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Search Engine Marketing vs. Social Media Marketing: The Showdown

When it comes to driving traffic to your website, there are a variety of ways to get visitors. The primary two that individuals and businesses almost always have a struggle with investing their time and money into are search and social. Sometimes the issue is convincing people why these are a necessity for a thriving business. Other times, the conflict is whether to invest in one marketing strategy more than the other, or to only pursue one marketing strategy but not the other.

How Search Beats Social

First of all, let’s look at the reasons why you might want to choose search engine marketing over social media marketing.

More People Look for Business on Search

Think about your own habits. Whenever you are looking for something, from an air conditioning repair company to a zumba instructor, where do you go first? Most likely, you will go to a search engine – Google, Yahoo, Bing, Ask, AOL, Blekko, or one of the many other options available.

A report by Econsultancy found that 61% of consumers use search engines to help them in product research before making a purchase. This means that if you want to get discovered, you will want to rank well for your target keywords.

Know What People Are Searching For

When it comes to search engines, while the numbers might not be exact, you have a lot of great tools to use in your research of what people are searching for. Google AdWords Keyword Tool is a great start in this process. While “pet supplies” may not actually get an exact one million searches per month, you will know that “pet supplies” is a more popular keyword phrase over “pet supply” that comes in at only 368,000 monthly searches.

Buy Your Way into the Results

If you can’t make it to the top of organic search results, you can always buy your way into the sponsored links section of Google using Google AdWords.

In a search for “printer ink,” two domains that are not in organic search results appear in the top two spots. Even though organic search results might get more clicks, having any presence on the first page is still better than having no presence at all.

The bonus of paid search listings is that you can customize your appearance in search results. Instead of your usual website’s title and description that is used in organic results, you can use something that calls out to a specific sale in sponsored results. As an example, the company ranking 2nd in organic search also shares its Cyber Monday sale in the sponsored listings to the right.

How Social Beats Search

Now, let’s take a look at where social media marketing meets or beats search engine marketing.

Peer Recommendations Happen with the Click of a Like

In the same report by Econsultancy mentioned earlier, they found that 75% of people in the 18 – 26 age group used recommendations on social sites in product research before making a purchase. One of the nice sides to social media is once you have a presence on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+, peer recommendations will happen when someone likes your page, mentions your Twitter handle, or tags your brand name. When someone takes these actions, their connections will see them which may help your business get discovered by others with that perceived seal of approval.

Respond to Criticism in Real Time

One of the worst problems when it comes to search engine results, aside from not coming up in them at all, is having something negative come up. Online reputation management is a thriving service thanks to rip off reports, bad reviews, and other damaging articles about a business. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to counter these in search engine results themselves.

Whenever you are presented criticism on social media, however, you will have a chance to turn those complaints into compliments by responding back to them in real time. There is a lot of great information today, including books like The Now Revolution that help businesses learn how to plan for, find, and manage real-time crises in the social media space. Knowing how to do this is essential to showing current and potential customers how much you care about everyone’s satisfaction with your business.

Buy Your Way in Front of Your Target Audience

Thanks to Facebook Advertising, StumbleUpon Ads, Promoted Tweets, and other social media advertising, businesses can put their content in front of social media audiences. This is a great way to generate traffic to your website, fans for your Facebook page, and visibility for your messages on social media platforms.

Why You Should Choose to Invest in Both Search and Social

While the above mentioned points may make you believe that one strategy is better than another, there is one good reason you want to invest your time, money, and efforts into both search engine marketing and social media marketing. You simply don’t want to put all of your eggs in one basket.

If you have Google Analytics installed on your website, go take a look at it now. Go to your Traffic Sources > Sources > All Traffic. Then look at your top five traffic sources and ask yourself what would you do if you lost one of them.

Take a moment to click on each traffic source to see the percentage of visitors that source drives to your website.

