

HTTPS, a protocol for web browser connections, has been a signal in Google’s search algorithm for six years now, and its use can have a positive impact on SEO. HTTPS pages load faster and are much more secure, which can lead to better search rankings. Even if you have HTTPS in place, your website can still be viewed via the HTTP version if you do not have a redirect code in place. You can check whether this is the case by trying to load the HTTP version. An automatic redirect here indicates that all is well.


Chief marketing officers (CMOs) are sticking with what they know best and are reluctant to adopt entirely new strategies as they look to manage expectations and keep content campaigns on track amid challenges caused by the global pandemic.

Dentsu’s annual report of marketing has a different focus this year, with many of the questions and insights centred on what actions brands are taking to maintain continuity while attempting to keep pace with new tech and trends.

1,350 CMOs in 12 countries were polled for their responses between May and June this year, and a common through line emerged. Key decision-makers are relying on tried-and-trusted methods to get the job done.

90% of those surveyed said that they have fallen back to strategies that have worked in the past, rather than attempting to forge a new path amid uncertainty about budgets and the changing needs and demands of consumers.

However, the vast majority say that they have done this to “see the company through”, rather than there being any real prospect of the business going under or marketing being scaled back completely.

On the latter point, investment in marketing and content remains strong and will continue to be so. More than half of large companies, with in excess of 1,000 employees, said that they are planning to spend more on marketing during the next 12 months.

Smaller enterprises are more conservative, but there is a real desire among all companies, from micro to large corporations, to focus on marketing to drive sales and other important objectives during what is expected to be a difficult period.

The impact of COVID-19 has already been keenly felt though. Six in 10 CMOs admit that they have been “significantly affected” by the tumultuous real-world events during the last six to eight months.

It’s not all bad news as around a quarter of marketing chiefs claim that their business has only seen minimal disruption from the pandemic, while 10% of respondents believe that it has actually been beneficial overall.

For those who are targeting a period of recovery in the coming months, the 2008 financial crisis is acting as a reference point for strategies, though the report noted that “traditional” plans may not be best suited to a pandemic.

Around half of CMOs (49%) expect to look at the lessons learnt from previous recessions and the actions taken to inform their strategies moving forward. Meanwhile, a small subset (10%) are looking to implement entirely new strategies – a bold move that could eventually pay off, according to Dentsu.

The report found that CMOs at larger companies are generally better equipped to deal with the crisis and are already at a more advanced point in the recovery phase compared to SMEs that may struggle with the disruption. Smaller companies that are more heavily impacted will also find it more challenging to deal with revenue reductions.

Despite the concerns, there is a general feeling of optimism as CMOs look to use the pandemic as a catalyst for further digital transformation to support new ways of working, selling goods and engaging with audiences.


Google Trends is now almost 15 years old, but the website that analyses the popularity of queries in search still often gets overlooked as a tool that can supercharge SEO strategies.

While Google Analytics offers more granular and in-depth insights, Google Trends is excellent for discovering broader trends, especially for specific industries and regions. Here are a few ways that you can use it to support search engine optimisation.

Keyword and topic research

One of the quickest ways to populate a list of keywords for a specific topic that you want to cover in a blog or article is to enter a search term into Google Trends. You will then be presented with a number of keywords that are related to the search, ranked by popularity.

Google Trends also shows you a visual in graphical form of how the popularity of the search term you entered has changed during the last 12 months. You can also expand the date range to see its performance over time.

These simple results are both very useful for keyword research as you will be able to identify whether a term is trending or growing in popularity. Google Trends will use the word ‘Breakout’ to denote a keyword that has seen a 5,000% spike in search volume, so look out for those in particular.

Coming up with new ideas for a blog series can be challenging, so you are also likely to find value in the ‘Related Topics’ section. Here, Google Trends will provide a list of broader topics that are related to the search term you entered.

Provide context to keyword usage

Google Trends allows you to tap into a pool of data from the last 16 years. For each search term you enter, you can track the ‘interest over time’ right back to 2004. This information can be invaluable when attempting to determine whether the drop-off in popularity of a keyword is due to it being a fad or indicative of a general long-term trend.

