With 2020 coming to a close, it’s time to set our sights on the upcoming year.

In this episode, I’m sharing 7 digital marketing trends to watch in 2021. 

After listening, you’ll be WAY ahead of the curve and won’t get caught off guard by the changing online landscape.

If you liked this episode, leave a comment below & let me know which trend was most helpful!

Cheers to a happy and prosperous new year 🙂

What You’ll Learn:

  • Important changes that may impact your ad revenue in 2021.
  • Why it will be even more important to diversify your income streams moving forward.
  • Exciting new places you may be able to utilize SEO.
  • What to focus on to prepare your site for upcoming Google algorithm changes.
  • The future of podcasts and how you can leverage them for your brand.

Episode Show Notes

Erica Julson: Welcome to The Unconventional RD Podcast, where we inspire dietitians to think outside of the traditional employment box and create their own unconventional income stream. We'll talk all things online business to help you start, grow, and scale your own digital empire.

Erica Julson: Well, hello there. Last week was pretty wild with Black Friday/Cyber Monday stuff happening. So I didn't really get a chance to adequately share and promote the previous week's episode about launching a nonprofit. So that's why I didn't release anything new last Monday. And in case you were wondering, my last chance Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale went freaking amazing. There weren't any discounts on my offerings, but it was the last chance to enroll at the current prices before I revamp everything for 2021. And in the month of November, I had over 70 people join my courses, and I made $64,500 in course sales. What? That is far and away my best month ever in the history of my business. And I even actually made more money than that from other revenue streams and ended up having a 70K month, which is absolutely insane.

Erica Julson: But of course that's not all profit. I also paid roughly $11,000 in affiliate commissions to my affiliates, which are people who have signed up to promote my course, and they earn 50% commission on any successful referrals. And I also have of course, my regular tech related expenses for running the website, and hosting the videos for the courses, and all that. But that's only like maybe a couple hundred dollars a month anyway. And I did not spend anything on ads. So this was all organic sales made via my Facebook group, my email list, and word of mouth via my affiliates.

Erica Julson: So the net profit for the launch was just over $50,000 for the month. Of course, I still have to pay taxes on that. But that is so freaking wild. That is again, my best month ever in The Unconventional RD business. And I celebrated by freaking paying off my credit card debt that had been looming over my head for the last six years from my days back in grad school. And my first few years as a dietitian, there were some really lean months as a budding entrepreneur where I had to dip into my credit card to survive. And that had been kind of hanging over my head for quite some time. And it's now officially gone. So it's such a light feeling.

Erica Julson: So anyway, I just wanted to update you guys with how everything went. Maybe in some future episodes, I'll dive into the strategy of what I did during that launch and why I think it went well. But for today, I'm here to talk to you about digital marketing trends to watch in 2021. So I've put together seven things that have kind of been on my mind and that I believe you should watch for or implement on in 2021. So without further ado, let's dive into those seven digital marketing trends to watch in 2021.

Erica Julson: Trend number one, transitioning to a cookie-less world. And you're probably like, "What? Cookies, what does this have to do with digital marketing?" But cookies are actually something that's used in the digital marketing world. And a specific type of cookie known as the third-party cookie is basically going away for all of the main internet browsers by 2022. Which means preparing for this change is probably going to be a big part of 2021. And Safari and Firefox browsers have already phased out third-party cookies. But why I'm mentioning this as a trend for 2021 is because Google Chrome, which is like the most popularly used browser, is also going to be phasing out third-party cookies by the end of the year.

Erica Julson: Let's start by defining what cookies are. Google's definition is a cookie is a small piece of text sent to your browser by a website you visit. It helps the website remember information about your visit, which can make it easier to visit the site again, and the site more useful to you. So for example, we use cookies to remember your preferred language, to make the ads you see more relevant to you, to count how many visitors we receive to a page, to help you sign up for our services, to protect your data, or to remember your ad settings. So those are all the ways that Google uses cookies.

Erica Julson: And cookies is a broad term. So again, it's just a small piece of text that gets sent to your browser. So whatever you're looking at a website through, probably Google Chrome, or Safari, or Firefox, one of those things. And it gets stored by your browser and kind of remembers you. And there's different types of cookies. There's first-party cookies and there's third-party cookies. And third-party cookies are the ones that are kind of going away in the future. So let's dive into the difference between those two things so you can really understand how this might impact you, and your business, and your revenue most importantly.

Erica Julson: So again, cookies are used to track users' behavior essentially. But first-party cookies are created and stored by you, the website owner. So your own website is generating first-party cookies. Whereas third-party cookies are created and stored by external sites that have some sort of script or tag on your site.

Erica Julson: So for example, a first-party cookie might be used when someone's logging into a website. There will be a cookie placed by that website in your browser so it will remember your login info. So you don't have to re-login every single time you visit the website, or add something into your shopping cart, or whatever.

