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17 Years of Online Marketing: 4 Revolutions and 4 Lessons Learned

Thursday, March 06, 2014
Online MarketingShameless Self-Promotion

Workbox has seen a lot of change on the World Wide Web since we started in February 1997. From Prodigy and AOL to Facebook and mobile apps, the one constant has BEEN change.

So, in honor of our 17 years, here are what we consider the four big “revolutions” in online marketing and lessons we learned from working in this dynamic industry.

1. The User Interface Revolution

It’s a universal truth: people like to look at beautiful things. But, let’s face it, some of the earliest websites were not things of beauty (and in 1997, Workbox probably built a few duds). Thank goodness for CSS.

Eventually, online marketing got more competitive so UI got taken seriously as a way to beat the competition and improve experiences and products.

Also, we have a saying at Workbox: “You can’t fight Amazon.” People spend most of their time on popular, well-designed sites, so they are familiar with those interfaces. Unofficial standards emerged, and designers used familiarity to their advantage.

The lesson: don’t make people learn something new if they don’t have to. Complexity is and always will be your enemy.

2. The Content Revolution

Anyone remember Vignette, the old content management system? Big, expensive, difficult. Then along came ColdFusion, then CMSs like PHPNuke and, eventually, WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and many, many others. Workbox even created our own (CUT).

Content management systems made online publishing so easy that it evolved into the Content Revolution: from blogs to YouTube to Twitter, we’re now awash in great and meaningless content. Similarly, platforms emerged that make the building and publishing of social media, apps and online games much simpler – so now you can spend every second of every day working, educating or amusing yourself online.

The lesson: since anyone can create content, quality matters more than ever.

3. The Analytics and Data Revolution

Without analytics, online marketing would be pointless. Remember Webtrends and other oldies? Google killed them and created an entire ecosystem with their free Google Analytics. Now, Google and other online services give you so much data and are so powerful that you have to hire experts to wrangle it into something you can understand.

The lesson: we have almost too much data, so be sure you measure what really matters (as opposed to “vanity metrics”).

4. The Bandwidth Revolution

DSL, cable, 4G, Wifi, fiber-optic, emerging protocols, faster chips, lower power requirements. Without big bandwidth, we get less content and less activity to analyze. Also, in our minds, the “mobile revolution” is really an offshoot of the Bandwidth Revolution. An iPhone connection at 14.4kbits/s? No way.

Right now a big issue is net neutrality and how far behind other nations the US is in quality and expense of online access. Perhaps our current carriers, like most slow-moving industries, will get leap-frogged by a nimble alternative. Remember, in high-tech, everything gets commoditized. In any event, big, fat bandwidth means more possibilities. Let’s keep it open and inject some real competition.

The lesson: keep it as open and inexpensive as possible so everyone wins (that way, you win, too!).

So, after 17 years of online experience, we’ve learned a few lessons:

1. Keep it beautiful and simple.

2. Create high-quality content.

3. Measure what matters.

4. Openness and value wins.

What about the next 17 years? Would Workbox like to take a guess at what’s next?

Ha! That’s a mug’s game. I mean, who could have ever anticipated 2013 would give birth to Doge (Wow. So unpredict. Much wunder.)

Agree? Disagree? Please share your thoughts with us!