When using the term ‘caribbean cruise’, for example, there was a huge increase in interest in January and February this year before a considerable drop after the pandemic hit in March. Interest levels have remained low since then. While you may think that this is a trend isolated to 2020, a look at the ‘2004-present’ data range shows that these spikes and troughs actually happen every year.

Google Trends is therefore excellent at adding more context to keyword popularity and potential search volume.

Target by location

If you are creating content for international markets and want to focus on transcreation and translation in the coming months, Google Trends’ location-based data will also be invaluable.

After entering a keyword, you can use location filtering to see the areas where there is a higher degree of interest. This can help you to see whether there is demand for certain products or services in certain regions. It is possible to filter by both country and city. Using the term ‘caribbean cruise’ again shows that the term has been the most popular in Liverpool and Glasgow in the UK and Fort Lauderdale and Miami in the US.


With less than three months of the year to go, marketers are looking at ways to update and optimise SEO strategies for what is expected to be a very busy 2021 for online searches and commerce. With that in mind, here are three key trends.

Semantic search takes precedence

There has been a lot of talk about search intent in 2020, and this trend will continue next year with the broader concept of ‘semantic search’, where Google uses all of the data and tech at its disposal to decipher the context and meaning of queries to deliver the most relevant content at any particular moment.

In order to optimise for semantic search, SEOs should double down on many of the methods that have worked for them this year. This means developing content that answers important questions, which also aligns well with targeting Google’s rich results.

Cardinal SEO director John McAlpin also recommends optimising for topics rather than keywords. He believes that building “clusters” of valuable content around a topic and subtopics will create a melting pot of short-tail and long-tail keywords, which can drive better rankings in SERPs.

Intent also crucial as Google’s algorithm evolves

Search intent is not going anywhere either and will also be weighted heavily alongside keywords in SEO strategies as more people use voice search on smartphones and smart speakers to get the content they need. While AI assistants have not been particularly revolutionary, the conversational aspect of search is growing in popularity.

This evolution has resulted in the emergence of four core search ‘intents’. When using search, people are either looking for information, trying to make a purchase, attempting to find the best shop to purchase something from, or aiming to visit a specific website. While there are other intents, these four categories cover most behaviours.

According to Google, using content only at the top of the funnel is now outdated. It adds: “Stop marketing to the average: Be useful. People respond to brands that understand their needs. So, it’s important to optimize your media for both relevance to the consumer and lifetime value for the brand.”

To prepare for this trend, you could start creating more FAQ-based content that is capable of answering natural queries. Working with an agency to create content that dovetails with a user’s intent will also be beneficial. Just some simple, succinct, clear copy can do wonders for engaging customers.

User experience (UX) to have greater impact

Google’s announcement that UX signals will soon be a major factor in search rankings offered further evidence for webmasters that the user experience must be exemplary in the future. Slow loading times and unintuitive page navigation will no longer be tolerated by search engines and visitors alike.

This year, Google outlined its new Core Web Vitals, a set of “user-centered” metrics that will measure factors such as the stability, interactivity and speed of webpages. These vitals will form part of the new signal.

Optimising for UX is something that you should already be doing, but heading into the new year, making sure that your content is fast and free of pop-ups and any other annoying on-screen elements is recommended. Mobile-readiness is also crucial due to more people consuming content on smartphones, so your pages need to be optimised for mobile and responsive across a variety of different platforms and devices.


More than two-thirds of B2B companies are planning to invest in “content creation” in 2021, according to the latest annual report for the industry from Content Marketing Institute (CMI).

The ‘B2B Content Marketing Benchmark, Budgets and Trends: Insights for 2021’ report is the 11th annual study and has a broader focus this time amid changes caused by the global pandemic. It also takes a look at content creation and distribution and how teams are budgeting and managing campaigns.

A sizeable 94% of business-to-business marketers said that they have had to amend and update content marketing strategies due to COVID-19, and the vast majority (86%) said that they were able to do so quickly. Four in five also stated that the changes were effective.

The pandemic was disruptive though as 70% of respondents said that it had either a “major” or “moderate” impact, while just 6% claimed that it had “none”.

When making changes, 70% optimised targeting and messaging, making it the most popular area for amendment ahead of adjusting editorial calendars (64%) and updating content distribution and promotion (53%).

There was less focus on data and analytics during this time as less than a third said that they revised buyer personas, adjusted KPIs and metrics, or took another look at how customers are moving through the sales cycle.

