I won’t surprise anyone in saying that the Internet has grown very quickly over the past 20 years. According to a study from Comscore, an average American spent 32 hours a month on the Internet in 2010. Even though this figure may be surprisingly low when considering that many Americans use the Internet at work, the Web is still a part of everyone’s daily life. And of course, as it was the case during the 20th century with TV and radio or during the 19th century with newspapers, companies have used this new media to sell ads: according to a study made by Plunkett Research, in 2010, US companies have spent $22.8 billion on newspaper advertising; in 2011, they will spend $27.5 billion on online advertising! This figure will keep growing as long as the Internet keeps growing, and there’s no evidence that it won’t.

According to one survey, online advertising revenue in the US will total $28.5 billion in 2011. While that number is large, there is still room for increased growth. The problem is too many companies don’t really know what they’re doing in their digital advertising strategy. The Internet is so complex and changes so fast that it’s difficult to stay on top of trends.

For a long time, companies have used ad banners and pop-up ads on the Internet; neither was really effective. While pop-ups are annoying to an Internet user, which results in forming a bad image of a brand, banners too often go unnoticed. When you’re reading an article on a website, you’re focused on the text and may ignore the ad on the top or side of the page! In the early years of the Internet, many big companies invested in banners but didn’t get enough results, so they dropped this strategy.

At the end of the 1990s, companies found a great way to promote their websites with search engines, especially Google. They would pay Google for “adwords”, or pay marketing agencies to improve their Search Engine Optimization (SEO), so that your website would appear the highest in search results when someone searched for a precise word (for instance “sushi,” for a Japanese restaurant). Of course, the higher your website is placed, the more visible it is, leading people to it in greater numbers. This web marketing practice has been thriving for 10 years.

During the 2000s, two new web marketing trends have appeared: viral marketing and social media strategy. However, viral marketing and social media campaigns have been hit-or-miss. For example, lots of music videos on YouTube are now owned by Vevo, which puts ads before its videos. These ads are annoying to YouTube users, leaving a bad image on potential customers. But a great ad, like the Old Spice video, offers a company positive publicity. As for social media, RadioShack showed that Twitter and Facebook can be valuable for promoting your company, but many social media specialists agree that social media should be more use to interact with your customers than to actually promote yourself (even though satisfied fans or followers could recommend your social media page to their friends, who could then become new customers)!

We’ve found many different approaches to Internet marketing, but few provide guaranteed long-lasting results. Finding better ways to attract and retain users is the greatest challenge to digital marketers!