Adios search. Is social media finally set to become the premier vehicle for driving web traffic and customer engagement with your brand? Checking in on the latest volley in the battle of social vs. search.
For the last decade, search has dominated the B2B Internet marketing landscape. If you wanted to drive more eyes to your website and improve brand awareness, traditional wisdom suggested that you better be doing everything you can to improve your search ranking and SEO.
Today, however, the debate over the best way to drive traffic to your site, blog, sales content, or whatever else you want customers and prospects to see isn’t so one-sided. In fact, social media just might have something to say about which medium is the king of Web traffic.
In a post for Folio, Greg Levitt writes that despite the fact the SEO industry is projected to grow to $3 billion in 2013, that growth may very well occur while social media overtakes search as the leading source of referral traffic to publishers. One of the reasons for that shift, Levitt points out, is the torrid growth of user-powered content sharing on social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.
Venture capitalist Fred Wilson seems to validate that prediction in a post on his blog, writing that social referrals now account for more than a third of his monthly traffic. By contrast, search generates a relatively small amount of his site’s traffic — a paltry 10 percent.
Okay, so that’s just one example. And it’s backed by data from a personal blog, not a B2B website.
But according to MarketingProfs and the Content Marketing Institute’s 2013 Budgets, Benchmarks, and Trends report, Wilson’s experience speaks to a bigger trend. In the report, MarketingProfs and CMI reveal that 87 percent of marketers are now using social media to distribute content, a bump of 13 percent over last year. And on average, those marketers are using five social distribution channels, with LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook (not surprisingly) leading the charge.
In fact, not only is social driving increased amounts of traffic, it’s also playing an increasingly significant role in search ranking, as well. As Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Marketing put it in a recent podcast with Social Media Examiner’s Michael Stelzner, “It’s virtually impossible to employ a successful organic search optimization effort without robust social content or social presence. These social signals have eclipsed signals like links.”
So, what does it mean for the future of the search vs. social debate when it’s widely understood the former is clearly taking its cues from the latter?
Search is Dead (Okay, okay, Not Really)
Last May, Scott Havens, senior vice president of finance and digital operations at The Atlantic Media Company, told Mashable that his business’s flagship publication, The Atlantic, had officially begun removing eggs from its search basket and placing them into social.
“Personally, I’m committed to driving more website traffic from social. In fact, I think we can get social traffic to surpass total search (paid and organic) referrals. While search is more top of funnel, we’re seeing traffic from Twitter, Facebook, etc. to be more qualified. Time will tell.”
— Rob Yoegel, Content Marketing Director, Monetate
The reason? About two years ago, The Atlantic received about the same number of traffic referrals from search as it did social. Now, 40 percent of its traffic comes from social channels, and that’s led to a very different publishing philosophy. “We’re no longer writing to get the attention of Google algorithms,” The Atlantic Online editor Bob Cohn says in the Mashable post. “We’re writing to get you to share it, to Digg it.”
The biggest implication of Cohn’s statement is that the writers at The Atlantic no longer think it’s worthwhile to take SEO into consideration when writing their articles.
That’s a pretty bold brush-off, and the fact that it comes from a publication that, according to Indvik, has seen rapid growth, increasing its web audience from approximately 500,000 to 13.4 million monthly visitors since 2008, is a bit of a slap in the face for SEO advocates.
So maybe there is something to the argument that SMO (social media optimization) is the heir apparent to traditional SEO tactics.
Article continues on the next page: But Not So Fast: Can Social Actually Convert?