The History and Evolution of Digital Marketing [Updated]

In a world where over 170 million people use social media on a regular basis, every working professional is expected to be familiar with at least the core tenets of Digital Marketing. In simple terms, Digital Marketing is the promotion of products over the internet or any form of electronic media. According to the Digital Marketing Institute, “Digital Marketing is the use of digital channels to promote or market products and services to targeted consumers and businesses.”

People are consuming digital content on a daily basis. Very soon, traditional marketing platforms will disappear, and the digital market will completely take over. There are a number of advantages in Digital Marketing. Unlike traditional marketing, digital marketing is more affordable.

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You can reach a larger audience in a shorter time period. Technological advances have resulted in considerable attrition of the customer-base of traditional marketing agencies and departments. People have moved on to tablets, phones, and computers, which are the areas where digital marketers have gained the most ground.

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What Is Digital Marketing?

Any digital channels by a business or company to market or promote products and services to consumers are referred to as digital marketing. Different websites, mobile devices, social media, search engines, and similar channels are used in digital marketing.

How Successful is Digital Marketing?

With the advent of digitalization, it has been observed that the shopping crowd in the markets gradually decreased, and now it is seen that more and more people shop online for themselves and their families. So, there are numerous advantages to promoting your business online because you want to reach the right audience, and your audience is online.

Benefits of Digital Marketing

You can reach a larger audience in a shorter time period. Technological advances have resulted in considerable attrition of the customer-base of traditional marketing agencies and departments. People have moved on to tablets, phones, and computers, which are the areas where digital marketers have gained the most ground.

History of Digital Marketing 

The term Digital Marketing was first used in the 1990s. The digital age took off with the coming of the internet and the development of the Web 1.0 platform. The Web 1.0 platform allowed users to find the information they wanted but did not allow them to share this information over the web. Up until then, marketers worldwide were still unsure of the digital platform. They were not sure if their strategies would work since the internet had not yet seen widespread deployment.

In 1993, the first clickable banner went live, after which HotWired purchased a few banner ads for their advertising. This marked the beginning of the transition to the digital era of marketing. Because of this gradual shift, the year 1994 saw new technologies enter the digital marketplace. The very same year, Yahoo was launched.

Also known as “Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web” after its founder Jerry Yang, Yahoo received close to 1 million hits within the first year. This prompted wholesale changes in the digital marketing space, with companies optimizing their websites to pull in higher search engine rankings. 1996 saw the launch of a couple of more search engines and tools like HotBot, LookSmart, and Alexa.

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1998 saw the birth of Google. Microsoft launched the MSN search engine and Yahoo brought to the market Yahoo web search. Two years later, the internet bubble burst and all the smaller search engines were either left behind or wiped out leaving more space for the giants in the business. The digital marketing world saw its first steep surge in 2006 when search engine traffic was reported to have grown to about 6.4 billion in a single month. Not one to get left behind, Microsoft put MSN on the backburner and launched Live Search to compete with Google and Yahoo.

Then came Web 2.0, where people became more active participants rather than remain passive users. Web 2.0 allowed users to interact with other users and businesses. Labels like ‘super information highway’ began to be applied to the internet. As a result, information flow volumes –including channels utilized by digital marketers- increased manifold, and by 2004, internet advertising and marketing in the US alone brought in around $2.9 billion.

Soon, social networking sites began to emerge. MySpace was the first social networking site to arrive, soon followed by Facebook. Many companies realized all these fresh new sites that were popping up were beginning to open new doors of opportunities to market their products and brands. It opened fresh avenues for business and signaled the beginning of a new chapter to business. With new resources, they needed new approaches to promote their brands & capitalize on the social networking platform.

The cookie was another important milestone in the digital marketing industry. Advertisers had begun to look for other ways to capitalize on the fledgling technology. One such technique was to track common browsing habits and usage patterns of frequent users of the internet so as to tailor promotions and marketing collateral to their tastes. The first cookie was designed to record user-habits. The use of the cookie has changed over the years, and cookies today are coded to offer marketers a variety of ways to collect literal user data.

Products marketed digitally are now available to customers at all times. Statistics collected by the Marketingtechblog for 2014 show that posting on social media is the top online activity in the US. The average American spends 37 minutes a day on social media. 99% of digital marketers use Facebook to market, 97% use Twitter, 69% use Pinterest and 59% use Instagram. 70% of B2C marketers have acquired customers through Facebook. 67% of Twitter users are far more likely to buy from brands that they follow on Twitter. 83.8% of luxury brands have a presence on Pinterest. The top three social networking sites used by marketers are LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

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Evolution of Digital Marketing – The Timeline

The 90s

Archie, the first search engine, debuted in the early 1990s, heralding the birth of search. SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, quickly followed.

