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A Year’s Worth of Web Marketing Evolution – What Submerged in 2013, What Will Emerge in 2014?

2014Imagine the process of evolution magnified exponentially. In this time-lapsed, meta-morphing, video scrub line, you could watch amphibians crawl out of the primordial ooze, transform into dinosaurs, and just a few minutes later, be transported in driverless sports cars speeding along the “I-5” diamond lane with integrated Google navigation.

Such a timeframe gives you a rough idea of the velocity of change that has been occurring online and that continues to evolve in Internet marketing and advertising,

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Understanding what became extinct in 2013 and what has emerged as a new, creative force for online marketing in 2014 is something akin to the Darwinian process of “natural selection,” a virtual “survival of the fittest.” For online marketers, knowing what’s “IN” and what’s “OUT” spells the difference between leaving your Web brand out in the cold or bringing it into the fold.

So how can we summarize what registered on the Richter-scale across the Web’s marketing seismograph in 2013? What’s up and what’s down for 2014? Where do the currents of Web marketing lead?  Let’s run down the biggest “needle movers.”

Google

Google cancelled its News Reader service in 2013, better known as Reeder, blaming declining usage that, paradoxically, existed in the tens of millions. Indeed, Reeder’s three most popular “feeds” alone numbered over 35 million subs. Whether it was a deficit in market attention, or, more likely, Google divesting a service that gave it a virtual monopoly on worldwide reader interest (an almost unfair advantage for targeted advertising), Reeder’s R.I.P. was etched in tombstone.  A startup alternative named Feedly quickly amassed 12 million subscribers virtually out of the gate.

iGoogle also bit the dust in 2013. For the tens of millions of iGoogle users who used the personalized home page service which was available in 42 languages and 73 domains, any data stored in its associated Google products like Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Finance, Google Drive, Google Bookmarks, and Google Tasks will continue to be available via those products directly.

Google Checkout officially “checked out” effective November 20th, 2013, and is no longer processing payments. How does this affect you? Merchants selling digital had to transition to Google Wallet for digital goods. Merchants selling through Google-hosted marketplaces (e.g. Google Play) were unaffected.  Merchants selling physical goods will need to switch to third-party alternatives.

In other closures, Google Sync, which was designed to allow access to Gmail, Google Calendar, and Contacts via the Microsoft® Exchange ActiveSync® protocol ended service 12.31.13. Google Analytics dropped Microsoft IE8 support and Google Apps will no longer support Internet Explorer 9 at the end of 2013.

Perhaps most importantly, Google completed the transition from Google Pooduct Search to Google Shopping in 2013.

Rather than supporting both paid PLA’s (Product Listing Ads) and a free Google Product Search, the two were combined into a single, fee-based Google Shopping box.  Bing protested how merchants being “Scroogled” and the end of free product search and then gave up the fight and started doing the same thing.

Whether merchants preferred to participate in “Paid Inclusion,” something Google once swore it would never require of them, that is what merchants did – ad investments were up sevenfold, to 3% of their search ad spend as the holiday shopping season peaked. Some retailers spent up to 30% of their search budgets on PLAs, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars overall. The ads also demonstrated a higher click-through rate and a lower average cost than text search ads. This is a piece of how Google is competing with Amazon, which is clearly becoming a commerce search engine.

Adobe announced that by the peak of the holiday shopping season, in mid-December, PLAs accounted for 17% of all ad spending on Google. And search marketing firm RKG said PLAs accounted for 28% of non-brand paid search clicks in the fourth quarter.

The Google Algorithm

The Google Algorithm went through some significant changes in 2013. Panda refreshed a few times until it was announced that it would be rolled into Google’s core algorithm, with monthly refreshes that would occur over a period of 10 days. In July many webmasters saw some Panda recoveries. There were Penguin recoveries during Panda updates as well.

Penguin updated in May and then in October, with both updates causing havoc with some sites. The May update was less serve as the big one in October.

Hummingbird was quietly unleashed as a new core algorithm, with this supposedly meaning that now Google could better understand a query as a whole and not just on a partial level. It was apparently live for weeks before it was confirmed and did we notice? For the most part, nope.

A few other “below the radar” updates were released throughout the year. A phantom update in early May caused many sites to lose a lot of their traffic. A domain crowding update, also in May, sought to alleviate the problem of having multiple results show up from the same sites for a query. A payday loan update hit in June, attempting to curb spam in niches like loans and porn.

