The advent of the Internet, smartphone and social media came in different decades, but the 2010s were not without its seminal moments and trends for digital marketing. In fact, the last 10 years saw the true emergence of social media marketing, mobile marketing and SEO-building content campaigns. Consumers became marketing rockstars themselves through influencer marketing and user-generated content on social media. Marketing automation and machine learning-powered marketing were hallmarks of the 2010s for digital marketing, some say.

As we steam forward into the 2020s, we wanted to put our spin on the top trends for digital marketing in the 2010s through the eyes of some marketing pundits.

Data-Driven Marketing, Martech Opens Doors

Since 2011, marketing technology has evolved from a small group of vendors to a global $121.5 billion dollar industry and a necessity for CMOs and marketing executives, according to Bonnie Crater, CEO of Full Circle Insights

“Behind all great digital marketing campaigns and initiatives, lies an even better martech platform and marketing professional using it,” she said. “In this decade, marketers have used martech stacks to dial in their digital marketing efforts, tracking success through data like never before. The shift into data driven digital marketing has created a single source of truth, effectively driving sales and business goals.”

Related Article: 5 Takeaways from MarTech East Conference

SEO Brought Content Discovery to New Level

Google took the world by surprise with its ability to serve up highly valuable search results via search engine optimization (SEO), according to Tim Brown, owner of Hook Agency. “This created a massive SEO industry, and really spurred a digital movement towards answering user questions,” Brown said. “There is a good chance this industry won't exist in another 10 to 15 years, making it a very distinguishable trend for this time period.”

SEO “changed the lives of marketers,” who realized how powerful an opportunity it can be for brand building and making a direct profit from search engine rankings, according to Adam Hempenstall, CEO and founder of Better Proposals. “In fact, it’s been so powerful that it made way for a whole new marketing specialization and title,” Hempenstall said. “Nowadays, it’s fairly common to look for a job of an SEO manager, SEO outreach specialist, SEO content writer, etc.”

Local Search Changed Consumer Search Behavior

Lane Rizzardini, owner of Marion Relationship Marketing, added the biggest trend in digital marketing this decade is the significant increase in local search and the changes in consumer search behavior as a result. The key statistic, Rizzardini said, is search interest in “near me” has increased over 34x since 2011 and continues to accelerate. ”As mobile usage has increased and become over 50% of total search volume (about 60% by this estimate), location tracking has become extremely accurate and factored heavily into how search results are shown to users,” Rizzardini added. “Proximity to a business is now the No. 1 factor in Google My Business rankings, and even organic search results will change drastically based on your location not just between cities and zip codes, but areas within cities and zip codes. Consumers know this and are changing how they search for what they need.”

Related Article: How Location Is Influencing Search Behavior

Cookies Took Bite Out of Marketing

The biggest digital marketing development in the past 10 years was the ability to identify and track individual users with cookies, said Bruce Hogan, CEO of SoftwarePundit. “Cookies give digital marketers the ability to track individual users across the Internet,” he said. “Information about their behavior is then tied to profile information and stored in massive databases. This information is the basis for all targeted and personalized digital marketing. Google retargeting, abandoned cart emails, and cross-channel advertising are examples of the powerful digital marketing tactics that cookies unlocked.”

Cookies also allow digital marketers to map customer journeys, which is the foundation of attribution and calculating an accurate ROI on marketing spend, according to Hogan. Tools like Google Analytics can see all of the online interactions that each user had with a business. “This information,” he said, “can be used to determine which marketing campaigns are actually driving conversions. Without the ability to map customer journeys, marketers would be forced to rely on last-click attribution, or something even more basic.”

Mobilegeddon Changed Game for Mobile Sites

The single biggest moment of the 2010s has to be Mobilegeddon, Google’s mobile-friendly ranking algorithm update in 2015 that rewarded sites Google deemed “mobile-friendly," according to Matt Benevento, SEO team lead at Geek Powered Studios. “The rush to get websites ready for Google's mobile-friendly update left a lot of businesses and agencies scrambling to revamp and rebuild old sites, having to choose between making those sites responsive or else lose out on their mobile search rankings,” Benevento said. “This, combined with mobile search overtaking desktop search in 2015, was the major defining moment of digital marketing in the 2010s.”

The effects of this update is still felt today as Google started mobile-first indexing in July of 2019 according to Aiden Angeli, senior marketing consultant and founder of Ripe Marketing. “In present day, Google indexes and serves up the mobile version of a business's website in the search results, including searches done on desktop.” 