The first clickable web-ad banners were introduced in 1994. The first identifiable social media site was launched in 1997, with 3.5 million users. In the 1990s, a slew of websites still in use was found, including Google and Yahoo’s web search, both of which debuted in 1998.

The Millennial Generation

A massive economic bubble grew in the new millennium. However, the bubble’s peak and burst between 2000 and 2002 harmed many businesses. Many new sites were launched in the 2000s as the economy recovered from the boom, including the beginnings of LinkedIn in 2002, Myspace and WordPress in 2003, and Facebook in 2004. In the early 2000s, mobile text messaging marketing became increasingly popular.

The Mobile Era

The latter half of the decade saw increased marketing and sales, with Amazon’s e-commerce sales surpassing $10 billion. Over the next few years, mobile app culture expanded with the introduction of Whatsapp, Instagram, and Snapchat to the digital world.

The Present 

Today, 65% of an individual’s digital media time is spent on a mobile device. The digital advertising industry is now valued at around $200 billion, with Google Ad Words accounting for 96% of the company’s revenue. With an estimated 3.1 billion online users, social networking has led the digital marketing revolution. The rise of bloggers and Instagram has resulted in a $1 billion industry for influencers, which are anticipated to grow. Digital marketing is expected to grow in the coming years, with many new developments and changes in this exciting industry.

What Are the 5 Ds of Digital Marketing?

The five D’s of digital marketing are as follows:

Digital devices are those that people use almost every day. For example, these can get used to marketing to a specific audience—computers and mobile phones.

  • Digital Content Platforms

These are the platforms with which users interact regularly. You can use them for advertising. As an example, consider social media.

Paid or owned digital media channels can be used to reach your target audience. They include things like online advertising and social media marketing.

Data about your target audience used to achieve a marketing goal is called digital data. You can generally collect data about your target audience through surveys, apps, and other means.

Digital technology is all about using technology to achieve a marketing goal. Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR), and Virtual Reality (VR) are a few examples.

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Types of Digital Marketing

The following are some of the different types of digital marketing:

Content marketing is a type of digital marketing that focuses on the creation and distribution of content for a specific audience.

  • Search Engine Marketing (SEO)

Search Engine Optimization, popular as SEO, is the process of obtaining high-quality traffic from free, or organic, search engine results.

  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

“Search Engine Marketing” refers to obtaining paid and free search traffic.

  • Social Media Marketing (SMM)

Simply put, Social Media Marketing is the process of attracting traffic and attention through social media platforms.

Affiliate marketing is a popular way for people to make money online these days.

The use of email to promote one’s products or services is known as email marketing.

  • Instant Messaging Marketing

WhatsApp is used by 1.5 billion people worldwide every month, followed by Facebook Messenger and WeChat. Therefore to be where your audience is, instant messaging marketing is helpful.

The digital market is in a constant state of flux. A Digital Marketing professional must find ways to keep up with this change. They need to be able to keep an eye out for emerging trends and the development of newer and smarter Search Engine Algorithms. After all, nobody can afford to get left behind in this race. 

Check out our Digital Marketing Course sensing an opportunity, Google began to expand, introducing such products as AdWords, which are 3 line ads that show up at the top or to the right of search engine results, and AdSense -which is a cost-per-click advertising scheme. In time, Google realized the value of analyzing the content they received and then target ads based on the interests of the users, and thus became a major player in the world of business.


1. How did digital marketing evolve from traditional marketing?

With the evolution of technology, new platforms of marketing started to emerge. Traditional marketing became a secondary option for new-age businesses when digital marketing was introduced. It allowed brands to reach their target audience at a much lower cost with a better conversion rate. Later on, digital marketing was adopted by all businesses across the globe, to increase their reach. 

2. What are the four evolution of marketing?

It is said that marketing has 4 evolution stages, that are – 

  1. Production Era 
  2. Sales Era 
  3. Marketing Era 
  4. Marketing Company Era 

3. Who first started digital marketing?

In 1995 CSNL launched its internet services in India, which was the origin of digital marketing in India. It did not perform well initially, as only 0.5% of the population used the internet till 2020. 

4. Why is digital marketing growing?

The world is on the internet! Right from social media, to google searches, to our favorite apps, we all use the internet throughout the day. As such a huge number of people are engaging via the internet, digital marketing is growing. And it is only going to increase further in the future. 

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History and Evolution of Digital Marketing - Infographic