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The year 2020 surely was a weird one in every possible way, not just within the realm of digital marketing. 

We had a global outbreak of the coronavirus; pandemic induced changes across almost all industries; celebrities yet again embarrassed themselves by creating a feel-good social-signaling-packed video in which they attempt to sing the chaos away; Bill Gates revisited his plan to put a tracing nanochip in all the Karens of the world; WW3 was trending for quite a while; cinema started to heal due to the lack of Marvel movies; the Home Alone kid turned 40; the US replaced one confused and obsolete boomer president with another; the presence of extraterrestrial life on Earth has pretty much been revealed by the Pentagon (with a puzzling absence of almost any reaction from the public)… the list does go on. 

Yes, 2021 has some serious shoes to fill content-wise (which apparently shouldn’t be too difficult), with an extremely easy task of being better than its predecessor. 

But how has 2020 impacted the realm of digital marketing? Well, we still don’t have all the puzzle pieces to delve deeper into this topic, but we do have an opportunity to go over some of the most relevant digital marketing events and news that took place during this notorious year.  

Let’s do just that. 

Google Announced ‘Web Core Vitals’ Becoming a Ranking Signal in May 2021

Google has officially announced that the Core Web Vitals metric (combined with existing UX-related signals) is becoming a search result ranking signal as of May 2021.

Core Web Vitals, which were introduced earlier in 2020, are created for measuring the speed, responsiveness, and visual stability of a page. They are a part of the ‘Page Experience’ signal that combines them with the following:

  • Mobile-friendliness
  • Safe-browsing
  • HTTPS-security
  • Intrusive interstitial guidelines

(Image Source: SEJ)

Here are the items that factor into the Core Web Vitals:

Largest Contentful Paint – Represents the time it takes for a page to load its main content. Ideal LCP is 2.5 seconds or below.

First Input Delay – Represents the time it takes for a page to become interactive. Ideally, 100 ms or less.

Cumulative Layout Shift – Represents the amount of unexpected layout shift of the visual-based content. Ideally, it is 0.1 or less.

Read a more detailed coverage on Core Web Vitals here

The Rise of TikTok 

Whether you find this type of content entertaining or cringey, TikTok took the world by storm in 2020. The app, which was initially called “Douyin”, was first launched in China in September 2016, but was rolled out globally as “TikTok” the following year. In 2019, TikTok was the second most downloaded non-gaming app, while 2020 made way for its ridiculous success. 

The platform already has 800+ million users, with 115M recorded downloads during the first quarter of 2020 accounting for the most app downloads in a single quarter ever. 

But what’s the secret to TikTok’s success, especially within what already feels like an oversaturated social media environment?

There’s definitely a thirst for snackable video content that is easily accessible and manageable. This platform saw the opportunity to tap into this market, and with Vine and Snapchat out of the picture, TikTok emerged victorious by targeting young users and utilizing the room for connecting the East- and West-based clientele. 

Add to that the surge in celebrities who also didn’t take long to bite the hook, and you have yourself a brand new social media network that threatens to leave behind well-known giants like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, at least in terms of video content. 

Of course, not everything was smooth sailing for TikTok during 2020, but more on that later in this article. 

The New Content-Visibility CSS Property Can Boost Your Rendering Performance

Chromium 85 features the content-visibility property that should be an extremely useful new CSS property for boosting page load performance. 

It enables automatic or script management of content visibility, while its main objective is to allow the user agent to skip an element’s rendering work (layout and painting included) until there’s an actual need for it. Without rendering, a significant portion of the content is located off-screen. 

Digital Marketing Year in Review 2020 - CSS chromium | Four Dots

(Image Source: Web.Dev)

This CSS property improves UX by enabling faster page loading for the initial user, allowing for smoother interaction with onscreen content. 

You can read more on this new property here

The Many Google Search Algorithm Updates of 2020

The previous year was quite turbulent in terms of search algorithm updates as well. Google rolled out (at least) 3 broad core updates, with several big and unconfirmed ones throughout 2020. 

The visibility fluctuations and rankings volatilities didn’t lack, with one major change being introduced to the 1st page in the SERPs – the deduplication prevention for the featured snippet result

We go into much more detail about all the relevant Google algorithm updates of 2020 and their analyses in this recent article.  

