Article Published by Total Retail

In the tradition of New Year’s forecasting, but firmly grounded in many of the on-the-ground developments we’ve been observing at Objectwave, we’re predicting that three key trends will affect e-marketing strategy in 2016. First, Google’s Penguin 3.0 will force a further rethink in best practices for search engine optimization. Second, the personalization trend will deepen. Lastly, what I’ve dubbed “digital conversation” will become an essential factor when it comes to enriching shoppers’ online experiences.

Yes, Penguins Can Crawl

Google is now in the Penguin 3.0 release. For those unfamiliar, Penguin is the overhaul of the Google search algorithm that literally shuts down the shortcuts that were previously being used by many SEO professionals. It’s clearer than ever that the only way to leverage organic search will be through relative content. Therefore, expect to see digital strategy experts expending a much greater effort to create relevant content for sites.

Techniques that SEO professionals were using (and indeed, those who haven’t adjusted their approach are still using) include purchasing links or creating link farms — i.e., the practice of getting links pointing to your site or linking to one site and then another and then back to you. There’s also a lot of borrowing of content from other sites in order to seem relevant. A lot of this activity has been taking place, but there’s not much of a future for it. When the search engines that constantly crawl the web see this happening, they will now “de-rate” or demote sites where this occurs.

Does that mean it’s time for SEO professionals to throw in the towel? Not at all. They will continue to have value to their clients as long as they guide them to good practices around content. They can also advise on such issues as the rendering of subject matter in HTML rather than AJAX, wherein web crawlers could miss vital areas of content that become invisible to them when in that language. Experienced SEO professionals know what works and what doesn’t, and by reviewing web pages should be able to advise on what makes a site relevant or not, the key point being that relevance is what pulls up the ranking. However, with Google actively devaluing sites that don’t keep their algorithms happy, the garden will need much tending and close watchfulness.

Another way Penguin 3.0 can penalize a site is from a lack of mobile awareness. It awards mobile-enabled sites, so those that ignore mobile do so at their own peril. Mobile will increasingly loom large in predicating rankings, so be sure that your websites are mobile ready and create homepages that are optimized for mobile view.

Getting Personal

Personalization will continue to grow, whether it’s consumers demanding more ease of use, having the ability to create a unique product tailored to their own personal taste, figure out inherent capabilities in digital devices so that they can get more out of their digital commerce experience, or in the mobile world, how to swipe, click and order.

Personalization can occur on many different levels. Take Oakley for example. Its Create, Build, Wear page allows shoppers to customize a set of glasses by selecting colors, lens, etc. Nike’s Air Presto ID Collection lets shoppers build a customized sneaker. Similarly, Reebok has its Design Your Own Destiny. Other sites simply cater to a customer’s specific preferences when they shop, such as giving them the option to become a one-click purchaser. Even that gets to be a choice around personalization. The idea is to make the experience as unique to an individual vs. the same for everyone.

How will retailers supply this level of personalization? Some platforms are beginning to offer tools for this level of personalization. Other retailers are taking it to a manufacturing level, which requires investment beyond the digital commerce envelope. When retailers listen to their customers, personalization can take many different forms. As the trend progresses, e-commerce sites could find themselves in some technical hot water, taking the customizable shoe as an example. The customized product is no longer is an aggregation of elements. The customizable factors might consist of five elements. In all their permutations, you suddenly have a multiplicity of SKUs. Therefore, as a note of caution, limit customization to the potential return on the investment made in this capability. But otherwise, it’s all about giving customers what they want and turning them into an advocate for your brand.

In some cases, consumers may not want to be making choices, and so personalization would take the form of making it simpler. It all comes back to knowing who your customer is and being able to dynamically generate a web page that makes the experience as good as it can be for that particular customer so he or she continues to come back.

Does Your Website Get You?

My last trend is probably the hardest to articulate. As websites continue to pop up at the rate of hundreds a day, it’s going to be a very important way of distinguishing yours. I call it “digital conversation.” I hasten to add this isn’t about retailers having a million actual conversations with their customers, and their customers digitally responding to them in kind, as might happen on a social media site. This is more about when a site has a quality to it that expresses the essence of something that resonates for the customer. It’s when the site “gets” the customer or the customer “gets” the site, not unlike when two people click and resonate with each other.

The experience isn’t unlike when a listener is appreciating a piece of great music. Digital conversation is about making a digital asset so flexible that every experience is unique to that user. I envision a potential wherein knowing an individual’s preferences, behavior and likes will enable sites to dynamically change on login. In terms of the digital conversation, it’s an interactive experience that’s so unique that it induces an emotion from each user. Websites can have that lyrical, “singing” quality to them, depending on whether the engineer also exercised artistry in creating it. I truly believe that in the same way that millions of pieces of music have been composed, only for some to get discarded and others returned to as a craving, if your site gives good digital conversation, that’s the sine qua non that will create a compulsion for people to come back.


ObjectWave is a full-service provider of digital commerce solutions. He can be reached at