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 that have all played a part in shaping what the industry looks like today.

The timeline below documents all the key milestones and events that have taken place from 1994 right up to the present day. That’s nearly three decades of digital history - right here at your fingertips.

Start scrolling for a trip down memory lane...

Google’s search engine market share


The 1990’s was the formative decade of the digital era - with the birth of the world wide web and the introduction of the very first ecommerce sites.

This brought about some momentous changes as businesses around the globe started taking the steps to move online for the very first time.

Search engines first came into prominence in the ‘90’s - and so the stage was set for brands to begin investing in online marketing solutions...


  • Yahoo is established. Yahoo was originally 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.

Quick Facts

The History of Search Engines

The first ever search engine was called Archie - developed in 1990. Archie existed before the worldwide web and was even in place before the first hundred websites were launched. By 1995, the term ‘search engine optimisation’ was coined to describe the process of optimising websites to make them more friendly to search engines just like Archie.

Fast forward 20 years and SEO is now a major digital marketing channel invested in by thousands of large and small brands worldwide. If you want to learn more about SEO - look no further than our standard and advanced SEO training courses


  • 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 was launched.
  • Megallan was launched.
  • Excite was launched.
  • LookSmart was founded.
  • The term “search engine optimisation” is added to the dictionary.


  • Yahoo raise $33.8 million by selling 2.6 million shares at $13 each.
  • Ask Jeeves was founded by David Warthen. The new search engine was created to enable the searcher to type questions in natural language in order to get results. The Jeeves character was 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.

Quick Facts

When Was Google Founded?

Google was founded in 1997 when Larry Page and Sergey Brin renamed their fledgling search engine ‘Backrub’ to Google. However, they didn’t start to monetise the platform until 3 years later - with the introduction of AdWords in the year 2000. Since then, brands have been competing with one another by bidding on specific keywords to advertise at the top of Google’s results pages.

Pay-per-click, as it’s known, is an essential piece of the digital marketing puzzle - and we can teach you everything you need to know to get started. Our standard and advanced Google Ads courses can help you learn the fundamentals of pay-per-click, right through to effective campaign management.


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


  • “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 websites for 1998.
  • Ask Jeeves for Kids (AJKids.com) was released.
  • Direct hit was launched.
  • The Google logo was redesigned.


  • Yahoo launches Yahoo Messenger.
  • Google completes a $25-million round of equity funding.
  • Ask Jeeves revenues increase as it completes its initial public offering on the stock market.
  • AltaVista announce the addition of relevant paid placements. The first sponsored placements of their kind ever in relation to 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 again - this time into its more characteristically colourful appearance.


There were a number of major developments in this decade that set the tone for the digital landscape as we know it today.

Google AdWords launched as the inaugural paid search platform and Google Analytics was introduced to help marketers interrogate website data like never before.

Online content consumption evolved with the introduction of YouTube in 2005 - and the dawn of the social media era would change society forever. From 2006-2010, the number of Facebook users increased by 596 million worldwide.


  • Google AdWords launches with 350 customers. The self-service ad program promises online activation with a credit card, keyword targeting and performance feedback.
  • Google launches 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 launches Image Search, offering access to 250 million images.
  • Yahoo stocks closed at an all-time low of $8.11.
  • Ask Jeeves purchase Piscataway.
  • Megallan closes.
  • Infoseek closes.
  • Snap closes.
  • 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 closes.
  • The top gaining queries in 2002 were:
    1. Spiderman
    2. Shakira
    3. Winter Olympics
  • LinkedIn was founded.


  • Google launches its content-targeted advertising service.
  • The first major SEO algorithm change is announced - the “Boston” update.
  • 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 updates. The Florida update saw the biggest change with many sites losing their rankings.
  • 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.

Quick Facts

When Did Facebook Start?

Facebook started officially in 2004, although it had been operating as 'FaceMash' since 2003. Mark Zuckerberg is credited as founding Facebook along with his college peers at Harvard. It was originally limited to university students only, but by 2006 it became open to everyone.

With the birth of large social media sites like Facebook, came social media marketing which has grown into an $51 billion industry. If you'd like to know more about social media marketing, we have a number of courses to give you the skills you need. Our broad social media courses will take you through the basics of engagement, monitoring and analytics - but, our more tailored social media advertising course is a great starting point for marketers working across all kinds of disciplines.


  • The Google IPO raises €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.
  • Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook.
  • The most popular queries in 2004 were:
    1. Paris Hilton
    2. Qantas
    3. Australian Idol
  • Search Engine Global market share.


  • Google Maps goes live.
  • Personalised search based on user history and search behaviour dramatically affected the search results Google delivered on their SERPs.
  • Google acquired 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.
  • 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 all online advertising.

Quick Facts

The Benefits of Google Analytics

Google introduced Google Analytics in 2005 to enable users to track and report on their own website traffic. Besides from being completely free of charge, this came with a number of benefits. The vast array of different insights that can be gleaned from Google Analytics has enabled marketers to fine tune websites over the years based on what is and isn’t working for them.

This is what makes it such a powerful tool - so getting an understanding of how it all works is essential. That’s why we run a number of Google Analytics courses to help people master the fundamentals and develop more advanced reporting techniques.


