WordStream's Top 20 Stories of the Year
The online advertising and digital marketing industries saw dozens of exciting developments this year, but 2017 also brought with it new challenges to be overcome, not least of which the fraught political and economic environment in which many small businesses are now struggling to survive.
As is customary here at WordStream, it’s time to take a look back at the most popular content from the WordStream blog of 2017. Many of our most popular stories reflect the ongoing tensions experienced by many digital marketers this year, and highlight just how fast some companies move (and how badly they break things).
Whether you had an incredible 2017 or can’t wait for the whole ordeal to be over, here are the 20 most popular articles we created this year.
Our most popular post of 2017 by a country mile, this original data revealing Facebook advertising performance benchmarks was a huge hit with WordStream readers. Covering a range of common metrics, including average cost-per-click, cost-per-action, conversion rates, and click-through rates, this data shows just how steep the competition is across 18 industry verticals, providing readers with an invaluable glimpse into the current state of advertising on the world’s largest social media platform.
Although original research data like this is always popular with our readers, it should come as little surprise that this was our most popular post of 2017. The number of businesses advertising on Facebook continues to grow rapidly, and while Facebook remains a cost-effective way to reach new audiences and expand your reach, competition has never been more intense. Combined with lingering concerns about Facebook’s influence over the wider online advertising landscape and online advertising business models in general, many small businesses and digital marketers have been forced to reevaluate their current strategies, making this data invaluable.
Following hot on the heels of our Facebook advertising benchmarks, this post of social media marketing stats was also immensely popular with our readers.
It’s far from uncommon to see posts like this toward the beginning and end of the year. Although they’re usually fun and interesting, posts like this also provide readers with a snapshot of the wider social media marketing landscape. Some of these stats will come as little surprise to digital marketers, but others reveal just how demanding the social media space has become in recent years. As we head into 2018, competition for clicks is likely to intensify further, highlighting the need for marketers and small businesses to remain agile and ahead of the curve when it comes to their social strategies in increasingly competitive markets.
One of the biggest developments in the online advertising space this year was Instagram’s continued rise as an advertising platform, and this guest post from Wishpond’s Carlo Pacis was a sure-fire hit.
This post isn’t merely a round-up of Instagram campaigns that performed well this year – it’s an overview of how major brands and smaller companies alike are adapting and changing to meet the needs of consumers and the changing ways in which people interact online. Instagram is leaving social media platforms such as Twitter in the dust, and with campaigns like these, it’s not hard to see why. If you’re advertising on Instagram, you could do far worse than check out these 15 campaigns for a little creative inspiration.
Alongside the somewhat predictable emphasis on social we saw throughout the year, the so-called “pivot to video” was another of 2017’s most significant developments in content. Dozens of larger publishers culled their editorial staff this year in favor of producing more video content, a move that has largely backfired and prompted some much-needed soul-searching at some of the web’s most renowned digital media brands.
Despite the difficulties experienced by some brands in video content, video marketing remains a powerfully persuasive way to reach new audiences with your message. With more than 500 million hours of video content watched on YouTube alone every single day, it’s little wonder why so many companies are focused on delivering more video content. Check out this and other fascinating video marketing stats in this post to learn more.
Facebook may be a social media powerhouse, but did you know that Instagram posts attract around 10 times the engagement of Facebook posts? In light of facts like this, it’s easy to see how Instagram has rapidly become the cornerstone of many companies’ social media strategies.
However, as is the case with every online ad platform, questions invariably circle back to costs before long, especially for advertisers new to paid social. In this post, Lisa Lacy breaks down the factors that will affect the cost of your Instagram advertising campaigns, and offers eight great tips for making your Instagram budget go further. With Instagram’s popularity likely to continue well into 2018 and beyond, this post is essential reading for all Instagram advertisers.
There’s no disputing that Instagram has become a major player in the paid social space – but why? Well, how about the fact that roughly one-third of teenagers consider Instagram to be the most important social media platform? Or that most Instagram users are in the 18-29 year-old age demographic prized by many advertisers?
