To see how last year’s predictions held up (or didn’t!) see my recently-completed 2018 Year in Review.
Google My Business (Not the Website) Becomes the Starting Point for SEO
My colleague and friend Mike Blumenthal has done a great job promoting the concept of “Google as the New Homepage,” but I think 2019 is the year businesses (and agencies, for that matter) finally realize just how profound, and profoundly different, a concept that is when it comes to thinking about SEO.
In a story that flew under the radar in 2018, Google made a significant improvement in its Local branding. It is now promoting the term “business profile” to replace the esoteric “Knowledge Panel” designation (a move I fully applaud).
This more approachable packaging will begin to help the average local business owner realize that Google My Business truly is the natural place to start your marketing journey on Google, in the same way you’d update and market your Facebook or LinkedIn profiles.
In addition to a fully-baked, well-optimized Business Profile converting more Direct searches from customers looking for you, I think we’ll see more and more examples like the screenshot below for “crabcakes Baltimore” where content added within Google My Business begins to inform relevance for certain Discovery queries.
(Shameless plug: if you want to see how your Business Profile stacks up, check out the ThriveHive Google My Business Grader.)
Messaging Becomes a Principal Feature in Google My Business
Google’s strategy around consumer-to-business messaging has historically been muddled at best. I’m predicting 2019 is the year that it starts to coalesce.
On the SMB side, Messaging feels like the most natural area for Google to invest in next:
– It keeps businesses continually engaged with GMB.
– It’s a feature that doesn’t involve content creation on the part of businesses–an area they’ve historically struggled with.
– It provides a lighter-touch transactional mechanism for longer-tail industries, or industries where Reserve is too complex for a simple user experience.
And of course on the consumer side, it addresses a pain point for millennial searchers, and keeps searchers in the Google ecosystem, rather than losing them to a website clickthrough.
As Google My Business gradually becomes more interactive, Messaging feels like an essential component of that effort.
Local Service Ads Become More Integrated in GMB
Local Service Ads have been wildly popular with local businesses, particularly for single-location service businesses without the budget to make a professional Ads consultant cost-effective.
But as LSA guru Tom Waddington points out in this incredible guide to LSAs on BrightLocal, they’re relatively disconnected from both Google My Business and the traditional Ads experience. My understanding is thus far most businesses have been sourced by Google and not via the self-service sign-up flow (Tom, please correct me if I’m wrong!).
This prediction may be a year early but I’m going to say that GMB begins a serious effort to funnel local businesses in appropriate categories and geographies into the LSA onboarding process in 2019.
New Retail Knowledge Panel / Ad Hybrids Come to the SERPs
Bill Slawski wrote about the patent for this kind of ad unit in one of my newsletter’s most popular articles of 2018. We’re already seeing the “See What’s in Store” on many national retailers’ Knowledge Panels. And on the Google My Business front, Google is pushing Product Posts heavily.
Google clearly already has the pieces in place for this kind of ad unit; it’s not hard to imagine the patent wireframes from Bill Slawski’s article becoming a reality this year. My primary question is how quickly and how broadly they show up.
Google Will Release a Voice Search Statistic That Marketers Won’t Believe
This is a two-pronged prediction.
1) Google releases a statistic in the first place.
It’s rare for Google to release much in the way of internal data. But it feels like they’ve made a substantial dent in Amazon’s device lead with the uptake of Google Home, and it’ll be time to spread their feathers for Wall Street on a quarterly earnings call or at their annual I/O conference.
2) Marketers are astounded by the size of the statistic.
2 years ago, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced that 20% of queries in Google’s Android app were voice-enabled. That was already a substantial number, but it was limited to Android app users.
Given the heightened consumer awareness of voice search generally (and the dramatic increase in the number of Google Home owners), I think the statistic itself will flabbergast a marketing industry that, as a whole, seems to have taken a skeptical view of voice search adoption.
The SMB World Finally Takes Notice of Amazon
Between Storefronts, Services, and its Influencer Program, Amazon has been silently assembling some pretty impressive SMB marketing pieces. This is in addition to its traditional ad business which is up 130% year-over-year.
Just as Local Service Ads have cut the Gordian Knot of local advertising for service businesses on Google, I predict Amazon releases a straightforward SMB product- or service-focused ad product that finally gets some substantial press attention in 2019.
Double-or-Nothing on Two 2018 Predictions
I’m going to re-up on two predictions that did not come true over the past 12 months…hoping that both companies involved come to their senses!
Google Tackles Review Spam in a Meaningful Way
No amount of disingenuous PR and fake academic studies underwritten by Google can hide the fact that fake reviews are a major problem — not just for Google, but every company in local search and eCommerce.
Now that Google has finally started to devote resources to GMB, its laughable review spam detection is surely next in line for a refresh?
Twitter Shutters Promote Mode
It’ll either be shut down by the end of the year or undergo such a massive overhaul that it’s unrecognizable. I’m all for “MVP’s” in software but this is in no way even a Viable Concept, let alone a Viable Product.
I’m a huge fan of Twitter, but this looks like the opposite of a compelling product. https://t.co/Lm9iJqV5m7
— David Mihm (@davidmihm) November 8, 2017
“Trying to” being the operative phrase. I don’t know of a single SMB whose marketing goal is more Twitter followers.
— David Mihm (@davidmihm) November 8, 2017
Just got invited to Twitter’s new “Promote Mode” beta. The product is even worse than I guessed when I read @gsterling’s initial post. This is the full extent of the interest targeting options & you can’t even target by ZIP: pic.twitter.com/rociO42ctC
— David Mihm (@davidmihm) November 28, 2017
It’ll Be a Bad Year for Tech Headlines…
Google, Facebook, and Twitter will all get hauled before Congress again. While our elected representatives continue to bark up the wrong tree of manipulated search results, Google hasn’t faced nearly enough scrutiny with regard to political meddling via YouTube.
Reports of privacy violations will increase, and probably more stories like this one will come out around voice assistants.
Instead of focusing on its massive reputation problem with its customers by reforming its sales practices and building a more compelling product, Yelp will continue to lobby for an antitrust injunction against Google as its stock price plummets.
…but the Headlines Will Have Little Impact
Stock prices will fall across the board due to a weakening macro economy and imbecilic policy choices at the highest level.
But I doubt the “FAANG & Friends” stocks (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google, Twitter, Shopify, etc.) will fall noticeably more than the broader market. Amazon may even perform better than the broader market as consumers flock to deals when the recession begins to set in later in the year.
Facebook (Instagram) will be largely unharmed by manipulation backlash in U.S.
This will be particularly true when Facebook announces its Q4 2018 earnings, as the uptick in political advertising in the U.S. election drives a meaningful impact on its revenue growth.
Neither Amazon nor Google will face any serious monopoly charges domestically.
Given the technological ignorance of our octagenarian representatives in Washington, it’s hard to imagine anything substantive coming out of the grandstanding.
There won’t be a major national privacy bill.
Even though both parties want to punish the major tech companies, there’s too much gridlock to agree on how to do it. More likely is that multiple states follow suit on California’s new privacy law and companies base their data strategies around that.
That’s it for this year’s predictions! Let me know your take, and what you expect to see, in the comments below.
Disclosure: I own a tiny number of public shares of Apple, Amazon, Square, Shopify, Twitter, and Facebook.