2023 - annual review
#232 Looking back at 2023 and scoring my predictions
Previous annual reviews:
The end of the year is a great time for closure. I enjoy trying ends together that I put aside during busy time because they drain my energy.
Years pass faster these days, and if I don’t pay attention, they feel like they never happened. That’s why I like annual reviews, and today I’m sharing mine for 2023.
For me, 2023 was a special year of trumped expectations.
I became a father for the first time and had to rebuild my daily routine from scratch. I expected and still underestimated how severe the change is, but also the love and joy.
2023 was also my first full year of advisory. I’ve had amazing clients and was able to build a high six-figure income despite taking a month off. The appreciation is strong these days. After a period of overcommitting, I raised the quality of my service with playbooks and narrowed down even more on my strengths.
In 2024, I plan to Double down on focus and boundaries. I took on a few engagements this year that cost a lot of energy, and despite their success, I want to create more space to show up as the best version of myself.
When you reach economic security, you have the option to spend more time on energizing things - if you allow yourself to have enough. I’m working on that. When I create space, I come up with stronger ideas, write better data stories and guide my clients more effectively. That’s my goal for next year.
Scoring my 2023 predictions
The <irony> nice </irony> thing about predictions is that you’re more likely to be wrong, and if you’re right, people will say it was obvious.
Another challenge is getting the timing right. Some of my 2018 predictions are really hitting home now, 5 years later:
Publishers retreat from social media
SEO is harder
Niche communities (forums) are celebrating a comeback
E-mail is getting more important
B2B marketing is a lot like B2C
Marketers go all in on LinkedIn
I also made many predictions that never became reality, but so is the game! The mental exercise still builds muscle, especially when you push to find unique angles.
Every year, I try to be a bit more daring in my predictions and make them a bit more exciting for you. This year, I hit 50/50 - 4 predictions were right, 4 wrong. Good outcome, if you ask me because it means I push hard enough.
✅Google launches a Chat GPT competitor trained on Search data
I published my 2023 predictions in December 2022, about a month after OpenAI launched ChatGPT 3 when it wasn’t clear that Google would be under so much pressure and release Bard and SGE.
I expected Google’s counterpunch to be stronger than ChatGPT, but we got a lot of defense instead. The Bard demo in February and the Gemini demo in December came with severe technical mistakes that show Google is sweating and has sloppy footwork.
LLMs in Search like Google AI Snapshots and Bing Copilot are grounded in rankings, but they still make mistakes and haven’t hit product-market fit. Their unique value beyond summarization isn’t clear.
Bing recently launched an interesting approach with Deep Search that aims to enhance Search instead of replacing clicks to websites.
From Hidden GEMini:
With the help of ChatGPT4, Bing disambiguates (clarifies) searches and expands queries to dig for better content and surface better answers. It’s much slower than regular Search (answers can take 30 seconds), but in combination with Bing Copilot and classic Search, it might be a powerful addition. Sounds like a gem.
I’ll elaborate further on this in my predictions for 2024, but SGE either needs to get drastically better, or we haven’t yet seen what ideal AI search looks like.
✅Most SEOs use at least one AI tool in their day-to-day work
Had I written, “Most Marketers use at least one AI tool in their day-to-day work”, I would have easily been right. Every company on the planet is right now toying with AI tools and wondering what their AI strategy is.
In SEO, getting to a validating data point wasn’t easy. I had to poll my Twitter audience:
Turns out I was right, but I wish there was more data supporting my point. In March, survey results showed that 58% of respondents aim to use AI for content generation in 2023, but that survey was forward-looking.1
Ahrefs is the first big SEO suite offering an AI feature, though I don’t have data about how many people use it. I personally know that other SEO suite makers are working on AI features. In 2024, we’ll see a lot more AI in SEO.
❌Fewer crypto millionaires, more creator millionaires
I got that one wrong. There are still more Crypto than creator millionaires.
In 2022, Adobe estimated the number of creators in the world to be over 300 million.2 Goldman Sachs estimates the number to be closer to 50 million, with only 4% (2,000) making more than $100,000 a year.3 Only a few creators make more than a million USD a year.4
Meanwhile, some Crypto fans are still wealthy.
425 million people use Crypto
88,200 has Crypto assets worth more than $1 million
182 have Crypto assets worth more than $100 million
22 people have Crypto assets worth more than $1 billion
Even though Crypto imploded this year with Sam Bankman Fried being sentenced for fraud and Changpeng Zhao waiting for his sentence, there are still way more Crypto than Creatore millionaires.
❌TikTok gets banned in the US; Bytedance either sells TikTok or spins it out
TikTok didn’t get banned.