  • Google releases 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 announced its partnership.
  • Jeeves the butler was phased out. Ask Jeeves is rebranded as “Ask.com”.
  • AdWords Editor was released.
  • 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 all online advertising.

Quick Facts

When Was YouTube Invented?

Youtube was launched in 2005 as the brainchild of Steve Chen, Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim. At the time they were PayPal employees trying to share a video clip of Janet Jackson's famous fashion faux pas at the Superbowl. The idea was formed to create a place where people could upload and share their videos on the web and was later bought by Google in 2006 for $1.65 billion.

Nowadays YouTube is one of the most powerful channels used by marketers. If you'd like to learn more about how you can leverage YouTube in your marketing efforts, Jellyfish Training has just the course for you. Our YouTube marketing and optimisation course takes you through the key steps to get ahead in video - providing you with an in-depth understanding of how the platform works.


  • 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 was launched.
  • Microsoft acquired 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 all online advertising.


  • 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” - providing 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 $44.6 billion. Yahoo subsequently 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.


This was the decade where Google began to fully assert their dominance over Yahoo as the world’s primary ‘go-to’ search engine. It’s influence on the digital space would continue to take hold of search engine optimisation professionals looking to beat the ever-changing algorithm - battling for the top organic listings.

Meanwhile, paid search and programmatic display advertising would go from strength to strength - with more brands investing in this type of activity. However, the passing of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) would throw a significant spanner in the works - as marketers were forced to find new legitimate ways to collect and leverage consumer data in their efforts.


  • Google introduce Ad Sitelinks for PPC adverts.
  • Google introduce a new match type – broad match modifier.
  • Google Instant was launched - delivering the search result page whilst you typed your search query. This brought changes to general PPC campaign best practice.
  • 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.


  • Google launched their social media platform - Google+.
  • Google introduce “instant previews” for PPC adverts.
  • Google Panda algorithm update throughout 2011 sees dramatic changes in site rankings.
  • 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.


  • 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
  • 2012 was the year of the Penguin - Google’s latest algorithm change for organic listings.


  • Google introduce enhanced campaigns - enforcing advertisers to include all devices (desktop, mobile and tablet).
  • 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.


  • HTTP/SSL update is introduced – giving preference to secure sites.
  • Growth in social TV and dual screening.
  • Google Analytics no longer shows keyword information – replaced with “not provided”.
  • Google buys Nest Labs.
  • Wearables start to make an impact in the consumer market - with brands looking to capitalise on the increased use of smartwatches and virtual reality headsets


  • Data protection becomes a big deal for internet companies with large hacks on companies such as Ashley Madison.
  • The Google Digital Garage project launches to enable anybody to learn the fundamentals of online marketing.
  • Google announces that “mobile-friendliness” is now a recognised ranking factor.
  • Pinterest and Instagram launch their own ad platforms.
  • Facebook launch call-to-action buttons across pages to boost customer acquisition for brands.


  • Live video streaming takes off in 2016 - as Facebook introduces Facebook Live.
  • Google introduces Progressive Web Apps - a combination between a website and app, built to enable push notifications and offline access without the need for users to download a separate mobile app.
  • Google also launched Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) initiative to encourage faster-loading webpages.
  • GDPR gets approved the European Parliament.


  • Google and Bing release new automated bid strategies for paid search. Bing introduces ‘Maximise Clicks’ and Google introduces ‘Maximise Conversions’.
  • Google starts to roll out mobile-first indexing across a handful of sites.
  • Google Home is released in the UK - another momentous event in the emergence of voice search technologies.
  • Verizon Communications completes the acquisition of Yahoo’s core internet business.
  • Digital ad spend finally overtook television advertising for the first time. While TV brought in $178 billion, digital ad spending reached $209 billion worldwide.


  • Google celebrates its 20th birthday.
  • The Cambridge Analytica data scandal rocks the reputation of Facebook - as data from millions of Facebook profiles is used without consent for political advertising purposes.
  • Google’s core Medic algorithm update had a tectonic impact across the organic search landscape - with several verticals affected.
  • GDPR comes into full force. Marketers are now bound by law to abide by the regulations around consumer data.


  • Google announces that all new sites will be indexed using mobile-first indexing from July 1st onwards.
  • Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote speech outlines a new direction for Facebook in 2019 - with a renewed mission and focus on privacy.
  • Google+ is discontinued due to exist due to lack of engagement and software flaws.

The Future of Digital Marketing

So, what does the future hold?

It’s been said that by 2020, 50% of all search queries will be voice based, 80% of enterprises will be using chatbots and global investment in AR development is set to exceed $60 billion.

Will Google ever be surpassed as the world’s most popular search engine? Perhaps a new social media site will emerge and change the game forever?

Who knows.

But, there’s no getting away from the fact that every single discipline across the digital space is changing.

The good news, is that Jellyfish Training is right here at the forefront, ready to adapt.

Our courses are wide-ranging covering a variety of different topics. They also cater to all levels of expertise - from beginner-level, right through to more advanced learning.

Our dedicated trainers are experts in their respective fields, ensuring that your learning experience is one you’ll value for years to come.

When it comes to digital, there’s no limit to what you can learn - so, why not come and explore our courses today?

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