As landing a high ranking through search engine optimization grows more competitive by the day, often blocking small-to-medium-sized enterprises from achieving top spots online, more businesses are turning to social media to find new customers.
Many customers, meanwhile, are also starting use the search functions on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn in addition to getting referrals from their friends and contacts, said Heather Logrippo, chief executive oficer of Expose Yourself Public Relations.
“Websites are like businesses cards,” Logrippo told the E-Commerce Times. “They are great to show people at first glance who you are. However, consumers want more up-to-the-minute information, and want to see how others interact with your business.”
Social media, therefore, should play an important role in marketing for almost any business, Logrippo said. “This new medium isn’t a fad and it’s not going away.”
Early adopters of social media will be legions ahead — similar to those who first got websites, she said, noting that older sites are often ranked higher than newer websites.
SEO vs. SMO
Research backs up the growing importance of social media. Seventy-eight percent of Facebook users returned to news websites, compared to 67 percent from the search giant Google, according to Hitwise.
Does this mean that social media optimization is now more important than search engine optimization? Should businesses start to place more emphasis on SMO than SEO?
Not so fast, said David Culbertson, SEO, analytics, and Internet strategist at Lightbulb Interactive.
“Comparing visitor behavior between news sites and business websites is apples-to-oranges since the sites serve different purposes,” Culbertson told the E-Commerce Times.
The primary purpose of a business website is to convert a visitor into a lead or sale, he said. A news website, using an advertising-based model, needs visitors to return frequently to generate pageviews and thus increase ad revenue.
If a website already ranks high for keywords related to its business, SMO is the next logical way to improve brand awareness and engage customers, explained Culbertson.
Visitors from Facebook links are not showing any more loyalty than vistors from any other source, according to Bryan Huber, chief interactive officer with Paul Werth Associates.
“SEO remains a vital part of the marketing mix for any website,” Huber told the E-Commerce Times. “While people may be spending more time daily with Facebook and other social networking sites, search is still the No. 1 way to find websites and information.”
SEO is still important because of the vast numbers of searches underway each day, added Paul O’Rourke, director of public relations at Pipitone Group, citing figures released in December by research firm comScore. Google had 88 billion searches per month; Yahoo had 9.4 billion; and Bing had 4.1 billion.
SMO is about connections with audiences or customers on a one-to-one level, O’Rourke told the E-Commerce Times, while SEO is about standing out in a crowd.
“Where SEO might get a potential customer to visit your site because your company came up on the first rank, mentions of your company from one social media user to another come with very high credibility,” he said, noting that social media also increases a site’s organic search engine rankings and helps with reputation management.
It’s Not One or the Other
SEO and SMO are alternative marketing opportunities and, depending on the nature of any particular business, one method may be more or less effective than the other, said Evan Bailyn, CEO of First Page Sage.
“Social media is great for things that many people have opinions on — like movies, restaurants and nightclubs — whereas SEO might be better for people offering medical, legal and financial services,” Bailyn told the E-Commerce Times.
SEO is also better for targeting an older audience, since older age groups are less likely to use social media, he added.
Businesses also need to continue to use the online marketing tools they already have and not toss out the baby with the bath water, said Vickens Moscova, owner of Trendsetter Entertainment.
This is even more important for companies with a limited budget, Vickens told the E-Commerce Times. Learning about and implementing SEO and SMO marketing efforts are often a matter of doing the work and being patient.
“Much of it is costless and just needs time and effort,” he said.
Content Comes First
Unlike SEO, which manipulates content and HypterText Markup Language, or HTML, in relation to specific keywords with the sole intention of improving search results, a social media stragegy needs to focus on engaging and conversational content, said Matt Murphy, founder and executive director of Fusion 92.
“The value with social media is you don’t have to rely on Google’s algorithm,” he told the E-Commerce Times, “but the challenge is building content and maintaining social media accounts in a manner that is consistent, socially engaging and effective.”
A combination of SEO and SMO is often the best method.
“SEO changes all the time as Google constantly changes its algorithms,” said David Reich, cofounder and CEO of SixEstate Communications.
“No matter how Google weights individual page rank factors, like backlinks or keywords, good content will never go out of style,” Reich told the E-Commerce Times.
Good content is also necessary if you expect customers to share the content, he added.
“Content comes first, no matter what. Whether it’s a blog post, anarticle, an e-book, or whatever, your audience is always people, not robots,” Reich explained. “Content should be optimized with keywords and should incorporate relevant links with appropriate anchor text — but never at the expense of readability.”
Focus on good content, he urged. “That’s the cornerstone of SEO and SMO.”