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Digital Marketing in 2016: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

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As most of us begin to looking toward to 2017 and innovations to come, we’re looking back at the changes that happened in digital marketing in 2016. These changes and updates will help set the stage for the trends that will dominate the digital landscape in the year to come.

As we prepare to ring in the new year, let’s take a look back at everything that happened in 2016:

Goodbye, Vine

Twitter announced in October 2016 that Vine would be discontinued in the months to follow. The platform was beloved by a loyal set of fans but apparently couldn’t stave off serious competition from Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook.

Vine users can download an archive of their Vines until January, at which point Vine says the Vine app will become the “Vine Camera”:

“The Vine Camera will allow you to make 6.5 second looping videos and post them to Twitter, or save them to your camera roll in a logged out state. You will not be able to do any of the other things you can currently do with the Vine app.”


Instagram goes ephemeral

Instagram entered the ephemeral content arms race in August 2016 with the launch of Instagram Stories - short-lived posts that disappear after 24 hours. Many saw the launch as a direct response to the popularity of the ephemeral content king, Snapchat.

The feature is meant to allow users to share as much as they want without fear of “overposting.” Stories do not appear on users profiles or in friends’ feeds - instead they’re clustered under a user’s profile photo at the top of the feed. Users can also overlay text and graphics on their posts, a feature that is distinct from traditional Instagram posts.

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Facebook enters live streaming:

Early in 2016 Facebook began rolling out its live streaming service, Facebook Live. The rollout means that live streaming is becoming more accessible, both to ordinary users and to brands who are heavy users of the platform.

Facebook partnered with key content producers in 2016 to jumpstart streaming content, including partnering with ABC to stream the Republican and Democratic national conventions and the three 2016 presidential debates.

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Adwords makes big changes

Expanded Text Ads (ETA):

Google made big changes to text ads in 2016, updating the standard text ad format to an expanded one. Expanded text ads feature the following updates, summarized by Adwords below:

  • Two headline fields (up to 30 characters each)
  • A single, expanded description field (up to 80 characters)
  • A display URL that uses your final URL's domain
  • Two optional “Path” fields, used in the ad’s display URL (up to 15 characters each)

Existing standard text ads will continue to display after January 2017, but all new ads created will be in the expanded format.

Bye-bye right rail:

2016 was the year we said goodbye to ads showing in the right rail of the search results page. With the elimination of right rail ads Google began showing four text ads above the organic when queries are “highly commercial” in nature. They also made room for three text ads below the organic results. Shopping listings may sometimes still appear in the right rail.


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Snapchat innovates

Sponsored geofilters:

Snapchat introduced the ability to create sponsored geofilters. Now brands can design their own geofilter and choose the time and place to enable it. Sponsored geofilters allow brands to use logos and trademarks - something that is not permitted with community geofilters.

Sponsored stories:

Snapchat also launched ads -- or “stories” -- that appear between users’ stories. The sponsored stories are full-screen and play sound automatically if the user has sound turned on. Advertisers can send users to longer videos, articles, or an app install directly from the ads.

Spectacles:

Finally, the company released Spectacles just in time for the holiday gadget rush. Spectacles are glasses that features a built-in camera that record video and automatically save it to a user’s memories. Users can later publish those videos as stories.


Facebook plagued by fake news

It would have been difficult to make it through 2016 without hearing about the scourge of fake news -- blamed by many for influencing the presidential election, and for causing a someone to open fire in a pizza shop. Facebook is a natural place for fake news to flourish and in December, following mounting pressure, they announced that they would allow users to flag potentially dubious news stories which would then be fact-checked by outside sources. Stories that don’t pass the fact-check will be flagged with a notice to users and may be bumped further down the newsfeed.

Algorithm updates

Mobile-friendly boost:

Google began using a website’s mobile-friendliness as a ranking factor in 2015. In May of 2016 they increased the weight of mobile-friendliness as a factor, which means that it’s more important than ever to make sure your website is optimized to perform on all devices. Find out if your website is up to snuff with Google’s mobile-friendly test tool.

Penguin 4.0:

Penguin 4.0 was a hotly anticipated update among marketers. One big change is that rather than demote entire websites for bad or spammy links, the algorithm now simply devalues those links, eliminating concerns around negative SEO and being burned by an irresponsible SEO or company. Penguin 4.0 is also part of the core algorithm which means updates are made in real-time.

Possum:

Possum is an algorithm update (so-named by marketers) that happened in September, 2016 and affected local results. Key changes included:

  • Increased fluctuation in results based on variations in keywords and keyword order [eg; “web design nyc” vs. “new york web design”]
  • Improved rankings for businesses that are nearby the city used in the search, though they may technically be located outside the city limits.
  • Increased emphasis on the location of the searcher when the search is conducted.

Influencer FTC crackdown

Following the FTC’s release of a set of native advertising guidelines, Lord & Taylor came under scrutiny from the agency when 50 influential Instagrammers wore the same dress on the same day. The dress in question quickly sold out, but it later became clear that Lord & Taylor had paid the influencers to wear the dress and post about it without disclosing that fact.

The FTC’s response is a signal that they will be paying closer attention to influencer marketing and the onus is on brands to make sure paid partnerships are disclosed, regardless of the medium.

That’s a wrap for 2016! There were plenty of exciting changes and new innovations to keep us busy and we’ll be looking forward to what’s to come when January rolls around.

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