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In this third and final installment of Justia’s 2021 end-of-year series, we are taking a look back at the trends that shaped digital and legal marketing in 2021 and sharing some of our predictions for the industry in 2022.
With just over a week left in 2021, we’re remembering the developments in digital marketing over the past year that have impacted legal marketing, as well as looking ahead at what we predict will continue to shape the legal marketing industry over the next 12 months. Plus, we have a few tips to offer that might just help you start your 2022 off on the right note!
2021 Developments and Trends in Digital Marketing
From changes in SEO (search engine optimization) to new concepts in web design, changes to Google Ads, and more, digital marketing looks a bit different in December 2021 than it did in January. Here are some of the highlights of trends and developments that occurred in the industry in the past 12 months.
Core Web Vitals
In 2020, Google introduced Core Web Vitals and implemented three new page experience signals (Largest Contentful Paint, First Input Delay, and Cumulative Layout Shift) that are designed to measure user experience when they land on a page. During the summer of 2021, Google began a rollout of its Page Experience Update, which changed the Google algorithm and officially made on-page user experience a ranking factor.
Page Speed Updates
This summer multiple changes to the Google algorithm occurred, including both the Page Experience Update and Core Web Vitals. John Mueller clarified that the page speed and core algorithm updates were essentially separate and unique updates that impacted different core parts of the Google ranking system. Nonetheless, the fact remains that changes to the Google algorithm now have placed ranking significance on the three signals in Core Web Vitals, as well as PageSpeed.
Several years ago, Google “killed” Google Authorship. A couple of years later, Gary Illyes indicated it was safe to remove authorship markup from your pages. However, this year Google representatives suggested that you link content to some sort of central page or bio for authors so that it can recognize authors and their content across the web, even without authorship markup.
To further help uniquely identify authors of an article, Google added a new recommended author.url property to its article structured data help documentation that will allow the search engine to better identify authors and understand their larger footprints.
Google My Business, Now Known as Google Business Profile
It was a busy year for local marketing and SEO efforts, particularly the Google My Business (GMB) platform. GMB started the year by updating its performance reporting and transitioning additional information into performance reporting on search, and adding insights that allow businesses to view call history and message data over a six-month time frame. It later updated to add new metrics to the performance report, including website visits and driving directions.
After this shift, Google rolled out a GMB messaging interface for desktops. It later added new attributes for profiles, such as accessibility information and updated justifications. On a related note, we shared more information about using Google’s local justifications and attributes in this post.
However, the biggest shift for GMB came late in the year when Google announced the platform was being rebranded into the Google Business Profile. It also said the GMB app would be retired in 2022 and businesses would be able to manage their business profile directly from Google Search and Google Maps.
This shift in branding is just the latest in a series of name changes for the platform. Previous names include Google Place, Google Local, and Google+ Local. Google has not fully updated their website, e.g. Google’s own ads are still using the Google My Business terminology, but they did change the name on the title page of the service page.
Updates in PPC and Other Paid Advertising
Google Ads: Changes to Keyword Match Types
One of the biggest shifts in PPC advertising this year came in February 2021 when Google announced it would retire the traditional broad match modifier (BMM) option and incorporate this behavior into phrase match. The new behavior of phrase match became “more expansive” than previous phrase match capabilities and remained only “slightly more restrictive” than the retired BMM. By July 2021, new keywords could not be added to Google Ads anymore using the BMM notation and legacy keywords using a BMM format were behaving as phrase match keywords.
Push Towards Google Ads Automation
The powers that be at Google also continued to push users toward automated PPC campaigns. Google offers several automated campaign management strategies that are designed to let the algorithm determine the best way to run your ads in a manner that will achieve your company’s goals.
In late 2020, Google Ads announced and began beta testing its Performance Max campaigns, with the notion that advertisers could utilize performance max to buy ads across all of the platform’s inventory and allow machine learning to optimize them for customer reach and performance goals.
