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The 8 biggest marketing challenges for UK businesses in 2018

The clock is clicking on 2017.

Whether you achieved your marketing goals for the year or otherwise, now is the time to prepare yourself for the next 12 months.

We asked our marketing directors what business challenges they’re gearing up for in 2018. From shifting SERPs to mobile-first marketing, here’s what they told us.

Have you got them covered?

1. GDPR will turn outbound marketing on its head

In May 2018, the UK will follow the rest of Europe in adopting the new General Data Protection Regulation. This will happen regardless of Brexit. From this date, all businesses will need to demonstrate where and when they received customer data, and be able to prove that they have their contacts’ consent to be contacted for specific marketing purposes.

Failure to adhere to these conditions will result in a fine of €20m or 4% of a business’ annual turnover.

GDPR is not to be trifled with, and businesses of all types and sizes must rethink their outbound marketing strategies, starting now. If you haven’t prepared your business for GDPR, start today with our breakdown of your legal, IT and marketing obligations.

2. Inbound marketing will gain new importance as a result

GDPR is poised to move the goalposts for outbound marketing, by making it harder – even impossible, in some cases – to send unsolicited marketing comms to customer databases.

Businesses should compensate by boosting their inbound marketing efforts. Where outbound tactics ‘shoot to kill’, inbound ones set traps for interested prospects. Content marketing, social media and event marketing should all earn new importance in your 2018 marketing strategy.

3. Brexit or no Brexit, action is needed

Whether you’re a Remainer, Remoaner, Brexiteer or simply tired of the issue, Brexit is not going away. In an absence of political and economic clarity on the subject, UK businesses of all sides must hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

That means bolstering marketing strategies and planning budgets more tightly than before. Businesses should be careful but not cower. Be bold in your marketing for the New Year; after all, consumer confidence reflects business confidence.

Crucially, now is also the time to consider looking beyond the UK and EU borders for sales opportunities. The most successful businesses will make the most of the chaos Brexit throws up in 2018; others will be consumed by it.

4. Sales and marketing alignment

Regardless of whether an economy faces Brexit-size challenges, no business can afford to let leads go to waste. Yet that’s what happens day-in, day-out at B2B businesses where the changing relationship between sales and marketing has gone unnoticed.

Today, the lines between sales and marketing are more blurred than ever, meaning the two teams have to work closer. Without strong leadership this can lead to friction, but organisations that keep them separate in 2018 will allow customers to fall through a gap of their own making.

For more on this topic, read sales and marketing alignment.

5. Throw away your computer

Well, almost. Google’s ongoing move to mobile-first indexing – ranking websites based on their performance on handheld devices, and not desktop computers – will likely be completed in 2018. If they haven’t done so already, businesses must refresh their website to offer a smooth, high-value mobile experience.

Today, most businesses design their site based on how it looks on a computer screen and leave mobile design as an afterthought. With 55% of online searches now made on small screens, this approach is outdated and shortsighted. Guilty businesses will see their search rankings hit hard once Google decides to make their long-promised shift to full mobile-first indexing.

For a primer on mobile-first design, click here.

6. Don’t be usurped by new SERP protocols

SERPs – Search Engine Results Pages – are the personalised front page of the web. And the protocols that control which links appear on them are constantly updated.

The way mobile results are displayed by Google has changed significantly in 2017 – part of the ongoing shift to mobile-first indexing. Changes include new carousel and ‘buy now’ functionality, and AMPs – Accelerated Mobile Pages – which load more quickly on mobile. Adwords users should educate themselves about these changes and take advantage of them, starting here.

Desktop SERPs have changed less over the past twelve months, but the loss of the right-hand rail–ads to the side of organic search terms–for advertisers and the creation of ‘blended’ ads is significant. In response, businesses should balance paid-for and organic search results in their SEO strategies, as the difference between the two becomes less noticeable for web-users. More on that here.

7. Beware Pay Per Click’s dwindling power

The removal of the ‘right-hand rail’ from search engine pages appears to be having an effect on PPC costs, which will affect those businesses dependent on them for leads.

Research by both Hochman Consultants and Search Engine Land shows that cost-per-click has increased since Google removed the rail, but that clickthrough rates and conversion rates have also increased for those ads.

The upshot is that businesses should reassess and refine their PPC strategy as directed here, and also reconsider how reliant they are on paid-for search ads. If the cost-per-click becomes too high, the result for many organisations could be fatal.

8. Refresh your SEO knowledge

The world of organic search continues to change, too.

Google has expanded its search functionality beyond anchor text, keywords and meta tags to offer ‘semantic search’. Put one way, this is “a search or a question or an action that produces meaningful results, even when the retrieved items contain none of the query terms, or the search involves no query text at all.” Put another way, it means that the search engine finds and delivers search results in a more sophisticated way than most businesses are equipped for today.

The shift to semantic search will gather pace in 2018. This report offers a good starting point to help understand the field. At this time, however, ‘best practice’ advice for dealing with the change is hard to find.

As ever, search engines continue to target and penalise those employing ‘black hat’ SEO techniques – those which attempt to cheat search engines by stuffing pages with keywords, or otherwise. Web owners ‘spinning’ their content are Google’s latest bête noire. ‘Spun’ pages are those rewritten by software to say the same thing in a different way. If this something your SEO agency is guilty of, stop them now. Instead, invest your time republishing content in alternate formats.

Forewarned is forearmed. Preparing for next year’s business challenges today might seem premature. But doing so reflects the most important principle in marketing: that success is all in the planning.

 

Concerned there are holes in your business’ marketing, but don’t know where? Identify your marketing strengths and weaknesses with our free Marketing 360 Healthcheck.