Mobilegeddon was a direct result, Angeli said, of people's preference of viewing content on mobile devices. It later led to developments in SEO for mobile, video marketing and especially voice search now that smartphones come with a digital personal assistant (i.e. Siri, Google Assistant, etc.). “This has made marketing more efficient and aligned with the intent behind a search and has transcribed to more conversions,” she said. “People on mobile devices are typically looking to buy at that moment.”

Related Article: Mobile or Not, Google Search Changes Are Here

Learning Opportunities

Mobile Marketing Changed Buyer’s Journey

Speaking of mobile, it’s hard to deny the impact of mobile usage on not just marketing but every aspect of consumer behavior, according to Matt Reid, CMO of EZ Texting. “After the iPhone arrived in 2007, the 2010s saw the rapid adoption of pocket-sized personal computers that redefined communication, dating, shopping, gaming and just about every other industry you can imagine,” Reid said. “Mobile usage has changed the entire buyer’s journey and, with that, marketing. It’s given rise to gigantic social networks, hugely popular influencers, and the selfie era. Over half of Google crawls are now primarily on a brand’s mobile pages, so mobile-first indexing means that marketers must present considered mobile-forward strategies.”

Social Media 'Unstoppable Juggernaut'

Jason Lavis, managing director of Out of the Box Innovations, said the most significant trend of the 2010s for digital marketing has to be the mass adoption of social media. “When you see people all over town, staring at their smartphone screens, they're likely on their preferred social media channel,” he said. “There are only so many hours in the day that we get a chance for screen time, and if we're looking at social media, we're not reading newspapers or blogs, we're not watching television, or if we are, perhaps it’s set to Prime, Netflix or YouTube.”

Every other channel, traditional or modern, has lost out to social media, from the pure perspective of time and attention. “If we add-in social influencers, fake news and the outrage culture, social media seems like an unstoppable juggernaut,” Lavis added. 

Video streaming through social media such as doing Facebook lives and stories is a digital marketing trend that has changed marketing and it’s not hard to see why, said Simon Hansen, founder and blogger at Best Sports Lounge. “The public’s obsession over virtual reality and reality TV has made marketers realize that what consumers look for is authenticity and a more realistic and engaging experience when purchasing a product,” he said. “Video streaming also is advantageous to marketers as it is free and easy to create.”

Related Article: Is Social Media Marketing Dying?

Google Penguin Elevated Content Game

Linda Pophal of Strategic Communications said chief among Google updates in the 2010s that made big impacts in digital marketing is the Penguin update in 2012. This update served to penalize poor quality content in favor of high-quality, original content. “That shift drove a significant change in demand for content from virtually any individual or company with a website,” she said. “Content marketers are so eager to continue to publish fresh, new, non-repetitive and high-quality content.”

Influencer Marketing Increases Brand Awareness

Influencer marketing has been the single biggest development in the past couple of years and is now a critical aspect of any successful marketing strategy, according to Stuart Leung, VP of marketing for Breazy. “More than ever, consumers are more trusting of word-of-mouth,” he said. “Influencer marketing has the potential to increase brand awareness, generate sales and reach new audiences. With that said, this trend has benefited many businesses who have strategically picked the right influencers to promote their products and/or services.”

Shift Toward Automation, Machine Learning

The biggest trend for digital marketing in the 2010s has been the shift toward automation and machine learning, said Collin J. Slattery, founder of Taikun Digital. Both Google and Facebook, which represent 70% of all digital ad spend along with Amazon, have made massive shifts toward automation and removing control from advertisers, he added. It's not necessarily a good thing, according to Slattery. “I think this is a terrible development,” Slattery said. “It takes control and information away from advertisers and agencies that manage advertising and requires us to ‘just trust’ Google and Facebook.” 

The shift to automation has been designed for the lowest common denominator in an effort to attract every last advertising dollar they can, Slattery added, and smaller advertisers don't have the expertise or the budget to have properly managed campaigns. “So by taking away manual control and forcing automation what Google and Facebook are doing is they're taking profit from the top-performing advertisers who have the budget and expertise," he said, "to maximize performance through manual control and trying to flatten the ROI difference between the highest performing and lowest performing accounts."

This, Slattery said, ultimately leads to ROI from online advertising being so small across the board that people start going back to other channels and Cost Per Clicks (CPCs)/Cost Per Mile (CPMs) start going down because it no longer makes sense to advertise on Google and Facebook. "For some (direct to consumer) brands," he said, "they're already starting to find that non-digital ad channels are more effective.”