Why Social is Sexy and Search is not

Back in 2006, when “social media” was still “social bookmarking,” search was king. People were rushing to do the things necessary to get first place on Google for anything that had to do with their business. (And paid search budgets were through the roof.)

Four years later, things seem to have cooled for search. Sure, there are still a lot of smart marketing managers who realize they need to be found on Google in order to keep money coming in, but the talk has turned rather sharply towards how to use Facebook, Twitter and sometimes Linkedin to gain customers.

This despite the fact that social networks don’t convert customers very well at all, and search does.

Search engines vs Social Networking

The reason is simple, but deceptive, in my opinion: Search takes work, and time, to do well. If you want to get first place for your product market, that means writing content that contains keywords, keeps visitors from bouncing off your page, and getting other web sites to create quality links to it.

Like I said, work. If you’ve ever tried to get just a single inbound link with anchor text from a PR7 website, you know it can take years off your life and cost you a pint of your own blood to make happen.

The payoff, though, is being found by people who specifically want what you’re selling. They likely aren’t just cruising around killing time. If someone searches for “golf bag sale,” they’re looking for golf bags. On sale. And if you sell golf bags, and have a discount sale, how much business do you think you’re going to do ranking #1 on Google for that phrase?

On the other hand, social media is EASY! (It isn’t, but it’s easy to do incorrectly, anyway.) All you have to do with social is connect a feed to your Facebook page or Twitter account, let it post for you, follow a bunch of people to get them to follow you back… then sit back and count your money, right?

Of course, it isn’t right. Have you ever used Twitter or Facebook for your own enjoyment? How willing are you to break away from a conversation with your friend in order to follow some company’s link to their latest sale? Maybe you will keep the company’s name in the back of your head, but if they bug you enough you’ll remember them as, “those idiots who keep ruining Twitter for me.”

“Top of mind” isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.

A lot of marketers have been fooled into believing that social is important, but for the wrong reason. It isn’t important because it’s easy to blast people with messages, it’s important because it’s an easy way to get in touch with individual customers. That entails a lot of difficult work actually talking to them.

Search remains important, because that’s where quality leads really are. Yes, more people use social sites to screw around. But that’s why they are NOT quality traffic: They’re there to screw around! They are not necessarily in the market for anything. If someone wants something, they can easily go looking for it, and likely will.

Pestering people will not make them suddenly want what you’re selling.

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