The SEO vs. social media debate is one that has been going on for a number of years now, and it hasn’t abated.
A recent guest post here on ProBlogger titled Why Social Media is a Better Investment than SEO sparked some interesting commentary on Twitter after going live.
Social media fans spread it like crazy (with over 1000 ReTweets in less than 24 hours), and a number of SEO forums picked it up as an example of the closed-mindedness of social media proponents. There were also some good blog responses on the topic.
A number of readers asked for my own opinion: which camp do I stand in?
I’m going to annoy some people with this but the reality is that I’ve got a foot in both camps. Let me throw a few random thoughts out there in the hope that it’ll show why I’m a fan of both social media and SEO.
There’s a lot of traffic to be had on both search engines and social media.
As bloggers we’re all interested in being read. Traffic is important for most of us and, at a most basic level, it can be generated using both SEO and social media.
Alexa ranks Google #1 in terms of size, and puts Facebook at #2. Look at similar sites, and you’ll find similar rankings. It makes sense to me to put some effort into being a part of both efforts.
What type of traffic are you after?
For me, the answer to where you should direct your focus largely comes down to what you’re trying to achieve.
Not all traffic is the same and, depending upon your goals, you might want to look at different sources of traffic.
Example 1: on my first photography site (which is no longer active) I relied much more heavily upon search engine traffic than social media traffic to achieve my goals.
- The site aggregated reviews of cameras from around the web.
- Readers were there to research cameras that they were purchasing and rarely commented (so there was little community).
- The site was monetized largely with ads and affiliate programs (tied to camera purchases).
- Readers were very transient—they didn’t come back after they made their camera purchase.
The site wasn’t overly social (although I did try at times to make it more social). Readers simply weren’t there to belong or interact—they visited with a different intent. As a result, social media traffic didn’t really convert or make sense—but Google traffic did. People use Google to research purchases a lot! They also conduct research using social media (I think this will happen increasingly) but at the time, search traffic was converting at a much, much higher rate.
As a result, it made a lot of sense to invest quite a bit of time into learning about and implementing SEO. I dabbled with some social media stuff too (it was embryonic back then) but it was never going to be a major focus of the site as it just didn’t connect with reader intent.
These days, if I was still operating a review-type site, I’d certainly be trying to capitalize on the trend towards people researching purchases on social media, but I suspect I’d also be primarily focused upon search traffic.
Example 2: on my second photography site (and my main blog today), things are remarkably different. I started it from day one with the idea of community and belonging in mind. It was always going to be more social and interactive, and attract repeat visitors.
- People come to dPS to connect with others with a similar passion.
- Readers like to show off their work and have it seen by others.
- The site aims to create a community for learning.
- The site builds trust with readers and aims to hook them into coming back time and time again.
- The site is monetized largely with the sale of ebooks, which do best with repeat visitors/loyal readers.
As a result, dPS is much better placed to benefit from social media. Our Facebook page continues to grow fast and our interactions on Twitter have driven a lot of traffic to the site.
Having said that, I still set the site up with sound SEO principles in mind as search traffic is important to the site. In fact, Google traffic is still the #1 source of traffic on the site—although I have to say that that traffic doesn’t convert anywhere near as well when it comes to selling products to readers. The good thing about search traffic on dPS is that a certain percentage of those who arrive that way do become regular readers down the track.
Ultimately, whether you direct your focus toward SEO or social media, or both, will depend upon the goals you have and the type of traffic you’re after. In the case of dPS it is both SEO and social media, but there was more, too…
Email vs. the rest
If I had to identify the single best source of traffic on dPS, it wouldn’t be search traffic or social media traffic. It’d be email.
Search and social media have been important elements in the mix, but truth be told, our biggest days of traffic occur when we send our emails out each week. The biggest days of discussion in our forums are newsletter days. The biggest days for ebook sales, ad revenue, voting in polls, retweets on articles, Likes on Facebook, and comments on blog posts are all newsletter days.
The reality is that with dPS I spend more time on email than I do on either SEO or social media.
They all feed each other.
As I look at dPS today it’s difficult to really split the different activities that I do into neat, discrete tasks. One thing tends to feed and grow the other.
- Search traffic grows our newsletter list.
- The newsletter promotes our Twitter and Facebook accounts.
- The sharing of our content on Twitter and Facebook accounts often generate links from other sites.
- The links on other sites send traffic which grows our SEO and newsletter signups.
- I suspect the search engines are paying more attention to what’s being shared on social media in the way they rank sites.
This list could go on—every day, I see the pay off of all of our promotional and community-building activities in making other efforts more effective.
This will only get more and more important: with Google now indexing tweets and presenting them in search results, we’re seeing social and search merging more and more. I can’t imagine that this trend will decline; increasingly we’ll probably see efforts in social media helping SEO.
Personality and style matters.
Something that struck me at an SEO conference that I attended last year was that a number of the people I met seemed a little different to the people I’d met at a Social Media conference the week before.
I don’t want that to sound offensive. To be fair, there was an overlap between people at both conferences (including me), but what I noticed was that quite a few of the SEOs I met that day were people who obviously paid a lot of attention to detail and really enjoyed the process of analyzing numbers of links, strategizing about keywords, and watching the impact that small changes in content and code have on search rankings.
A number of times that day I felt my eyes glazing over at some of the presentations that were being lapped up by others. It struck me that perhaps some of us are hardwired to be SEOs, rather than social media types.
I’m sure some people are wired for a bit of both, but perhaps one’s personality type and style lends itself more to one discipline than others? I’m not saying that SEOs are anti-social or incapable of holding a conversation, nor that social media folk have no ability to think analytically (although that would have made for an attention-grabbing headline), but perhaps there’s something there for a psychologist to do some research into!
Do what suits your situation, but don’t be closed off.
Let me sum up by saying that I think there’s plenty of room to move in thinking about this topic. Your situation, your style, and your goals will no doubt lead you to a unique mix of promotional activities.
It’s okay to focus upon one above the others, however, in my opinion, you’d be something of a fool to completely close yourself off to the possibility that there might be potential in those things that you’re not doing.
Those that claim SEO is dead are just as deluded as those who claim social media will never convert—but that doesn’t mean we all need to take exactly the same approach.