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A Look Back at the History of the Internet and Digital Marketing

Posted by Helen on 29-Oct-2019 07:38:25

The internet; something we probably take for-granted as many of us probably cannot remember what life was like before it existed! Since the invention of the World Wide Web in 1989 by a Tim Berners Lee; the internet and the digital world has evolved drastically. In 1990 just 0.5% of the global population used the internet. Fast forward to today and there are a staggering 4.33 billion internet users equating to an global online penetration of 59% with users using the internet to do everything from watch videos, research information, find new recipes, downloading music, writing reviews to buying new clothes and groceries. The majority of individuals consume some sort of digital content on a regular or daily basis and digital marketing has the capability to reach large and targeted audiences.

The Digital Marketing Institute refers to digital marketing as ‘the use of digital channels to promote or market products and services to targeted consumers and businesses.’

There is debate surrounding when digital marketing itself ‘began’ as email in it’s first form started in 1965 however the birth of the internet is without a doubt the single biggest technological development that has shaped digital marketing and it's future.

To celebrate National Internet Day which takes place annually on the 29th October, we take a look back at the history of the internet and how digital marketing has evolved over time.  

The Invention of the Internet

internet-world-wide-webWhilst Tim Berners Lee is the most notable person in relation to the invention of the internet, of course there were other people involved. Whilst the ‘internet’ was invented in 1990, the first working prototype of the internet was actually back in the late 1960s with the creation of ARPAnet that used packet switching that allowed for multiple messages to be delivered via one server. Technologies continue to grow and develop with a network of networks assembled in 1983 that shaped the modern internet. Tim Berners Lee actually invented the World Wide Web in 1990, not the internet. The web however helped popularise the internet, shaping the future and our lives as we know it now.

And we can’t not mention this key moment that revolutionised digital marketing; the introduction of the cookie; a small text tile created by a website that helps recognise the user and their behaviour during a session. The data gained from these cookies helped to understand consumer behaviour, giving us insight on how businesses should market and target consumers better. 

History of Search Engines and SEO

The first search engine to come onto the scene was Archie – all the way back in 1990. Different to the search engines we are familiar with today, Archie searched File Protocol Sites (FTPs) to create an index of downloadable files. It wasn’t till 1994 that Yahoo came on to the scene with WebCrawler closely following after this (or AOL as it is known today when it was bought by the company in 1995. It wasn’t till 1998 that popular search engines including MSN and the infamous Google came to market with the first search on Google being Gerhard Casper.

search-engine-on-a-computerSearch engines provided a whole host of opportunities for users looking to buy a product or looking for an answer to a question. They are the ideal place to go when you are searching for information. In its early days, having your website appear in search engine results pages was relatively straight-forward. With little competition on the web, it was easy to rank for your chosen terms by excessive keyword stuffing, excessive tagging and buying backlinks including spam. Now, there’s a whole host of complex algorithms that are used in combination with a tonne of ranking factors that decide where your website or content will rank. It wasn’t till 2006 that search engine traffic saw a real boom with 6.4 billion users in one single month.

Now, search engine results pages provide users with a breadth of knowledge and information with Google attempting to deliver the best possible answer and content to the user’s query and the intent behind it. With 3.6 billion searches happening every day on Google, consumers expect to find answers to everything they need whether that be directions or reviews. The way people search continues to evolve whilst search terms have become longer and more complex. Over the past two years, searches for best have grown by more than 50% whilst local searches without near me have outgrown comparable searches that include near me as users expect Google to deliver places that are near due to their Geo-location.

Today, search engine results pages feature everything from paid advertising, organic results, featured snippets, map results, news stories, images, answer boxes, videos, podcasts, knowledge panels and much more! In order to win at SEO today, digital marketeers have to work smarter and have clear strategies in place.

Paid Advertising Developments 

users-online-shoppingIn its early days, advertising online was like a directory. You could list your business for a price to appear in the SERPs. It wasn’t till 2005 that paid advertising really took off with the advent of Google Advertising Professional programme. Facebook and LinkedIn both followed suit in 2005 but it wasn’t till 2010/2012 that Twitter and Instagram both offered pay-per-click advertising opportunities on their platforms. From 2020, messaging app Whatsapp will also try to take a slice of the pie by allowing businesses to advertise on the app; another channel that can be used to reach your customers.

