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Business websites: SEO versus Social Media, Part 3

Social Media does not and cannot benefit businesses in the same way that SEO can. I can’t stress this enough, because the evidence is all around me. And being both logical and objective, I have to follow the facts as they are and not how I’d like them to be…

In the 1st and 2nd installments, I comprehensively picked through the arguments claiming that Social Media has any material benefit to the 99% of businesses out there. However, Tad persists with his erroneous argument that Social Media beats SEO.

“I have the impression that Wayne is driven somehow by a strange kind of nostalgia to the easy days of SEO…”

For my ‘blog, I do the SEO work first so that I have the foundations in place to generate a natural and constant stream of organic search traffic. Then I build upon that with Social Media campaigns, which are reinforced by our Social Networking exploits. No nostalgia anywhere to be found.

And you know what? These tried & tested strategies work. Want evidence? Go onto Google and look for: “what is technology?” and see who appears. That’s a product of SEO in action and not Social Media, and it’s taken me less 3 weeks to achieve, not months or years.

Conversely, the chances are that you’re reading this article because it’s currently doing the rounds on StumbleUpon. So that’s Social Media in action, too. But this is a ‘blog, not a business.

SEO is a proven method of generating qualified traffic. Social Media is still to some extent an unknown quantity, which most businesses don’t even know exists. Don’t believe me? Go find 10 random businesses with websites and ask them about SEO and Social Media and see what answers you get.

Who really benefits from Social Media?

The top 1% of businesses on Earth; like Apple, Jaguar, IBM, Nike, British Petroleum, Gap, Sky, Ford…

The reason that these businesses succeed with Social Media where the likes of the average butcher, or baker or candlestick maker fails is that they typically have one or more of the following: colossal brand recognition; global market penetration; very inventive marketing teams; something very unique about their product and / or service.

Also, they typically have a vast array of unique content, all of which is often wrapped up in Flash-based branded portals, linkbait, teasers and viral marketing campaigns, as well of armies of satisfied customers, eager to see their favourite brands succeed. That is the scope and power of Social Media in action.

Additionally, see what you get when you type any of the aforementioned businesses into a popular search engine. That’s SEO in action, too.

Contrast that against the butchers, the bakers and the candlestick makers around the world. Most of these guys don’t even have someone with marketing training, let alone a marketing department, least of all a budget.

After spending about 3 hours in total, neither Kate nor myself could find a shred of marketing evidence providing a case for Social Media as a driver of brand awareness and web traffic for small businesses. That isn’t to say such evidence doesn’t exist, but if it does, it’s rare and it’s isolated.

The true value of SEO compared to Social Media for small to medium sized businesses

Claim 1: Small businesses do not need much content, they need websites with 5 pages.

Counterclaim: at no point did I ever state the above. Normally, I would just ignore such things, but Tad compounds his complete misinterpretation with errors and factual inaccuracies.

For anyone to benefit from “long tail” search strategies, much like Social Media, they must first have something intrinsically unique about their business or product / service offering. How does your street corner hardware supplies store compete with Ace Hardware for “hardware store” on Google as an example?

However, with even more emphasis being placed on localized search, there is a greater chance of some degree of success for smaller businesses and their search marketing campaigns in the near future.

And what of Social Media? The chances of success are slim at best. And if any business did succeed, it’s a fleeting success at best and isn’t sustainable, either. So even in such circumstances, Social Media isn’t a sustainable approach to business marketing whereas SEO is.

Claim 2: Small business owners and employees are too busy, lazy, stupid or not web-savvy enough to blog or engage in social media.

Counterclaim: sadly, it appears that Tad is paraphrasing me in such a way as to discredit me, which is lamentable.

To be honest, I don’t even understand his argument for business ‘blogging, which he seems to be making a claim for. So I’ll make his argument for him.

Yes, business ‘blogging works, because there’s evidence of that. However, not all businesses will want a ‘blog, largely because it’s a time-consuming exercise, which they will not see (in terms of identification) the benefits of, or be able to justify, given their lack of comprehension.

This isn’t about stupid or lazy business people, this is about business people working to their strengths first. A lot of businesses simply aren’t “customer-facing” in such a way for a ‘blog to add either credibility or value.

Why would one of my clients who sell new and renovate old properties want a ‘blog? That’s one example of a business, I could pick dozens.

Claim 3: Small businesses dealing with or selling non-sexy products or services will never succeed on social media.

Counterclaim: strange as it may seem, Tad builds his entire argument presumably around a one-off Social Media hit for a plumber. Sadly, we’ll never know whether that claim is true, since he doesn’t provide any other supportive evidence.

Additionally, he’s not providing any context. Plus, I would hazard a guess and say that the reason this particular plumber succeeded was because there was something ‘intrinsically unique’ about what they had to say, which differentiates them from their competition. So they too (though loosely, I will freely admit) fall into the 1%.

Claim 4: Several profiles at Web 2.0 services are useless for small businesses.

Counterclaim: Tad again paraphrases very, very poorly. I made no such claim at all. I didn’t even mention the phrase “Web 2.0” in either of my previous articles.

I have written at length about the value to both individuals and businesses of Personal Branding & Brand Management, so I am actually an advocate of reputation management.