Microsoft Launched Its Own Analytics Platform 

Microsoft Clarity is a free analytics tool that allows website managers broader insight into the behavior of their website visitor behavior. It manages to provide the data about what exactly they are looking for, without violating the users’ privacy. 

The analytics tools help publishers know how web users navigate a site and find opportunities for improvement, including reporting on something they call the “rage click” metric. 

As per the Microsoft team: 

“Clarity is designed to have a very low impact on page load times, so you can make sure users navigating to your site won’t have to wait for pages to load. Additionally, we don’t place any caps on your traffic so whether you get 10 visitors per day or 1,000,000, Clarity will be able to handle your traffic with no additional cost for you.”

Digital Marketing Year in Review 2020 - Microsoft analytics tool | Four Dots

(Image source: Search Engine Journal)

The tool is divided into three features:

  • Session playbacks
  • Heatmaps
  • Insights dashboard

We recommend this SEJ article for more information on this handy tool. 

The Evolution of Instagram

Instagram never hesitates to introduce new options and improve the usability and functionality of its platforms, but this social media giant used 2020 to add a cornucopia of new features:

…to name a few. 

This homepage redesign probably happened due to all the changes, given that implementing all these new features in a user-friendly manner was quite a challenge in and of itself. 

Naturally, the new look was received with mixed reviews and feelings, but all these new features are here to stay, especially Reels and Shopping which are likely to be the focus of Instagram’s improvements in 2021.

Google Revealed Top Searches of 2020

As usual, Google provided us with its annual list of top terms and phrases users around the world have been searching for during 2020

You can sort the lists by country or take a look at global search trends to see what people have been inquiring about the most. From Joe Biden, Kobe Bryant, Kim Jong Un, George Floyd and Tom Hanks, to Among Us, Zoom, Tiger King, and of course Coronavirus, the 2020 Google searches were just as colorful as the year itself.  

Here’s Google’s official “Year In Search 2020” video:

Our personal favorite insight is that 2020 was the year when people searched what day is it? more than any previous year in recorded history. Relatable stuff. 

Every Social Media Platform Now Has a “Stories” Feature

It is now official that stories have become an integral staple food of a modern content consumer. They are easy to bite, digest, and share, which is why every prominent social media platform now features this type of snackable content. 

“There’s an entire generation growing up with stories as a way of speaking,” says LinkedIn’s Senior Director of Product Management, Pete Davies. “They’re more comfortable starting conversations with a full-screen ephemeral format than posting updates.”

Facebook and Instagram have had the story feature for a while, but Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest have all used 2020 to follow suit

Google Announced a Switch to Mobile-First Content Indexing in March 2021

In October 2020, Google’s John Mueller revealed new information about the upcoming Mobile-First Indexing that should begin in March 2021, with an interesting piece of news stating any content that is visible as desktop-only will be “ignored” in terms of indexing. 

Digital Marketing Year in Review 2020 - google mobile-first index | Four Dots

As per Mueller: 

“…we’re now almost completely indexing the web using a smartphone Googlebot, which matches a lot more what users would actually see when they search. (…) So when a site is shifted over to mobile-first indexing, we will drop everything that’s only on the desktop site. We will essentially ignore that. Anything that you want to have indexed, it needs to be on the mobile site. And the final deadline we’ve come up with is March 2021.”

More information available in this SEJ article

Google Made it Free to Sell Products in Search Results 

Online merchants, SEOs, and website owners can now list products in the Google Shopping tab in search results free of charge by adding Google Shopping to their toolkit.

“For shoppers,” says Google, “it means more products from more stores, discoverable through the Shopping tab. For retailers, this means you can make your products discoverable in free listings by opting your existing product feeds into the surfaces across Google program.”

Digital Marketing Year in Review 2020 - search shopping free | Four Dots

(Image Source: SEJ)

This update was first made available for US-based users, with plans to soon expand this update globally. 

Facebook Identified Hottest 2021 Topics and Trends 

Facebook revealed its take on what the most talked-about trends and topics will be in 2021. Their research team pulled the data from anonymous accounts (Facebook and Instagram) and used this information to come up with valuable insights into what its users will talk about the most in 2021.

The social media behemoth published the research in a downloadable PDF form and divided the acquired insights into 4 basic categories:

  1. Education and Action
  2. Technology
  3. Lifestyle
  4. Leisure

For example, the Facebook team looked at the Black Lives Matter movement to understand how its users were educating themselves and taking appropriate action. 