The clear digital advertising giant is Google taking up a staggering 70% of the market share with Amazon 2nd with 12.9% of all paid digital advertising spend given to them. Google continues to evolve and develop and will continue to do so as machine learning and the use of automation grows. Automation in paid advertising allows digital marketeers and businesses to reach customers faster and at scale compared with manual processes while it is believed that it will enable us to work smarter as routine tasks are automated. Google’s automated capabilities include smart bidding and smart creatives with more than half of Google investment running through an completely automated bidding strategy whilst smart creatives allowing for increasing personalisation throughout the customer journey.   

The Rise of Inbound Marketing

customers-interactingWe couldn’t write a blog about developments and history of digital marketing and not mention inbound marketing. Before the internet, during the 1950s and 60s, marketers started to collect information (research) on their customers interests, habits and demographics allowing customers to feel more involved in the buying journey which is when inbound marketing started to take shape. Gone are the days where marketers could cold call customers to get their attention. The Inbound Marketing methodology is customer centric and now started to take shape.

The significant rise of inbound marketing can be attributed to the internet to a large degree in combination with other digital channels where content can be delivered to customers and prospects in a softer way – pulling customers rather than pushing customers to use a brand’s service or purchase a product. It wasn’t until 2004 that Hubspot was founded by Brian Halligan, Dharmesh Shah and David Meerman Scott with the platform helping businesses to treat customers like people, not names and numbers of a list. 

Overall, the inbound marketing methodology allows businesses to provide educational content to users at different stages of the buyer’s journey. This methodology allows users to move through the funnel or the flywheel and ensures they receive the most personalised and meaningful experience possible. A recent statistic suggesting that this strategy costs 62% less than traditional marketing channels and produces three times more leads.

Acceleration of E-commerce

Another huge area of growth is e-commerce. Before the days of the internet, we could only go out to local stores to shop. E-commerce has given consumers more possibilities when it comes to how we shop; with consumers expecting things faster than ever before with more choice than ever before and in recent years, some e-commerce stores even offer same day delivery. Businesses have had to react to this and ensure that the process of shopping online is as hassle free as possible.  While there are some reports that the first e-commerce exchanged happened over 40 years ago, the first most legitimate online transaction was in 1994 – the sale of a Sting CD. Amazon and Ebay launch closely following this in 1995 and PayPal launches in 1998 making it easier for people to shop online. The internet and the introduction of mobile payment gateways along with paid advertising on search and social has enabled e-commerce to grow at exponential rates and it’s predicted that by 2021 that there will be 2.14 billion digital buyers globally.

Whilst people shop online, today’s consumers shop across multiple channels and use multiple devices before they make a purchase. In order to win, businesses must be wise to this and implement an omnichannel strategy that makes the purchase journey seamless between online and offline channels.

Development of Social Media

mobile-phoneSocial media started to come onto the scene in 2003, opening up new avenues for how businesses could reach customers and shaping how we interact with others in an online world.  When MySpace and Facebook came to market in 2003/2004 respectively it marked the start of a new era for digital. The advent of social media allowed people to connect with businesses, allowed users to become active participants, use their voice and create user generated content.

Social media platforms are used by more than two thirds of internet users with Facebook and Youtube the dominant forces in this market with Facebook having 2.6 billion users and Youtube having 1.9 billion users. Millennials and the Gen X generation are most likely to use social media and with it being hard to cut through the noise on social channels it is important to understand how these users use these platforms if we are to reach audiences via social.  A latecomer in 2010 but Instagram continues to grow in popularity over the past few years with 1 billion people using the channel per month with more people visiting the app for useful and accessible content such as videos.

Video Marketing

video-shootingWe couldn’t write a blog on the digital marketing developments and not mention video. With 50% of consumers wanting to see more video for brands and businesses understanding this channel is vital. Video content is highly engaging, allows brands to provide answers and information in an easy, digestable way. Introduced in 2005, Youtube is the second biggest social channel showing just how important it is for businesses to include videos in their marketing strategy to reach customers and where they are. Companies who used video content experience a 41% increase in traffic whilst 92% of mobile consumers who watch video go on to share videos with others.

By 2020 (which is only round the corner) it is expected that 80% of businesses will be creating and using videos as part of their marketing strategy. If you are digital marketeer, stay ahead of the game with our video marketing top tips.

The Future of Digital Marketing

While there may be a few key moments in internet and digital marketing history that have been missed out from this blog, it is clear to see that digital marketing, technologies and the internet has come a long way since 1990 and it will continue to evolve every day with the rise of machine learning, automation, artificial intelligence and conversational marketing to name just a few strategies.

For more information on what the future holds for digital marketing in 2020, have a look out for future blogs.

Topics: SEO, PPC, Inbound, Social Media