Go, Go, Google+

While Google+ still has a long way to go to catch up to Facebook, Plus now has 540 million active monthly users.  But many of those users may only be watching a YouTube video while logged into Google. Facebook has nearly 1.2 billion active users.

In its latest attempt to lure traffic away from Facebook and other online hangouts, Google has introduced some impressive tools to automatically edit images posted on Plus. Google says about 1.5 billion photos are being shared on Plus each week compared to Facebook’s claim of  350 million pictures being shared per day, or more than 2.4 billion per week. Millions more are shared on Instagram, which Facebook bought last year.

Google’s new editing tools can automatically touch up images or perform tricks such as erasing people from photos or creating animated GIFs — stringing together multiple images to make it seem like the subject of a picture is moving.

Another feature will create a short movie set to music when a user selects different videos and pictures to mix together.

Snapseed, a Google-owned mobile application that competes against Facebook Inc.’s Instagram photo app, also is getting a new filter to improve the appearance of landscapes and structures.

Ads on Google+? 

A few years into Google’s gamble in social media and Google+ is still completely void of ads. Many people seem pleased by this. Countless others (no doubt advertisers) are chomping at the bit waiting for the day that they can place targeted ads on this coveted real estate.

Will it happen in 2014? Well, just a few weeks ago it came to light that Google will begin testing +Post Ads. While this isn’t an ad unit on Google+, it allows brands to take quality Google+ posts and advertise them across the Google Display Network.

Could this be a baby step toward a larger advertising platform built around Google+? Stay tuned!

Finally, Google is expected to release the Google Glass in 2014. Wearable computing isn’t expected to be a large market in the beginning. But if Google can prove that its first generation product can be successful commercially, or if demand surpasses expectation, the stock should exhibit additional upside from that alone. If Google succeeds, competition will definitely heat up in the space. However, there’s also the risk that Google could end up looking like Samsung with its Galaxy Gear. So going into 2014 wearable computing will remain a key segment to watch out for.

Twitter

Twitter had a very big year in 2013. The social media network saw changes across the user interface on desktops and mobile devices. The ad platform grew leaps and bounds. And perhaps most importantly, Twitter filed for and successfully completed their IPO. Since the IPO in October, the Twitter development train has kept right on chugging. Now we have Tailored Audiences (remarketing), promoted accounts in timelines, and a true “broad match” for keyword targeting.

What ended, most dramatically, for Twitter was its policy of NOT using keyword advertising in timelines. Twitter’s new feature NOW enables advertisers to reach users based on the keywords in their recent Tweets and the Tweets with which users recently engaged. This is an important new capability – especially for those advertisers looking for signals of intent – because it lets marketers reach users at the right moment, in the right context.

For example: let’s say a user tweets about enjoying the latest album from their favorite band, and it so happens that band is due to play a concert at a local venue. That venue could now run a geo-targeted campaign using keywords for that band with a Tweet containing a link to buy the tickets. That way, the user who tweeted about the new album may soon see that Promoted Tweet in their timeline letting them know tickets are for sale in their area.

Setting up a campaign to target keywords in the timeline is very similar to the setup process for search. Enter the keywords you want to target, choose whether you want to use phrase match or unordered keyword match, and specify your other targeting options such as geographic location, device and gender.

Twitter ended its Music App in 2013, which never made much noise.

Facebook

With NASDAQ settling up on $41.6 million in claims over Facebook’s bungled IPO, the Social Network is still making up for missteps and lost time. However, the proverb still applies, “If your friends and family are on Facebook then you, too, will be on Facebook,” and the service continues to proliferate.

According to eMarketer, Facebook will finish out as the second-largest digital ad seller in the U.S. in 2014, with 7.4 percent of digital ad dollars, or $3.17 billion, but the social network still lags far behind Google, at 40 percent and $17 billion, respectively.

U.S. mobile ad spending is projected to reach nearly $9.6 billion in 2013, accounting for 22.5 percent of digital ad investments, up from 11.9 percent in 2012 and less than 3 percent in 2010, and Facebook was one of the primary drivers, according to the latest report from research outfit eMarketer.

The largest social network also followed in the footsteps of Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest by allowing hashtags to be added to user posts.  Users can click on a hashtag in Facebook and see a feed of what other people and organizational users are saying about that event or topic.  According to FB, when something is marked with a hashtag it will also help you reach everyone who has expressed interests closely related to the term. For example, #Cooking lets you reach people who are also interested in cooking, cooking tips, and cooking and eating.