In my case, Google (40.1%), (Twitter – 4.54%), StumbleUpon (3.2%), and Facebook (2.47%) are my top sources for the last 30 days. So I want to ask myself what I would do if I lost my Google traffic? That would be a loss of almost 10,000+ visitors in a month. Or if I lost my Twitter traffic, that would be a loss of 1,000+ visitors.

What you might find more interesting is using the Compare to past option under your date dropdown.

Now you can see, for the last 30 days vs. the 30 days in the previous month how your traffic is changing. In this comparison, I noticed that my search engine traffic dropped.

But my Twitter traffic increased.

While your numbers may vary, the one thing that is safe to say is that if you are investing your time in both search and social is that you’ll have a good balance of traffic. This means if one source began to fail, you could always boost your efforts in another area and know that you will not lose all of your visitors entirely.

Is it possible to lose one source of traffic completely? Of course! Imagine if 80% of your traffic was from Google, and your website was hit with the first Panda update that left top domains with a loss of 34% to 86% of their keyword positions in search. Without incoming traffic from other sources, you would be in some serious trouble!

Regardless of whether you fear the loss of your search engine traffic due to a penalty or loss of rankings to a competitor, or the loss of your social media traffic because of a misunderstanding that resulted in the removal of your Facebook page, fear should not be your only motivating factor in diversifying your marketing efforts between search and social. Did you know that search engine marketing can help you with your social media marketing, and vice versa?

How Search Engine Marketing Helps Social

Search engine optimization doesn’t just happen on your website. Did you know you can use the same keyword research and on-site optimization strategies that you use for your website’s search engine marketing campaign for your social media marketing?

Keyword Research for Social Media

Keyword usage is important in social media. Although you can’t find the specifics on how many people search for particular keywords on social media, you can use different tools to get a good idea. For example, if you want to know what to include in your Twitter profile’s bio, you can use Wefollow to see what keywords people tag themselves with.

You can also see what people search for in tweets using the suggestions on Topsy.

Using various methods like these will help you fine tune your status updates and bio information for search within social networks.

On-Site Optimization for Social Media

While On-Site normally just means on your own website, you can take the same principles for title tags, meta descriptions, image alt tags, and so forth to better optimize your social media profiles for search. For example, you can optimize Google+ for search…

Facebook pages…

Twitter profiles…

Almost all social media profiles have some customizable elements, whether it is your profile’s name, description, or image that can be tweaked for better search optimization. Just use tools like Google Chrome’s SEO Site Tools on your own social profiles when logged out of the network so you can see the public display version viewable by search engines.

Pay attention to the Title, Meta Description, Meta Keywords, Img Tags, and H1 through H4 Tags to see which ones you can edit for better branding and keyword placement.

How Social Media Marketing Helps Search

So how can social media marketing help with your search engine results?

Better Reputation Management

Want to bump off a bad entry in the first page of search results for your brand, or pre-emptively create a strong brand presence in search so a negative results can’t barge its way in? Social media profiles are your answer. Social profiles that generally rank well for businesses include Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, FourSquare, and LinkedIn. If the only online properties created by you appear on the first page when someone searches for your brand name, then you are well on your way to creating a great first impression.

Confirm a Search Result is Trustworthy

While, as mentioned earlier, almost two thirds of consumers research products before buying them through search engines, I’d bet that the social media savvy ones will check out the top results (aka you and your competitors) on social media. I know that, when I come across a new company that I haven’t heard of, I will also go check out their Facebook page and Twitter account to see if they are active in their customer service. This means I want to see some recent status updates and replies to customers asking questions whenever possible.

When it comes to search engine marketing vs. social media marketing, which one do you put the majority of your energy towards? What ways do you think one is better than the other, and what ways do you see one helping the other?

About the Author: Kristi Hines is a freelance writer, blogger, and social media enthusiast. Her blog Kikolani focuses on blog marketing, including social networking strategies and blogging tips.