When you look at these and the other facts in this post, it soon becomes clear why Instagram has made such an impact in the online advertising industry. Boasting a vast audience of motivated, engaged users in highly lucrative demographics, Instagram offers the kind of reach and influence that was unthought of just a few years ago – something we’re likely to see more of in 2018.
When WordStream assembled its list of the most expense keywords in AdWords back in 2011, it became one of our most popular content pieces ever almost immediately. As popular as this data was, the world of online advertising costs rarely stands still, which is why we produced this brand-new data for 2017.
As with many of the trends we saw throughout the year, the most expensive keywords in AdWords reveal a great deal more than just specific metrics – they show how AdWords has changed in recent years and how these changes have affected the cost of doing business on the world’s largest online advertising platform. Some keyword categories, such as those in the legal sector, are perennially costly keywords that have long been among the most expense, but there were several unexpected entries in this year’s edition, such as the growing popularity – and expense – of keywords for services such as bail bonds and casinos.
Overall, this data serves not only as a rule of thumb concerning what you can expect to bid for the most expensive AdWords keywords, but also as a fascinating look at which sectors have experienced dramatic growth in the PPC space.
I joined WordStream almost four years ago, and in that time, the digital marketing space has changed tremendously. Although there have been dozens of developments in advertising technology and new services to help us reach our audiences, one of the biggest changes in digital marketing has been the increase in popularity of marketing conferences.
Today, digital marketers of all stripes are spoiled for choice when it comes to conferences. There are events dedicated to specific marketing disciplines such as conversion rate optimization, and more generalized events such as HubSpot’s enormously popular UNBOUND conference have attracted speakers including Alec Baldwin, Arianna Huffington, Serena Williams, and Malcolm Gladwell.
Not so long ago, it would have been difficult to even name almost 20 marketing conferences. Next year, we might have to be even more discerning about which shows we attend.
Our next post in this year’s most-read round-up is this guide to outstanding customer testimonial pages courtesy of Margot da Cunha.
Customer testimonials are among digital marketers’ most persuasive tools, and this post highlighted 11 examples that could serve as inspiration for your own site. In addition to offering actionable tips for creating your own customer testimonial pages, this post serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of word-of-mouth marketing, even in today’s primarily digital space.
As social media has become inextricably interwoven into virtually every fiber of the internet, the power of customer testimonials and other types of recommendations have become even more important. Consumers may have more choices than ever before, but this means that companies large and small must try even harder to attract and retain customers. This technique might not be the “sexiest” way to grow your business, but customer testimonials are likely to remain very important to digital marketers hoping to find new audiences.
2017 was a tumultuous year in many ways, but for people hoping to find new job opportunities, it was savage. Prolonged political and economic uncertainty created a volatile and unpredictable job market, and the digital marketing space was no exception. The opportunities are there, but competition for prime roles in marketing has never been more intense.
In this post, Mary Lister offered digital marketers 31 specific questions to ask prospective hires during their next interview. It may be tough to find new gigs these days, but it’s almost as difficult for companies to find the most talented people looking for new opportunities. With almost half of digital marketers reporting difficulty finding skilled creative professionals this year, it’s more important than ever for marketing teams to know exactly how to find the most talented marketers out there – and which questions to ask.
Sometimes, you need to get back to the basics, and that’s exactly what we did with this original infographic on how to use Google AdWords.
Aside from offering newcomers to paid search with an intuitive way to visualize how AdWords works and the various considerations that should factor into PPC workflows, this guide also served as a guiding light to experienced advertisers. Competition on AdWords has intensified greatly in recent years, highlighting the importance of a solid understanding of the goals that should serve as the basis for AdWords campaigns.
AdWords certainly has more bells and whistles than it did even this time last year, but even the most sophisticated tools will only get you so far. Whether you’re an experienced AdWords advertiser or are planning your very first PPC campaign for 2018, this original infographic can help you identify your most urgent business goals and how you can achieve them.
One of the biggest and most exciting technological trends we saw throughout 2017 was the continued growth in adoption of machine-learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.
