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August 15, 2010

Social Media Marketing Doesn’t Replace SEO

Looking at the latest search marketing conference agendas, articles, and online news in the SEM space, it certainly appears that social media marketing and networking are the wave of the future.

To a certain extent, they are.

Social media, and social networking in particular, create a back-and-forth conversation with your target audience, so you can virally market your website through the “buzz” that can be created. When something interesting, cool, or unique is being talked about in “all the right places,” it can certainly provide a boost in website traffic.

We search marketers tend to hang out in numerous online and offline communities where it’s easy to promote our own products and services, yet I can’t help wondering if our view of Web marketing is skewed because of this.

Are potential B2B clients and even B2C customers spending time at Digg? Do they attend SEM conferences in order to hire a company, or are they just trying to learn to do it themselves? And what about other industries? Is there a Sphinn equivalent for developers of product lifecycle management software? Are there groups of people online comparing the various brands of auto parts? Are there really people seeking out articles on these topics?


And if so, we’d be remiss not to promote our clients’ websites in those spaces. But is this search marketing? Or is it simply online marketing? Arguably, it becomes search marketing when it increases link popularity, but surely that should be the secondary goal of this type of marketing campaign. True link popularity comes from having something worth linking to, not something you’ve asked your insulated group of cronies to link to.

Certainly, the boost in direct traffic that a site can gain when it is being discussed in all the right places online is not to be taken lightly – and that alone is reason enough to try to be found in all the right places. Yet how much of that traffic actually converts into anything good, and how much does it help your organic search rankings?

More important – how does it increase your bottom line?

For instance, I’ve written a few articles that received upward of 1,000 visitors a day from StumbleUpon alone. The spike in traffic was nice, and the slight increase in newsletter subscribers was certainly welcome, but for the most part, those StumbleUpon visitors spent just a few minutes on our site, and only a small percentage signed up for our free newsletter. None of them were interested in using our services. They read the article and then stumbled their way to the next site of potential interest.

Isn’t participation in social media really just preaching to the choir?

You reach your peers, not the people who will buy your product or service. Sure, it’s a nice ego stroke to have others in your industry tell you how cool you are, and there’s something to be said for building credibility within your own community. I’m certainly not knocking that, and have built my own credibility via various online communities in which I’ve participated over the past decade.

But how does it sell your products and services?

Do you gain customers and sales from your social media marketing and/or your participation in social networks? Does it increase your rankings for the keyword phrases your actual target audience is typing into the search engines? If your business model depends on traffic for traffic’s sake, or on how many ad impressions your site generates, then there’s an obvious value. But if you sell a product or a service – then not so much.

My fear with all the hype about social media marketing is that people new to search marketing will believe it’s what SEO demands and what SEO is all about.

It isn’t. Not by a long shot.

Social media marketing is a great addition to any traditional SEO work that you do, but it’s not a substitute. It’s more akin to hiring a PR firm once you’ve launched your already-SEO’d website. On-page SEO is definitely not as sexy as social media marketing, but it is still the most important investment in your website that you can make. Period.

So, go to all your social media conferences, and Digg your way to increased traffic. But first learn exactly who your target audience is, what they’re searching for in the search engines, and how your website can solve their problems. Then make sure your website does exactly that. All the social media buzz and traffic won’t amount to anything if your target audience isn’t already part of the online conversation.

Be sure to have your own house in order before you give social media marketing a try.

And don’t be surprised if it doesn’t actually provide you with the ROI you hoped it would. In most cases it will depend on who your target audience is, where they hang out, the types of services or products you offer, and whether your website truly provides people with what they’re looking for.

Getting back to SEO basics – that is, creating a crawler-friendly website that is built around the keyword phrases people use at the search engines to find what you offer – is the first and most important thing you can do for your website and your business. Yeah, it’s not as fun and exciting as social media marketing, but skip this step at your own peril!

Jill Whalen, CEO of High Rankings and co-founder of SEMNE, has been performing SEO services since 1995. Jill is the host of the High Rankings Advisor newsletter and the High Rankings SEO forum.

If you’ve lost search engine traffic and would like Jill to determine what the problem might be, fill out the contact form at and mention it in the “Business Goals” section. She can review most sites that have Google Analytics installed for a one-time $600 fee.

10 Responses to “Social Media Marketing Doesn’t Replace SEO

    avatar Bob Hext says:

    Right on!
    I am not an SEO professional: I am a publisher and supplier of educational products. I have often thought that much of the online “buzz” in the SEO world is the repeated echo of one small crowd of people in an enclosed space listening to themselves shout. Great to read something for once that gets to the main point: most commercial websites are about selling products and services to the folk in the big wide world out there who don’t tweet and digg about tweeting and digging, and the most useful information is the stuff that helps companies like ours sell more of our stuff to more of those people!

    I think Jill is right sometimes we look to the social media as a lifeline but if the wrong people get to your site everything goes wrong.

    Great write-up Jill. Exactly what I think to myself everyday..Social media has its place, no doubt. But 9 times out of 10 SEO is going to give a much higher ROI.

    I always suggest my clients get their website and SEO in order before they spend too much time launching their social media marketing campaigns.

    avatar Steven Hudson says:

    Hi Jill

    Bullseye!!! Traffic is easy to get using social media, however is it the traffic which is going to buy…..and as I sit in Australia offering recruitment services and the traffic is mainly from USA and some from other countries, the traffic is hardly targeted.

    One thing it does do is contribute to is awareness marketing and builds the band over a extended period of time. If your marketing plan requires a global reach some time in the future then the non targeted traffic will have more value.

    Great article.


    Steven Hudson

    Social media helps to bring high traffic but SEO is better option to get direct traffic from search engines. still search engine is the main player to bring traffic to website. It is true that SMM never replace SEO.

    I see a lot of business doing SMM, especially the buy&sell type like ebay/amazon. Instead of posting on ebay, online shops post on Facebook to reach a bigger audience.

    Hiring a SEO company is the best option for website promotion. Indian SEO companies have the capability of handling large and small business houses SEO projects. They can also work at a time on many projects. They satisfy their client’s requirements and demands.

    avatar Michele says:

    Great point Jill. Social Marketing, although very important and growing every day, should be an extension of your marketing efforts not a substitution for SEO.

    I agree with Wesley, get your SEO in order than move on to maximizing your efforts utilizing social media.

    Thanks for the great article!

    avatar The Reverb Vibe Blog says:

    Great article as always Jill. I have to admit that sometimes the whole social media thing takes me by surprise. I believe it should be used as a tool like everything else. But it doesn’t replace SEO.

    avatar Web Development says:

    Nice post. It is a reality that social-media is the most happening thing at present and will be in the near future but it cannot be the substitute for SEO. Both are completely different things. One cannot make his website technically flawless using social media. Social media can produce good result but most of the time people prefer direct access to the information by googling it and not from the social media platforms.

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