  1. Robert Dempsey Nov 29, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    Awesome post Kristi. The further along we get the more social and search are merging. Today it behooves businesses of all types and sizes to be using both social and search in their marketing.

  2. Great post.

    But I think that the biggest difference is that search primarily shows that “what” and social primarily shows the “why”.

    I know which I’d prefer….though of course – you have to do both as they help each other out (as you point out as well)

  3. Henri Liljeroos Nov 30, 2011 at 2:15 am

    I love the idea of optimizing social media profiles for search. I’ve never really though of the possibility to effect on the meta tags etc. on profiles. Thanks a million for this great post!

  4. Amrita Mathur Nov 30, 2011 at 9:39 am

    Ok so currently Search beats Social. Sort of. But Search will be Social soon!

  5. Sherryl Perry Dec 03, 2011 at 7:42 am

    Excellent article Kristi. To be found online, we definitely need a strategy that incorporates SEO into our social media. As always, your use of screen shots serves well to illustrate how you have optimized some of your profiles. Thanks once again for sharing your insight.

  6. Thanks for the tips! I hadn’t yet heard of Topsy or WeFollow. Those are both great websites to keep in mind for searching for what people have searched for, and what keywords to include in your tweets.

  7. Astro Gremlin Dec 04, 2011 at 10:47 am

    Kristi, this is a “pillar article” if I ever saw one. Terrific use of screen shots (and some nice stats!) to make your point that search engine and social media traffic are susceptible to change. Makes good sense not to “put all your eggs in one basket.” The Google algorithm and the design of social media like Facebook don’t come with guarantees and can change on a whim. Beautiful, comprehensive article, going the extra mile with real details on how to optimize social media profiles.

    • Thanks Astro! I see a lot of opinion-based articles out there about this topic, but I think numbers really drive the point home for most. :)

  8. Eugene Nayvelt Dec 04, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    Great post Kristi, I really liked the Google+ graphic…it makes looking at Google+ SEO a lot easier.

  9. Excellent post . I loved the info for on page optimization with social media. Looking forward for more details on that subject.

  10. Kevin Kinnersley Dec 06, 2011 at 7:12 am

    Excellent post, I had no idea you could even get a seo tools extension and have now got it. This should help me a lot. Thanks! :)

  11. Exactly Bharati! If you have both covered, you can be found much easier by your potential customers or fans.

  12. Anita Johnson Anita Johnson Dec 08, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    Thanks for all the great information Kristi! I started doing Social Media Marketing about a year ago and it is definitely a learning process. I have learned so much and yet things are continually changing and I am trying to catch up and become a full-fledged internet marketer! I appreciate you sharing your knowledge.

  13. Thank you Kristi.

    Been looking for comparison like this for my blog. I am into social media now since the search engine is harder. Thank you for your insight.

  14. Thank you, Kristi, for the awesome article, where I discovered many new for myself. I’m always hungry for such kind of posts.

  15. Nice article for a novoice like me, i am still working on the strategy for the social media optimization,

  16. A social media marketing and organic search combination will definitely strike,
    Thanks for your sharing thoughts,

  17. Thanks for the help on SMO,
    Any more strategies please help,

  18. Good one. The information you have shared is nice. Thanks and keep sharing.

  19. Very informative post,thanks for this. off course,nowadays,social marketing beats search,but social also helps to rank better. Will look for similar posts on your blog.

  20. This is definitely a great article and bloggers or developers can definitely learn something when creating projects. But some how it feels like social marketing works much better than search marketing as there is some form of live and direct communication going on.

  21. Great post Kristi – Social and Search can’t be in war they both are on different platforms but social media is best for driving traffic on the websites and blogs.

  22. People write too little on this topic. I’m sure On-Site Optimization for Social Media will become a popular topic soon. Well done. To me, social media optimsation may soon become more important than SEO techniques like link building.. may be find its way into SEO itself!

  23. great post, thankyou,

  24. Anthony Johnson Mar 09, 2012 at 4:58 am

    GReat advice for people new to the game.