When a topic doesn’t have a hash tag, it’s a precise interest. This means you’ll only reach people who have expressed an interest in the specific topic. For example, cooking (no #) includes only people with an interest in cooking.

Interested in celebrity watching and major events on the network? Facebook Weekly Highlights features photos and videos posted to the social network by celebrities and athletes.

Apple

Apple had a very busy 2013. We’ve seen the release of the iPad Air, Retina iPad mini, iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c as well as the launch of a new Mac Pro and an update to the iMac, Retina MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. We’ve also seen new software from the company, including iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks.

Can it be that it has been more than five years now since the launch of the App Store by Apple? Even though the Android Market (now called Google Play) launched just three months after the App Store debuted, it took nearly three years for the App Store to face any real competition. It’s true that most major apps are available on both iOS and Android, but even in 2013, it was not uncommon for apps to debut on iOS first.

On May 17th, 2013, the company announced that an Ohio man had downloaded the 50 billionth app (with a B!) The milestone keeps Apple just ahead of rival Google, which announced that it had reached 48 billion app downloads for its Android operating system. Google is likely to take the lead soon as Android controls 74 per cent of the world’s smartphone market compared with 18 per cent for Apple. Reverse those numbers if you’re comparing the margins of profitability between Apple and Android.

And speaking of Android, now that the Samsung Galaxy “phablet” (a combination oversized phone and mini-tablet) has been launched with a companion wristwatch that communicates with the tablet via bluetooth, you can bet that Apple’s entry into wearable computing isn’t far off.

The new generation of Bluetooth 4 accessories will be key. They can consume far less power than their Bluetooth 2 and 3 predecessors, enabling Apple’s devices and the accessories to run for much longer periods of time between recharges. A switch from Bluetooth 2 to Bluetooth 4 more than tripled the battery life of Nike’s FuelBand SE, for example, and heart rate monitors can now get up to six months of run time on a single battery. Bluetooth 4 also enables much faster pairing, as well as app-specific pairing without the need to visit iOS’s Bluetooth settings menu.

Microsoft

Look up the word “transition” in Webster’s and you’d practically expect to see the Microsoft logo staring back at you.  Surface II is a transition between the desktop, the laptop and the tablet. Bing is in transition between a conventional search engine and a socially integrated, semantic search service. Xbox is a transitional device between a gaming  console and a media center. And, oh yea, the Israeli company that created Microsoft’s breakthrough Kinect device for detecting motion and gestures in computer game play? Apple now owns the company!

Even Windows 8 is in transition as the Redmond brigade attempts to add back features that bridge more cohesion with legacy OS software.

Ultimately, Microsoft is in transition at the top of its executive ladder with the position of CEO waiting to be filled by a successor to Steve Ballmer.  Will it be an industrialist like Ford’s Alan Mulally, an insider like Nokia’s Stephen Elop (a Microsoft alum), an ex-visionary like Ray Ozzie, or the second coming of Bill Gates? Probably none of the above.

So where is Microsoft headed? With its new unifying “One Company. One Strategy.” mantra, Microsoft is rumored to be testing a smartwatch with a 1.5-inch display and Surface connector, alongside work on Google Glass-like eyewear.

Microsoft’s head of devices, Julie Larson-Green, (yet another CEO candidate), recently hinted at a wearable future for the company. “So sensors are going to become a big part of how you think about things,” said Larson-Green at the UBS Global Technology Conference in November.

“So some of the things we’ve been talking about — you see all these fitness devices that people wear on their wrists and they do some interesting things. What’s the extension of that?” Larson-Green speculated that future devices could read your heart rate and suggest exercise patterns or sense your location and notify you when a bus is running late. “Just as the mouse was an invention, touch was an invention, there will be the next new way to interact,” said Larson-Green. “And that’s why we’ve been focusing on natural user interface for a while, working on that.”

Amazon

Besides the dubious promise of having our packages delivered by a fleet of Amazon flying drones, consumers have one more reason to shift to Amazon’s Prime shipping service. The company has raised its minimum purchase amount for free shipping from $25 to $35. By going with Amazon Prime for one annual fee, Amazon shoppers get a free 2-day shipping option (and a low cost overnight delivery option), plus Amazon Instant Video, a large catalogue of streaming movies and TV series that now includes original television programming such as the Amazon produced D.C.-comedy series Alpha House starring John Goodman.

