So ubiquitous have web sites become that it's hard to believe they've been with us for fewer than 20 years. It was the 1994 introduction of the browser-enabled World Wide Web that gave birth to the web site. Since then they have gone through about four stages of evolution:
Early on, web sites were just "brochure-ware," online versions of sales catalogs, corporate profiles, annual reports, and other print collateral.
Once people realized they could add more content without running up a huge printer's bill, from 1997 online publishing proliferated in the "Content is King" era.
Around the turn of the millennium, as search engines became the primary means of accessing online information, businesses focused on "search engine optimization strategies" to drive traffic to their sites.
As consumers learned to use search engines as powerful research tools they naturally began to reward companies who thought like publishers of information, not advertisers of products. I wrote about this new way of doing business in my 2007 book The New Rules of Marketing & PR.
Now, we're entering a fifth era of the evolution: transformation of the web site into a real-time marketing (and sales) machine. This is the natural evolutionary outcome of a process that started with a new way to slip brochures under people's doors.
We are arriving at a place where online presence is tangibly alive. Like walking into a physical retail space, you immediately encounter ...