According to Facebook:

“Shared instructions for calling elected officials underscore a renewed investment in local government, and people are advocating for policies that will benefit their cities, towns and neighborhoods. People are shifting their time and money toward advocacy…”

More information about these potentially useful insights available in this SEJ article

The Social Dilemma – a Documentary That Caused Big Hype, With Almost No Long-Lasting Effects 

Netflix released The Social Dilemma, a 90-minute piece that emphasizes the negative aspects of using major tech and social platforms. The documentary’s objective was to sound the alarm on the evermore evident polarization and overall downfall our society is experiencing right now, a huge part of which is induced by search algorithms and social media. 

However, the hype this documentary raised ended up being a perfect meta-allegory of what the movie talked and warned us about. Much like the (over)use of social media is shortening our attention spans and desensitizing us to virtually any type of new information due to the oversaturated noise, the effects of The Social Dilemma wound up being short-lasting as well. 

Instead of taking tangible action on a personal level and deleting Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram accounts (as many were so vocal about after the documentary first came out), the greatest majority of us continued to live our digital lives and let the algorithm lead us wherever its creators and stakeholders see fit. Not like most of us have many alternative choices anyway, since we’ve all become deeply entangled with and dependent on entities like Google. 

Here’s an interesting take on this issue coming from an experienced digital marketer. 

The Great WordPress Update Fiasco of 2020

The WordPress team will remember October of 2020 for a long time as it brought one of the company’s greatest debacles to this day. 

What began as a routine 5.5.2 update aimed at resolving various security issues, turned into a somewhat nightmarish scenario as it also introduced a certain bug that was preventing new WP installations. 

The company quickly stopped the launch of 5.5.2 and started working on 5.5.3 right away. But this is when WordPress auto-updates started pushing an Alpha version all on its own. A true Halloween story, indeed. 

Anyway, the WordPress team promised…

“…that won’t be done again. Now seems like a good time to document a correct and proper way of “stopping” a release in progress, which honestly had not been attempted before. Stopping a release is actually pretty simple if they had made the correct change, so while their attempt was a reasonable assumption to make, it turned out to be wrong.

The release system is complicated, and trying to do things with it that haven’t been anticipated and documented led to unexpected results. This will be improved through documentation and better code and management of the release system itself.”

Luckily, the 5.5.3 version is up and running and is bug-free. Check out this article for more detailed coverage of this event

TikTok VS The US Government 

TikTok and the Trump administration had their own long-lasting battle during 2020. The POTUS administration raised issues and concerns about the popular video-sharing platform because it is owned by a Chinese parent company ByteDance. 

The potential risk was based on the fact that TikTok’s US user data is being accessed by the Chinese government, which led to TikTok being banned from the US market by President Trump

The Chinese app then vowed to fight this potential scenario in court, but also started negotiating with several American companies about the potential selling of its U.S. operations, should the order be upheld.

After numerous back and forth, the saga is currently resolved as of December 7, when Washington D.C. district court judge Carl J. Nichols issued a preliminary injunction against the Commerce Department, therefore lifting any restrictions on TikTok operations within the US.

Have we seen the last of this now-notorious TikTok VS the US government battle? The clock will indeed tell. 

Ahrefs Rolled Out “AWT” – Its Own Webmaster Tools 

Ahrefs decided to treat the SEO community with its own version of Google Search Console called Ahrefs Webmaster Tools

As per Ahrefs: “You can think of Ahrefs Webmaster Tools (AWT) as Google Search Console…except made by Ahrefs. We wanted to give all content creators the data they need to optimize their websites. So with AWT, we’re essentially opening up free access to Site Audit and Site Explorer for verified websites. In other words, there aren’t any new features in AWT at all – we’re just making some parts of Ahrefs available for free.”

In other words, one of the most popular (and expensive) SEO software suites is not adding new features but is instead giving some of the existing ones for free usage. You can read more about AWT in their official posts here

Wrapping Up

This article could’ve easily been 3 times as long, given the volume of interesting and potentially disruptive events that took place during 2020. Despite the cliche-packed overtone of the following phrase, the digital marketing environment is indeed an ever-changing one and it just keeps on giving. 

When the holidays bring their own plot to a wrap, we recommend you hold on tight as 2021 has lots more turbulent content in store for us, we’re positive. Ahem, we’re sure

In the meantime, check out our weekly digital news digest for real-time coverage. 

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