Today digital marketing is a thriving industry which encompasses an ever-growing list of channels and platforms. In a study published in 2018 it was reported that the amount spent globally on digital marketing activity was approaching £78 billion ($100 billion) – and this is only set to grow. The UK alone is the largest digital advertising market in Europe and third largest globally, with over £1.3 billion being spent just on paid advertising in 2018.
Yet where did it all begin and how has it evolved since?
The first acknowledged use of the phrase ‘Digital Marketing’ was in 1990, the year in which the first internet search engine ‘Archie’ was launched. Despite that digital marketing didn’t become a commonly used strategy until 1994, when the first web browser called Netscape was made publicly available. From that moment the number of people using the world wide web grew by more than 300% in just two years, from 16 million to 70 million users.
As the internet continued to rapidly grow in the subsequent years with the launch of additional search engines such as Yahoo!, Google and ecommerce platforms, digital became a marketing strategy which could no longer be dismissed by entrepreneurs.
Unsurprisingly email was the primary digital channel to be widely used for marketing purposes. The concept was easy to grasp due to the similarity with existing print marketing strategies. It became popular when businesses realised that it removed limitations geographically and initially were no restrictions with regards to how you used the data available either.
Today email as a digital marketing channel is still as prominent as ever with more than half of the people on earth using email as a messaging tool and only projected to continue. It is now far more controlled with various laws and legislations in place to battle misuse by businesses.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
As search engines evolved in the mid 1990s and began to implement additional algorithms to ensure their results were more relevant for their users, webmasters quickly began to recognise the value in appearing higher in the results.
Now every second 4.5 people search for ‘SEO’ on Google. With the search engine algorithms continually evolving, so too have the SEO practices themselves to remain relevant. In one year alone Google announced they had made more than 500 algorithm changes. SEO is not something which can be completed, it is an ongoing process to ensure your content always remains relevant and valuable to your target audience.
Social Media encompasses a variety of subcategories which includes blogs, forums, product/service reviews, video sharing and social networks. Although today the phrase is more commonly associated with social networking.
It is widely considered that the first social networking platform was Six Degrees which launched in 1997. Although social media wasn’t recognised as a marketing channel until the mid 2000s with the launch of MySpace (2003), LinkedIn (2003), Facebook (2004) and Twitter (2006).
The power of social media has been continuously displayed through its ability to affect politics and public opinion. This has attracted businesses to use social media as a marketing channel to engage with target audiences and generate awareness of products and services. However unlike other digital marketing channels, it can be more difficult to quantify how social media is contributing to sales/leads if you don’t have the correct tracking and metrics established.
Although the first clickable banner ad was recognised as being sold to a business in 1993, display advertising didn’t become mainstream until 1994. Which was when Wired Magazine began to sell banner ads openly to businesses.
The introduction of programmatic display advertising in recent years has revolutionised how it is managed as a marketing channel. It means that rather than having to manually communicate and purchase ad space from each individual website, you are now able to manage activity directly through an ad technology platform and bid in real-time across countless websites based on targeting criteria.
Pay Per Click (PPC)
Whilst Google introduced paid advertising in 1999 and their advertising platform, AdWords (now known as Google Ads) being released the following year – it wasn’t until 2002 it became PPC. Up until that point Google had only charged based on the number of impressions an ad received.
Even today with the array of services and products Google now provides, advertising accounts for the majority of their revenue, with it be reported as being as high as 71% in 2018 alone. Social networks are the more recent platforms to provide the PPC option as part of their advertising.
Originally mobile advertising was primarily associated with SMS messages, though with the introduction of smartphones and tablets being released to the mass market, apps consequently began to harbour a huge amount of traffic and usage too. This has continued to increase with hundreds of billions of app downloads in 2018 alone. In-app advertisements and push notifications are now commonplace.
Digital marketing is taking over traditional marketing, with digital ad spend predicted to account for 62% of all advertising in the UK in 2020. The ability to react and make modifications to adverts, targeting and placements, along with engaging consumers, both in real-time is something traditional marketing will never achieve.