A History of Digital Marketing

Digital marketing has seen a dramatic rise over the last 20 years, powering the growth of some of the biggest global companies.  Each year saw numerous changes, acquisitions and innovations. This blog attempts to document the key events.  If I have missed a key milestone, please comment below and I will add and evolve this blog over time.


  • Yahoo is established. Yahoo originally was a directory of other web sites as opposed to a searchable index of pages. By the end of 1994 Yahoo! had already received one million hits.
  • Lycos went public with a catalogue of 54,000 documents. Ranked first on Netscape’s list of search engines by finding the most hits on the word “surf”
  • Infoseek is established
  • AltaVista delivers the Internet’s first Web Index

Digital Marketing in 1994


  • Yahoo was incorporated
  • Infoseek is launched – who originally hoped to charge for searching.
  • The MSN network of Internet services debuts in the United States.
  • Lycos had identified 394,000 documents
  • Netscape decides on Infoseek for their default search, which gave Infoseek major exposure.
  • Open Text Launched
  • Megallan is launched
  • Excite is launched
  • LookSmart is founded
  • The term “Search engine optimisation” is added to the dictionary



  • Yahoo raise $33.8 million dollars by selling 2.6 million shares at $13 each
  • Ask Jeeves founded by David Warthen. The new search engine was to allow searcher to type questions in natural language in order to get results. The Jeeves character, based on the butler in the Jeeves and Wooster books by P.G. Wodehouse
  • Lycos claim to index over 60 million documents – more than any other web search engine.
  • AltaVista partner with Yahoo!
  • Excite buys Megellan and WebCrawler.


  • BackRub search engine (originally created by Larry Page and Sergey Brin) re branded to Google.
  • Snap is launched by CNET
  • Open Text ends its operation.
  • AOL Search launched, powered by Excite (later to be powered by Google)

Digital Marketing in 1997


  • “PC Magazine” reports that Google “has an uncanny knack for returning extremely relevant results” and recognises Google as the search engine of choice in the Top 100 Web Sites for 1998.
  • Ask Jeeves for Kids (AJKids.com) was released.
  • Direct hit Launched
  • Google logo redesigned

Digital Marketing in 1998


  • Yahoo! launch Yahoo! Messenger
  • Google completes a $25-million round of equity funding.
  • Ask Jeeves revenues increased and completes its initial public offering of stock
  • AltaVista announce the addition of relevant paid placements. The first sponsored placements on search results. The keywords are auctioned every two weeks.
  • It is reported that in 1999, the market share per search engine was Google <1%, Yahoo 55.81%, MSN 1.25%, Lycos 5.05%, AltaVista 11.18%
  • Google logo is tweaked (colours)

Digital Marketing in 1999


  • Google AdWords launches with 350 customers. The self-service ad program promises online activation with a credit card, keyword targeting and performance feedback.
  • Google launch the Google Toolbar
  • Yahoo! stocks closed at an all-time high of $118.75 a share.
  • Yahoo! and Google signed an agreement which would make Google power searches made on yahoo.com.
  • Ask Jeeves Purchase Direct hit


  • Google launch Image Search, offering access to 250 million images.
  • Yahoo! stocks closed at an all-time low of $8.11.
  • Ask Jeeves purchased Piscataway.
  • Megallan closed in April
  • Infoseek closed early 2001
  • Snap closed early 2001
  • The top gaining queries in 2001 were 1) Nostradamus, 2) CNN, 3) World Trade Center


  • Google overhaul Adwords. The new Adwords includes a new cost-per-click pricing, a set of APIs, and a partnership with AOL.
  • Froogle launched (later called Google Product Search).
  • Direct hit formally closed
  • The top gaining queries in 2002 were 1) Spiderman, 2) Shakira, 3) Winter Olympics
  • LinkedIn Founded

