The History of Digital Marketing

Pete Schauer

Marketing Director

A little history lesson never hurts anyone!

While you may not lie in bed awake at night, wondering how digital marketing came to be, it’s still helpful to understand its past and the direction it will take in the future. Most of us take digital marketing for granted, particularly the millennials who have been exposed to this form of marketing basically all of their lives. But do you really know how digital marketing came to be? Do you think its evolvement gives us any indication of what we can expect in the future?

Well let’s find out!

The Formation of the Digital Age

Though there were some traces of digital media back in the 1970s and 80s, the digital age as we know it began with the internet and Web 1.0 platforms of the early 90s. In 1993, the first AOL instant message was sent, and in 1994, web cookies, Yahoo! and a display ad for AT&T were all introduced.

Around this time, we saw some of the first clickable banner ads that set the stage for future marketing. Sure, it was different. But it was cool, and consumers were responsive to these new ads. Banner ads were refreshing compared to the same old stale direct marketing and billboard ads of the time.

The Birth of Google

Google was launched in 1998, and it didn’t take long for their search engine to improve and expand. Because Google placed importance on search engine function, savvy marketers learned that they needed to implement search engine optimization into their marketing strategies. Most of these strategies were the black hat tactics that we know today - keyword stuffing, duplicate content, link building - but they worked back then. Google also implemented AdWords and AdSense to make their search engine more attractive for advertisers.  

While Google was busy growing, there were a few other sites making waves in the websphere. MySpace was one of the first social sites, and Facebook followed soon after. Blogger made its debut in 1999, and Blackberry launched their own mobile email program. All of these developments helped secure the digital age, and marketers saw that with them came lucrative opportunities to market their products and services.

The Evolvement of the “Cookie”

It used to be that only bakeries could capitalize on cookies. But then “cookies” came to be. Interestingly, the first cookie was not designed to track a user’s browsing habits. But it quickly evolved into that. Since the inception of the brilliant “cookie,” it has now been used by marketers and businesses to collect data about the people who visit and use their site. Amazon is a great example of cookies in action. The ecommerce site collects data about their users based on search history and activity, and then they up-sell and cross-sell products based on this information.

Web 2.0 Joins the Family

Web 2.0 is the second, more sophisticated sibling of Web 1.0. It has come with a lot of new features and functions, but probably the biggest gamechanger is that consumers are no longer passively taking in information like they had in the past. Consumers are now in the driver’s seat, consuming things how they want, when they want them.

Marketers have seen that the internet is a portal for customer interactions. More and more have become active online, setting up websites and social media profiles. Since the early 2000s, we’ve seen sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and WordPress reach new heights in terms of traffic and popularity. Mobile devices have also changed the web. It started with the iPhone, but now we have a variety of smartphones, tablets and wearable devices that place the brilliance of the internet directly into the hands of people.

Are We Currently Creating Web 3.0?

Today, we are arguably in the era of Web 3.0, otherwise known as the Semantic Web. Or perhaps we are just creating it. Today’s internet is designed to be smarter and more intuitive. People predict that some of the things we will see in Web 3.0 are semantic Content Management Systems (CMSs), artificially intelligent search engines and virtual reality.

Web 3.0 also embrace our fascination with being connected to the internet at all times (internet of things) through wearables, smartphones and tablets. This in itself will change digital marketing as we know it, as people will be connected to their favorite brands at all times. Web 3.0 will propel us into a world where everything is ubiquitous.

It’s quite fascinating to see that so much has already taken place in the last couple of decades. As the internet continues to be more intuitive and precise, the need for digital marketing will only increase.

About the Author: Pete Schauer

Born and raised at the Jersey Shore, Pete Schauer is the Marketing Director at SEMGeeks. He holds a M.A. in Digital Communications from William Paterson University and has 8+ years in the digital space with companies such as Bleacher Report and Social Media Today in addition to SEMGeeks. His background includes creative and professional writing as well as strategic digital marketing communications and management.

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