There is a battle for online dominance brewing. Google and Facebook are leading the charge, and emerging social sites flank both sides.
Social media networks even aid search engines. But is it a ruse? While Facebook keeps Google away from its top secret info, Twitter has deflected to the search engine. Is this a bid to defeat their rivals? It’s all very cloak and dagger stuff.
The fight of course, is for the biggest share of ad revenue, and while the corporations make battle decisions, they take casualties. Usually small businesses.
Both sides are readying new and more powerful weapons in the form of paid advertising, but not every online business has the marketing budget to activate these weapons.
Marketers, therefore, have to decide if search or social work best for their business.
The need for search and social
It is safe to say that both search and social have specific benefits for most businesses and, for optimum online marketing results, should both be included in your strategy.
However, some businesses will find that one or the other is more effective, while others may find both search and social work in equal measure. The question is, which option should you channel most energy toward?
The easy option, of course, is to go down the paid advertising route on both search and social, but if you have a limited marketing budget, a positive ROI is not guaranteed.
In the absence of a paid advertising, companies have to look at alternative methods of attracting customers. The main driver in this game is content marketing.
So let’s concentrate on organic visitors and weigh up the pros and cons of targeting clients through search engines and social media.
For marketers to reach a full complement of connections on social media networks, paid advertising is the way to go. Otherwise, you only reach a small percentage of customers willing to engage in your content and visit your online store.
Facebook in particular has cut back on the number of “friends” that receive content, and gives users the option to stop receiving your posts in their news feeds. Tweets are typically gone in a flash.
To combat limitations, trimming the number of contacts in Facebook and Twitter enable you to identify customers that are engaging with your brand over those that are not. Your content is then at least landing in the laps of consumers who are more likely to buy.
In their attempt to accrue revenue through paid advertising, social media networks cut off your supply line to customers. And even with paid advertising, users have the option to prevent your content landing in their newsfeed.
If you already get a flow of organic traffic from Google et al, social channels may not perform as well for you as search engines.
Emerging social networks
There are social alternatives of course. Google+ performs well in Google search (no surprises there!) while B2B companies fare reasonably well on Linkedin. There is also a spate of emerging social networks worth checking out.
For businesses targeting an audience of 14- to 25-year-olds, Snapchat is threatening to challenge the top two for number of users. Furthermore, not many marketers have tapped into this social platform yet, so early adopters could get a clear run at users.
There are also a spate of networks that categorize content to target specific readers. For the time being, users are in short supply, but sites like Quora, Medium and Bubblews could grow if marketers and readers recognize the opportunities and benefits.
The major positive to this type of social media network is that your audience is genuinely interested in reading your content and is specifically looking for the subjects you are writing about. In this regard, there are parallels with search.
Social networks also enable you to connect with customers instantly and provide a human touch in a digital environment. It is worth investing in social tools that notify you when your brand or keywords are mentioned whereby you can be on-hand immediately to advise prospects.
For new businesses, social media networks will outstrip search engines in terms of reaching an audience and attracting customers. But the key is to find the right audience rather than accumulating as many followers as you can. The expression “quality over quantity” works well as a strategy to keep in mind.
If you have already been active on social media and have accrued a steady following, do some analysis to determine how many are actually interacting with your content, and what content is performing well.
Social media marketing requires finding an audience that genuinely wants to receive your content and actively engage with it rather than an account of random followers that do not show interest.
Is it time you trimmed the number of connections in your social accounts? If you have a huge following, but little engagement then, yes, it is.
Search engine upgrades
On the opposing side of the digital field are the search engines. Google has been the driver of online search for almost two decades, during which time the California-based company has endeavoured to improve search results for its end-users.
Whether Google has improved its service is open for debate. Which way the vote will swing depends on if you are a winner or a loser. Businesses that have a solid SEO strategy and persist with it for several years are more likely to give the search engine the thumbs up. Losers will, “huh.”
Personally, for ranking, Google increases the visibility of my site and drives more traffic than Facebook or Twitter. But for research purposes, the quality of websites ranking in the top berths often leave a lot to be desired.
Marketers can also face a challenge from search engines. Updates to algorithms are performed every so often that forces them to change their strategy. To be fair to the search engines, this is because marketers are using “black hat” tactics that fall outside the guidelines in an attempt to manipulate search results.
If your digital marketing agency understands the best — and only honest methods of improving search results, you should never have to worry about algorithm changes unless it relates to your Web design like the recent mobile-friendly upgrade.
Search engines attract organic traffic based on intent. The advantage this gives online businesses is that a higher percentage of visitors are more likely to convert into sales because visitors are looking for specific products and are ready to buy.
In this respect, search engines have the edge on customers you hope to attract through social media. The downside, however, is that if your Web pages are not ranking, you do not attract much in the way of organic traffic.
Typically, if you rank outside the top two pages of search results, you cannot expect to receive many visitors, certainly not if your website and blog is fresh fodder for crawlers.
Start-ups typically need to attract new traffic through paid advertising, but AdWords can be an experimental process which is not always easy to master. If you do not have much of a budget, it is difficult to compete with larger companies affordable, yet effective keywords.
Essentially, whether search or social work better for you is a matter of metrics. Social certainly gets the nod over search for new starters while Web pages that rank well typically outperform social media marketing.
The battle for online supremacy between search engines and social networks will rumble on for many more years yet. In the meantime, online marketers have to continue fighting on both fronts.