Companies of all sizes are jumping firmly on the machine-learning bandwagon. From simple customer service chatbots to fully integrated, predictive machine-learning systems, AI was big news in digital marketing this year. In this post, yours truly looked at 10 companies using machine learning in new and exciting ways, which revealed just how prevalent AI is becoming across virtually all sectors.
What’s next for machine learning and AI? The growing popularity of fintech startups and cryptocurrencies seem poised to further shape technologies such as the blockchain, an area that appears ripe for further innovation through AI applications, and the traditional sales cycle also seems likely to experience dramatic change in the coming years thanks to machine-learning and AI technologies.
Regardless of which industry you’re in, it seems almost inevitable that AI and machine learning with continue to disrupt the status quo.
PPC and digital marketing move at a break-neck pace, but one of the very few constants is advertisers’ concerns about the costs of launching an online advertising campaign.
In this post, I covered virtually every element that can affect the cost of online advertising campaigns across a range of platforms. We looked at the individual costs associated with specific platforms including Google AdWords, Facebook Ads, and Instagram Ads, as well as the nuances of costs for PPC ads versus display ads in addition to the differences in various pricing models such as CPM.
Posts about advertising costs are almost always perennially popular. For all the innovation we see in a given year when it comes to advertising features or targeting options, it all comes back to cold, hard cash for many advertisers. According to data from Adobe Digital Insights, the average online advertisement costs approximately 12% more today than it did two years ago, an increase in price more than five times that of the rate of inflation and 70% more than televised advertisements, highlighting the urgency with which many businesses are attempting to reduce their advertising costs.
In May 2017, Google held its Marketing Next event in Mountain View, California. At this hotly anticipated event, Google tantalized attendees with a range of impressive tools, features, and functionality planned for its AdWords platform, and WordStream’s Mark Irvine was at the event to cover the various exciting announcements Google made during the show.
Of course, forthcoming AdWords features are always popular with our readers. In any given year, Google makes dozens of major updates and hundreds of smaller tweaks to AdWords, and even the most avid digital marketers can struggle to keep up with the pace. This is far more than just professional curiosity, however – it’s an often-vital indication of the direction in which Google expects to pivot based on wider online advertising trends, providing marketers with a glimpse at the priorities Google plans to tackle in the near future.
Among the biggest announcements at Google Marketing Next was the prominence of semantic search and the death knell of keyword-centric advertising. Many experts believe Google intends to move beyond keyword targeting in the future, instead favoring machine learning applications and contextual targeting, among other emerging technologies.
If Google is preparing for the end of traditional keywords, it’s high time we all sat up and paid attention.
Oftentimes, digital marketers spend a great deal of time, money, and energy learning about new targeting techniques, specific tools, and alternative metrics to evaluate the performance of their campaigns. Although it’s crucial for marketers to keep up-to-date with new developments, many companies are missing vital opportunities to broaden their reach by making poor choices when it comes to traditional marketing concepts such as messaging.
In this post, I covered the myriad differences between features and benefits. These two concepts may be closely related, but far too many companies favor messaging that highlights their products’ features rather than the benefits they confer upon their users.
I don’t have any hard data to back this up, but I suspect we’ll see a renewed focus on the fundamentals of marketing in 2018 and beyond. For all the bells and whistles offered by the various advertising platforms through which we reach our audiences, there’s no substitute for a solid grasp of underlying marketing concepts like this. As budgets are stretched further than ever and competition intensifies further, it will become even more crucial for marketers to leverage the fundamentals in their campaigns if they hope to remain competitive.
There are few things marketers dread more than a mysterious drop in performance following an algorithmic update by Google. Previous major updates such as Hummingbird and Penguin decimated traffic to millions of sites and sent webmasters into a panic, but other changes can be far less noticeable – but can still wreak havoc on your traffic.
Case in point, a significant drop in traffic that Elisa Gabbert observed in WordStream’s organic click-through rate traffic for certain terms. After noticing the initial decline, Elisa, Meg Lister, and Josh Brackett delved deep into the data to see exactly what was going on. Their discovery? That organic CTR had dropped by approximately 37% in the span of just two years. This post explores the underlying reasons for this precipitous drop, as well as the implications it could have for millions of advertisers and publishers.