The maker of the definitive eReaders for print (think PaperWhite  and Kindle HD Fire) is now attacking video with Bezos-like gusto.  If the rumors are true, the online retailer is readying a set-top box and playing catch-up with competition, like AppleTV, Roku, Boxee, Microsoft, and Sony, which have their own boxes, or game consoles, that deliver the same programming. Still, Amazon’s box could live in harmony with services like Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube, all of which are currently available on Kindle Fire tablets.

Amazon is no stranger to streaming television. The company’s original movie and series production arm, Amazon Studios, currently has 12 pilots underway, all of which will be available on Prime Instant Video and Amazon Instant Video once completed.  Jeff Bezos’s company also recently landed exclusive streaming rights to the PBS hit Downtown Abbey, and will be the exclusive online home of FX’s Justified and the upcomingCBS show Under the Dome

This week, Amazon Web Services took another step forward  in its bid to become the world’s biggest cloud computing platform for businesses, and to specifically take aim at a big regional competitor in Asia, Alibaba. This week, it announced that it would extend its Amazon Web Services suite of products to China beginning with a limited preview in early 2014.

Yahoo!

Yahoo! has been hit-and-miss since the mysterious Ms. Marissa Mayer was lured from Google to take command as CEO.

Mayer has overseen updates to Yahoo’s existing products, including the home page, Yahoo News and Flickr, launched a popular Weather app and revamped Yahoo Mail.  Mayer has also brought on Katie Couric to anchor a news show for the network as well as New York Times technology columnist David Pogue  to write under the Yahoo masthead.

Still Yahoo’s core business is facing a difficult battle. Its revenues from display advertising have continued to fall each of the last three quarters and it has an unholy alliance with Microsoft’s Bing which powers Yahoo search results but is also competing with the company in certain ways.

For the time being, Mayer is “teflon.” Here’s why: Yahoo! currently owns a 20% stake in Alibaba which is expected to launch an IPO in the first quarter of 2014. Investors are expecting this IPO to increase the value of Yahoo! significantly. The expected value of Alibaba is $100 billion at IPO, which will result in Yahoo’s goodwill from Alibaba alone to reach $20 billion. Yahoo! stock has appreciated by 101.61% year-to-date.

More Social Network Advertising Blurs the Lines Between Paid and Organic

Instagram and Pinterest have both introduced new ad units designed to blend into the natural landscape of a user’s social feed.

Over the past few months, Pinterest has added several enhancements to the platform with personalized pin recommendations, rich pins, and better analytics options for developers.

Some users are already seeing the latest addition of Promoted Pins. The idea behind Promoted Pins is simple – allow brands to add their own pins into search results and category feeds in a way that feels less intrusive than a traditional pop-up ad.

The Promoted Pins come up in a search result so it feels more natural to the consumer because it is a matching pin with their search interest. For instance, a search for [make-up tutorial] may bring up a beauty brand promoting its latest eye shadow shade or pumpkin recipe shows a cooking brand recommending a specific baking product.

Meanwhile, popular photo-sharing site Instagram received a lot of flack when initially purchased by Facebook because users speculated that ads would be coming following the acquisition. After introducing new photo filters and a 15 second video feature, Instagram announced it was introducing ads slowly and allowing users the ability to hide any non-relevant ads from their photo stream and provide feedback. Doesn’t sound all bad, right?

Michael Kors became the first brand to roll out the first Instagram ad with a luxury watch surrounded by a table of macaroons. This one post generated 33,000 new followers and garnered more than 218,000 likes within just 18 hours.

Blackberry

BB’s days may be numbered but new CEO John Chen claims the real numbers will allow the company to survive.  The company’s global enterprise customer base exceeds 80,000, says Chen, three times the number of customers compared to Good, AirWatch and MobileIron combined.

That makes the Blackberry niche MDM – Mobile Device Management. Those with the most stringent security needs may still depend solely on BlackBerry to secure their mobile infrastructure. For governments, BlackBerry cannot simply be replaced— they are the only MDM provider to obtain “Authority to Operate” on U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) networks.

This means the DoD is allowed to use only BlackBerry. Across the globe, seven out of seven of the G7 governments are also BlackBerry customers. We’ll see if Blackberry’s numbers and extrapolated version of “Fantasy Football” adds up to the real thing in the long term. We hope it does! [24×7]