Why has ‘Digital Marketing’ Overtaken ‘Online Marketing’?

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Over the last few years, there’s been a gradual shift in the way we talk about marketing. In 2016 we regard ourselves as a digital marketing agency but just a couple of years ago we might have been an online marketing agency or an internet marketing agency.

‘Digital’ Overtakes ‘Online’ and ‘Internet’ Marketing

Google trends show that between 2004 to present, the term ‘digital marketing’ has overtaken ‘internet marketing’ and ‘online marketing’ in web searches in the UK.

This trend is particularly interesting because for some reason, ‘online marketing’ had a sudden spike in searches before it was overtaken by ‘digital marketing’. While we can’t be sure what caused this spike, it does show how quickly a search term can rocket in popularity and just as quickly fall out of fashion.

What does ‘lemonade’ mean to you?

In a blog I wrote in April, I showed how the search term ‘lemonade’ suddenly increased on the day Beyoncé released her album Lemonade. With this increase was directly correlated with the increase in the terms ‘beyonce’, ‘“beyonce lemonade”’ and ‘beyonce album’ showing the way that search terms are interlinked.

The top related queries to ‘lemonade’ in this period were:

  • lemonade beyonce
  • Beyonce
  • lemonade album
  • lyrics lemonade
  • Lemonade video
  • Beyonce lemonade album
  • Beyonce album
  • Lemonade song
  • Beyonce lemonade lyrics
  • Beyonce song lemonade


Compare this list to the list of top related queries between February and March 2016:

  • Lemonade recipe
  • Lemonade mouth
  • Pink lemonade
  • Lemonade stand
  • Strawberry lemonade
  • Lemon
  • Starbucks
  • Starbucks lemonade
  • Lemonade lyrics
  • Vodka lemonade

This comparison is interesting because it shows how quickly people’s associations with particular keywords can be changed. Within a month, almost all of the top ten results had changed from recipe-related results to music or Beyonce related results.

Almost overnight, Beyonce changed the meaning of the search term ‘lemonade’, making it suddenly popular and meaningful to searchers.

This brings us back to ‘internet marketing’, ‘online marketing’ and ‘digital marketing’. What these terms mean to searchers will certainly affect what they decide to search for.

Internet marketing is, as you might expect, marketing that happens on the internet. This includes everything from banner ads to PPC to targeted emails.

But here’s the rub. Whenever we talk about being on the internet, we regard ourselves as being online. And this, I suspect, is the reason that people have gradually abandoned the term ‘internet marketing’ in favour of ‘online marketing’. When searchers are thinking in terms of being online, then they will shift their search patterns to reflect their thinking.

So what is the difference between ‘online’ and ‘digital’?

Neil Patel uses this definition of online marketing:

‘Online marketing is any effort to spread the word about your company that uses the Internet to reach people.’

Digital marketing includes online marketing but crucially extends to other forms of marketing too. This is Neil Patel’s definition of digital marketing:

‘Digital marketing is any form of marketing products or services that involves electronic devices.’

The vital difference then, and the most likely reason for the shift in search volume, is that for digital marketing to succeed, your customers don’t need to be online. Digital marketing is about enhancing the users’ experience using the latest technology whether this means designing an app or using an LED powered billboard, building an amazing website or using remarketing tools.

Searching for digital marketing will bring up about 81,300,000 results, fewer than the 106,000,000 that appear for online marketing. However, it is worth noting that on the first page of results for online marketing, the third result is actually a Wikipedia page ‘Digital Marketing’.

Digital Marketing Google Results online marketing google results

The difference in results suggests that the larger number of results presented to searchers using the keyword ‘online marketing’ is due to Google assuming that those searchers will also be interested in digital marketing. Indeed, searching ‘online marketing -digital’ presents a mere 21,600,000 results.

online -digital Google results


Why is Digital Marketing So Important?

People are bombarded with adverts all the time and to a great extent, we tend to ignore them. It takes a lot of ingenuity to capture the attention of today’s audiences with advertising.

That’s where digital marketing comes in. Instead of trying to capture people’s attention with adverts, digital marketing is a more interactive and creative way of drawing your audience in and engaging them with your brand.

There are lots of different ways to use digital marketing to your advantage. You might consider using SEO to improve your search engine ranking, or adding a blog or other forms of content to your website to bring your customers interesting and valuable insight. Perhaps a video would entertain your audience and make them come back for more or a spoof website could increase brand awareness.

Digital marketing is the best way to engage your audience, retain your client base and increase brand awareness. There’s really no reason you shouldn’t get started today!

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About Hannah Field

Hannah is a passionate fan of modernist literature and can usually be found curled up with a cat and a book, a steaming mug of tea within reach. Though she tolerates living on land, Hannah feels most at home underwater SCUBA diving, hoping to see turtles.

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