Digital marketing has changed over the years, but the core principles remain the same: that is, to create something worthy and compelling enough that the user wants to engage more with the brand, website or product. New ways to distribute content have emerged, along with new technologies, and in this post we will examine how things have changed since the early days of the Web.

The World Wide Web was originally a huge information bank, dominated by institutions, universities, colleges, hobbyists, techies, and anyone else who had the know-how to setup a HTML page. It was in the mid 1990s that the WWW became more commercial. A number of large websites started accepting advertising (cautiously at first) and it wasn’t long before visitors to these sites began interacting with – and expecting to see – advertisements.

Often, this was in the form of banner and text ads. One such site was the huge portal Yahoo!, but other media brands were quick to take advantage of the trend. Throughout this time, smaller, niche sites found ways to monetise traffic. Step forward a few years and the commercialisation of the Internet had given rise to the dot-com bubble of the late 90s.

Marketing digital products and services around this time focused heavily on familiar methods we still see today, such as generating visitors via search engines, e-mail marketing, banner advertising, ‘word of mouth’, affiliate marketing, PR, and even Pay Per Click. In fact, what often surprises people is that PPC did not originate with Google, but rather, the search giant very successfully managed to bring it into the mainstream.

At the turn of the new century, new ways to market had emerged and terms such as ‘SEO’ and ‘Search Marketing’ were coined as a means of describing a practice that had, in fact, been widespread years earlier. It was also around this time that search engine spam became a hot topic and large engines such as Google began taking dedicated steps to counteract spammers.

Shortly after, we saw the emergence of video as a legitimate marketing method. Sites like YouTube enabled anyone with a video recorder to publish to the Web, and increasingly fast broadband speeds let the average household user watch videos without worrying about bandwidth costs. As a marketing platform, video opened up a whole new way to showcase products and services. Even musicians utilised this powerful avenue with great success.

Social networking and social bookmarking took the world by storm and sites like MySpace, Facebook, Digg, Bebo, Twitter and others quickly got users checking profile pages, sharing messages, photos, and links. As such, a new way of sharing information was born, and with this came the inevitable rise in social network spam. It wasn’t long before a new industry was born: Social Media Marketing – the practice of using social networks for business gain.

Beyond 2010, advertising had become much more targeted, thanks to the use of complex algorithms, cookies and the ability to ‘track’ a user around the web and pitch commercial messages. Google AdWords had cornered the PPC market and let businesses quickly put advertisements in front of targeted prospects. New developments in search technology had disrupted practices such as search engine spam, and while this still exists today, there is more emphasis than ever on clean, ethical methods of promotion.

With technologies emerging all the time and with the rise of mobile, we are increasingly seeing  new ways to get the word out. But the fact remains: whatever the method of promotion, it is important to have the solid foundation of a great product or service. Get this right and your marketing will be all the more effective.

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