Montana tried and failed. TikTok sued the state against violating the First Amendment and convinced the ruling judge to push the ban back to January 2024. It might never come into effect.
The privacy and influence concerns are real. Most Western governments banned it for official and personal devices:
The US and +50% of its state governments
The European Union
On a side note, TikTok’s growth has slowed down significantly.6 Instagram and YouTube might have succeeded in fencing TikTok’s growth, similar to how Instagram stories limited the growth of Snapchat. Is that a viable tactic for Alphabet against OpenAI?
❌Meta monetizes Whatsapp with either ads or a subscription
No ads or subscriptions. Meta officially confirmed they’re not working on ads.7
To date, Meta has been using WhatsApp more as a channel to fuel ads on Facebook and Instagram.
WhatsApp business users can run ads without accounts.
Advertisers can choose WhatsApp as a messaging channel when running click-to-message ads on Meta's properties. Click-to-WhatsApp already reached $1.5 billion in ARR and grows at 80% year-over-year.
WhatsApp businesses can get in touch with customers within 24 hours through a paid messaging service.
But moving forward, it has the potential to drive more direct revenue through business customers.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg said WhatsApp will be the next major growth pillar for the company at a town hall in November.
The product is growing fast: Over the last 3 years, WhatsApp Business added 150 million monthly users (200 million total).
❌Sheryl Sandberg becomes CEO of Twitter
Wrong, but close!
Elon Musk did pick a woman for the CEO position (good) at Twitter, but it turned out to be Linda Yaccarino instead of Sheryl Sandberg.
The former chairman of advertising at NBC Universal faces significant challenges. The biggest: Elon Musk.
✅Apple gets a lot more regulatory heat
Apple has faced regulatory heat for its app store and interoperability between non-Apple devices.
The European Commission named 22 tech players as “gatekeepers”, including Apple, and threatened with fines of up to 10% of a firm’s global revenue. The focus is on Apple’s app store’s rule against alternative payment methods and iMessage, which might be categorized as gatekeeper under the Digital Markets Act (DMA)8
In Oct. 2023, the Dutch Authority for Consumers & Markets (A Euro Watchdog Agency) ruled that Apple’s commission on certain app subscriptions is an abuse of the company’s market power, violating EU Antitrust Law.9
A newly proposed rule could force Apple to be regulated like a bank. Companies handling more than 5 million transactions a year could fall under the supervision of the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to protect consumers. Apple Pay falls into that category.
Tim Cook himself called for more regulation in 2019:
“We all have to be intellectually honest, and we have to admit that what we’re doing isn’t working,” said Cook, in an interview with former TIME Editor in Chief Nancy Gibbs. “Technology needs to be regulated. There are now too many examples where the no rails have resulted in a great damage to society.”10
3 years later, he criticized lawmakers for hurting security and privacy11:
We are deeply concerned about regulations that would undermine privacy and security in service of some other aim,’ Cook said in a speech to the International Association of Privacy Professionals. ‘Here in Washington and elsewhere, policymakers are taking steps, in the name of competition, that would force Apple to let apps onto iPhone that circumvent the App Store through a process called sideloading.
✅The recession hits the world hard; more layoffs, bankruptcies and acquisitions
I generally got this one right, even though no one really knows whether we went through a recession or not. Economists have been predicting recessions since early 2022, but the global economy has proven resilient and continues to grow. A 2024 recession is unlikely.
At the same time, most tech companies laid off people. Just the big ones let over 71,000 people go12:
Compared to the amount of people these companies hired during the pandemic, though, they’re still net positive.
2023: brand, trust, community
2023 was the year of brand. Elon Musk deleveraged Twitter’s brand when he changed the name to X. HBO rebranded its streaming service for the 100th. It’s now Max, as in maximal confusion. On the other hand, Overstock leveraged brand by buying Bed Bath & Beyond’s domain and migrating its business model. Warner Bros. leveraged a 64-year-old brand and released the #1 box office movie of the year: Barbie. It made more money than The Dark Knight Rises, maybe because the $150 million marketing spend was higher than the production cost #judging.
Speaking of movies, 2023 was a record-setting year for sequels: Indiana Jones to The Witcher, Guardians of the Galaxy, John Wick, Avatar, Mission Impossible and more. The appetite for sequels is, in part, the result of a desire for continuation and trust. Movie studios know they’re more likely to make money with a sequel than a new film. Oppenheimer, Sound of Freedom and Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour were the only new “movies” in the top 10 box office movies in 2023. If the audience didn’t like it, they wouldn’t watch these movies. But they do. After years of tumult, pandemics and wars, people crave stability and trust.