Erica Julson: A third-party cookie for example might be used in the context of advertising scripts. So if there's an ad on the website that you're visiting, that ad network might be placing a cookie to kind of track your behavior so they can serve you similar ads later on. So those are the cookies that are kind of in question coming up. So obviously, this is going to impact digital advertising. It's going to have an impact on display ads on websites. So ads shown in content through Google AdSense, add networks like Mediavine or AdThrive. It might affect paid ads in the sense that it will be more difficult to re-target people based on their behavior if you're not as easily able to track their behavior. And it might impact affiliate marketing because affiliate links use tracking cookies. And we'll talk about this in a second. There's some work around there. But just FYI, you might want to double check and make sure that whatever affiliate marketing platform you're using is compliant with the future wave of affiliate marketing and isn't relying on these soon to be antiquated third-party cookie solutions.

Erica Julson: So what is going to happen? If we can't track people's behavior, that basically means that ad companies are going to have a disadvantage for the ads they're showing you. Because right now, they basically know what websites you visited, and what you've looked at on the internet. So that then they can show you ads based on things they know that you're interested in. And that leads to better return on investment for the companies buying the ads. So if that gets taken away, companies may not want to spend as much on ads. And that could hurt publishers. So bloggers essentially, who are putting those ads on their website. They might not be able to get as much money per view essentially, if it's not as targeted.

Erica Julson: So obviously, ad networks like Mediavine and AdThrive are working on this because they don't want their revenue to drop. That would be bad for their business as well. So there's not so much that you need to do as a publisher. Just more so be aware that this is coming, and pay attention to what your ad network is doing about it.

Erica Julson: So some of the creative things I've seen being talked about, there's a move to more cohort-based advertising. So instead of tracking people on an individual identifiable track, like using an individual cookie, and tracking that individual person's behavior, and serving that individual and ad based on that behavior, it's more de-identifying that information so you can't track it to any singular person. But kind of lumping similar people together into cohorts, and then advertising to them on a more anonymous level. So you won't be able to granularly control how often someone sees your ad or stop showing it if that person purchases, because you won't know that they purchased. But, you can kind of potentially advertise to groups of similar people, sort of a more generic ad.

Erica Julson: There's also a move towards contextual advertising. So showing ads based on the content on the page, which is how ads used to work before we knew how to target based on cookies, and pixels, and all that. So we might be going back to that route where if you write a blog post on cookies, then maybe ads for some of the ingredients used in the cookie recipe might show on the page, or an ad for baking products, or something like that.

Erica Julson: There's also a possibility to track people with their consent if they have logged in to use a service. So Google for example, doesn't have to worry so much about this because they track what their users are doing when they're logged in to their Gmail accounts. You know how you can use your Gmail account to log into different websites? Well, then they can track what you're doing on those websites. And same thing with Facebook. If you use your Facebook profile to log in to other platforms, they can track what you're doing as well.

Erica Julson: So the bigger platforms kind of don't have so much to worry about this. But smaller companies are trying to kind of replicate that model, I guess. So there's a move in the blogging space to kind of come up with social sharing buttons of sorts where people have to log in to kind of socially share your content, or like your content, or whatever. With the idea being that if this becomes standard practice in the blogging world, and these logged in tools are maybe managed by ad networks, then they'll be able to still track your behavior and serve customized ads. But part of logging in would be giving your consent for that to happen.

Erica Julson: And yeah, those are just a few things. I'm sure there's more possible ways that we'll get around this. But I just wanted to mention it as something to be aware of. And just a little more detail, if any of you guys listening are currently with Mediavine, the ad network that I talk about a lot in my courses, they've already publicly mentioned how they're kind of getting around this. Even all the way back in 2019, they saw this coming. And they are actually partnered with a company called GumGum, which is a contextual intelligence engine. And they use AI to kind of figure out what a piece of content is about. So beyond just the words on the page, but also looking at your alt text on your images, your video captions, things like that, to try to come up with an idea of what the content is about. So that advertisers can decide to potentially target that piece of content with relevant ads.

Erica Julson: And it works really well for like targeting certain holidays or events like back to school and stuff like that. So they're currently using this only for smaller, direct deals with advertisers. They can say, "We have this piece of content targeted around this holiday or event. Do you want to place a special ad here?" And they'll kind of come up with a separate agreement for those types of highly targeted ads. But they're planning on making that capability part of just the open marketplace for advertisers, and hoping that that will help keep the costs, or what advertisers are willing to pay, keep that high so that the company themselves still brings in good revenue. And the publishers with the company still make good revenue. So yeah, their example was yes, as an advertising company, this is a quote, "We can say we have 3,000 food sites and this is a food blog, or this is a food article. But to drill down and find more information about it is where the AI comes in. So cool. It's a baking article. But is it sweet baking like cookies or is it baked chicken?" That's important for financial advertisers to know. So that's what the GumGum tool is going to be doing. So it will derive this data at scale.

Erica Julson: And they say that right now at the time of this article that I'm quoting came out, which was pretty recently, Mediavine had about 8,000 websites in their network. So 8,000 different websites on the internet are showing Mediavine ads and making revenue through Mediavine. So they have a good amount of data to work with. Yeah.