In November 2021, the company announced that these Performance Max campaigns have demonstrated strong beta results as a complement to more traditional search campaigns and helped companies grow performance across Google’s full inventory. Accordingly, Performance Max was rolled out to all advertisers worldwide and is intended to become the next generation of Smart Shopping and Local campaigns in 2022.
Google Local Services Ads (LSAs)
While they have been around in some industries for several years now, Google’s Local Services Ads (LSAs) became the newest way for legal marketers to advertise in the Google search results in the second half of 2020. Over the first full year of LSA availability for the legal industry, key changes occurred on the platform.
First, Google has greatly increased what law firms can bid. When Google launched the service, the amount a firm could bid for an ad was a very narrow range. For example, the bid for Boston personal injury firms was anywhere from $68 to $170 per lead. After changes to the bidding structure, Boston personal injury lawyers can bid up to $1,000 per lead, although actual costs are often less than the actual bid amount.
Later, changes occurred in the process by which advertisers can earn the coveted “Google Screened” distinction that helped make LSAs so popular. A welcome change for lawyers, as of October 2021 legal professionals no longer need to obtain a background check as part of the LSAs screening process. Law firms still need at least one lawyer licensed in a state where the ads are running, although the photo used in the ad can be of a lawyer not licensed in that state.
Microsoft Advertising (Formerly Bing Ads)
Things were quieter in the Microsoft Advertising world during 2021. Minor updates included changes to the account map to allow advertisers to obtain a better view of how their accounts are organized, Facebook Ads import functionality for users in certain countries (including the United States), and new labels at the account manager level to ease campaign, ad group, and keyword organization.
Facebook & Instagram Advertising
While many things changed at Facebook over the past year (hello Meta!), this groundbreaking company news largely did not impact how advertisers can market on the platform, especially with regard to the legal industry. A few of the more notable highlights?
The company made changes to how linked and unlinked accounts are counted in the Accounts center that impact how advertisers see campaign planning estimates and performance reports. It also changed how the platform delivers precampaign estimates on key metrics, including Potential Reach and Estimated Daily results. The platform also made more unique changes that impacted Facebook’s various products including updates to the Facebook business suite, opportunities to generate leads in the Instagram app, quote requests through Messenger, and the ability to start a WhatsApp chat from an Instagram profile.
However, the biggest Facebook advertising news of the year wasn’t initiated by the platform itself. Instead, it was prompted by Apple. Changes in iOS14, particularly the release of iOS 14.5, and Apple’s implementation of policies to improve privacy through transparency about app tracking, heavily impacted Facebook’s advertising platforms. The impacts have been so significant that Facebook created a dedicated help center article designed to help businesses understand how this change impacts the data they receive through the Facebook pixel.
Web Design Trends
Font Sizing and Styles
Another big design trend in font sizing and styles? Retro fonts. After all, what’s old is new. You can see some retro font usage, from two different eras, in action at Goliath Entertainment and Von Dutch.
Variable fonts burst onto the scene a couple of years ago and are not going away any time soon. A variable font has multiple axes, including two that significantly simplify the adjustment process: a width axis and a weight axis. Not only is manipulating font adjustments easier, but also the process of applying visual effects, such as animation, is simplified.
Colorful Palettes or Muted Tones?
2021 presented a mix of color trends across the design spectrum. Monochromatic websites and minimalist themes have certainly had their moment this year, while others have implemented colorful gradients and individualized, vibrant color schemes. However, one of the most notable design trends has been a shift towards dark-mode-friendly themes,
Usage of dark mode has risen steeply in the past few years, with 82.7% of participants in a 2019 survey reporting that they used their operating system’s dark mode functionality. Other data indicates that as of 2020 91.8% of people use dark mode wherever it is available, while 95% of people surveyed expressed a preference for dark mode in late 2019.
While animations and illustrations have continued to play a major role in website design, minimalism continues to be amongst the popular design trends. This year, neumorphism became very common in minimalist designs.
The focus in this style is using design elements to add layers and depth that create the feeling that certain elements are within the background of an image, rather than placed on it. This gives the graphic an extruded look, such as in this example.
