The Evolution of Digital Marketing: A Historical Journey

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The Evolution of Digital Marketing: A Historical Journey

As we reminisce on the 20th anniversary of SharpNet in September 2018, we are prompted to reflect on an incredible journey: The birth and evolution of digital marketing. This is an exploration of the current state and future trajectory of the internet and digital advertising.

Two decades ago, I was employed as a process engineering specialist at Agilent Technology, a company that spun-off from Hewlett Packard. Witnessing numerous colleagues lose their jobs due to layoffs, I made a conscious decision to take my fate into my own hands and start an SEO company. Within a year, Agilent closed down completely; creating SharpNet turned out to be my saving grace.

It's worth mentioning that SEO wasn't even a recognized term back then. When filing insurance forms for my new venture, there wasn't even an industry description I could use for my business. Hiring experienced personnel proved challenging, broadband was barely functional, and it took us a whole year before we could even "Google" anything. Facebook was still six years from conception with its founder just being 13 at the time. The internet felt like a new frontier - uncharted territory waiting to be explored.

Digital Marketing Changed the WorldIn those early days, Yahoo, Alta Vista, Lycos, and Excite ruled the roost with HotBot, Ask Jeeves, and DogPile also playing notable roles. Google had already been founded two years prior but still existed in beta form. It wasn't until 1999 that Google began attracting attention after introduced Pay Per Click ads; they later rebranded to Overture before being bought over by Yahoo. In response to this development, Google launched AdWords in 2000. Interestingly, SharpNet offered PPC management services long before Google and Yahoo made it popular.

The digital industry faced three critical hurdles along the way:

(1) Security Concerns: The fear of online shopping was real. The trepidation we all felt making that first online transaction was palpable but overcome as evidenced by Amazon's success.

(2) High-Speed Internet: The lack of fast and affordable internet across most of the USA represented a significant challenge. Without this, the convenience and speed of browsing the internet, streaming movies or using smartphones and GPS would not have been possible.

(3) Dot Com Boom: The first decade of the internet felt sketchy at best. The Dot Com Boom amplified this skepticism, causing innovators to halt product development and investors to pull out. This distrust lingered on for quite a few years after.

Despite these challenges, the robust nature of the internet became increasingly evident as it continued to gain traction over time. The advent of digital marketing alongside this technological revolution has transformed how businesses operate today. Traditional marketing channels were overshadowed by this new digital frontier leading to significant shifts in industries; for example, Amazon's growth versus Sears' and Toys R Us' decline or the rise of YouTube against traditional print media outlets. In an age where people ‘Facebook’ more than they scrapbook, having a strong online presence is vital for survival.

Even though Amazon may not be considered the pinnacle achievement of the internet era, it is definitely one of its most prominent manifestations. Despite lacking a physical storefront, it is currently ranked as the 7th largest retailer with a market capitalization surpassing Walmart.

What will be digital marketing's role in our future? As long as there is an internet, there will be digital marketing following its trajectory. The advent of artificial intelligence (AI) as the next internet revolution has already begun with Google's RankBrain project and is expected to infiltrate the finance, retail, and automotive sectors soon. Websites will become smarter, tailoring their content and advertisements based on your individual preferences.

Imagine an online landscape where you can find anything you need without even having to search for it. Picture Amazon as your personalized digital retailer, displaying only products that interest you and are likely to purchase. Imagine websites that rearrange themselves to cater to your individual preferences. The future of digital marketing is akin to having a Walmart store that changes its layout for every customer that walks in - a daunting but exciting prospect.