Generation Z behavior differs from previous cohorts, which poses a new challenge for companies marketing to the consumers within. Gen Z's presence is also growing in the marketing industry itself, so learning how to interact with and address these young people sooner rather than later is an important step.
Who is Generation Z?
Social media stars may be the first to spring to mind when you think of Gen Z (also affectionately called Zoomers), but this age group is more than just TikTokers and YouTubers. Although the purported birth years of this generation vary in different sources, Pew Research refers to them as people born in or after 1997. With that in mind, it may be surprising that these Americans now make up about 28.7% of the total population. In context, baby boomers now make up a smaller proportion of just 21.8% and millennials around 22%.
Perhaps even more shocking than these statistics is the fact that the oldest members of Generation Z are now well over twenty. While it is easy to imagine this group as teenagers and children, they have grown up quickly and now play an important role in the global economy. In fact, this group has an annual purchasing power of around $ 143 billion and currently accounts for about 40% of global consumers.
Members of this cohort are known to be digital natives and grew up alongside technology. In 2014, the UK communications bureau tested children's technological skills against adults and found that the average 6-year-old outperformed the 40-year-old. It can be assumed that most of the members of this new generation have a solid understanding of technology and skills that can compete with much older people. This could be even more widespread now with the increased use of digital resources due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Pew Social Trends recently noted in an essay that, much like Millennials who faced the Great Recession in their coming years, Gen Z will long be hit by the pandemic. With a more competitive job market than ever and high demand for digital skills, a career in search may become increasingly attractive. Although search engine optimization is constantly changing, its importance has been unwavering for nearly two decades, making it a stable option in an unpredictable world.
How do zoomers interact with marketing as a whole?
When it comes to addressing this cohort, its members present companies with new challenges. First and foremost, their relationships with brands are very different from those of the generations ahead. Reports from IBM in partnership with the National Retail Federation found that Gen Z must earn brand loyalty. Zoomers look for brands to reflect their personal values and are ready to hold them accountable. In addition to their resistance to conventional brand loyalty, research has also found that it is harder to get them involved.
In general, consumers these days are bombarded with thousands of ads per day and are harder to reach. So it's not shocking that a common statistic states that members of Gen Z have the smallest attention span of just eight seconds. However, Fast Company presents this information in a new light by stating that it is actually an "8 second filter". These filters allow them to quickly process the enormous amounts of information they come across every day in order to improve what is actually important to them and in a unique way to prepare them to reconsider advertising attempts (like it basically does has been the case since birth).
To counter this trend, marketers have pursued a variety of novel strategies and methods. For example, experimental marketing with Gen Z has been shown to be effective, and they are particularly passionate about virtual reality too.
While there are plenty of new marketing opportunities out there, social media continues to be an important channel for Gen Z engagement, especially video content on sites like YouTube and TikTok. All in all, as these consumers move away from traditional television audiences, the need for alternative marketing opportunities will grow.
How does Gen Z use search?
With all of this background information, it's easy to see that Search is well positioned to access this audience. Gen Z may not respond as quickly to direct mail, but they are used to searching.
In fact, search engines have been around longer than Gen Z, and the first search engine appeared in 1990, so it is not surprising that their use is natural for this age group. Zoomers fully understand the use of search tools and can quickly evaluate SERPs before deciding which link to click.
They always had the answers to every question available, so they use the quest for a more focused discovery as well. In addition, despite their well-known "8-second filter", Fast Company found that they could focus heavily on topics they found worthwhile. Because of their nonchalance with brand loyalty, they may opt less for one big branded website than others.
Finally, their use and reliance on mobile devices cannot be overlooked or overrated. The stereotype that people are now being glued to their phones has some merits, and companies like Google have taken note. You have already started addressing this shift, with things like mobile-first indexing and AMP pages now growing in importance. IBM and NRF found that in a global survey of 15,600 Gen Zers, 60% wouldn't use an app or site that loads too slowly. This puts the importance of mobile website speed into a bigger perspective for SEOs hoping to search to capture this demographic.