Erica Julson: And then again, they're also working on something, a tool called grow.me. Which has been met with not as much enthusiasm by the blogger community because it's not really a great user experience. But their idea is to create a tool where people would have to log in like I said, to kind of like or share content and then track their data with their consent after they've logged in. So they are trying to roll this out. They're kind of testing it right now. But we'll see how that goes. I don't know if there's enough incentive for me to want to create an account and log in to use a tool like that. I'd have to see. So I imagine that multiple companies will try solutions like this. I don't know how well it will go. But we'll see.

Erica Julson: So long story short, ad revenue for publishers might drop in 2021 while the industry gets used to all these changes. So if all of your revenue is dependent on display ads right now, possibly a good time to consider diversifying. Maybe bringing in other forms of revenue, which I'm going to talk about in a second.

Erica Julson: And then affiliate marketing as well, typically uses cookies. But if you're with any of the big platforms like ShareASale, or Commission Junction, or anything like that, they've already addressed this and reached out to their affiliates on the platform. And there's just some tweaks that the people running their affiliate programs through ShareASale have to make to be compliant. And you can actually check if you log in, and if you're an affiliate for people through ShareASale, log into your affiliate account and then look at your merchants. And if you click on the merchant profile, and on the right hand side, you see a green arrow that says ITP compliant. That means you're good to go. And your affiliate tracking and marketing will not be impacted by these changes. They've already fixed it. So, yay. That's great. But maybe if you run your own affiliate program, or you're not sure if the company that you are working with is compliant, you can always reach out and double check and ask what they're doing. But obviously another workaround that would work without cookies would be using something like affiliate codes, like discount codes, which is already something that's done. It's more commonly used in audio formats maybe, like podcasts, or radio, or even Instagram stories. I've seen it where people say, "Use this code to get X percent off." And that's really an affiliate code. So that person gets a percentage of every sale made, for example.

Erica Julson: So affiliate platforms are adapting on this. They've seen it coming, they're ready for the most part. And yeah, so there are work arounds that are being put into place. But yeah, that's trend number one. Things will be changing, especially in the advertising and affiliate marketing spaces, and paid advertising spaces, which is not really my forte. I haven't really dabbled in paid advertising at all. But since all of those methods use cookies in some capacity, be on the lookout for changes coming up in 2021 for all of those avenues.

Erica Julson: Trend number two, the importance of multiple revenue streams. So this is going to be doubly important, I think in 2021, as things like this roll out. So as all of these changes happen in digital revenue streams, it's going to be even more important to not have all your eggs in one basket. So if you are fully reliant on one digital income stream in your business, that's not totally under your control. Like display advertising or affiliate marketing. I would seriously consider sitting down, sometime in December, and plotting out how you can diversify your income streams in 2021. So of course, ad revenue and affiliate income are wonderful. And many people have thriving businesses based off of those income streams alone. But, there is risk involved if all your eggs are in one basket.

Erica Julson: So for ad revenue, we don't yet know how changing the cookie landscape is going to affect RPMs. So RPM is our revenue per mill, how much you earn per 1,000 views to your site. And there's a good chance they're going to at least fluctuate with all of these changes. And if your current ad revenue is just enough to get you by, you might consider branching out into other ways of monetizing while also still serving your audience. So maybe you create a digital good like paid eBooks, paid webinars, masterclasses, etc. But other opportunities could maybe include sponsored content. I can imagine that if display advertising isn't as effective, that perhaps advertisers would be more willing to work directly, because then they would have more control over what's getting seen by who. So that's a good potential pitch opportunity for you if you want to get into more sponsored content, highlight the fact that they do have more control, and you can manually place these ads and create this content to get your interested segment of your audience to buy.

Erica Julson: Maybe dabble in some affiliate marketing as another income stream, or something even larger perhaps like a paid course or a membership site. Although fair warning, courses and membership sites take a lot of work. So I wouldn't dive in unless you really have a solid plan in place on how you're going to implement that without kind of dropping the ball in other areas of your business.

Erica Julson: And then if your primary revenue stream is affiliate marketing, that's great. Again, some people that's their whole business model is affiliate marketing. Usually they either have a really large brand or audience that they're leveraging. Or maybe they run one or more affiliate sites focused on things like product reviews, tutorials, comparisons, etc. And all of those pieces of content push someone to want to buy something. And they include their affiliate links inside that content and make commissions on any sales after someone clicks those links.

Erica Julson: But, affiliate marketing is not 100% in your control either. So hopefully even within affiliate marketing, you've diversified the platforms that you're an affiliate with. So you could be an affiliate directly with a company who runs their own program. You could be joining programs through platforms like ShareASale, or maybe even other kind of marketplaces. Like Amazon or Walmart for example, all of those have affiliate programs.

Erica Julson: But it's not uncommon for affiliates to change their terms, or their commission rates, or even just shut down their program entirely, which could have a big impact on your business if that's your main income stream. So for example, this year, Amazon cut a lot of their affiliate commission rates. So for example, supplements went from three point something percent to 1%, and took my site from earning over $300 a month in Amazon affiliate commissions, to just $100 a month overnight. So imagine if that had gone from 3,000 to 1,000, or 30,000 to 10,000. That could be potentially devastating for your business, right?