Connecting With Your Audience
Conversational Marketing Wins the Day
With statistics suggesting that 82% of consumers rate an immediate response as very important when they have a question for a business, conversation is becoming a key piece of marketing strategies. Companies are utilizing chatbots, personalized emails, virtual assistants, and more in order to more effectively (and instantly) communicate with their customers.
Personalization Still Matters
Marketers have known that personalization matters for many years. This wisdom remained true in 2021. Marketers have seen personalization improve customer experiences and increase conversion rates. Moreover, a 2017 study found that 50% of marketers indicated message personalization is the most effective email marketing tactic they have used, followed by a meaningful call-to-action. This year, the fact remained that people respond better to messaging that is customized to them, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
Our Team’s Predictions for 2022
While nobody can see into the future, it is always fun to watch industry trends and make an educated guess, or prediction, about what the year to come will bring. Here are 12 of our team’s predictions about what we expect to see for digital marketing in the coming year.
1. Content is (Still) King: High-quality, original content has been king in the SEO world for quite some time. With the introduction of MUM to improve Google Search in May 2021, creating content that demonstrates true expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (the E-A-T principles) will continue to increase in importance for SEO throughout 2022.
Watch this clip to learn more about creating high-quality legal content.
2. Featured Snippets Optimization: As users continue to input question-based queries into Google search, optimizing for Featured Snippets will be increasingly important. Of course, no one can guarantee your site content will be used for a featured snippet. However, optimizing for them gives you a better chance of appearing in this manner. Such optimization requires targeting certain keywords that you want Google to reference for a snippet. You may also want to optimize your header tags using snippets and utilize bullet points and simple sentence structures on the page.
3. Video Marketing Gains Traction: If there is one thing that most marketers can agree on, it is that video will continue to increase in importance over the coming year. More than 100 million users are active on TikTok each month in the United States. The numbers indicate that YouTube continues to experience exponential growth, and 87% of marketers report using video as a marketing tool.
4. Increased Use of Automated Bidding in PPC: As the trends continue to push towards increased automation in the paid advertising world, we expect to see automated bidding increasing in popularity with search engine marketing professionals.
5. Usage of Offline Conversion Tracking: Because an ad doesn’t always immediately result in a sale (or lead or conversion), offline conversion tracking is designed to better help advertisers track conversions, such as phone calls and other similar actions. You can learn more about offline conversion tracking for Google Ads in this resource.
6. Improved LSAs Insights: Over the next year, we expect to see Google continuing to add more features for LSAs that will increase the availability and usefulness of data for advertisers, such as impressions and number of clicks.
7. Rise in Fake Reviews: Because review rating is one of the ranking factors for LSAs, we expect to see a rise in fake or misleading reviews that will plague LSA campaigns in the next year. Stay tuned to see how Google handles this problem if the practice increases.
8. LSA Stacking: We also expect to see multiple groups or offices within the same firm targeting the same location and practice area combination, effectively allowing the firm to stack the deck with LSAs and appear in the listing results multiple times.
9. Say Hello to Motion in Branding: The motion in branding trend is a move away from static brand assets of the past in favor of dynamic solutions, including moving logos, typography, and related elements. When done well, this type of branding can breathe life into a company for consumers and connect better with the audience. For a prime example of motion in branding, check out Facebook’s announcement of the new Meta logo below:
10. Increased Usage of Stylized Pitch Decks: Pitch decks, or slide decks, have historically been used in presentations about a company or related topic that was targeted towards investors. However, this type of presentation has grown beyond these commonly known roots and has new usages. For example, social media posts featuring a pitch deck style are increasingly common and the increase in zoom meetings and virtual events has led to a renewed focus on the design and branding aspects of presentations.
11. More Glassmorphism: Glassmorphism is a UI design trend that emphasizes certain objects over a blurred background that mirrors the look of frosted glass. Major technology companies, such as Apple and Microsoft, have used glassmorphism in their user interfaces for quite some time, and the trend has only continued to increase in popularity with designers.