  25. Rosendo Cuyasen Mar 09, 2012 at 7:04 am

    Nice insight. As I see the graph that you have showed in this article it gives me more understanding how important is the search engine optimization and social media marketing. Now a day one of coolest thing that is good is tool are becoming better to provide data that you have given.

  26. Search engine marketing has been king for a long time, but social has almost caught up to it in terms of raw effectiveness at driving leads. Eventually social will pass search which is why, I think, Google jumped into G+ as hard and fast as they did.

    Of course both will always be useful as each one must be utilized differently to be effective. I think search engine marketing is much easier than social because you can ‘set it and forget it’. Social, to be successful, requires constant management.

  27. As an accommodation provider I am not sure. We have had one attributable Facebook booking and 1 twitter attributed booking in 3 years of having a Facebook & Twitter presence. It doesn’t suggest much return on the hours of investment in Facebook.

  28. Interesting that you make it sound like there’s a choice between the two – if you’re running an SEO programme without social media as an integral part of the strategy both on site and off-site, then you’re missing a trick. But SEO doesn’t normally involve the actual managing of social profiles.

    The success of both comes down to the quality of the content/idea and the ability to connect people with that content. To date, SEO practitioners understand the revenue impact of targeting that content very specifically to a high volume term and boosting SERPs as a result. Social media practitioners tend not to think like that, but think in pure awareness terms – less targeted but, when done well, wider coverage.

    I would say this wouldn’t I (as I work for an SEO company), but good SEO agencies have the ability to do the lot as they have the tech/analytical capabilities to set the SEO strategy to maximise the value of the content on and off-site (by targeting it correctly) through the use of social. I’m not sure social-led strategies have the same ability to impact the bottom line but socal certainly massively helps with well set SEO strategies.

  29. Great post. I think there’s a lot of value in this type of discussion.

    What strikes me on search vs. social is where your target market resides and how they like to interact on the web. Factors include B2B vs. B2C targeting, the demographics of your market and more. In our case, we’re active in B2B marketing, in which for some businesses, their customers are just now starting to engage in Social Media. So their percentage of focus is still biased towards search.

  30. What an excellent article Kristi :-) Several super takeaways! Thank you for taking the time to write such a clear and concise ‘how to’.
    Andy :-)

  31. I feel that Social Media involvement requires a vision for the future that is longer term than SEO. My greatest success has come from getting on the first page of Google quickly and remaining there. I have NEVER paid for advertising and have successfully operated websites since 1996.

  32. thanks kristi, this is indeed written great article!

  33. Thanks for the post, you have introduced me to a new tool= topsy and grateful for that…

  34. this is a great post becasue I hear social media consultants talk about how social basically gets you directly into the top 10 and according to them is better than search!!

  35. Great article again.

    The closest these two are coming to mee are the huge benefits you get from posting through google plus in particular.

    In my experience he posts here seem to be slightly favoured by google when it comes to organic searches, and it’s amazing how you can score higher ranked pages with people that have connected with you through g+.

  36. Awesome post!

    Something you people might consider also is the whole thing about author trust. With Google+ you can connect you content with your profile. With time this might be a large factor as it gives Google another dimension as it can weigh the trust on specific authors within specific topics.

    This is something that marketingpeople should already look into now.

  37. Nice article you have written. Going by stats it appears that 80% of your online budget should go towards web SEO and the remainder on Social.

  38. Jack Michael Napier Mar 16, 2012 at 4:17 am

    Great article, good points about protecting your traffic distribution and I liked the idea of preemptive online reputation protection by optimizing your social profiles.

  39. Great article! Thanks. After all, I think Social Media is like a kind of link building with several additional benefits. You may get a lot of backlinks with a helpful content around of them.

