The rise in online accessibility has directly influenced the importance of digital marketing. While traditional marketing methods still exist, there became a necessity for new digital channels to be used that could reach out to millions of users via the internet, email and eventually social media.
The early-to-mid 2000s were an incredibly significant time in the history of digital marketing, as we saw the launch of major platforms that are the core for many digital marketing campaigns. In 2002, professional networking provider LinkedIn was launched, followed by WordPress in 2003, Google (for public use), Gmail and Facebook in 2004, and Twitter in 2006. Even 20 years later, these are still the go-to platforms not only for digital marketers, but users in general.
Whether it’s selling products and services directly to consumers online, or increasing website engagement and outreach, or generating sales enquiries, the competition is often steep. Digital marketers help to improve businesses in various ways such as brand awareness, lead generation, website authority in search results and social media following. In order to explore the evolution of digital marketing, we’ll focus on each of the main channels used and discover how they grew.
Email has been the dominant method of communication between employees and businesses for many years. Furthermore, having a work email and a personal email is commonplace for the majority of people, which in turn means… a lot of email accounts. It’s estimated that there’ll be over 4.6 billion active email users by 2025, and the growth isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Email is therefore a hugely important channel for digital marketing strategies. B2B marketing can focus on employee work addresses, whereas consumer marketing may target personal accounts in order to promote new products and services.
Whilst the first email was sent all the way back in 1971, it was in the late 1990s where email became a more developed form of communication and advertising. Email services such as Hotmail, Yahoo and Microsoft Internet Mail (which eventually became Outlook) were launched to the public and HTML was also introduced. HTML was a major breakthrough for email creation, as it allowed for changes in colours, fonts, graphics and formatting. Even in 2022, many email marketing platforms still include the option for HTML coding, as well as simplified click and drag building blocks.
The laws on unsolicited emails changed in the 2000s, with businesses and marketers forced to be more responsible and considerate with their messaging and target audience. Unsubscribe links had to be included with any commercial marketing email, as well as inclusion of sender details. There was also the introduction of spam filters in email clients, which are there to protect users from fraudulent and untrustworthy emails. As well as a shift in law and technology, there was also a shift in consumer behaviour, as people became more aware and sensitive to potentially harmful emails.
Due to these changes in how emails are received and perceived, digital marketers and email marketing platforms had to adapt. Now, email marketing platforms have advanced features like built-in spam testers, automation, vast design customization options, and contact tagging, to name a few. Now the competition is steep and the risk of poorly constructed email campaigns being ignored increased. Identifying suitable target audiences became much more important, as the number of marketing emails being received by consumers grew tenfold. In 2022, the average person receives over 100 emails each day, and almost 85% of these are spam.
Social media marketing
Taking the world by storm, social media has proven to be a powerful marketing channel that can dramatically increase brand awareness and lead generation. As previously mentioned, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter launched in the mid-2000s, and we have since seen the introduction of Instagram in 2010, Snapchat in 2011, and TikTok in 2016. There have of course been hundreds of other social media platforms that have launched over the years, but the handful listed above are often the main platforms used in most social media marketing strategies.
Social media is primarily used for connecting with others, whether it’s to converse directly or share posts online for people to see and interact with. It took a few years for social media to become a truly useful channel for digital marketers; originally access to internet devices was limited and there weren’t the volume of ad spaces which exist today. It was in the mid-to-late 2000s when social media marketing began to show glimpses of its potential, beginning with the launch of Facebook’s standalone ad platform in 2007 which gave marketers a way of promoting businesses directly to millions of Facebook users.
After 2010, there was a shift in how social media was used following the introduction of Instagram and Snapchat. Sharing media content like photos and videos became increasingly popular. Vine launched in 2013 and, similarly to TikTok now, was used by millions of people for the purpose of entertainment. There was no doubt a major shift from networking and connecting with others to using social media for entertainment purposes.
Digital marketers can use social media in order to promote brands and businesses in two ways. Firstly, inbound marketing methods can be applied to social media, as marketers post engaging content tailored specifically to their target audience in order to gain a following and generate leads. Secondly is the use of paid advertising in social media apps such as Facebook and Instagram. A recent example of paid advertising that is becoming increasingly powerful for social media marketing is using popular content creators, or influencer marketing. Paying content creators to sponsor a brand or promote products and services is a great way to build awareness.
Search Engine Optimisation
SEO is now a key component of most digital marketing strategies, with the goal of improving website content, ranking higher in search engines (namely Google), and therefore increasing organic website traffic. With the sheer volume of content and websites published online, ranking for a chosen search term or keyword can be difficult. Depending on how niche the industry or subject matter is, it can lead to almost no organic traffic visiting a website without sufficient optimisation.
The history of SEO and how it has developed could be a blog article all by itself. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Google wasn’t the advanced engine that is today, and ranking used to be simpler, albeit more manipulative. Back then, Google didn’t have the same algorithms and page crawling ability that it has now, and the key to SEO was filling content to the brim with specific keywords and backlinks. Even if the content itself had incredibly poor readability, it would still rank well due to the volume of keywords and links used within it.
This was being recognised by Google however, and they began implementing updates with the goal of abolishing disingenuous and manipulative content. In the mid-to-late 2000s, Google released numerous updates, including FLORIDA, Jagger and Big Daddy. These improved the algorithm, targeting link farms and other suspicious tactics being used.
From 2010 onwards, Google’s algorithm updates were named after animals, beginning with Panda 1.0 in 2011. This was where Google began emphasising the importance of a site’s content being of high quality and not filled with nonsensical keywords resembling little relevance to the subject. It impacted over 12% of search results, and digital marketers had to start adapting their SEO strategies. In 2012, Penguin 1.0 was released with the aim of targeting sites that violated “Google Webmaster Guidelines”, which are essentially the best practices for ranking well in search results.
It was at this point that inbound marketing began to increase in popularity, with clear evidence of its success. SEO was all about producing the best possible content on websites that were relevant to the target audience, with a sophisticated use of keywords. Now Google is far more advanced, with a plethora of smaller algorithm updates that consistently update the artificial intelligence that’s used to crawl pages and determine their quality, relevance and meaning.
When smartphones and other online devices started to become mainstream, SEO again had to adapt for this. In 2022, over 60% of Google searches are carried out using the mobile phone. Therefore, SEO has to take into consideration website performance on these devices, as well as standard PC operating systems, to ensure their ranking is as strong as it can be.
Digital marketing is an exciting, fast-paced industry that has continuously developed over the past couple of decades. It is now recognized as a major component in marketing and businesses all over the world implement it into their strategies.
As search engine algorithms, email clients and social media continue to evolve, it’s the responsibility of digital marketers to adapt and embrace the new changes. The digital marketing landscape in recent years has been in a much better place. It’s all about creating high quality content that’s relevant to specific audiences in order to grow businesses. No more manipulative SEO or email spam; digital marketing uses the newest tools and platforms, while truly considering the needs of consumers, and integrating these into fully developed digital marketing strategies.
Digital marketing agencies, like here at Inflowing, embrace the variety of techniques and digital tools that can be used to offer value to businesses. Recognising the importance of creativity, while backing up the work with data and analytics is core to the way we work. Perhaps most importantly, we stay abreast of the latest developments in digital marketing technology and processes to bring you the innovation you need to thrive in today’s hyper-competitive markets.
Inflowing is a B2B marketing agency. We help B2B organisations do meaningful things with marketing. Whether that’s getting more leads, more visibility, or supporting their sales teams.
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