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Daniela Capistrano is the President/CEO of DCAP MEDIA LLC.

Digital Strategy | Branding | Audience Development

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The First Website Ever Made Was The Prototype For Content Marketing Online

Did you know that the first website ever made will turn 26 years old in 2016? It still exists. The site's address is info.cern.ch and it provides information about the World Wide Web. It was created by Tim Berners Lee at research lab CERN in 1990, and my theory is that the first website ever made was the prototype for content marketing online.

Let's break it down: info.cern.ch provided (and continues to provide) useful information to meet an engagement goal. What was that goal? It's pretty obvious from reviewing what's available on the website: helping–and inspiring–others to use and add to the World Wide Web. Lee created the first-ever website to share valuable information about how the World Wide Web functions (how meta!).

Lee wanted to demystify the process of creating websites and using the World Wide Web so that more people would join the party and enhance his invention (he invented the World Wide Web in 1989). Obviously, his plan worked (successful content marketing!). 

The First Website Ever Made: An Example Of Content Marketing

To get more people to use the World Wide Web, Lee didn't run an ad in a newspaper, produce a TV commercial or pay for placement on a billboard; he went where his target audience already was (the Internet and new users of the World Wide Web on the World Wide Web) and shared useful information on his website through how-to documents, images and interactive elements (sound familiar?).

Lee also shared information about his website with people already on the Internet through familiar modes of communication such as emails (around since 1972), message boards, etc. As more people went online, these early World Wide Web explorers continued to use Lee's website to problem solve. 

What the first ever website looked liked in 1990

Lee's website made it less daunting for others to go online, create their own websites and experiment with how to use the web to ask and answer questions, solve problems, find people with similar interests, and then to eventually create and share media, buy and sell things online, and much more.

Within info.cern.ch, there are content marketing components such as an line-mode browser simulator that help people to further understand how everything works and take action (I have to wonder, did this simulator inspire the "The Matrix" franchise's aesthetic?).

By focusing on sharing knowledge and problem-solving, Tim Berners Lee set the standard for how most people use the World Wide Web today; we go online and look for answers to our questions. In turn, he unintentionally set the standard for successful content marketing online.

For context, the first documented example of offline content marketing is a magazine called The Furrow that was published in 1895 by John Deere, who is considered in some circles as the "father of content marketing". The Furrow, which is still in circulation and reaches over one million readers in 40 countries in 12 different languages, provides information to farmers on how to become more profitable. The Furrow and Tim Berners Lee's first website have two significant things in common:

  • Both had a target audience (farmers and World Wide Web users) and were created to provide tangible value to that audience (how to become more profitable and how to use the World Wide Web/build websites).

  • Both were created to raise awareness about the quality and utility of the brand (John Deere and the World Wide Web).

Although John Deere may have invented content marketing offline in 1895, they didn't launch a content marketing focused website online until 2011.

Content Marketing: Providing Answers To Questions

Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.
— Content Marketing Institute

Today, content marketing strategies connect businesses and brands to customers and fans by providing useful answers and contextual resources. Content marketing (when done correctly) adds real value for the targeted audience in order to achieve specific revenue and engagement goals. It's not advertising–it's useful knowledge that audiences are already looking for.

Content marketing is both a verb and a noun. It's part of an organization's digital strategy. Here's a presentation I made that explains what content marketing is and its relationship to SEO (search engine optimization):

It's important to keep in mind that content marketing isn't just a tool of capitalism; there doesn't always have to be a revenue goal. When Tim Berners Lee created the first website ever made, he wasn't trying to make a profit or sell anything; he was providing useful information with the goal of encouraging more people to use the World Wide Web.

A current example of non-monetary focused content marketing plan would be a social marketing campaign that leverages content marketing (infographics, GIFs, informational videos, personal essays, etc.) to help change a behavior like smoking. In this instance, the goal is to get people to stop smoking–not to make money. I've also used content marketing to help nonprofits meet goals that weren't always about fundraising (here's a case study).

Beyond knowing who your target audiences are, it's useful for businesses and brands to understand how the World Wide Web works to know where their audience lives online and where they might go.

The Difference Between The Internet, World Wide Web, Dark Web And Deep Web

The Internet and the World Wide Web are not the same thing. The World Wide Web turns 26 this year, but the Internet itself will turn 46 years old in 2016.

The World Wide Web is the platform that sits on top of the Internet, where documents and pages on the Internet can be accessed by URLs, and connected to each other via hyperlinks.  In short, the World Wide Web enables people to easily access information on the Internet.

The Internet has academic origins. The U.S. Department of Defense founded the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in 1958, which in turn created the ARPANET in 1969, a network of mainframe computers at major universities (the origins of the Internet). From there, the idea caught on and in 1989 Sir Tim Berners-Lee proposed the concept of the World Wide Web, which is a way to transmit data over the Internet.

Lee's World Wide Web has grown significantly over the years–most likely in ways he never expected.

The Deep Web

The Deep Web is kind of like the World Wide Web's geeky, shy cousin; it's simply the content of databases and other web services that for one reason or another cannot be indexed by conventional search engines. The vast majority of the Deep Web holds pages with valuable information. A report in 2001 -- the best to date -- estimates 54% of websites are databases.

If you're an organization that has a database of useful knowledge offline that is only leveraged internally, consider putting the database online (after ensuring that it's appropriate & safe to do so) and making sure that once it's found on the Deep Web, there are clear pathways from within your database to access your primary website.

It's plausible that potential customers and supporters could find you through their deep web searches before ever knowing you exist on the "regular" World Wide Web.

The Dark Web

The Dark Web is kind of like the World Wide Web's "black sheep" cousin; it's a collection of thousands of websites that use anonymity tools like Tor and I2P to hide their IP address. The Dark Web (among other things that can be unsavory and straight up illegal) enables anonymous whistleblowing and protects users from surveillance and censorship.

The Dark Web is tricky. On one hand, you potentially could reach new customers and fans through Tor and other anonymity tools. On the other, if you make the mistake of spamming or coming across as inauthentic, you could be inviting unwelcome attention and threats to your business. Before trying anything, do some research and explore where dark web users are buying and selling products and services comparable to your own.

If you sell niche surveillance or privacy tools, there might be a market for you on the Dark Web. However, if you sell products that can be easily found via the regular World Wide Web, you should focus your marketing efforts there and leave the Dark Web to others businesses who are more relevant within that space.

Although Tim Berners Lee certainly wasn't thinking about content marketing (the phrase was coined in the 1990's), his approach certainly informed how businesses, brands and marketers are utilizing content marketing today to show up in organic search results and as a key component of their digital strategy.

Speaking of the first website ever made, isn't it funny that CERN, the location where the first website ever made was launched, has a pretty underwhelming website? Luckily, they do have a decent Facebook following.


DCAP MEDIA is Daniela Capistrano. She help startups, media companies and social enterprises share their stories in powerful ways—with measurable results. Learn more.

Interested in leveraging your brand's story to meet revenue and engagement goals through impactful content marketing? You've come to the right place. For a free 30 minute consultation and project quote, contact Daniela today.

Copyright © 2016 Daniela Capistrano | DCAP MEDIA LLC. All rights reserved.