Erica Julson: So yes, you can typically recover eventually by finding other opportunities or platforms, but it's still a headache. So along similar lines, if you have all your eggs in one basket, no matter what basket that might be, you really should consider branching out and diversifying your income. And just like you should be diversifying your income, if all of your traffic sources or all of your audience is dependent from one stream or coming from one place, definitely make sure that you are capturing them on your email list. So that no matter what happens to that platform or place, you still have direct contact with your people. And consider diversifying if you have that one traffic source already pretty nailed in.

Erica Julson: So for example, if you're a blogger and you're focused on Pinterest, and that's your number one traffic driver, that's fabulous. But, you are still vulnerable to algorithm changes. So if something happened with Pinterest and they stopped showing your content really well in their platform, that could be devastating to the number of people coming to your site, the number of people buying through your affiliate links, the number of people visiting your content and earning you ad impressions. All of that. So maybe if that's you, you could consider branching out into another traffic stream like SEO. Hint hint, y SEO course would be great for that. It'll be opening up again in 2021 at some point.

Erica Julson: If you are somebody who sells digital courses let's say, and so far you've just been solely focused on Instagram. That's great. But again, you are vulnerable to potential algorithm changes in Instagram, which has happened this year. So you could maybe consider expanding to video on YouTube, or written content via an SEO optimized blog. Just so all of your traffic isn't tied to just one source. And again, always be getting people on your own email list so you have direct contact with them, no matter what happens. And vice versa. If all you focus on let's say is SEO, once you get that system sort of nailed in, start thinking about how you can expand and repurpose that content for other platforms like YouTube, Pinterest, etc.

Erica Julson: Trend number three to watch is SEO expanding to other mediums. So amid the election hullabaloo of this year, Instagram temporarily shut down its hashtag feature. And I believe it's yet to return. So who knows what's going to go on with that. But what's arisen instead is the idea of Instagram SEO. So searching by keyword directly within the platform. So right now, if you open your Instagram app and you go to the search thing on the top, and you type in just a word, like couch or something. Or I don't know, maybe couch won't show anything. Because they don't have keywords for every single phrase, but I don't know. I'm going to open up actually my Instagram app right now and test this out. Let's do something nutrition specific.

Erica Julson: So if I open my Instagram app, I click the search thing on the bottom and then go to the search tab on the top. What happens if I type in nutrition? Okay. So you type in nutrition. And then underneath, it's going to give you keyword suggestions for things that people are searching for that use that word. It doesn't tell you how many people are searching, but enough for it to be something that they think is worth showing up in these first few suggestions.

Erica Julson: So right now just right off the top, I typed in nutrition. And it says nutrition, nutrition plan, and vegan nutrition. And then there's a see more. So I clicked that, and it tells me nutrition expert, nutritional cleansing, nutritional yeast, Scitec nutrition, skin nutrition, pet nutrition, and bodybuilding nutrition. So these are all topics that people are looking for in Instagram, and you can optimize. So these are like keywords essentially for Instagram. So I'm going to click on one and see what happens. I click on skin nutrition, and it brings up a new feed of posts for people who talk about skin nutrition. And I just clicked on a random one. It's a Isi Natural Skin Care. And their caption underneath the image says daily doses skin nutrition. And it's I don't know, post about passion fruit body oil. So that's not really that relevant to skin nutrition.

Erica Julson: But because they use the words skin nutrition at the top probably of their caption, they showed up ranking for that keyword. And this was posted two days ago. So you can see how this has a lot of potential. So this means potentially that older posts would be able to surface in search if they really meet the needs of the searcher. And that could be a complete game changer for the platform. Because right now it's sort of just like a daily attention getter, and you kind of have to keep posting consistently to keep the attention, and interacting, and engaging. But with this capability, it almost turns into more of an evergreen search engine, more like Pinterest. And that could help your older content still work for you down the line, which would be great.

Erica Julson: I'm not sure if it would really drive much traffic to your website since there's not really links in your regular posts, but it would definitely help your brand get consistent eyeballs on it, probably help you increase your following. And then you could engage with them and hopefully get them into your ecosystem outside of just Instagram.

Erica Julson: So it's not totally clear on how to optimize for this yet. There's no keyword research tools for Instagram. But, you can try to optimize by including the words and phrases that you've found by doing little search test. So type topics and see what comes up. Try including those words and phrases in the captions of your posts, so that your content matches what people might be typing into the search bar so that you might show up when people are looking for those things.

Erica Julson: And, also make sure that you're using these keywords in the alt text on your images if it makes sense. Alt text is important for accessibility for visually impaired people. That's what screen readers will use to tell someone what an image is about. So in the alt text, you're supposed to describe the image so as if someone who couldn't see it would know what was there. So baked lasagna in large red bowl or something like that, so that the person could visually imagine what's in the picture. So if baked lasagna was your keyword, then great, that fits in naturally. You don't want to overstep it, but if it fits in naturally, use it. And that will probably help you show up better in the search results, much like it does for Google image search.

Erica Julson: And previously, you were only able to search and find accounts based on the keywords that they used in their actual account handle or their bios. But like I said, now individual posts can show up in the search too. So I think that they're really going to lean into this in the future, because it is a great user experience and a good way to capitalize on all the older, but highly relevant content that might not have been seen with just hashtags.

