Choose your weapon: SEO
or social media?
Digital marketing is
critical to the success of most businesses, but what is the best way
to spend limited resources? And why is Google+ worth exploring?
today's connected consumer or business, a Google search or an Amazon
user review is just a tap or a click away, and digital channels like
these play an ever-increasing role in purchasing decisions. What is
the best way for brands to drive web traffic and, ultimately, sales in
this new digital landscape?
The traditional answer was SEO (search engine optimisation), which is
the art and science of getting your website ranking high enough to be
noticed in web searches. In the past couple of years, though, social
media marketing, which means engaging with customers on sites like
Facebook and Twitter, has grown in importance. Social media
interaction done right has the power not only to drive traffic to a
website, but also to change the public perception of a brand and to
win fans who will recommend a product to their friends.
SEO is changing though, as the algorithms used by Google to determine
which sites are shown in response to a search evolve. What is SEO like
today? How does the rapid ascendance of smartphones and tablets affect
marketers? Where does Google+, the search giant's answer to Facebook,
fit in? How do you go about winning trust on social media? These were
among the questions debated at a recent seminar, hosted by the
Guardian and held in association with Salesforce. The seminar began
with a discussion from an expert panel, followed by questions from the
Those present were keen to emphasise that both SEO and social media
have key roles in digital marketing strategy. "SEO, social, content
development, PPC [Pay Per Click advertising], they all need to work
together," said panelliest Craig Lister, head of marketing agency
That said, the benefits of social media are more often missed,
according to Paul Smith, EMEA vice-president of salesforce.com's
ExactTarget Marketing Cloud. "Most organisations have a pretty good
handle on their SEO strategy, but are comparatively under-resourced on
their social strategies." Although an average of just 1% of marketing
spend goes towards social, analysts say that one third of new content
discovery involves some form of social engagement. "There is a
discrepancy there that people need to start addressing," he said.
Enagagement is vital
For those companies who do
embrace social media, it is vital to interact, by replying to users
rather than just posting marketing messages. "If you are a brand and
you are just listening, you are not dealing with any issues or any
problems that may arise. You don't really have a voice – you are not
engaging with the customer," said Ian Duncan, from digital marketing
When Google was founded, a site's rank in search results was greatly
influenced by the number and quality of other sites that linked to it.
The result was an SEO industry focused on link building, with less
reputable agencies getting those links by any means possible,
including fake sites and purchased links.
"Google's technology has got smarter," said Duncan. "Previously, SEO
was about building links and about putting pages up with keywords so
you can rank. Now it is about content that is engaging, great site
design, pages that load fast. The old-fashioned and dishonest methods
are starting to die away. It is becoming much more difficult for
people to get any sort of results doing that, which is good for the
It remains critical for businesses to think about what potential
customers are searching for. "One of our clients is ExxonMobil," said
Lister. ExxonMobil's site used to talk a lot about 'commercial vehicle
lubricants' whereas people were searching for 'best oil for a BMW'.
"It was really as simple as saying, you have to stop talking in this
corporate-speak," said Lister. "We did some very simple keyword
matching and said that you need to develop content around those search
terms. They went from position 100 for BMW car oil to the top five."
How is SEO changing in a mobile world? The starting point is to have a
true mobile site, said Neil Walker, marketing consultant at Quaero.
"If you don't have a mobile site it converts at half the rate of your
standard desktop site. That's a problem for any business."
The more profound change, though, is the impact of mobile devices that
know your location. "We are now able to map the client journey from
beginning to end," said Hugo Pinto, a communications manager working
on big data at Telefónica. "If you are walking in front of a John
Lewis and you go in and buy, do you search before you go into John
Lewis? Maybe you search while you're inside to compare prices with
other retailers? This capacity of measuring reality through digital
measures is bringing us more insight and more data." By analysing that
data, he added, "you can understand if it is better to spend on search
or create an app or go on Facebook because that's where people are".
The importance of apps on mobile devices means that people may use web
searches less frequently. "There is actually more time spent inside
the Facebook mobile app than on Google or the browser," said Smith.
"If you want to reach people in a mobile environment you should be
thinking first: 'How do I reach people in Facebook?'"
Google's social network, Google+, is something of an enigma. Few think
that it will catch up with Facebook. "Google can't really do social in
the same way as Facebook," said Lister. "That market is almost closed
to it now because the chances of people moving their friendship
circles to Google is pretty impossible."
Trading on reputation
Despite that, marketers must
pay attention to Google+, the seminar heard. One reason for this is
that Google is piloting authorship, which takes into account the
reputation of the author of web content as part of its search ranking.
The way authorship is determined is through links to Google+ profiles,
so you need to build a strong presence and following there to take
Is Google putting undue pressure on the industry to sign up to Google+?
"Possibly. I'm astounded at the awe that clients have for Google.
Politicians are also in awe of Google and that may continue for many
years," said Lister. The only hope of a change in the balance of power
is Microsoft's Bing, he said. In the US, Bing has put Twitter and
Facebook data into its search results, he said, which is one reason
why it has grown its market share. "As that comes over to the UK I'm
happy that will create a good search struggle."
Getting the right blend of SEO and social can be challenging. One
company that's getting it right is luxury fashion brand Burberry,
according to Lister. "Type Burberry into Google and you'll see a
fantastic example of how SEO and social media work together in
harmony," he said. "You will find authorised retailers in their paid
search profile, their UK website, and then Facebook, Twitter, YouTube,
every one of their social channels."
"How does the company achieve that?" asked an audience member.
"There are three things Google is looking for when it looks at the
website and evaluates it. The first one is: can it navigate your site?
The second one is content and is it relevant? The third is social.
What Burberry recognises is the need for really good content across
all the significant digital and social channels – content that people
want to share and distribute," said Lister.
Another attendee asked how to get non-marketers within a company, such
as those in sales and finance, to embrace social media. "It is a
cultural paradigm shift," said Pinto. "People that are in their 20s
have used social media all their lives. People that are 40 or 50 and
have been doing business in a very non-digital way have a clear
separation of personal and professional profiles." For the latter
group, the only way forward is to demonstrate the business value of
engagement. "They have to get value they can't get elsewhere," he
Search can drive traffic to social media, and social media can enhance
search; they are not alternatives. The challenge and opportunity for
today's marketers is to reach people where they are, which is as
likely to mean working on your Facebook presence as topping the Google
Key discussion points
- The best digital marketing strategy
includes both SEO and social media. They are not alternatives
- SEO has changed. It is no longer just about
links and keywords, but strong content and web design
- Social media has a key role in winning
customer trust and recommendations, which plays a strong part in
- Effective marketing to mobile users is
critical, and means a mobile site as well as exploring the potential
of apps and location-based marketing
- Although the Google+ social media site
cannot compete with Facebook, it is important because of its
influence in search ranking