People most trust peers, friends and other people they look up to. An OGM survey revealed that the most trusted source of B2B content is forums and communities.
Losing trust in information from companies and institutions is not just a B2B problem. Trust in publishers and government bodies is at an all-time low.
Adults under 30 are now almost as likely to trust information from social media sites as they are to trust information from national news outlets.
More people, especially young ones, turn to social media instead. The keyword in this sentence is “social”, even though social media is not as social as we sometimes think. Most platforms have drastically reduced the visibility of publishers. Creators are getting the lion's share of attention.
Google has recognized the need for more trust in the search results and published the Hidden Gems update to surface more content from forums and communities.
If Google’s recent changes and algorithm updates have shown one clear pattern, it’s that who creates the content matters just as much for SEO as the answer itself. Product Review updates prioritize reviews that prove the author has actually used the product. Google’s content quality concept is EEAT (experience, expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness). The Helpful Content System rewards “people-first content”.
Forums and communities have a significantly higher chance of showing content from humans. It’s not impossible to game forums with AI content, but we’ve seen mostly publishers like Sports Illustrated selling AI content as human.
SI using AI to create buying guides is a perfect example of a shift from differentiated content (journalism) to arbitrage (affiliate marketing) and commodity content.
Trust matters more in a time when everyone can create AI content and disrupt Google’s unit economics.
From Hidden GEMini:
Google knows that synthetic diamonds in the form of AI content are cheap to make and about to flood the market. Even fake diamonds, content that’s posted by a human by created by AI, is less likely to come up in well-moderated forums.
Users are trying to figure out what’s trustworthiness on the internet. 2023 was the loudest year of people saying Google’s search results have become worse. They seek refuge in forums and communities and by following creators.
There are two options for why Google pays the equivalent of Costco’s, Intel’s, or Coca-Cola’s profits to be the default search engine every year: One, grab as much market share as possible; two, Google’s isn’t that much better than other search engines. The answer: yes.
Communities were a top theme in many Organic Growth corners. Twitter is a dying community that’s being replaced by a new one: Threads. Reddit moderators, the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) and UPS Teamsters are work-related communities that went on strike. Only Teamster didn’t protest because of AI. Reddit moderators revolted against spiking API prices, and the WGA protested for higher wages and against the use of AI for script writing. Both didn’t stand a chance against progress.
Person of the year: Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. Why? For showing level 100 aptitude. When Sam Altman was ousted by the OpenAI board, Nadella found the “how is this for me?” angle and offered Altman a job. Instead of smothering in anger and causing destruction, he found the smart play. Nadella plays 3rd chess while we’re playing checkers.
Company of the year: Meta. Why? For turning the company unit economics around, launching Threads with a small team and releasing smart glasses. I’m not a fan of the metaverse idea, but you have to admit that Meta is doing an outstanding job. Facebook is still growing. Instagram was able to limit TikTok’s growth. WhatsApp has strong monetization potential. Threads is a future cash cow.
Company of the year was a tough choice because many companies would qualify:
YouTube for having some of the best content on the web and going head-to-head with TikTok
Microsoft for becoming cool again and innovating quickly
OpenAI for launching the probably most impactful tech in modern history
Organic Growth play of the year: LinkedIn AI posts. Under /pulse, users contribute to questions surfaced by AI.
Yes, spammers already abuse the new feature. But it drives a lot of SEO growth and engagement. If LinkedIn can get spam under control, it’s one of the first legit use cases of growth driven by AI. As part of Microsoft, I’m impressed by LinkedIn’s speed of innovation and integration of AI.
How 2023 went for the Growth Memo
2023 was a great year for the Growth Memo. I found an engaging writing style, the free Memo hit 11,000 subscribers, and I launched Growth Memo Premium.
I’ve been thinking about the next level of the Growth Memo for a long time, and I think I’ve found it in Deep Dives. The reception of Premium shattered my expectations. I set a goal of 100 paying subscribers after 3 months and got there within 5 days. One part of the success was a well-engineered launch buzz, the other part was the fact that I had over 10,000 free subscribers.
So far, only 6 paying subscribers churned, and the total number has reached 200. My goal for next year is 1,000. To get there, I’m working with a market researcher to surface even better insights and a designer to make them look better; plus I’m considering an audio version, chat, online meetings and snackable videos.
Leave a comment if you think this is a good or bad idea 👇🏻
The top 10 articles by traffic in 2023:
In the first week of January, I’m publishing my predictions for 2024.
Stay tuned, and, as always, thank you for reading!