This suggests that companies are focused on addressing immediate needs first and foremost. However, CMI noted that a customer-based focus will come to the fore again as the pandemic continues, as this will be central to long-term success.

The good news is that there is no loss in appetite for further content marketing investment. When asked what they expect to invest in next year, 70% of respondents said that they would funnel more funds into “content creation”, while two-thirds will do the same for “website enhancement”.

The annual CMI study also takes a look at the ways that “top performing” B2B companies are differentiating themselves. Six in 10 of the most successful marketers have a documented strategy in place, but this slumps to 43% for all respondents and 21% for the least successful.

Having an editorial calendar and using metrics to measure content performance are also linked to higher levels of performance, though there has been an improvement for the latter overall. 81% said that they now dig into data to determine ROI.

Content marketing is also, by and large, still being used at the top of the funnel as 60% said that articles, blogs and videos are enabling them to successfully generate and nurture leads, audiences and subscribers.

Overall, 31% would rate their organisation’s approach to content marketing as “extremely” or “very successful” during the last year, and the vast majority believe that the value of content has been a core part of that success.

MarketingProfs chief content officer Ann Handley concluded: “Our industry met the challenges of this pandemic head on and adapted quickly. No one knows what the future holds, but as long as content marketers continue to believe in the value content provides, and listen to what audiences need, I believe we can weather this pandemic.”


Social media now accounts for up to a quarter of marketing budgets, but brands need to do more to connect it to the “lifeblood and workflow” of wider business, according to new research published by Hootsuite.

The ‘Social Transformation Report’ takes a deep dive into how modern businesses are using social media to not only generate and connect with new leads and increase brand value, but also to drive greater operational efficiency across the business.

The first major insight is that investment in social media campaigns is growing. The process now captures between 13% and 24% of overall marketing budgets and is having a positive effect in a number of key areas.

Almost three quarters (73%) of the 2,162 respondents say that social media has enabled them to engage with prospective clients and customers in a way that is more efficient than other channels or media.

Perhaps more importantly for marketing as a whole, 63% claim that using social media is actually driving a greater level of efficiency from other forms of media.

In addition, when social media is integrated business-wide and each department is able to use it to build strong relationships, its value increases significantly, which suggests that the practice can lead to “organisational transformation”.

Two-thirds say that social media is now being used to forge closer bonds with their community, while a large number also believe that it is doing the same for employees and partners.

The findings indicate that social media works best when it extends beyond the marketing department, though the act of publishing high-quality content is generally the catalyst for all the subsequent benefits.

“For social platforms to work for organisations, they need to do more than simply post to the social platforms but also leverage social listening, use data to make better social decisions, integrate with their existing tech stacks, and seek the training and education to achieve their overarching business goals,” Hootsuite’s CEO Tom Keiser said in a statement.

Keiser added that social media needs to be focused on the customer’s experience first and foremost, and that more employees should be involved in the planning and execution of strategies on social media.

Those able to build a ‘mature’ approach to social media do benefit. Six in 10 of these organisations say that it has laid the groundwork for building stronger relationships – something that continues to benefit the business day in, day out.

Mature social media marketers also report a 300% increase in the improvement of brand sentiment. The report noted that this has been particularly important this year following the outbreak of COVID-19 as brands have often struggled to conduct conversations and develop relationships with customers.

In order to maximise the power of social media, Hootsuite advised organisations to use social listening to understand the needs of audiences with the view to building stronger relationships. The next stage requires the integration of social into the fabric of business culture so that everyone can use it as a strategic communications tool.

Effective social media management, whether built in-house or outsourced, is a “stepping stone” to wider digital transformation, a senior industry analyst concluded.


When trying to implement an effective SEO strategy, you can fall prey to myths and untruths that can throw your best-laid plans off track. No, SEO is not dead, and it’s not just something you can set and forget about. Here are five other common myths.

Long-tail keywords are easier to target

There is often a misconception that long-tail keywords are easier to target and rank for compared to head terms that drive large search volumes. While long-tail keywords attract fewer searches over a given period, this does not mean that they can be used to boost rankings for more esoteric or niche queries.

