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The Evolution of Digital Marketing

Today, it’s hard to imagine a time when the internet wasn’t at our fingertips. Our cell phones weren’t always within two feet of us at all times, we relied on books and news to find information, and sometimes we even went into a shop to buy something. However, with the rise of the internet comes the rise of advertisements and social media influence. Where did digital marketing begin, and how have we gotten to where we are now?


As the new Generation Alpha begins to enter the world and millennials increase digital buying power, both populations with more technical knowledge than most, the market is forced to shift practices and cater to the ever-changing consumer. The market for digital media has not always been relevant, but will now cost corporations upwards of $110 billion annually. Looking at the history of digital marketing and the changing trends over time helps to understand today’s market, and prepare for the future to come.


History of Digital Marketing: A Timeline

1990, The World Wide Web

By this point, first generation computers and the internet were fast-developing, but difficult for user access and sharing capabilities. With improved capacities in mind, computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee designed the web as we know it today by interlinking pages for shared access and network viewership. In 1990, there were only 2.6 million global internet users. And by the end of 1995, this number had jumped to over 44 million users, with the world wide web to thank. This would be the beginning of the ability to online market towards consumers, and the first time the term “digital marketing” was coined in the world of advertising.


1994, The First Click Ad

Widely referred to as the first banner ad, AT&T saw a whopping 44% click-through rate on this paid advertisement; the trend was so popular that people actually shared links to these banner ads! Can you imagine the excitement?

 This discovery of online consumer engagement with advertisements changed the landscape of the digital advertising industry drastically. But, it hasn’t necessarily been all positive change. The New York Times said, “their success birthed a monster that went on to swallow the web whole”.


1998, The Birth of Google

Originally named “BackRub” (really?), this search engine flipped any understanding of the World Wide Web upside down, literally. The creation of Search Engine Marketing and Optimization (SEO) was born with Google, and the digital marketing world was altered, yet again. By the time Google went public in 2004, there were over 600 million internet users worldwide, and the average American was spending over 5 hours daily on the computer, a huge leap from the average 30 minutes spent in 1996.

 Digital Marketers now had an understanding of their consumer base through SaaS industries were able to understand customers more clearly. Similarly, consumers were getting smarter. Google provided the platform needed to research products and make purchases online without the salesperson presence, increasing the need for digital product awareness and brand authority.

                                 The first Google office, after moving out of the original garage. Courtesy of Google Twitter.


Early 2000’s

A timeline of major media apps shows that people were busy in the early 2000’s. After Google’s success, the idea of incorporating applications beyond the web that allowed users to share content and network became a booming industry. MySpace, Facebook, Gmail, and more were introduced as interactive social platforms. And alongside the applications came opportunities for advertisements. Hello, social media! (Read more about the growth of digital marketing in our recent blog post!)

In 2006, search engine traffic was reported to have grown by 6.4 billion times in a single month. Google began introducing new additions to the search engine, adding in targeted ads based on information collected from users. By 2010, the global count of internet users reached 1.9 billion, and the average time spent online each day topped off at 11 hours. 

Today, the average person spends 2.5 hours per day solely on social media applications. The introduction of the smartphone allows consumers the ease of browsing, scrolling, and scrolling at any time of the day. To keep up, digital marketers must use the online tools at their disposal in order to connect and communicate with consumers. Email marketing, content creation, search engine optimization, organic or paid social media- these are some of the tools that the modern digital marketer uses to reach customers, stay in front of the market, and give brands the ability and authority to speak to their consumers like never before.

 We’ve come a long way since BackRub and the first banner ad, and we’re not slowing down. The ever-evolving intelligence of search engines is moving in a direction of artificial creation and robots, always inventing new ways for the consumer to acquire information about products and services. It’s obvious as long as consumers keep scrolling, posting, and buying, digital marketing will never go out of style.




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