Erica Julson: Similarly, SEO is starting to become a thing for podcasts in Google search. So if you caught my news round up last month, you know that Google Podcasts Manager, which if you run a podcast, you need to be signed up with Google Podcasts Manager. They are showing you now what keywords your podcast appears for within Google search, and which episodes do the best in Google search as well. And since Google doesn't actually show podcasts in the results for very many keyword queries right now, if you're just searching for something, it's probably not going to show a podcast in the search results unless you put the word podcast in the search query.

Erica Julson: So the data is pretty sparse right now. I shared details on that in that last episode. But the fact that they're even rolling this out tells me that it's something that they hope to focus on and perhaps grow in the future. So if podcasts start showing up for more common keywords, this could be a great source of organic growth for your brand. And at this point, it's unclear what they're looking at when they're deciding to rank a podcast in the search results. Whether they're just looking for keywords in the title, or the description, or whether they can actually 'listen' to your content. Well, they said that they can listen and index audio, but it's unclear how much they weight that in deciding to show a podcast episode. So it's probably a good idea to try to optimize for keywords in all of those areas. Your title, your description, your actual content to cover your bases. So again, kind of using keyword research strategies to even come up with your content in the first place. So that as this starts to be a bigger thing, your content's already optimized to show up for search results, and you're using your podcast potentially to answer common search queries that people might be looking for.

Erica Julson: Trend number four, increasing focus on user experience. So if you've been following along in the SEO world, you are probably highly aware that in May, 2021, Google is officially going to be using something called Core Web Vitals as a part of their ranking algorithm in combination with the user experience signals that they already use, like having HTTPS. So secure website, safe browsing with no malware, no intrusive interstitial popups. Which means if you're on mobile, nothing that pops up right when someone comes to your site that covers the whole screen. You can get a manual penalty for that right now. And wanting your site to be mobile friendly.

Erica Julson: So those things are already part of the ranking algorithm. But they're adding something called Core Web Vitals. And these are three explicit page speed metrics that are going to be used as ranking factors. And of course, site speed right now is already used as a factor, but only in very nebulous terms. They've never come out and said exactly what they're looking for when they talk about page speed. And now we know, and we can prepare. So they've given us plenty of time, over a year of forewarning that this is coming out. They just told us the date, so now we know. And our goal is to analyze our own websites for these metrics, and make sure that we are following best practices, and are in the fastest speed range for these metrics so that it doesn't hurt our rankings and possibly helps us.

Erica Julson: So the three Core Web Vital metrics are Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID), and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS). So let's go through each of those one by one in regular people terms. So Largest Contentful Paint or LCP is kind of how fast your website is loading. It's how long it takes the largest piece of content on the page to actually load and be visible for the user. And they want it to be under two and a half seconds in an ideal world. But anything over four seconds is probably going to hurt you. And they are saying this is done kind of page by page on your site. But overall for your whole site, they recommend that at least 75% of your pages should meet this metric to be considered good. So ideally, 75% of your pages should load, or the biggest piece of content on the page should load under two and a half seconds. So that's the first metric.

Erica Julson: The second metric is First Input Delay, and this is a metric measure of interactivity. So how long until the website is actually interactive. So we're able to click links, or buttons, or use a drop down menu, or type texts into a form, etc. We want it to be interactive in under 100 milliseconds, ideally. And anything over 300 milliseconds is considered poor.

Erica Julson: And then the third one is Cumulative Layout Shift or layout stability. And this has to do with not having the whole page shift around as it loads, because that is not a good user experience. So I'm sure you've all had this happen to you where you're going to click on something on a website. You're like, "This is the button." And then the page finishes loading, and the whole thing kind of moves. And as you're clicking, the button moves. And now all of a sudden you're clicking on an ad or something, and it opens in a new window and you're like, "Oh no, that's so annoying. Now I have to go back and click on the right thing, close this window out." That's what Google is trying to avoid with this metric. So they want you to have very minimal Cumulative Layout Shift. And what most often causes these shifts. I'd say nine times out of 10 from what I've seen with just our peers, is it's often ad network related. So I'm assuming ad networks are working on this. But if the area that they've designated for the ad to load isn't quite the same as the size of the actual ad, it could shift. If you are having images load on your page without specifying the dimensions of the image, that can cause it, et cetera.

Erica Julson: So how do you know how your website is actually performing for these Core Web Vital metrics? Well, there's a couple of ways. You can go to Google PageSpeed Insights. So if you just Google that, it will take you to a website where you can enter the URL for any page on your site and see how it's performing. It tells you right there. You can also see the overall data for your site within Google search console on the left hand side there, once you're logged in. There's a whole tab for Core Web Vitals. And you can see which pages on your site are good, which pages could maybe use some work, and which pages are actually performing very poorly. Ideally you could get them all to be in the great range. If they're just in the mediocre range, you're probably okay. But try to avoid having them be in the actually poor range, if you can. And I don't want you to overly obsessed about this either. Stuff like this like page speed is still less important than creating high quality content that actually meets the user's search intent. So it still matters, but it's more of a tie-breaker ranking factor than the make it or break it.

