Foresight is 2020: Digital Marketing Trends for the New Year


Hear Gate 39 Media CMO Sarah McNabb’s insight into 2020 digital marketing trends – or read the audio transcription below.

Sarah McNabb talks SEO trends for 2020 on the AMA Chicago panel.

On December 5th, West Monroe Partners hosted the American Marketing Association Chicago Event: Digital Marketing Trends & Practical Applications for 2020.

As a panelist who led the discussion on SEO trends, I wanted to take a few minutes to further expand upon some of the high-level ideas that I touched upon at this event – let’s call this the extended director’s cut edition of my panel session.

In 2020, the overall standout trend is artificial intelligence; AI is the major differentiator that touches all aspects of marketing. It’s a fact that AI, machine learning, and deep learning ARE the future of marketing.

AI is Creating Better User Experiences through Chatbots –

Thanks to AI, chatbots are having increasingly engaging and more human conversations, handling more customer service requests than ever before. And, as messaging on the web is becoming faster and more efficient, they are a cost-effective piece of technology that online businesses can use to communicate with visitors.

However, the value of chatbots is only recognized when they provide a valuable user experience.

Chatbots tend to be successful when they act more human:

  • The best chatbots know exactly when to transfer a conversation to a human. Most bots are great for simple interactions – but for complex conversations, human intervention is still necessary.
  • And while humans interacting with a chatbot might not be 100% clear in their communication, a smart bot should be able to understand intent. For example, a financial chatbot should be able to understand what a user means when they ask, “how much money do I have” instead of a specific query like “what is my account balance”.
  • Never pretend your bot is human – people will know the difference. But, giving your bot a human identity can make interactions more enjoyable. For example, Alexa, Cortana, and Siri all have distinct personalities that seem to be a hit with users.
  • While three-dot typing indicators are simple, they can have a big impact on making the bot seem more human. We are used to waiting a bit for a response, so seeing the three dots lets us know an answer is on the way and as a bonus of using typing indicators it creates the impression the bot is “thinking”.
AI and SEO are Partners in Delivering a Personalized Experience

The role of AI continues to move the needle in creating more personalized experiences and user experience is really at the center of SEO.

Search algorithms are powered by AI and can detect what website content is outdated, how often a site is updated, and if a website is optimized to accommodate for voice search.

AI and machine learning algos can analyze large, complex data sets and are getting better at data analysis and pattern recognition to identify the right strategies to use –and this means better marketing with more cohesive strategies to deliver a more personalized website experience. For example, based on their behavior, users can be served special landing pages and dynamic content.

With the goal to get in front of the right audience with the right message at the right time – AI is a critical component.

AI and Voice Search Have an Elevated Role

Everyone is searching by voice.

Voice access is part of accessibility standards and is considered inclusive design, and it’s predicted that more than 50% of all searches will be initiated through voice in 2020. With Google turning from a search engine into an answer engine, its algorithm AI is placing more emphasis on voice search optimization.

As marketers, it’s our job to discover how our brands can benefit from voice search. And if Google is going to favor websites that accommodate voice search, this means that it’s imperative for marketers to optimize their websites for voice search.

So how does one optimize their website for voice search?

The good news is that it doesn’t necessarily require a complete overhaul. First, ensure that your website is mobile responsive, that images are optimized, files are compressed, caching is enabled, and that your server response time is reduced as much as possible.

Voice search is all about voicing questions versus entering search queries.

  • Write website content in the way you speak to give direct answers to questions.
  • With SEO and voice search, searches are not only done on phones but on home voice assistants, where answers can be read back in seconds. So those answers should be worked into your website.
  • Create pages dedicated to voice search SEO efforts
    • Frequently Asked Question pages and Pillar pages with phrases, questions, and answers written specifically to answer a topical question will help align with voice-command-related searches.
    • The average voice search answer is 29 words long, so keep your content answers to 30 words or less.
    • Use keywords, terms, and query phrases that reflect more natural language in the form of questions that are longer, targeted, and more conversational.
    • And be sure to sprinkle in conversational phrases and long keywords into your content, including tags such as “near me”, for those searching on the go.

On a related note, remember that you don’t need to visit a website to get an answer. The Featured Snippet (or Position Zero) can show you an answer to a question right at the top of search results. Google pulls these Featured Snippet answers from your content and setting up FAQ and pillar pages can help get your answers into that coveted Position Zero.

A whopping 40.7% of voice search answers come from the Featured Snippet.

The key takeaway is that optimizing your website to accommodate voice search will yield many SEO benefits, ultimately boosting your brand awareness and revenue.

A final thought for marketers: 

Embrace where we’re going with AI, be sure to optimize your website for voice search, and learn how to take advantage of the marketing insight tools available (such as those found in HubSpot) that can help hone your marketing strategies.

Marketing is never a set-it-and-forget-it job, it is constantly evolving, and we must evolve to keep up with best practices. If you have any questions about digital trends for 2020, I invite you to contact me at or visit

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