By Rob Croll, Professor at Full Sail University
Successful organizations know that their customers now “find” them online in many ways, including Google searches, Facebook pages, customer review sites, social shopping sites, and more. Some interesting facts and figures:
- More than 16 billion searches were conducted worldwide during October 2010, according to data from comScore.
- More than 250 million people use Facebook on a daily basis.
- Twitter claims more than 50 million tweets per day.
That’s a lot of online activity, happening in a lot of different places. For organizations trying to maximize their effectiveness, it can be difficult to prioritize. Factor in limited budgets, and it’s easy to fall into either/or arguments, particularly regarding search and social marketing.
The arguments for search engine optimization (SEO) typically include that it’s often more targeted, that searchers are actively “looking,” and that traffic from search frequently converts better. The arguments for social media marketing typically include that it’s better at building longer-term relationships with customers, that it gives you more control since it’s not reliant on search engine algorithms, and that the social aspect allows for customers to engage with and evangelize brands.
However, any argument over which is better—search or social media—fails to consider the inherently symbiotic relationship between the two. In today’s world, focusing on one to the exclusion of the other is folly for most organizations. Of course, the relative merits of each differ depending on the goals of the organization and, more importantly, the objectives of the web user.
In a post called Comparing SEO and Social Media as Marketing Channels, Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz noted that “search is an intent-driven activity. We don’t search casually (much), we search to find answers, information, and goods and services to consume.” Visitors who arrive at a site from a search engine are specifically looking for something. Generally (though not always), these searchers are further along in the purchase decision-making process and thus potentially more valuable, at least in the short term.
Social media marketing, however, brings potential customers of a different type. These visitors expect more dynamic content and more opportunities to engage and interact. Even if they don’t have an immediate intent to purchase, these potential customers represent a longer-term opportunity for organizations. If they feel positively about your brand, they may share that enthusiasm within their own circle of influence, expanding the reach of your marketing activities. Building a relationship with them also greatly enhances the likelihood that they will do business with you in the future. For example, studies show that individuals who have been exposed to a brand message in social media are more likely to click on an organic search listing for that organization.
Finally, consider that results from a searcher’s social graph now appear in the search engine results directly. These social results typically include an image, which increases the likelihood that they’ll be clicked. In an article on Search Engine Journal, Bill Sebald gives an anecdotal example of getting search engine traffic for keywords for which his blog didn’t organically rank well. That traffic was being driven by what he calls “the eleventh listing”—the “results from people in your social circle” on Google.
It’s clear that the relationship between search and social will continue to grow in the future. Search engines have been seeking to incorporate more social signals for some time now, and the momentum shows no signs of slowing. With advances in technology and shifts in consumer behavior, it’s time for marketers to look at search and social media as two critical—and inherently interrelated—components of their overall efforts.