This is because keyword difficulty, a metric that tracks the ranking difficulty of a word or phrase, can be very similar for both high-volume and low-volume keywords. Long-tail keywords are more specific and longer in length, hence the name, but are not a silver bullet for better rankings.

Google will penalise duplicate content

Duplicate content is defined as any copy that appears on two or more pages, either on the same site or across multiple domains. It is not desirable as it can undermine SEO strategies, but Google has stated on several occasions that there is not a specific search penalty for any websites that continue to host duplicate content. You can find out if you have any issues with this by running a site audit and checking the final report.

Google only ranks new content

Publishing new content is very important, especially as Google uses a ‘freshness’ signal in its ranking algorithm, but there are times when an article or a blog can continue to rank near the top of SERPs even though it was published several years ago.

This usually occurs when freshness does not have a negative impact on the quality of the content. For example, Google currently ranks a page from 2013 at the top of search for the query, ‘how to tie a tie’. The answer to this question is the same now as it was seven years ago, so freshness does not factor into it.

PageRank is not relevant anymore

PageRank is an algorithm that measures a webpage’s authority. Google has confirmed that it continues to be a ranking factor, but its decision to discontinue public scores for the metric back in 2016 has caused confusion. Some SEOs now claim that it is no longer relevant for this reason.

However, PageRank is still used by Google when ranking content, and research shows that the metric aligns quite closely with organic search traffic, which highlights its value.

SEO should focus on first-place rankings

The top position in search rankings is the best place to be, but it does not always translate to higher levels of traffic. A recent study of 100,000 branded search queries found that the first listing only gets the most overall traffic from search 49% of the time. Perhaps surprisingly, pages between fifth and 10th are able to drive the most traffic for 10% of queries.

This suggests that a first-place-or-bust mindset is foolish because pages can rank for more than one keyword and thus generate higher levels of traffic overall. The key is an effective SEO strategy that aligns search intent with the right content.


Almost half of small and medium-sized businesses are ready to outsource content marketing to agencies as part of wider cost-reduction strategies, according to a new report released this week by Ask Marketing.

100 SME business owners were asked about their plans for marketing during the next 12 months. The survey also had a particular focus on how the global pandemic has affected core processes and working arrangements.

The findings show that leaders are eager to embrace more affordable marketing strategies and campaigns, with around 15% revealing that they have already reduced spend on marketing and advertising since the COVID-19 pandemic began impacting businesses back in March.

SMEs remain dedicated to organic methods such as content marketing though, and are looking at new options to rein in investment without there being a negative impact on ROI and results.

The solution for nearly half of the respondents is fast-tracking outsourcing to experienced agencies and other third parties. 47% of those surveyed said that they are already attempting to switch in-house roles to outsourced alternatives.

The driving factors for this behaviour are cost-efficiency and continuity. Business owners believe that agencies can pick up where in-house left off and deliver high-quality campaigns without the need for a major overhaul.

This does not appear to be a short-term switch either. More than half (55%) of SMEs want to adopt a leaner approach to marketing for the foreseeable future.

When asked about the benefits of outsourcing and stripping back in-house activities, the main reasons given were cost savings, greater transparency, and greater control over investment.

Ask Marketing co-founder Alexandra King revealed that while the pandemic has been disruptive and forced SMEs away from the traditional marketing model, it did allow businesses to take stock and optimise spend.

She added: “The pandemic has seen many organisations, particularly small businesses, reflect and question their marketing spend and consider where they can realistically cut costs without having a detrimental impact on their organisation’s ability to promote their products and services strategically whilst growing their brand.”

The study also explored the potential for hybrid approaches to marketing, where businesses have a smaller in-house marketing setup that combines with the strategic expertise of an agency to improve performance and cost-efficiency.

The findings suggest that there is a great appetite for such an approach. 85% of SME business owners believe that they would benefit from a hybrid infrastructure where they would effectively have their own ‘virtual marketing manager’.

A report released by CMO earlier this year found that ‘in-house’ was being relied on for a number of marketing functions, but the latest data points to a change in thinking and outlook for important activities amid the disruption of the pandemic.

The Ask Marketing report was based on answers given by key decision makers in June, several months after its initial impact was felt. Moving forward, many will pursue methods of outsourcing to improve the quality of campaigns without having to invest in in-house roles. Some are also set on removing these roles entirely to streamline operations and cut costs.