I just completed an interactive local media conference where some of today’s smartest minds in digital were gathered, from the likes of Google, Facebook, IdeaLab, CitiGrid, Constant Contact and dozens more. Here’s my list of the Top 20 trends (and some implications) in digital, search, social media and online marketing that emerged from this semi-annual confab by the local media consulting firm BIA/Kelsey:

1. Shrinking Search Real Estate

As Google continues to claim more and more space for paid products on every search engine results page (SERP), there’s less and less available for “organic” results — your results.  Bottom line: Being found in search via “free” SEO tactics will continue to get harder. You can’t rely on SEO alone.

2. Social Search Soars

Search engines and yellow pages type directories aren’t the only place people look online for businesses. More and more customers are using social media to search for what they need. If you aren’t there, you can’t be found.

3. High Value Content Becomes Even More Critical

Content is where most small businesses stumble. Having a website, blog and social media pages isn’t enough without good content to go along. The simple act of offering a helpful PDF download can produce big results. Content becomes your new creative.

4. Mobile Devices Become “Remote Control” for Our Lives

As the power and sophistication of mobile devices (super computers in our pockets) continues to grow, more and more individuals will use them as the central processing unit that controls their lives. People already spend an average of 2-5 hours daily on a mobile device. This raises the ante for making sure your business is visible on mobile. About 55% of the U.S. popular owns a smart phone, and 78% don’t leave home without it.

5. “Day Parting” Becomes more Prevalent

Day Parting is the term for dividing up the day into distinct marketing periods for making specific offers. For example, a restaurant that makes special offers just before lunch — but no other time of the day.

6. Programs for “Conquesting” Customers Grow More Popular

Conquesting is a term for attracting a customer already at one local business, over to another local business offering a synergistic product or service. For example, an ice cream shop suggesting to diners currently eating in nearby restaurants to stop by for dessert.

7. Everything & Everyone Online

As the number of people online daily (worldwide) jumps from 2.5 billion today to 3.5 billion by 2015, the lines between offline and online blur even more.  There’s no longer a conscious decision to “use the web.” It becomes an unconscious, reflex action.

8. Consumers are Hyper-Informed

Nearly 90% of U.S. Internet users go online to search for information about products and services, and about one in three will post a product review or comment online, and social media plays a critical and growing role. After spending time on social media, the 2nd-most popular activity is buying something!

9. Small Businesses Learn to Leverage Facebook to Acquire Customers

Far from fading, Facebook is finally figuring out small business (and vice versa), offering new ways for businesses to acquire customers. Twitter does the same. A term you’ll see more is “Native Placement,” which includes paid placements on Facebook and Twitter such as Facebook Sponsored Stories and Twitter Promoted Tweets.  These are considered “native” advertising. Businesses are also seeing that placing content on Facebook produces far greater results than putting on a website.

10. A Four-Screen World Rules

No single device or “screen” dominates. People move effortlessly between a PC, smart phone, tablet and TV.  According to Google research, 90% of consumers begin a task on one device and complete it on another device. Already, 77% of TV viewers watch on a non-TV device (49%  ; 34% PC or laptop).  Content (such as an ad) viewed on one device can trigger behavior on another device. This means business can no longer construct campaigns specific to a single device. Four years ago, small businesses bought ads in an average of 2.8 different channels. Now it’s six.

11. Expansion of Choice and Sharing Accelerates

Consumers will have more content, more choices and more places to share and consume information.  Even ads become opt-in (on video, for example), but consumers choose to watch at a high rate (currently 15-45%). This acceleration of choice provides businesses an opportunity to provide more content through which customers will “self select” based on their interests.

12. Google Product Listing Ads Gain Importance

Google Product Listings (free) and Product Listing Ads (PLAs; paid) have been around for years, but have been given a makeover and will gain momentum as more businesses find that PLAs can be vastly more effective than simple text ads.

13. Big Move Toward Video

Video will continue to explode. Already, 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute of the day. There are channels for every interest — over a million of them. Businesses of all sizes should be seeking out channels that interest their customers and advertise there.

14. Digital Ad Products Become Simpler

Solution providers heed the call of business owners who say digital products are too complex. Google, for example, just introduced AdWords Express, a simplified version of its flagship AdWords search engine marketing product — the first time Google has specifically made something for small business.

15. Online Avenues Get More Vertical

Major players in local search such as CitiGrid finally recognize that the needs of local businesses differ greatly by type (or vertical), and begin to offer more customized digital products geared to specific business types or verticals.

16. NAP Alignment Critical for Local Businesses

NAP — or name, address and phone number — is the vital info that every local business must make available online and on mobile. But it’s vital the info is perfectly aligned (consistent in all places), or you risk confusing Google and slipping in search results.

17. Importance of Interacting with Customers in “Social Storefronts” Grows

Imagine a customer walks into your store and you turn your back. That’s essentially what’s been happening online when a small business has a website or Facebook business page but doesn’t actively engage with customers in those settings. Importance of building online relationships grows even bigger.

18. DIWM Joins DIY and DIFM

Small businesses can expect to see more digital and social media marketing products and providers offering “Do It With Me” services (DIWM) along with Do It Yourself (DIY) and Do It For Me (DIFM).  These will come with price tags between the other two.

19. Extraordinary Becomes the New Ordinary

Consumer expectations continue to climb. Digital marvels that once seemed extraordinary (like finding things almost instantly on a smart phone) are taken for granted. Not long ago, WiFi on airplanes was unusual. Now it’s expected. The bar is high for businesses big and small to “wow” customers.

20. Newspaper Inserts or “Circulars” Go Digital

A consortium of 12 major newspaper companies is putting millions behind a new venture called Wanderful that aims to reinvent ad circulars for tablet computers and make shopping more entertaining, fun, social and discovery-based.

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