Erica Julson: So if you have the world's best piece of content that wonderfully addresses the search query. So you're very thoroughly answering someone's question based on what they're typing into Google. Even if your site is slow, you should still rank at the top because you have the best content. You won't lose out to lower quality content on faster sites. And vice versa. If you have shitty content, and you're just ignoring that and just trying to make a fast website, that's not going to give you the returns that you're looking for. So content is still the most important, and speed is more like a tiebreaker. So if everybody on page one has equally amazing content, then perhaps working on your page speed will help boost you to the top.

Erica Julson: It's also relevant for getting featured in the top stories section of Google on mobile. So if you look for a current event, you'll probably see a scrolling section of articles called top stories. But that's not really relevant for most regular bloggers because those are news outlets usually that fill those spots. But just FYI, it is a factor for getting into that section as well.

Erica Julson: And Google has already been testing badges that they're going to show in the search results to kind of alert searchers to how the websites in the search results are performing on these user experience metrics. So they have a page experience icon. So it's a small gray circle with a white star in the middle. And for websites that pass these kind of Core Web Vital page experience metrics and they're performing well, they get that small gray circle with the white star in it to the right side of their URL in the search results. So at the top of your search result listing, it kind of shows the URL that you're about to head to. And to the right of that, where the amp sign currently appears, which is just sort of a gray circle with a white lightening bolt in it. If you pass the page experience metrics, you'll get that gray circle with a white star.

Erica Julson: And I've looked for this. It does not show up for me when I'm searching. So it's definitely still being tested and rolled out. But once it is out, I kind of doubt the average Googler will even really notice or know what it means. So I don't think it's really going to have that much of an impact on click-through rate. But maybe from an SEO perspective and planning perspective, it could be useful perhaps when you're analyzing the SERPs, the search engine result pages, and looking at how the upcoming algorithm update in May, 2021 is perhaps influenced by these user experience Core Web Vital metrics. So if more pages with the symbol start to appear on page one, it can maybe help us judge like how important this factor is versus other ranking factors.

Erica Julson: And in some recent Q&As, Google specified that these user experience factors are only going to apply to the mobile index. So the mobile version of your website, which is the main index that Google uses. So not the desktop index. So when you're analyzing your page speed, make sure you're really honing in on the mobile scores, because that's going to be the most important. And if you need help with page speed, when my SEO course comes out again, you're free to enroll in 2021. So there should be time in 2021 to get in to my course and learn about this, and make these changes before the algorithm update.

Erica Julson: I have a whole DIY module on this topic, so you can do it yourself for a very affordable price. Or you can pay someone like a company like iMark Interactive. I will include my affiliate link for their services in the show notes. If you go to theunconventionalrd.com/episode047, you will find my link to their services. So that company offers a page speed service where they will just go in and try to improve your page speed for you. And I believe it costs about $500 for just that one service, just to put into perspective how awesome of a deal my course is. My course, the price is going up, but I was previously charging $590 for my entire course on all SEO things, including page speed. Whereas if you have someone go in and do it for you, it's about $500 just for that one service.

Erica Julson: But, if you are a blogger and you currently have Ezoic ads on your site on, they will not be able to help you based on the way that those ads cache things on your website. I guess they're limited in their ability to help speed it up. And they also note that if you use the Divi theme, you should expect slower speeds and kind of worse results based on the work that they do on your site, because of the way that the theme is coded.

Erica Julson: And that's exactly why even though I built all my sites with the Divi theme, I don't actually recommend it. I did this years ago, because I purchased a lifetime membership to Divi in 2010 I want to say when they were just starting. And I just happened to have that. So when I was on a budget and just starting out years ago, I built my sites with Divi because that's what I had and I didn't have to spend any more on another theme. But I don't recommend that in today's day and age. It's not the best. It's too bulky and slow.

Erica Julson: So if you go through my free how to start a website tutorial at theunconventionalrd.com, just click the how to start a website tutorial link at the top, if you want to sign up. But I guide you through how to start an entire WordPress website from scratch. And in that tutorial, I recommend using the Astra theme with the Elementor plugin for most dietitians, if you're just wanting to have a private practice website with some articles on it. Or if you want to specifically be a food blogger and only a food blogger, then I recommend using the Genesis theme with the Feast plugin to help you optimize your site. So FYI, your theme matters, and Devi is slow.

Erica Julson: So in addition to these Core Web Vitals, if you haven't fully addressed those other aspects of user experience yet. Like having HTTPS, not HTTP, not having malware on your website, not using intrusive interstitial popups, and making sure your site is mobile friendly. So responsive, like it resizes and re-formats itself when you look at it on mobile, instead of having to zoom in with your fingers. Make sure that you take time to improve all of those metrics too. Because those already matter and will continue to matter in 2021.

Erica Julson: And then beyond that, just take a holistic look at your website from a UX standpoint, a user experience standpoint. Is it a pleasant, easy to navigate space with content that's accessible and clear? And if not, what can you improve? And beyond just Google's algorithm, having an accessible website is more important than ever. Just like in-person businesses need to make their storefronts accessible to people with physical disabilities, websites need to do the same. So there are some great resources about website accessibility at a website called webaim.org. And they talk all about web accessibility, including checklist of things that you can do to make your website fully accessible. And this is something you need to do to be legally compliant as a website owner. And things we'll be looking at are using alt text on your images, so that people who use screen readers can understand what you're talking about with those images. Captions for your videos, large enough font size, and proper contrast between colors on your website.

