The evolution of digital marketing has been marked by communication, interaction and transition to the digital era. From messengers to letters, radios, computers, telephones and smart devices, the rapid way communication is changing has taken the world by storm. Brands now focus on meeting the needs and wants of customers. Maintaining long-term relationships with customers is determined by how well brands communicate and interact with customers. This is influenced by online marketing media. The first digital marketer by some is perceived to be Italian aristocrat and peer, Guglielmo Marconi, who invented the radio. Others disagree and hold that internet marketing commenced in 1971 when Ray Tomlinson sent the first electronic mail.

  • Web Marketing and the Rise of the World Wide Web

The term digital marketing was, however, not used until 1990 when the World Wide Web known as Web 1.0 was invented and this marked a more definitive reference point for the evolution of both. Alan Emtage, a student from McGill University developed the first search engine Archie that allowed people to find specific files by 1990, too. In just a span of 3 years, hundreds of websites thrived. In the same year, it was also when a company HotWired purchased online ads and banner ads and the first clickable banner was live.

  • The Birth of Yahoo

With more organisations using the web to advertise online, the transformation of online marketing was imminent. In 1994, major search engine Yahoo was launched. It received close to one million hits within its  first year, leading firms to start optimising their websites for search engines. The SEO revolution ignited. The year 1996 saw more search engines like LookSmart, HotBot and Alexa come into the picture. In the late 90s, search engine maverick Google was birthed. It has now become the fuel for digital marketers across the world and spanning different industries and verticals.

  • Need a Cookie?

The cookie technology also appeared in the 1990s. A digital cookie is a website code left in user browsers, so user data is retained and digital marketers know how users operate in a website. The use of cookies has evolved across time, as cookies are coded to provide online marketing experts with all the user data they need. The evolution of internet marketing spanned the emergence of Web 2.0 in 1999. It was in 2004, that this became more popular. While Web 1.0 was informational in nature, Web 2.0  let users join the conversation and interact, as social media and forums became active. This has given rise to Pathwwway ltd. dynamic sharing, collaboration, participation and user-generated content.

  • Dot.Com Bubble Goes Bust, Internet Marketing Booms

At the start of the 21st century, the internet or bubble burst. Many startups and search engines failed, as a result of this. Google saw this as a chance to boost its AdWords program. So while internet startups failed to take off, digital marketing was booming. In the year 2000, Google AdWords was launched. Three years after that, it was the turn of Google AdSense. Website owners were able to monetise sites by having Google showcase ads contextually targeted to specific individual, specific web page content.

On May 23, 2000, what was going to become a globally acclaimed CMS or content management system namely WordPress emerged. It facilitated online marketers to innovate and use web presence to boost brands further.

  • The Rise of Social Networking

An early adopter of Web 2.0 was MySpace, the first social networking site to arrive in August of 2003. By February 2004, Facebook followed. These new digital platforms opened fresh avenues for businesses to market brands and products. Consequently, there are more digital marketers, more data-sharing channels and increased internet marketing. By 2004, the United States had generated $2.9 billion in digital marketing revenue.

  • Did Video Kill the Radio Star?

In the year 2005, YouTube was launched and purchased by Google. YouTube provided wonderful opportunities for video marketing, so businesses can promote their brand. Video marketing sustained its growth momentum, through new video-sharing sites, the use of short videos and the use of video tutorials to promote products.

  • Age of Analytics

In 2005 Google launched Google Analytics. This is a free tool that offers website owners a plethora of information about visitor behaviour and traffic sources. In the year 2006, just a year later, Twitter was launched and the ecommerce movement took off. Amazon peaked to $10 billion in sales. Blogging, social media and online retail combined to fuel the online marketing revolution.

  • The Digital Transformation

In 2007, the iPhone was launched. Further, iPhone sales grew and more products were launched, as mobile marketing strategies came forth. From that point, the internet information superhighway was racing at light speed. Statistics show the number of internet viewers worldwide in 2018 rose by 4.02 billion, up 7% year-on-year/Y-O-Y. Additionally, the number of social media users globally in 2018 was 3.19 billion, up by 13% Y-O-Y. The number of smartphone users in the same year was 5.13 billion, up 4% Y-O-Y. There’s also an annual growth of active mobile social users, marking a 39% increase up from 5% in 2017.

From offline to online, the transformation of digital marketing has been marked by rapid innovation and the march of sophisticated technologies. Products have made the transition to virtual storefronts from brick-and-mortar stores. Now, one can reach a larger audience in a shorter time period, and with less cost. Marketing has evolved to keep up with digital technologies. But, the online or internet market is also in a state of flux.

Now the movement is away from transactional to relationship-based marketing, and the growing value of personalisation. As Google follows new ranking factors, from backlinks to quality content and RankBrain, Google’s AI algorithm takes hold, optimising the site is all about producing a quality site and boosting web presence. Through SEO, brands are earning traffic through organic reach in the SERPs. With SEM, one is buying traffic with paid listings on SERPs.

Digital marketing is an absolute necessity in this day and age. Even local stores and small startups need to follow internet marketing to ensure they don’t go out of business. Challenges for most companies is that online marketing is multi-faceted, whether one looks at SEO, PPC, email or social media marketing, for example. Digital or internet marketing is now about keeping up with trends, technologies and disruptors. From radio to video and smartphones, we’ve come a long way. But clearly, the sustained growth momentum of the internet as a marketplace indicates Web 3.0 and newer forms of web marketing may be just around the corner, even as AR, VR and AI are set to change the way consumers and marketers look at the digital space. 

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