Digital Marketing in 2002


  • Google launches its content-targeted advertising service
  • The first major SEO algorithm change is announced. The “Boston” update as it was announced at SES Boston
  • The Boston update was quickly followed by the Cassandra update which focused on basic link quality issues and hidden text
  • Followed by the Dominic, Esmerelda Fritz and Florida update. The Florida update saw the biggest change with many sites losing their ranking
  • AltaVista was bought by Overture Services, Inc.
  • Yahoo acquired Overture Services, Inc (Pay Per click advertising solution)
  • The most popular queries in 2003 were 1) Britney Spears, 2) Harry Potter 3) Matrix
  • Search Engine Global market share.
Year Google Yahoo! MSN??? AOL Search Others
2003 33% 24% 19% 12% 12%



  • Google IPO – raising €1.67 billion in capital
  • Google introduce Google Local, offering relevant local business listings, maps, and directions.
  • Yahoo! dropped Google-powered results and returned to using its own technology to provide search results.
  • Ask Jeeves acquire Interactive Search Holdings
  • Zuckerberg starts Facebook
  • The most popular queries in 2004 were 1) Paris Hilton, 2) Qantas, 3) Australian Idol
  • Search Engine Global market share.
Year Google Yahoo! MSN Ask AOL Search Others
2004 35% 32% 16% 2% 9% 2%



  • Google Maps goes live.
  • Personalised search based on user history and search behaviour dramatically effected the search results Google delivered on their SERPS
  • Google acquire Urchin, a web analytics tool
  • Yahoo! and Microsoft announced that Yahoo! Messenger and MSN Messenger would become interoperable.
  • Microsoft unveils adCenter which allow clients to manage paid search listings on MSN together with more than 30 other leading search engines.
  • IAC/InterActiveCorp agreed to acquire Ask Jeeves for 1.85 billion dollars.
  • Search Engine Global market share.
  • The top gaining queries in 2005 were 1) Myspace, 2) Ares, 3) Baidu
  • It is reported that in the UK £768.3m was spent on PPC (paid for listings) in 2005. A market share of 56.2% of online advertising
Year Google Yahoo! MSN Ask AOL Search
2005 36.9 % 30.4 % 15.7 % 6.0 %



  • Google release Google Trends
  • Google completes its acquisition of YouTube.
  • Google introduce its BPF (best practice funding) agency incentive
  • Microsoft adCenter is launched – replacing Overture on MSN Search
  • Microsoft and Facebook announce its partnership.
  • Jeeves the butler was phased out. Ask Jeeves is renamed as “Ask.com”
  • AdWords Editor was released January 24, 2006
  • Search Engine Global market share.
  • Twitter is born
  • The top search queries in 2006 were 1) Bebo, 2) Myspace, 3) World Cup
  • It is reported that in the UK £1,165.6m was spent on PPC (paid for listings) in 2006. A market share of 57.8% of online advertising


Google Yahoo! MSN Ask AOL Search
2006 44.2 % 28 % 13.1 % 5.1 % 5.6 %



  • Google Hot Trends is launched
  • Google Street View debuts in Google Maps in the U.S.
  • Google introduce universal search which brought traditional links with news, video, images and map listings
  • Ask3D launched
  • Microsoft acquire aQuantive for a reported $US 6 billion
  • Yahoo!’s Search Marketing’s Panama is released, providing features such as “Quality score”, Geo-targeting, Ad Testing, Campaign Budgeting, and Campaign scheduling
  • The fastest rising queries in 2007 were 1) iPhone, 2) Badoo, 3) Facebook
  • It is reported that in the UK £762.3m (H1) and £1,619.1m (H2) was spent on PPC (paid for listings) in 2007. A market share of 57.12 (H1) and 57.6% (H2) of online advertising
  • Search Engine Global market share.
Year Google Yahoo! MSN Ask AOL Search
2007 55.2 % 23.5 % 12.3 % 4.7 % 4.4 %



