The digital marketing industry is known for being unpredictable. In part, that’s because digital marketing trends are results-oriented, meaning that they ebb and flow based on the habits of consumers.

For example, as soon as people started using smartphones for everyday browsing, the digital marketing industry adjusted accordingly. That’s why it’s important to stay on top of the latest online marketing trends, especially for small and medium-sized companies with limited budgets.

If your business simply cannot afford to make mistakes, then you have to rely solely on research to determine which methods are most effective for you.

HubShout, a white label SEO company, recently conducted a survey of small to mid-size digital marketing agencies in order to gather data about this year’s marketing trends. Keep reading to learn where professional marketers and small businesses are investing their time and money in 2017.

What can we learn from 2017 marketing budgets?

This year, 1 in 3 marketers say SEO offers the highest ROI

In 2016, small business’ primary digital marketing investment was in SEO, a change from previous years. According to the “2017 Small Business Online Marketing” survey, 30% of marketing budgets were invested in SEO.

However, it was the first time in the survey’s history that SEO investments exceeded website development. Not only that, but 32% of agencies predicted that SEO “will be the most in demand service in 2017.” No matter what Google says, businesses can create all the high-quality content they want, but without an effective SEO strategy, that content will end up getting buried beneath pages upon pages of better optimized content.

Of course, there are few digital marketing techniques as constantly unpredictable as SEO, which is primarily dependent on Google’s always-changing algorithms. Already in 2017, we’ve seen a major update (code-named “Fred”), which seems to have penalized low-content sites. Despite these changes, it doesn’t look like SEO will become obsolete any time soon. Without it, even the most high quality content will just get lost in the vast and ever-expanding black hole of the World Wide Web.

With each major Google update, we move one step further away from the dark days of SEO’s past, when black hat SEO companies could dominate the rankings with spammy content and dirty tricks.

Want a quality website in 2017? It’ll cost you…

Here’s one shocking statistic the survey noted: the percentage of small businesses that spent more than $10,000 on their website skyrocketed from 1.4% to 17.3%. The sharp spike in website costs between 2014 and 2016 has major implications for the way businesses approach online marketing in 2017.

Perhaps this is because more agencies are making efforts to organize in-house website design and development teams. Compared with SEO, websites are much easier to sell, pitch, and deliver because they’re more graspable to many audiences.

Plus, with the rise of user experience design, more people are realizing that SEO and web design go hand-in-hand. The foundation of any successful SEO campaign is a well-designed website. You can have all the rankings in the world, but without a well-designed website, those visitors will simply bounce right off you.

It’s all about the leads…

For the past three years, lead generation has been cited by agencies as their number one challenge, which makes sense. If your business isn’t generating any leads, it entirely defeats the purpose of investing in marketing in the first place. This could also explain the spike in web development, because without a good website, your leads will never be converted into paying customers.

Lead generation isn’t just an issue for small businesses, either; even major advertising platforms are treating poor lead generation as a crisis.

LinkedIn is combating this issue by implementing a new way for businesses to get leads, called LinkedIn Lead Gen Forms. These forms make it easier than ever for businesses to get potential customers to fill out contact forms by automatically pulling information from their LinkedIn profiles, streamlining the process and enabling users to submit the forms in the blink of an eye.

For now, these forms are only available on LinkedIn’s mobile app, but will be expanded to desktop “in the coming months.”

The digital revolution is far from complete…

Another surprising trend noted in the survey is that despite our society’s ongoing technological developments, some businesses simply choose not to invest in digital marketing. There are many possible reasons for this, but one very simple explanation stands out.

When digital marketing agencies were asked their opinion on why some businesses don’t spend money on digital marketing, 36.8% thought that it was because some business owners just don’t understand online marketing.

But the fact remains that by not investing in some form of digital marketing, companies are missing out on a major untapped resource and platform of discussion. Online marketing could include everything from SEO to social media, and to preemptively neglect the entire digital aspect of marketing in today’s technological climate seems unwise, to say the least.

Other reasons cited include companies not being able to afford digital marketing, getting enough business from offline referrals and word of mouth, and believing that traditional ads such as mailers, local print, TV, and radio ads are more effective.

One agency owner made a comment that many digital marketing agencies are likely to relate to: “They THINK they can’t afford it (mainly because they really don’t understand)…until a slick agency comes along with a big sales pitch who convinces them but often does not deliver the value my agency can give.”

That’s why a lot of pitch meetings for small businesses are more like therapy sessions – clients have been ripped off too many times in the past to want to take any more risks. But modern SEO techniques have come a long way since the black hat SEO tricks of the past, which relied on spammy links generated by bots and content that’s overstuffed with keywords and often incomprehensible. Essentially, it’s the difference between a burger from a fast food joint and a Filet Mignon from a five-star steakhouse.

Ultimately, these trends are likely to fluctuate this year and in coming years. The best way to stay up-to-date on emerging trends in the digital marketing industry is to do your own mindful research and stay vigilant.

Staying ahead of the curve puts you ahead of companies who continue to do business the old-fashioned way. As long as the practices of consumers continues to change, the methods used for effective SEO, web development, PPC, and digital marketing will continue to evolve as well.

But, for now, businesses should stay open to every digital marketing resource available to them.

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Guest Blogger @Mention

Valerie Musson is a writer from Rochester, New York. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from The State University of New York at Fredonia in 2016 and is currently working at a digital marketing agency where she writes blog posts for a variety of small businesses all over the country. Valerie enjoys music, animals, nature, and traveling. Check out her writing portfolio here, or shoot her an email at valerie.musson@gmail.com.

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