  40. Wow … I’ve never been this deep thinking about the effects and the difference between Search vs Social.

  41. Just a brilliant article, very insightful, I didn’t know about SEO tools for chrome, thank you :D

  42. Thank you Kristi Hines, now I’m drastically decreased traffic, the traffic of the searh engines. I do have an account socila media, but I have yet to fully realize the optimization of social media traffic. Your explanation makes perfect sense and detail

  43. I never actually thought about it Social Vs Search…Gr8 insights…but I feel searches will be social soon……..or may be vice versa ;)

  44. Engaging your brand in both search and social is the way to go. I always tell my clients, if one is not part of the online marketing campaign mix, the optimum goal may not be achieved.

  45. Thanks for to take us in right direction through this post about seo vs social media.Really informative

  46. David Mitchell Apr 22, 2012 at 12:07 am

    Hi Kristi,

    I love the profile optimization part of the article, I think a lot of people forget that ranking your profile can be a good source of getting likes, tweets etc… if you are choosing good keyword…


  47. Everything is explained very well, but I think that traffic from organic search is still the most important.

  48. Excelent post! very useful!

  49. I like this post, I have an ideal that is if you are a SEOer, so SEO yourself first!

  50. A social media marketing and organic search combination will definitely strike.Clearly explained about the effects and the difference between Social and Search.Thanks for sharing such a informative article.

  51. I am too much impressed from this post as you described both part of SEO work search engine optimization and social media marketing with images really awesome. Nowadays social media becomes a major part of SEO and getting traffic, links and so many things and also Google is giving values too social media marketing much. what’s the people are searching over the search engine and whats they are doing on social media because it is very necessary to understand to get better results. Because organic search matter much so we need to do it at high level and thanks for sharing one of best tool “Topsy”. Such a useful and informative article which has increased my knowledge.

    Thanks for sharing

  52. Hi
    Kristi , your blog is informetive .
    But I think that the biggest difference is that search primarily shows that “what” and social primarily shows the “why”.

    • This is really very informative article you have shared here..This guide is really helpful for us..Thanks a lot for sharing

  53. completely agreed. but i personally think you need a bit of both social and seo. imagine buying a book, needs good distrtibution and also content!

  54. I believe in a good mix of both the strategies- i.e. search engine marketing and social media marketing. You need to grab attention of the people and these two platforms are the best way to educate your targeted audience about your services or brands. Although Facebook works by displaying ads based on location and interests , Google works by displaying contextual ads, hence a good mix of both are necessary.

  55. Both methods seem to do well for brand recognition. I believe search still wins for making sales.

  56. So far I’ve only focused on search traffic and never had much success with social traffic. But I’ve seen many sites that prosper based on social traffic alone. I’d think that having both would be the best.

  57. Repairme Magnum Sep 28, 2012 at 6:21 am

    Is this technique can still be implemented? Especially in the era of algorithms panda and penguin?

    I’ve read that the optimization of website pages is too excessive to hurt the website itself? What do you think?

  58. A one liner difference of both is”For Website marketing -SEO……For Selling making it a brand -SMM”

  59. Surely a mix of the two is the way to go? I watched a Video somewhere saying that links are not dead …yet. Mobile will have a big part to play in the way the web evolves now.

  60. William Hogan Nov 20, 2014 at 11:05 pm

    Seo is basically used to improve your keywords ranking and from content marketing point of view but SMM is used for brand promotion, for increasing leads and sales etc.

  61. This is one of the best articles I have found to date on comparing search against social. I convince my local customers everyday how search brings more promising and committed traffic. Also, search is lower when it comes to cost per acquisition.

  62. Abhijit Mandavkar Jul 26, 2015 at 9:00 pm

    This is good. I think it’s better to implement search marketing with social media as both can be used simultaneously to generate better business prospects.

  63. Justin Greyling Sep 22, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    Great post Kristi. It shows that you really put alot of time and effort in this. I think its great that your energy is directed toward helping business grow and ensuring that they use all the marketing techniques available to do that. Keep it up!

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