Social Media vs. SEO: Which Is More Important?


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Image courtesy of Mattel

As with the Mommy Wars and the Cola Wars, sometimes the media is compelled to draw battle lines where none are needed. The latest skirmish might be called the Click Wars. In one corner we have search engine optimization. In the other corner we have social media. Which is the more important digital marketing tool?

One recent Click Wars skirmish took place in February between two tech industry giants: BuzzFeed and SEO guru Marshall Simmonds. It started with an article on Re/code touting BuzzFeed’s latest traffic numbers. The article claimed that Facebook had “blown past Google,” delivering three to four times more traffic to BuzzFeed in 2013 than Google had.

Simmonds, founder of enterprise SEO consultant Define Media, quickly responded with his own article, “Hey BuzzFeed, Search Traffic is doing just fine.” In it, he argued that organic search traffic is in fact up and “More important than any other external traffic driving source!” (emphasis from the report). “While social can curate in the short term, organic search curates and organizes web content for the long term,” Simmonds said.

Organic search still outperforms social, according to Simmonds’ article. Image courtesy of Define Media.

Individual Results May Vary

Where you side in this conflict may depend on your business model. A couple of years ago, the editors at The Atlantic, whose social media strategy helped broaden the publication’s online audience from 500,000 page view hits in 2008 to 13.5 million in 2012, declared that SEO doesn’t matter to their traffic anymore. This is probably true, in their case, because their discoverable content is more likely to be shared on social networks than searched.

For e-commerce businesses, however, search still dominates. Search delivered around 36% of online holiday shoppers in 2013, compared to 40% visiting e-commerce sites directly, according to Adobe. While more than a third of consumers say their purchases are influenced by social media, only 2% of holiday shoppers actually arrived at e-commerce sites through social media channels.

SEO + Social: Can’t Two Great Strategies Work Great Together?

The media may never declare a winner in the Click Wars. In fact, the consensus for now seems to be that both SEO and social media are both vital to any digital marketing strategy.

Search engine optimization is still one of the most important tools for anyone marketing on desktop or mobile. It can help you establish and own your brand reputation, and rank high in local and global page views so that potential customers can discover you. SEO can help you with competitive analysis and get a sense of where you stand with customers. The same can be said said for social media. Neither show signs of going anywhere. And Google’s algorithms seem to be incorporating more social into search ranks (especially Google+), although the company won’t explicitly admit it.

Instead of taking sides, business owners should make peace with SEO and social media, and stay up-to-date with the latest trends. Our 10-week course on Digital Marketing can help.