Case studies like this are always popular, not least because they effectively highlight the risks of relying on certain sources of traffic and the dangers of assuming that once-secured positions are guaranteed. They also demonstrate the importance of regularly examining your analytics data to ensure that subtle algorithmic changes don’t result in catastrophic losses in traffic.
Search volume is a tricky metric for many advertisers. Higher search volumes typically mean greater potential reach, but bring with them greater competition and often higher costs. Lower search volumes, on the other hand, may seem like cost-effective, low-hanging fruit, but targeting these keywords may not always work out, either. Factor in additional considerations such as domain authority and things can become overwhelming quite quickly.
That’s why I wrote this beginner’s guide to keyword search volume for marketers. In this post, we cover the basics of keyword search volume before moving onto general SEO concepts you should be aware of and an evaluation of several keyword tools that can help you identify the right keyword opportunities for your next campaign.
As with our features versus benefits post from earlier, the popularity of this post leads me to believe that content focusing on fundamental concepts – particularly in the rapidly changing world of SEO – will continue to be popular and valuable to marketers well into 2018. With more than 2.5 million blog posts published every single day, the need to maximize visibility is paramount to digital marketers, and with more competition than ever before, a solid understanding of concepts such as keyword search volume will be crucial to success next year and in coming years.
It’s fascinating to see how the various ways in which people express themselves online often end up being coopted by online advertisers. We saw this in 2015 when emoji became available to PPC advertisers (with a significant accompanying lift in CTR, too), and we saw it again earlier this year when Facebook announced it would begin allowing advertisers to include animated gifs in their advertisements.
Far from a mere gimmick, the inclusion of animated gifs as visual assets to be used in Facebook ads is significant. According to Facebook, “shorter videos get more completed views” than longer videos, which makes gifs – which are typically 15 seconds or less in duration – a potentially incredible addition to Facebook ads.
The inclusion of animated gifs as visual assets in Facebook ads could also point to further development and evolution of online ads in the future. Not so long ago it would have been almost inconceivable that little icons and symbols would be available in PPC ads, and although emoji might never become truly mainstream on AdWords, their introduction shows that attitudes toward what online ads can be are changing. Who knows what else we could see in the coming years?
In our penultimate entry in this year’s end-of-year round-up, we turn our focus to another fundamental best practice – account structure.
It might not be the sexiest topic in online advertising, or even the most accessible. That does not diminish the crucial importance of structuring your AdWords account as optimally as possible, and that’s exactly what Bobby Kittredge does in this post. Even if you’ve been advertising on AdWords for years, I’d wager there are a few tips you could apply to your own account before launching your next campaign.
Again, we don’t have the data to back this up, but the consistent popularity of our content focusing on PPC best practices and established conventions concerning things like account structure may prove that demand for easily understood, actionable content remains very high. This could be due to an increase in the number of small businesses turning to PPC as a way to grow their business, as well as the continued pressures of an increasingly competitive market forcing marketers to shore up weaknesses that they might have been able to ignore in the past.
To wave goodbye (and good riddance) to 2017 and welcome 2018 with a champagne toast, we have Allen’s guide to 35 unbelievable email marketing statistics.
Despite how effective email marketing can be, email gets a bad rap. Often (mistakenly) seen as antiquated and of limited value, email marketing can take a back seat to more exciting techniques such as local social marketing. However, overlook email marketing at your peril. Despite being relatively advanced in years, at least in internet time, email still delivers amazing results, often at a fraction of the cost of paid social and even the most tightly optimized PPC campaigns.
I suspect we’ll continue to see creative ideas for email marketing in 2018 and beyond. It’s just too effective – and commonplace – to be going anywhere any time soon, and while flashier techniques might hog their share of the limelight, email marketing is a solid workhorse of a strategy that delivers results.
From myself and everyone here at the WordStream blog, Happy New Year!