Erica Julson: So this is definitely something that you should work into your 2021 plans. Because yes, I don't want to scare you, but bloggers including people like food bloggers can and have been sued over accessibility issues. So it's unlikely that you would be somebody targeted most likely, but it should be on your radar. And you should maybe also check with your business insurance to see if they would cover you in the event that you got sued for an accessibility related claim.

Erica Julson: Trend number five is around audio. I think audio is going to continue to gain traction in 2021. And the reason I think this is because of all the stuff that I've seen with Google playing around with making podcasts more visible in their search results and saying that they can index audio content now. Spotify has been pouring a ton of money into podcasts. So I think that they're going to be an even bigger player in the years to come.

Erica Julson: I'm excited to see perhaps if podcast ad networks become a thing in the future, like we kind of have on blogs today. I don't think this will happen in 2021, but just something to maybe keep an eye on if there's baby steps towards it. So just like we used to have to manually place ads on blogs, but now we have sophisticated ad networks that serve up the ads automatically. I think the same thing will eventually happen in the podcasting space, to where you don't have to manually connect with advertisers, and then manually place the ad in your episode. I think eventually, there will be automated podcast advertising and we'll get paid in a similar model as display advertising, per listen or some sort of rate per 1,000 listens, that type of thing.

Erica Julson: The reason it's a little hindered right now is because with podcasting, it's not like streaming. You can't tell when someone's actually listening to your podcasts at this very moment in the same way that you can with website visitors. Instead, podcasts are more, they're downloaded to your device. So we measure downloads for podcasts, not really technically listens. So if someone clicks the subscribe button to your podcast, when you come out with a new episode, their device will automatically download it. And that counts as a download number, whether they actually listen to it or not. So that's why it's a little difficult to show advertisers the value. Because just because someone downloaded, it doesn't necessarily mean they listened. And then it's difficult to track the performance of their ads in different episodes. So I can see this evolving in the future. I don't know how exactly, but I bet it will becomes a thing.

Erica Julson: And like I already mentioned, I think podcast search is going to become a thing in the future. Again, Google Podcasts Manager is finally showing you how your podcasts are being discovered in search. Maybe in the future, there will be podcasts keyword research, which would be super fun. And if you're thinking about whether or not 2021 is the right time to start a podcast, maybe. But I think it depends on your goals. And I think it's really important to understand your goals before you dive in.

Erica Julson: So since I've been doing this for basically a year now, I have discovered that I think podcasting is a really great value add to an existing audience. But not really a great way to grow a brand new audience from nothing. And that's because there's not really a good way to search for podcasts or episodes. So it's a lot harder to get organic growth. There are other strategies that you can use, like going on other people's podcasts to spread the word and stuff like that. But that's not as passive as targeting a keyword, creating content around it, and then just letting the people come to you, like you can with blogging.

Erica Julson: So if you already have an audience elsewhere, like on social media, or you get a lot of blog traffic, or you have a really solid and engaged email list and you want to become a thought leader in your space. And especially if you're selling something of your own to your audience, like products or services. It can in that scenario, really help establish trust, and build a relationship with you and your audience, and boost sales. But if your business model doesn't align with that, if you don't really care about being a thought leader, or you don't have a course or a service to offer, and you more want to be a content creator, then I kind of think you shouldn't start a podcast and you should just double down on creating content for your website so that you can get more ad revenue, and earn more money with affiliate links, and maybe do other types of digital goods that don't require as much trust and connection between you and other individuals. So I wouldn't probably focus on a podcast if that's the business model you're going after. So it depends, but just wanted to mention audio as a trend for 2021. Because I do think there's 12 months in 2021. And I bet we'll see some exciting innovation at some point in the year.

Erica Julson: And number six, continued focus on search intent. So an even greater shift away from just thinking about keywords, and really focusing on meaning search intent. So this is related to Google search. In the past, it used to be all about finding exact keyword phrases and kind of targeting those in the title of your content, in your headings, etc. But Google is getting smarter, and they're not so basic now as to just look for an exact phrase in your content. What they're doing with their algorithms is really trying to understand what someone really wants when they're searching for something. So they are getting better at understanding the deeper meaning and the deeper search intent behind the search query. And we need to adapt to that as content creators.

Erica Julson: So here's an example. If someone's searching for how to change a tire, change a tire tutorial, and change a tire instructions, all the people searching for those three things are really kind of looking for the same thing, right? They want to know how to change a tire, and they want someone to show them how. So in the past, those three different phrases might have surfaced different results in the search engine result pages, the SERPs. But the intent behind them is the same. So I think as Google gets smarter and their algorithm gets better at understanding intent, we're going to see some consolidation in the SERPs. So the highest quality content is probably going to come out on top across all those different queries, even if they don't have an exact matched keyword.

