The Evolution and Impact of Digital Marketing: A Closer Look

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The Evolution and Impact of Digital Marketing: A Closer Look

As the 20th anniversary of leading SEO company, SharpNet, came around in September 2018, it was clear that a reflection on the progress and impact of digital marketing was warranted. Two decades of pioneering in the field lends itself to unique insights on how far we've come, and where we might be headed.

Looking back twenty years ago, my professional life was starkly different. Back then, I was working as a process engineering specialist at Agilent Technology, an offshoot of Hewlett Packard. The threat of layoffs became a stark reality, pushing me to take control over my career trajectory. That's when I decided to venture into the uncharted territory of SEO and launched SharpNet. A mere six months later, I witnessed my former colleagues at Agilent facing layoffs and within a year the department had shut down. Venturing into SEO proved to be my best investment.

In those days, SEO wasn't even known as such - there wasn't even an acronym for it yet! The industry was so young that we didn't have proper descriptors when filing for insurance paperwork or hiring experienced professionals in this field. The slow crawl of broadband speeds added another challenge to our work; it took us a full year before we could reliably use Google. Social media hadn't made its debut yet; Facebook wouldn't arrive on the scene for another six years with Mark Zuckerberg just stepping into his teenage years.

Digital Marketing Changed the WorldThe key players during this era were Yahoo, Alta Vista, Lycos and Excite. HotBot, Ask Jeeves, and DogPile (yes DogPile) were also part of this mix. Google had been founded in 1998, but was still in its beta phase. By 1998 and 1999, Google started attracting more attention. I recall when my brother-in-law asked me if I had ever looked at Google. Initially, I wasn't particularly impressed. was the first to introduce Pay Per Click services, which later evolved into Overture and was eventually acquired by Yahoo. Google's answer to this came in 2000 with the launch of AdWords. Interestingly enough, SharpNet offered PPC management services long before these two giants— a fact that always amuses me when clients inquire about our "paperclick" services.

There were three key hurdles facing digital industry back then:

(1) Security Concerns: The advent of online shopping sparked widespread fears regarding security breaches. It took some time for people to overcome their initial apprehensions about making their first online purchase – just look at how far Amazon has come since then.

(2) High Speed Internet: It was quite a battle to acquire affordable high-speed internet across most of the USA. Without this essential upgrade, online streaming would have been impossible; even browsing on Amazon would have been intolerably slow.

(3) Dot Com Boom: The early years of the internet were marked by uncertainty and instability which was only exacerbated by the Dot Com Boom. Innovation slowed down and investor confidence waned.

Despite these challenges, it's clear that digital presence is an inevitable part of our lives now - simply too powerful to ignore or resist. Even as we continue overcoming roadblocks on this journey, the momentum continues to build up. The rise of digital marketing has been a striking revolution; challenging traditional marketing mediums like TV and print while giving rise to new giants such as Amazon and YouTube.

While it may not be accurate to claim Amazon as the greatest achievement of the internet era, it certainly stands as one of the most prominent success stories. Not only is it the 7th largest retailer without a single physical storefront, but its market capitalization has also surpassed that of Walmart.

So what's next for digital marketing? As we continue to evolve and adapt, so does digital marketing. With Artificial Intelligence (AI) now making its mark in the digital world, we're about to witness another major leap; and Google's AI project/product RankBrain is just a taste of what's to come. As AI continues to permeate various sectors including finance, automotive, and retail among others, we're about to witness websites become smarter.

In this new age of AI-driven technology, websites will intuitively understand user preferences; from your interests in reading materials and games to targeted ad preferences. This promises a customized user experience for each visitor— akin to rearranging an entire Walmart store for every new customer walking through the door— an impossible feat in physical retail but just around the corner in our digital future.