The results of a recent Fractl survey clearly agree with each of these trends. They found that Gen Z has the highest preference for long-tail queries of all generations. They know that a short tail query will produce comprehensive results and they may not find what they are looking for. In addition, their mobile use has led to an increase in search functions for voice assistants that also use these multi-word phrases.
Zoomers work as SEOs
While this age group is well equipped to use search engines, it is likely that the concept of search engine optimization will remain somewhat alien to them. A quick Coursera search reveals that almost no SEO-specific college courses are currently available for students. While some general digital marketing classes may have a chapter or section on SEO, due to the ever-changing nature of the search, this information can often be out of date. There are some certificate programs and online workshops as well, but the above problem is still there. In summary, the easiest way for students to learn is through their own research, internship, or similar experience.
Even so, this industry can provide a fantastic career path for Gen Z members if they discover it and choose to pursue it. Working in search can develop a variety of skills from critical thinking to problem solving and data analysis. Members of the SEO community are always up to date with the latest technology and trends, which is useful in many areas of business. In addition, working in an agency offers the opportunity to find out more about a variety of industries and niches. Many SEOs even gain experience in web development, data science, and programming. These are three skills that are in great demand. All in all, the many hard and soft skills that can be developed through SEO work are the foundation of success during a career.
Zoomers already have the ability to work in technology-based spaces, and those with determination can quickly acquire expertise in the field. Prime examples of this are the use of SEO tools and content management systems. For example, once a CMS like WordPress is learned, that knowledge can easily be transferred to others like Drupal, HubSpot, etc. The same applies to tools such as Google Analytics and Search Console, as the understanding of how data is evaluated on these platforms can be transferred to a large number of others. In essence, SEO and Gen Z could really be a match made in digital marketing heaven.
Understanding client-side Gen Z-er
While SEO is not yet a mainstream career path for most young people, those in digital marketing are likely to come across it at some point. Therefore, it is important to remember that members of this generation will also be working on the client side of the search.
As mentioned earlier, some zoomers are already part of the workforce, and the presence of this cohort will only continue to grow. In 2020 alone, Gen Z made up around 24% of the global workforce.
With the influx of new employees on the horizon, working with them can be a unique experience due to their strong technological understanding. Additionally, they are more familiar with concepts such as analytics and data science, as these careers are booming in higher education. Members of this age group shouldn't be underestimated when it comes to grasping the pros and cons of SEO from the customer's perspective.
While Gen Z continues to join the workforce, likely in entry-level positions, it's important to remember that in a few years they will be decision makers. You will increasingly be able to influence budget decisions. Hence, it is absolutely vital to think about ways you can connect with them now and communicate the value of SEO to save time, energy, and money in the long run. Some of the steps you need to take are as follows:
- Understand that they are eager to learn and can do it quickly.
- Walk them through the reasons for each referral to build their knowledge over time. As with clients of all ages, this improves confidence and helps them see how SEO really works.
- Take them seriously and listen to their insights.
- You may have concerns, like any customer, when it comes to SEO strategies and how they flow into the overall marketing plan. Listen to what they have to say as, while new, they can still provide meaningful insights.
- Embrace novel ideas and creative thinking.
- Fresh ideas are never a bad thing, but it can be easy to fight back those who seem to be coming out of left field. Fight the impulse to shut them down immediately and instead seriously consider how they could be incorporated into the project.
- Don't be afraid to use new tools and technologies.
- As mentioned above, Gen Z is not intimidated by new technologies. Share interesting insights from tools like HotJar, Tableau or Google Tag Manager to make SEO more exciting for you.
- Be open and transparent about performance analysis.
- Read up on the state of website performance to build trust and appreciation for search. In the age of instant gratification, there are few things more satisfying than a positive trend line. On the other hand, you should investigate and identify the causes of downturns.
While Gen Z may be a mystery in many ways, two things are certain: they are well on their way to dominate many industries, and they shouldn't be overlooked. If you don't prepare for their arrival, you may already be falling behind.
Think about these insights and tips, and if your organization already has Gen Z-er's, take the time to search their brains. Go ahead and learn to embrace the change – as we so often do in search engine optimization – because these TikTokers and YouTubers will only grow in influence.