SEO and Social Media – Piercing the Hype

(This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of Business Eye magazine)

Anyone trying to keep up to date with the latest goings-on in the world of online marketing will know that there are a lot of mixed signals being sent out. The game seems to change from one day to the next, with new hypes and schemes to make money online popping up on blogs and news sites all too frequently.

One of the latest trends in this tumultuous chaos of disinformation is the proclamation that SEO – search engine optimization – is a dying discipline, and that online marketers should focus exclusively on social media marketing.

Not coincidentally this type of message is broadcast almost exclusively by social media marketers. The problem is that if such a myopic message is repeated often and loudly enough, people might actually start to believe it. And that is very counter-productive indeed.

First let’s look at search engines. With nearly 2 billion people across the world online today, search engines process in excess of 131 billion search queries a month. That translates to more than 49,000 searches performed every second.

In the UK alone over 82% of the population is online, and (dominant in the UK search market with a 92% market share) receives over 4.1 billion search queries a month.

The UK’s internet economy is worth £100 billion (7.2% of the UK’s gross domestic product) and nearly all of this is driven by search engines: 78% of all online purchases start with a search query.

Studying these numbers makes one thing abundantly clear: a website needs to show up in search engines – specifically Google – if it wants to have any sustainable success online. And that is where SEO comes in.

Websites don’t accidentally rank high in Google. It takes concerted effort to ensure a website performs well in search engine results, and SEO is a multi-faceted discipline incorporating aspects of web design and development, technical know-how, marketing and PR, and even social media.

Social media too is a powerful tool in an online marketer’s arsenal. There’s no denying the growth and power of websites like Facebook and Twitter. And when wielded properly, social media marketing can help a business achieve significant online success.

But only if those social media efforts are aligned with SEO and other online marketing strategies.

Imagine you’ve managed to launch a very successful viral video that is spreading on Facebook and Twitter. People hear about it and view the video on YouTube. They then want to know more about your business and type a related search query in to Google.

Unfortunately in this imaginary scenario you haven’t invested in SEO. So instead of your own website, the website of your closest competitor shows up first in Google. As a result your competitor benefits most from your own social media marketing efforts.

Search engines dominate a user’s online experience. The internet is powered by search, information is made accessible via search, and users start their online journeys nearly always on search engines.

SEO enables your website to become visible via search, and is thus an absolutely vital aspect of your total online strategy. SEO works well in conjunction with other online marketing disciplines, including social media marketing. But ignoring SEO in favour of social media is truly an irresponsible thing to say, and a very dangerous thing to do.