2020: The Return Of Annus Horribilis?

Is talk of 2020 being the worst year ever a bunch of royal arse? Should we be celebrating an annus mirabilis?

You are reading: 2020: The Return Of Annus Horribilis?

If you are as long in the tooth as I am, you will surely remember the famous ‘Annus Horribilis’ comment made by the Queen about 1992?

She was referring to a fairly torrid year for the royal family which included the break up of Charles and Diana and a fire that ripped through Windsor Castle. I will be interested to see what she has to say about 2020 as it has been fairly catastrophic for her family – it started badly with Prince Philip’s driving faux pas but descended into real misery with the fall out between her grandsons, the whole Megxit debacle and the fiasco of Prince Andrew’s friendship with Epstein.

An annus fairly bloody awfulis, but family spats feel fairly minor in comparison to the global events triggered by a microscopic virus and there can be very few people on this planet who will have escaped the wrath that 2020 appears to have unleashed on us all.

I typically avoid writing ‘a year in review’ type posts as the internet is awash with them, but this year does feel very different and I wanted to share some brief personal observations about digital marketing in 2020 and beyond.


Despite the avalanche of posts about the implications of major algorithm updates, the most recent of which was unleashed this month, I am going to humbly suggest that very little has really changed in terms of what the search engines are looking for and what makes a successful SEO strategy . Yes, there are always winners and losers with any algorithm update and the volatility barometers can make it look really interesting, but the tremors are normally more mellow these days as a lot of sites are doing SEO well and you will not be penalised for focusing primarily on your users and publishing engaging / excellent content. SEO has matured and, thankfully, our ‘dark art’ is more widely understood. The promises of the snake oil salesmen are no longer believed and the sheisters are fading, which is excellent news.

It is impossible to look back at 2020 and not mention the arrival of coronavirus. Not only was ‘coronavirus’ the UK’s top trending search term in 2020, the reactions to the pandemic have had a profound effect on human behaviour. In almost all cases, I believe that this has been catastrophic and terrible for humanity but digital has been one of the few winners during a very troubled year.

I read through all our client reports, which we typically produce on a monthly basis, and have been struck by the staggering success that our campaigns have delivered this year, despite the worrying economic climate . Whilst I am used to seeing growth and positive trends, 2020’s reports have been a sea of (very big) green arrows and it has been very apparent that the inexorable rise of digital channels has been given a massive shot in the arm. I am not referring to a vaccine,  I am talking about a fundamental shift in consumer behaviour brought on by the reaction to the virus.

Who would have thought, in January 2020, that our lives were about to change so much and such massive manacles would be put on our liberties? Confined to our homes, with nothing open on the high street, it really isn’t a surprise to see such explosive growth online. Populations have been bored and have sought solace through their browsers.

For some organisations, 2020 has certainly not been an annus horribilis. The most notable example is probably Amazon, which has had a staggeringly good year. Helped in part by government policy, the behemoth is happily building a monopoly which threatens most other retailers but especially bricks and mortar retailers.

What has been clear is that those organisations who invest in their online presence have enjoyed a much better year than those that haven’t. It has been a real pleasure to see so many clients performing so well during such a miserable time and long may that continue!


Who knows what the future holds in terms of pandemics, but I suspect that some behaviour will have been changed permanently and I do not see digital fading any time soon.

The economic hangover from the eye-watering cost of 2020 will soon set in and I expect that our town centres will be hit extremely hard. People have got used to, and like, the ease of running their lives online and the terror that is clearly evident in many people’s eyes will not necessarily be appeased by any vaccine, so it is very possible that a significant chunk of society will remain as house-bound hermits.  This will underpin the importance of digital channels and keep those delivery vans very, very busy.

Almost everyone I speak to is looking forward to 2021, on the basis that it can’t be any worse than 2020. I do share this sentiment but am not expecting a miracle cure to arrive on January 1st. Not only will we still be struggling to work out what to do about the virus, but there is also a giant elephant in the corner of the room which has been hushed by the virus – Brexit. We remain fairly blind to what the future relationship with the EU / rest of the world will look like, but it has to be a concern to any business that operates internationally. I am therefore expecting a continued bumpy ride for the next few months, but am hopeful that we will be through the worst by spring / summer and that we will start building towards an amazing 2022, which will be an annus mirabilis.

My advice to anyone reviewing their digital marketing strategy? I am obviously biased, but this year has demonstrated very clearly that developing your online presence is vital. Now is the time to be doubling down on your digital initiatives rather than reducing budgets. Happier days are around the corner and you should start building for a prosperous future. If you would like any help, you know where to come :-)



Latest from the blog