Erica Julson: So if I were you, I'd look for this in the search engine results as you're kind of perusing the keywords and doing your keyword research. If someone is at the top of page one even though they're not using the exact keyword, but when you click on their link, they really are doing an amazing job of satisfying the user intent, then you should be thinking, "Okay, I'm probably not going to outrank this person simply by using the exact match keyword. Because Google understands that this piece of content is really doing a great job meeting the needs of this person who's searching."

Erica Julson: So yes, keywords are important. You should still use them, sprinkle them throughout your content. But satisfying the user intent is really the most important. And that can help you rise to the top I think, above all right now.

Erica Julson: So, I would focus on creating deep content hubs on your website around certain niched topics. So pick a few topics that you want to go in depth on, on your website, and build out really solid content around those topics where you're kind of probably going to be using related keywords in a hub there. That will help you rank better for all of those queries and all of those topics, versus going super broad on your site and not really showing authority in any given area. So that's my recommendation for 2021 with content creation.

Erica Julson: And the last value, value number seven that I wanted to end with today is the importance of value based businesses. So with everything that's happened in 2020, the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, the election, people are increasingly wanting to align with companies that share their values. So for solopreneurs and small teams, this requires some introspection on the part of the business owner. Your company's values are really an extension of your own values. So take the time to really figure out what your values are, and how you can infuse those into your business.

Erica Julson: Having values is kind of like giving your business a rudder. It helps steer the ship. If you're unclear on your values, then you're going to be flailing all over the place, and facing uncertainty, and overthinking around every corner and with every decision. Having core values helps you make decisions more effectively. Because you can always double back to them and say, "Hey, is this in alignment with our values?" If yes, great. If no, let's not do that, or let's change the way that we're doing that. And don't rush into this exercise or do it in an inauthentic way because you want to follow the trends or something like that. That's not going to work. And that's going to actually probably come back to bite you in the butt if your words and actions don't align, because you didn't really mean them.

Erica Julson: So when you've actually done the work, so don't jump into this too quickly. Take the time to do the work and figure out your values. And then when you really feel confident in what you believe in and stand behind, then you sit down and plan out action steps for making sure that those values are coming through in your business. Things like making sure that your team and any events that you put on are diverse and inclusive, donating money or fundraising for certain causes throughout the year, treating your employees in a certain way, or creating a company culture that matches your values. Or creating content that makes your values clear, like Ben & Jerry's and their justice for all ice cream flavor. And even consider publishing your values on your website for everyone to see. And even maybe the ways that you've been embodying these values, or how you plan to embody these values in the future. All of that can really help attract the right people to you, who vibe with you and are on the same page. And I don't know about you, but when I see businesses that really do embody my values, I'm like, "Yeah, this is amazing." And it makes me want to support them even more.

Erica Julson: And again, you're not going to please everyone. So I think part of the hesitancy that can come up with this is wanting to people please, and being afraid of people who don't share the same values coming at you. But that's why you need to do the inner work. And you need to be confident and secure in your values before you go through and publish them on your website, for example. Because if you have any doubt inside of you, that's going to cause problems as well.

Erica Julson: So I might do a podcast episode on this in the future, because it's really important, and something that I've personally been working on in 2020. And maybe I could share some of what I've been doing and action steps that might help you guys as well.

Erica Julson: So to recap, the seven different digital marketing trends to watch in 2021.

Erica Julson: Number one was transitioning to a cookie-less world, and to watch out for how your ad revenue and your affiliate income might fluctuate based on that. Trend number two, double down on the importance of multiple revenue streams. So since we know that things like display ads, and ad retargeting, and things like that are going to fluctuate in 2021, be prepared for that and start thinking now about how you can diversify your income streams. So that if one of these streams is negatively impacted, it's not going to really significantly hurt your business.

Erica Julson: Trend number three, watch for SEO to expand to other mediums. So Instagram SEO and podcast SEO might be things that start to emerge in 2021.

Erica Julson: Trend number four, increasing focus on user experience. So making sure that your website is fast, that it's meaning all those Core Web Vital metrics, and all of the other page experience metrics that Google really focuses on. As well as making sure that your website is accessible for all.

Erica Julson: Trend number five, pay attention to audio, and the traction that audio might be gaining in 2021. And continue to focus on search intent when you create content on your blog. That's trend number six. We want to make sure that above all, we are creating content that meets what people are looking for when they type something into the Google search bar. And we're not just focusing on keyword variations, for example.

Erica Julson: And trend number seven, highlighting the importance of value based businesses. So really taking the time to figure out your values and infuse those into your business once you have them nailed down.

Erica Julson: So that's it. That's my seven digital marketing trends to watch in 2021. And as always, if you're listening and you have not clicked the subscribe button yet, please do so on whatever platform you're listening on so you can continue to get the new episodes as they come out. And if you're not already in my free Facebook group, just search for The Unconventional RD Community on Facebook and request to join. It's a great space to talk about business and cheer each other on. So I will see you there and catch you next week for next week's episode.

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Erica Julson is a registered dietitian turned digital marketing pro. She has over 12 years of experience blogging and building online businesses and has taught over 900 wellness professionals inside her signature program, SEO Made Simple.