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The Top 10 Online Marketing & Advertising Stories of 2020



It’s that time of year again. Venture capitalists are taking to Twitter to share screenshots of the new IPOs they just missed in 2009. Just kidding, that’s all year. 

On a serious note: today, as we enter the holiday season, we look back on a year that was extremely difficult for a lot of people.  And because this is a marketing blog, we were with you every step of the way, doling out strategies to help business owners and marketers stay afloat. 

Let’s take a look back at the top 10 online marketing and advertising stories of 2020.

10. COVID-19 changes how consumers shop (and search).  

The inception of COVID-19 made it clear: in-person retail was about to take a hit. Google advertisers tracking in-store visits saw conversion volume drop by 90%, as e-commerce became more and more of a necessity for online businesses. 

Not only did the nature of how consumers shop change; the nature of how they searched changed as well

Searches for keywords containing COVID-related long-tail variants skyrocketed as consumers began to wonder how their favorite product or service would be impacted by the virus. 

Top Digital Marketing Stories 2020 COVID-19 Search Interest

COVID-19 search interest in the US.

Seemingly mundane questions took on greater significance and increased search volume: 

Top Digital Marketing Stories 2020 COVID-19 Insights

The industry also saw mobile searches drop by around 25% as consumers began browsing more from their homes. Marketers quickly found it necessary to build e-commerce storefronts, monitor the newly released Google Trends Coronavirus Hub, and even switch to smart bidding strategies to match the changes in search behavior. 

9. Businesses everywhere boycott Facebook advertising to influence social change. 

The Facebook ads boycott, formerly known as #StopHateForProfit, began to gather steam around mid-June. Color of Change—the largest online racial justice organization in the U.S—together with the NAACP, ADL, Sleeping Giants, and others, called on Facebook advertisers to halt all ad spending through July.

Top Digital Marketing Stories 2020 Facebook Ads Boycott

Frustrated with Facebook’s inability to moderate hate speech, these organizations hoped that a month of lost revenue would force the platform to think more seriously about putting steps in place to combat hate, racism, harassment, and the like.

A ton of enterprise businesses and corporations—from Adidas and Best Buy, to Starbucks Coca-Cola—joined in on the movement. Small businesses walked the line between taking a stand for social justice and losing ad revenue in an already dismal (for many) economic situation. 

The movement achieved its goal of hitting Facebook’s wallet. Unfortunately, despite remaining a great place for advertisers to get results, the platform has done little to crackdown on hate and misinformation since the boycott.

8. TikTok & YouTube continue to grow amongst Zoomers.

The all-powerful Generation Z (affectionately known as Zoomers) is gaining steam in pop culture. In a world where YouTube influencers are picking fights (and getting them!) with Floyd Mayweather, YouTube has continued to prove itself a vital platform for advertisers to reach younger audiences. If you haven’t yet, check out our tips for doing just that. 

2020 also saw the ascension of TikTok, which by August had already accrued more the 2 billion downloads, making it the world’s fastest growing social media platform. 

Top Digital Marketing Stories 2020 TikTok advertising

By mid-year, TikTok had established itself as another extremely viable channel for brands trying to reach a younger demographic. 

Advertisers: want to learn how to get up and running on TikTok? Check out our complete guide to advertising on TikTok

7. Google drops the Page Experience Update and Core Web Vitals.

In May, Google introduced new metrics for measuring user experience (UX) called Core Web Vitals. Specifically, Core Web Vitals were meant to help marketers get a better handle on load speed, interactivity, and visual stability as it relates to UX. 

The metrics are as follows:  

  • Largest Contentful Paint (loading): measures perceived load speed and marks the point in the page load timeline when the page’s main content has likely loaded.
  • First Input Delay (interactivity): measures responsiveness and quantifies the experience users feel when trying to first interact with the page.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (stability): measures visual stability and quantifies the amount of unexpected layout shift of visible page content.
Top Digital Marketing Stories 2020 Core Web Vitals

Google accompanied the release with a set of reports in Search Console that allowed marketers to, at a glance, detect which pages on their sites were lacking in the defined areas.

In late May, Google followed up the Core Web Vitals announcement with another announcement: UX was going to become an even more critical ranking factor. As a part of the Page Experience Update, which would roll out sometime in 2021 (May, we’d later come to find out), Core Web Vitals would join Google’s other search signals for page experience to form the critical criteria for healthy UX.

Top Digital Marketing Stories 2020 Page Experience Update

This represented a fairly landmark shift in the way Google diagnoses and reports on page experience. It was also a welcome shift in algorithm update preparation. Google has traditionally been tight-lipped about algorithm updates. In 2020, they gave us an exact roadmap to follow (and a set of metrics to measure) to optimize for the imminent Page Experience Update.

6. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) helps small businesses stay afloat

With economic strife came stimulus initiatives; the first and most vital of which, for business owners, was the CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)

The Paycheck Protection Program was a Small Business Association (SBA) loan program designed to help small businesses continue to make payroll and cover key expenses.

Top Digital Marketing Stories 2020 PPP

Funds used for those purposes during the loan’s eight-week period were eligible to be forgiven. 

By late Spring, lockdowns and distancing had made it really difficult for places like restaurants to stay in business. The PPP was a much-need cash injection for a lot of businesses, including some not-so-small enterprises and firms that (arguably) could have done without it. 

5. Advertisers lose visibility in Google Ads’ search terms report. 

On September 1, Google announced that the search terms report within Google Ads would, forthwith, only show search terms that reached a certain volume threshold. 

This reduced visibility caused immediate concern among advertisers and agencies, as the search terms report is a vital report for advertisers when it comes to adding negative keywords and curbing wasted spend

Top Digital Marketing Stories 2020 Search Terms Report

For many marketers, the change seemed like a way for Google to make more money while reducing the ability to optimize (and relentlessly encouraging automated bidding).

To contend with the change, we encouraged Google Ads advertisers to leverage smart bidding to find hidden keywords, experiment with dynamic search ads, and broaden their skill sets to cover other areas of digital marketing. 

4. SEO becomes more important as a result of COVID-19.

SEO during COVID-19 took on a different level of importance. A ton of businesses saw big drops in discretionary spend, not to mention reduction of staff. “Free clicks” to be earned on the organic side of the search results, including local listings, became all the more important.

Top Digital Marketing Stories 2020 PPC Decline

Paid search traffic declined as the pandemic took its hold. 

Creating and optimizing a Google My Business profile became, suddenly, super important for a lot of local businesses. That meant updating your hours of operation to let customers know when you were open, adding order links to facilitate online ordering, optimizing for local keywords (including LSI keywords), and more. 

Top Digital Marketing Stories 2020 GMB Optimization

For our part of the SEO during COVID-19 dialogue, we recommended marketers continue to publish quality long-form content, balance short and long term goals, target coronavirus-related keyword found in Search Console, re-optimize old (but newly relevant) content, and more. 

3. COVID-19 changes the landscape of paid search. 

As the pandemic began to develop, it quickly became clear that COVID-19 was drastically impacting Google Ads data and Google Ads benchmarks. Industries like Health & Medical, Finance, Business Management, Nonprofits, Beauty & Personal Care, and more all saw increased performance: 

Top Digital Marketing Stories 2020 Health

We also saw the Google Display Network (GDN) take on a more prominent role for advertisers and consumers read more news and browsed more. Helping matters was the fact that Google released Customer Match for the GDN in late May. 

On the flip side of the coin, we saw the Travel industry, Bars and Restaurants, and Conferences, for obvious reasons, taking huge hits in performance. 

Top Digital Marketing Stories 2020 COVID-19 Google Ads

Paid search rebounded as late Spring gave way to Summer, but this was largely contingent upon the nature of one’s business, industry, and other factors. 

2. Lead ads, audience building, and creative testing became crucial strategies for social advertisers.

Just like paid search, paid social media, notably Facebook, also saw some change as a result of COVID-19. We highlighted these strategies back in may as being particularly relevant/useful during the pandemic: 

  • Staying consistent and extending high-performing ads.
  • Focusing on brand awareness as a KPI.
  • Leveraging lead ads for list building.
  • Focusing on remarketing.
  • Testing new creative.
  • Leveraging Facebook and Instagram Live.
Top Digital Marketing Stories 2020 COVID-19 Creative

Leveraging sales in Facebook ad creative was a useful strategy during the pandemic.

Marketers had to adapt their LinkedIn Ads strategies to the pandemic as well. On this blog, we recommended leveraging sponsored InMail, lead ads, video ads, and communicating often with customers. 

1. Small businesses do the best they can to adapt to COVID-19. 

2020 was an extremely tough year for small businesses. If you followed this blog, you saw a ton of content around this subject as we tried to guide small business owners and marketers through the extremely cutthroat challenge of marketing during a pandemic

In addition to the stories already linked in this post, we also published stories on: 

Guiding Your Small Business to a Bounce Back Year in 2021

What’s the saying? You can only go up from here. 

This was a terrible year for the small business across the world. Those who were willing to act quickly and adapt may have fared better than others; but really, there’s no way to prepare for a year like the one we just experienced. 

If your business has made it this far, hopefully there’s solace in the fact that vaccination is just around the corner. We encourage you to dive into some of the stories we’ve shared in this post, if only to learn from them. We also encourage you to check out our strategies for marketing in a post-pandemic world, which is just around the corner. 

Here’s to a bounce back year of growth in 2021. 



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