12. Voice Search: Many expect to see voice search continuing to gain traction over the course of the coming year (and the years that follow). As people become more comfortable with their computerized personal assistants, there will be an increase and voice queries. Accordingly, SEO gurus will need to consider how to optimize for voice, as well as traditional, search.
Starting Your 2022 Off Right
With all of this information on trends in digital marketing, you may be wondering the best way to set your law firm up for marketing success in 2022. We have some tips to help you get on the right track.
1. Create and Optimize Video: As mentioned earlier in this post, video marketing is here to stay and will only increase in importance in the coming year. If you are not convinced yet, we previously wrote a post explaining the reasons lawyers should consider video marketing for 2022. If you are already planning to utilize video as part of your 2022 campaign, be sure to keep in mind the best ways to optimize your videos, so they benefit your greater marketing efforts.
2. Refresh Your Content: You will want to create new, high-quality, and relevant legal content to keep your site fresh and relevant for users while improving your search engine rankings.
However, don’t forget to also revisit and update your old content. Google (and your users) want updated and accurate content. If your information is outdated, your rankings may suffer.
3. Strengthen Your Google My Business Listing: As has been the case in recent years, local marketing will play a major part in successfully growing a law practice. One cornerstone of a strong local marketing plan is a strong Google My Business, now known as Google Business Profile, listing. Work on getting more reviews for your firm and be sure to fully complete all applicable fields, then keep them up to date. Don’t forget to pay attention to NAP (name, address, and phone number) consistency across the web.
Watch this video for insights into how citations can help your Google Business Profile rank.
Paid Search Advertising
1. Optimize Your Ad Landing Pages: A strong campaign with compelling copy that receives lots of clicks on Google Ads, Microsoft Ads, or any other PPC platform is great. However, you want to ultimately convert these clicks into your clients. Your landing page plays a key role in keeping your clients moving through the process. This landing page should be tailored for your campaign and optimized using best practices to increase conversions.
2. Save Your LSA Budget for Leads: A benefit of LSAs is the pay-per-lead model, in which you are only charged when your law firm receives a lead from your ad, rather than being charged per click. However, this does not mean that you won’t receive spam calls through this listing, or even calls from your current customers. If this is a recurring problem for your firm, politely end the call within 30 seconds. You will not be charged for a lead and waste unnecessary dollars from your budget.
3. Enable Call Tracking: A crucial step in every strong marketing campaign is measuring success. To understand which of your marketing efforts is successful, you need to understand where your leads are coming from and allocate your resources accordingly.
By enabling call tracking for your ad campaigns, you can better understand which efforts are working and where your clients are coming from.
Watch this Justia Webinar playlist on YouTube.
Websites & Web Design
1. Focus on Accessibility: You want to be sure your website designs are inclusive and accessible. One in four adults in the United States have some sort of disability and you want to ensure your online presence is accessible to them.
We suggest checking out these previous Onward posts to help you better understand why accessibility matters, as well as to get tips on creating a more accessible site: The Law of a Law Firm Website and Accessibility for Websites (A11Y).
2. Use a Strong Design System: The right design system can streamline and optimize your digital design process by giving your team access to brand guidelines for icons, typography, color palettes, and more. Additionally, utilizing a design system can help maintain consistency across various properties, easing the branding process for your firm. If you need some design system suggestions, check out this post.
Final Thoughts: Why Do You Care?
Understanding the latest in digital marketing is an important part of setting your law firm up for long-term success. By looking at what has occurred in 2021, you can make sure you understand areas where your firm may need to adjust. Additionally, by looking ahead to the future you can stay ahead of the curve for the coming year.
If you need the help of experienced legal marketing professionals to help your firm start 2021 on the right foot, Justia Marketing Solutions is here to help. Our team has years of experience in SEO, PPC ads, search engine marketing, and more! From websites and SEO solutions through Justia Elevate to Google Ads and LSAs through Justia Amplify and Justia Premium Placements on the Justia Lawyer Directory, we are confident we have solutions that will empower your firm to achieve its practice-growth goals in 2022 and beyond.