The future of digital marketing lies before us and it could go a number of different ways according to Andrew Burgess, CEO for the Equimedia Group, who here examines the ten key trends that are likely to shape the digital marketing landscape over the coming year. This article is copyright 2015 The Best Customer Guide.

Last year's key developments (that is, a marked increase in mobile internet usage, the coming of age of video advertising, the growth in semantic mark-up, the industry's obsession with 'big data' and the need for responsive website designs to aid conversions) have laid the foundations for what lies ahead, Burgess argues.

The top ten digital marketing trends that brand marketers must keep in mind to help them reach the right audiences and engage them on an individual level include:

  1. Mobile
    With smartphone ownership rates jumping by more than 20% and mobile data usage by over 80% in 2014 (according to the KPCB 2014 Internet Report), mobile will continue to play a huge role in the way consumers access information (especially locally), view content, browse products, and purchase services and goods. This has huge implications for brands, big and small, wishing to reach and provide a great experience to mobile users.
  2. Responsive sites
    Research carried out by Restive Labs showed that an abysmally low 14.7% of Fortune 1000 company websites are fully responsive - where web content is resized depending on the device used (i.e. mobile, tablet or desktop). Our own research showed that charities did slightly better with 26% having a responsive homepage. Regardless of sector, this is likely to change in the near future.

    As more brands realise the importance of providing customers with an optimal viewing experience, regardless of the device they use, more budget will be set aside for existing site redesigns or new site builds that have responsive in mind from the outset. This is essential, not just for better user experiences, but also for brands' rankings in search results and ultimately, sales.

  3. Mobile and local search
    As a result of increased smartphone usage, mobile search is set to overtake that on a desktop this year. Therefore, expect Google to sharpen up their mobile search algorithms.

    Brands should ignore the need for a responsive website at their peril. Without a responsive website, brands and particularly SMEs, will lose out on favourable search rankings and, crucially, potential sales.

    For example, when a potential customer notices a broken headlight and searches for "auto repair near me" on his mobile, the top result will be for the local garage with a responsive site. Because Google prioritises mobile-friendly websites to those searching on a mobile device, the garage that is perhaps closer but doesn't have a responsive site will not rank and lose out on a sale as a result.

  4. Programmatic advertising
    Programmatic advertising is on everyone's list all of a sudden. But why? Consumers increasingly watch TV in a multi-screen, anytime, anywhere environment. Interactive TV ads that are served in real-time via programmatic advertising campaigns can engage an audience more effectively and enrich the live-viewing experience.

    Moreover, TV viewers increasingly use a second screen (for example a mobile phone) to join in with social comment and other activity - think The X Factor app where people can rate and comment on performances while watching the live broadcast, or Question Time putting its hashtag #bbcqt on the screen at the beginning of the programme.

    Expect a significant increase in the development of online ads triggered by live TV broadcasts, which are automatically planned and bought using new software applications. Because programmatic advertising can complement and maximise the impact of both broadcast and other online activity, it makes it a very attractive tool for brands to engage with their audience in real-time through multiple channels simultaneously.

  5. The relevant web
    Data, and big data in particular, were the buzzwords of 2014. But from now on, more brands will build on that by synchronising their CRM data with their website to deliver a personalised experience for each individual user. First-time visitors can expect introductory messages, while returning customers will receive messaging tailored around their previous purchases and experiences.

    There will also be a marked increase in ecommerce sites tailoring content to each individual user, depending on their characteristics as well as other factors such as the weather, time of day, device type and social information.

  6. Demographic targeting in search
    This better understanding of customers will feed into paid search as well. Additional layers of demographic targeting, such as demographics for search ads (DFSAs) and more sophisticated analytics tools which inform targeting will become more commonly deployed. These tools can help brands build personas of their customers based on their browsing behaviour: they can identify what products people are interested in or if they are close to making a purchase. Using such demographic-based insight enables brands to target potential customers with more relevant and better-performing search ad copy.

    Search results will be highly relevant to what the user intended to find, but will be presented in a format the user wants to see and optimised for the device they use. In the near term, expect to see an increase in video SERPs (search engine results page), search shopping campaigns and remarketing.

  7. Customer-centric SEO
    Expect to see the demise of 'news feed'-style blog content, and expect all types of business to publish more informative and entertaining content. The reason behind this is that quality, user-centric content will lead to increased site traffic.

    Creating valuable content that answers customers' needs is a crucial step change that many businesses are still to make. A digital content strategy to boost SEO and organic traffic should be based on a robust understanding of who your customers are, what they are interested in and what they want from you. This should be constantly validated and improved by analysing the data and customer feedback.

  8. Video
    Video has made big inroads into our lives in 2014 and brands such as John Lewis have fully grasped its potential by creating the fantastic #MontyThePenguin Christmas ad that had UK audiences talking for weeks.

    More brands will begin to realise the potential of video for audience engagement on a variety of platforms. It is essential to accurately tag and optimise video content so that brands can additionally benefit from video SERPs, where video thumbnails are shown in the search results. Instead of clicking through to the site, time-poor consumers who expect maximum information with minimum clicks will be able to view these videos within the search results. As a result, we will not only see brands deliver more video content but also use platform-neutral planning to maximise reach and deliver impactful engagement.

  9. Site speed
    The user experience depends on many things, but site speed remains an important one and we expect Google to continue focusing on Page Speed Scores to determine search results rankings - both on desktop and mobile.

    According to Tagman research, for every 1 second delay in page load times there were 11% fewer page views and a 7% reduction in conversion rates. Brands can therefore not afford to stick with slow websites.

    Unfortunately site speed is one of the only areas of technical SEO for which brands can't use a crawler or a tool to get some recommendations. The focus, in line with the development of responsive website and a customer-centric approach, therefore has to be on combining robust technical build practices with relevant web content in order to provide a greater user experience.

  10. Native advertising
    Native advertising will mature this year as platforms and brands will work better together to get the right content in front of viewers and drive engagement. Despite content and native advertising accounting for £216m of advertising spend in the first half of 2014 (according to IAB), publishers and traditional platforms may have forgotten the key rules of making content and links topical and relevant to the user on the page. From now onward, expect all parties to put quality and relevance at the heart of their native advertising campaigns to make it work for all.

Technological advances, the growth in mobile technology usage and the change in the platforms used to consume content presents brands with huge challenges and opportunities. However, even by making small changes in your approach to media planning, content creation and hosting brands and business big and small can deliver impactful campaigns that reach and engage with the right audiences to deliver results to the organisations' bottom line.