The History of Digital Marketing

Katie Sullivan Porter
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October 13, 2022

Advertising is more of an art than a science, and digital marketing is certainly no exception. In the last decade, a lot has changed in the world of online marketing, and the field will continue to adapt along with the quickly evolving technology landscape and ever-shifting consumer trends. In this article, we’ll take a look at how it all began, how it has evolved, and where it's headed next. 

The evolution of digital marketing

Let’s first take a look at how digital marketing has developed over the years by looking at some major milestones in its history.

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The late 1990s: The rise of the internet

Digital marketing made a strong start in the 1990s due to the rising popularity of personal computers. Between 1994 and 1996, the number of people using the internet jumped from 25 million to a whopping 77 million. Why? Well, when the World Wide Web launched in 1989 and the first popular browser, Netscape, arrived on the scene, it caused an explosion of new users. From then on, the digital landscape began to grow exponentially as more and more browsers and search engines popped up, including many of the most popular search engines we know and still use today. 

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Early 2000s: The social media revolution

The invention of the World Wide Web created a collaborative space for sharing information, leading to a social media revolution. You may or may not remember MySpace, but it was the first truly popular platform of its kind, and it set the trend for all the others to follow. After its release in 2003, Facebook made its grand entrance. As a social media leader, it quickly became an outlet for businesses to reach global audiences. Brands began to realize the immense opportunities that could be achieved through tweets, posts, videos, emails, blogs, PPC advertising, and more—and this opened the door for digital marketing to expand. 

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By 2011, TV viewership began to decline for the very first time in history, and marketers were taking note of the transition. With this shift came the introduction of “cookies.” If you’re not already familiar with them, cookies are small pieces of code that are useful for tracking user behavior and content retargeting. Advertisers took advantage of tracking techniques, giving attention to browsing habits and usage patterns so they could fine-tune their campaigns and other marketing efforts. 

The emergence of the internet and the rise of search engines also created an ideal space for what came to be known as native advertising. Using native advertising, marketers can promote content more effectively and connect with target customers through search ads. 

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Mid 2000s: Mobile devices surpass desktop internet usage 

When iPhones became available around 2007, they completely changed how we access the web. As the world quickly invested in the many glories of smartphones, mobile usage served as a major motivation for brands to undertake search engine optimization. By 2014, mobile device usage crossed a key threshold and predictive analytics started to gain some traction. 

In 2016, marketing automation went into effect and marketers started to build more personalized and efficient campaigns. When Facebook and Google prevailed as the two most recognized leaders of the internet in 2017, influencer marketing skyrocketed—and advertisers took the opportunity to grow their audiences. Paid advertising was no longer considered a supplementary strategy for marketers. 

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2018 and beyond: content popularity surges

When 2018 rolled around, marketers continued to improve their SEO efforts, realizing that long-form content was another strategy they could use to increase session durations. But SEO wouldn’t be the only strategy on the minds of advertisers. By 2019, marketers were dealing with an entirely new frontier: the quickly growing landscape of video platforms. By this time it was clear to advertisers that if they wanted to succeed, they would have to prioritize content creation as part of their marketing strategy — be it short-form or long-form text content, or videos

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However, the digital marketing landscape changed once again in 2020 when the pandemic hit and there were restrictions on many daily activities. Digital marketers were forced to keep up with skyrocketing social media use, new purchasing behaviors, and changing consumer behavior patterns. Consumer expectations skyrocketed and marketers had to shift their strategies to create more digital experiences. Marketers realized to adapt they would need to focus on customer values and experiences while placing a stronger emphasis on relationships than ever before. While online strategies are nothing new to the marketing world, COVID-19 initiated a stay-at-home virtual age that couldn’t be ignored. Since then, marketers have needed to focus on online strategies more than ever as a channel for reaching their existing and potential target audiences in order to remain competitive. 

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The future of digital marketing

As it has done in the past, digital marketing will continue evolving and developing every year. So what can you expect for digital marketing next? Current trends forecast that AI, automation, and machine learning technologies will likely become more pervasive. Influencer marketing will continue to grow and voice search and chat bots will soar in popularity. Interactive marketing content will pop up more, and you can also expect to see digital marketing become algorithm-driven. 

While it’s impossible to say with complete certainty where the ever-changing digital marketing landscape is headed in the future, it’s exciting to see where it will go next. 

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How to stay in the loop

Digital marketing has come a long way in its development. However, the digital market industry is continuously evolving and digital marketers must keep up with the rapid acceleration of changes. They must be able to identify emerging trends as well as the creation of newer and more intelligent search engine algorithms.

To help you keep up with trends and make the most of your digital advertising campaigns, MarinOne gives you full visibility into your campaigns while continuously integrating the latest developments in digital marketing.

MarinOne can help you elevate and scale your paid search, social, and ecommerce advertising by helping you automate your campaigns. To see how contact one of our experts today and schedule a personalized demo.

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