  • Google complete the acquisition deal for DoubleClick.
  • Google allow paid advertisers to “bid” on competitor brands causing a lot of frustration and anger for large brand owners.
  • Google now allow paid gambling ads
  • Google now allow paid ads selling alcohol
  • Google Website Optimizer comes out of beta
  • Google introduce the Display Ad Builder
  • Google introduce “Google Suggest” which would provide alternative search terms to use if the SERP did not return what you were looking for.
  • Microsoft Corporation made an unsolicited bid to acquire Yahoo! for US$44.6 billion.
  • Yahoo! subsequently formally rejected the bid.
  • The fastest rising queries in 2008 were 1) Sarah Palin, 2) Beijing 2008, 3) Facebook login
  • It is reported that in the UK £1,986.9m was spent on PPC (paid for listings) in 2008. A market share of 59.3% of online advertising
  • Search Engine Global market share.
Year Google Yahoo! MSN Ask AOL Search
2008 59.8 % 21.3 % 9.4 % 4.7 % 4.8 %



  • Google introduce location extensions for PPC adverts
  • Google introduce paid for product listing adverts
  • The Google SERP became “Real time”, introducing more news feeds for reliable sources. Twitter was also integrated
  • Yahoo logo change
  • Bing was unveiled? replacing MSN and starts to power the search results on Yahoo. Making it easier for advertisers to manage campaigns across Google, Yahoo and Bing.
  • Bing Yahoo partnership begins
  • The top five most searched for terms of the year within the UK were 1) Facebook 2) BBC 3) YouTube 4) Hotmail 5) Games
  • Search Engine Global market share.
Year Google Yahoo! Bing Ask AOL Search
2009 65.6 % 17.5 % 10.3 % 3.8 % 2.8 %



  • Google introduce Ad Sitelinks for PPC adverts
  • Google introduce a new match type – broad match modifier
  • Google Instant launched, which delivered the search result page whilst you typed your search query. This brought changes to our PPC campaign best practice
  • Search Engine Global market share.
  • Google maps turned into Google places
  • The May Day algorithm was released which focused on long tail keywords
  • The Caffeine algorithm release focused on making Google’s results more relevant and fresh
Year Google Yahoo! Bing Ask AOL Search
2010 66.1 % 16.7 % 11.2 % 3.7 % 2.3 %



  • Google launched Google+ their social media platform
  • Google introduce “instant previews” for PPC adverts
  • Google panda algorithm update throughout 2011 sees dramatic changes in site rankings
  • Search Engine Global market share.
  • The top five searches of the year in the UK were 1) Royal Wedding 2) Iphone 5 3) Fifa 12 4) Groupon 5) Ipad 2
  • Google +1 button is introduced to organic and paid adverts, impacting rankings and quality score performance
Year Google Yahoo! Bing Ask AOL Search
2011 65.6 % 16.1 % 13.1 % 3.4 % 1.6 %



  • Google introduce enhanced Sitelinks for PPC adverts
  • Google introduce Dynamic search ads
  • Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ becomes first YouTube video to reach 1 billion views
  • The top 5 searches of the year in the UK were 1) Euro 2012 2) Olympic tickets 3) Whitney Houston 4) Kate Middleton 5) April Jones
  • Search Engine Global market share.
  • 2012 was the year of the Penguin. Google’s latest algorithm change for organic listings
Year Google Yahoo! Bing Ask AOL Search
2012 66.4 % 12.8 % 15 % 3.2 % 1.7 %



  • Google introduce Enhanced campaigns, enforcing advertisers to include all devices (desktop, mobile and tablet)
  • Search Engine Global market share
  • The top 5 searches of the year were 1) Paul Walker 2) Iphone 5s 3) Royal Baby 4) Cory Monteith 5) Oscar Pistorius
  • Google announce the hummingbird algorithm change
Year Google Yahoo! Bing Ask AOL Search
2013 67.1 % 11.8 % 16.9 % 2.27 % 1.6 %


  • HTTP/SSL Update – giving preference to secure sites
  • Rise in wearable tech
  • Growth in social TV and duel screening
  • Google Analytics no longer show keyword information – replaced with “not provided”
  • Google Buys Nest Labs


  • Data protection becomes a big deal for internet companies with large hacks on companies such as Ashley Madison
  • Ad blocking becomes popular
  • Google unveils walking, running robot dog


If I have missed any important milestones please leave a comment and I will include it.

To be continued.

February 22, 2016|

About the Author:

Andrew is a veteran of Latitude having been here nearly ten years. He specialises in partnerships and the needs of SMEs.