Instead, my original argument revolves around the very real issue of Social Network Fatigue, which isn’t particular to any kind of business. Social Network Fatigue is however more of an issue for ‘bloggers like Tad and myself, which reinforces my point that it’s going to be very difficult to sell the idea of managing umpteen social profiles to the average business owner, given it’s such an onerous task.

Claim 5: Befriending people online does not make sense for small business owners or employees.

Counterclaim: paraphrasing incorrectly once again. Tad simply goes on to reinforce my arguments from the very beginning — with points 5.1, 5.2, 5.4 — and fails to address the real questions I raised in my two previous articles, which tacitly points to him conceding to my previous answers to his arguments.

“5.3 — In SEO you have to write long copy in a really boring repetitive style using keywords in such a way you rank well…”

The measure of disrespect being shoveled into the laps of not only his own clients but mine and every else’s in the SEO industry is simply appalling.

The claim that copy is often ‘boring’ is naive and entirely relative. To him the copy may appear boring, but to his clients’ customers, it may well be the very ingredient that clinches the deal.

“5.4 — So business owners are often very hesitant to even admit they do SEO.”

Examples, please! I’ve never heard of such things. In fact, nearly all of my clients are only too eager to learn more about SEO, because there are visible, material benefits, some of which they are very much able to manage themselves.

The argument provided by Tad seems to illustrate how the inability of someone to articulate complex strategies, ideas and technical minutia into very simple analogies for their clients may well perpetuate the notion that SEO isn’t as strong as Social Media.

As an example, when a client of mine wants to know what the search engines really want from a website, I have already prepared a very clear and easily understood article for them.

In conclusion

If the case was that Social Media had any real benefit for the majority of the businesses out there, I’d be saving myself a lot of effort. But the facts clearly demonstrate that 99% of businesses will probably never benefit from Social Media as they would from SEO.

As a business owner, I follow the money-making strategies, so I can offer the best service to my clients. It’s about knowing where the money is, and for businesses, Social Media isn’t even close to the mark…

Go to part 1, part 2

Recommended reading

By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

7 replies on “Business websites: SEO versus Social Media, Part 3”

Thinking like a small business person would probably answer some of these issues best.

Small biz does not necessarily have the time to put together a 5-page website (brochureware), let alone a blog that needs to have regular updates to be credible.

The brochureware website is of value, especially for the web searches for “service type”+”small town”. Are these sites that need constant update? Probably not, nor would the biz owner be interested in paying for it.

The entry point for biz owners that would be workable is offering an RSS feed of their weekly specials, perhaps even an RSS-to-Blog conversion that they can point customers to. When they stack it up against the cost of a weekly flyer in the local paper, it starts becoming an affordable entry point.

Reviews, you’re most welcome!

Jeff, I think you’re spot on. We’re both looking at small businesses and seeing much the same thing — they just don’t have that much time (certainly not the time that you & I do) to invest in Social Media.

When compared to other more established channels like cold calling and mailshots, as well as advertising — all of which will point to their pre-existing company website — Social Media is a much larger long-term commitment of time and effort…

Really, this discussion shouldn’t be about seo versus social media. It’s about getting the most value out of limited resources.

And chances are that for most small unsexy businesses, getting ranked well for some good longtail or local searches on Google is cheaper, less time consuming and has a more predictable ROI than hitting the Digg popular page.

“Really, this discussion shouldn’t be about seo versus social media. It’s about getting the most value out of limited resources.”

I think that first observation is a pretty good distillation of what I was getting at — which sort of saves people reading all 3 articles!

But because of the original article by Tad which spawned this whole debate, an seo versus social media slant was inevitable.

Yes, for a lot of businesses, limited resources often dictates a “path of least resistance” approach. And right now, SEO is much less effort than Social Media…

The fact that none of this needs to be about SEO vs. Social Media really gets to the point. Whether it is a matter of time or money, none of us can implement all of the marketing techniques we may wish to use. Thus we have to pick the most appropriate tools for the job. SEO is a given rather than an option. How involved one gets with SEO techniques depends on the situation, but at this point one needs to at least implement some of the basics.

Social Media is also a great strategy but it also takes time and as you’ve rightly stated it really depends on the topic/product/business at hand. I’ve found that my blog readership has increased as I’ve taken the time to read and comment on other blogs, share my ideas on Pownce, etc. But it only works because I’m sharing my thoughts with those who are equally interested in the topic.

In my past life I marketed law books through direct mail, advertising, the Web etc. When a new edition of a book would come out I’d market it using those tools, but I’d hardly be posting messages on Pownce telling people about the exciting new features to be found in the newest edition of Ohio Rules of Evidence. Perhaps I could have developed a blog discussing legal research techniques, and commented to blogs that others were writing on the topic, but it wouldn’t be quite the same. Product announcements don’t have the same potential for interactive dialog as do discussions on Web development. So to promote products I’d have had to do so in the context of contributing other useful information either on a blog or through various topical discussion forums, listservs etc.

In the context of my old job, I would just not have had the time to produce such content nor would I have been the writer best suited for that role. I can imagine how I would implement such a strategy, but given that product line and its primary market, social media would probably not be as cost effective as other more traditional strategies.

So for me it’s not a question of which is better, SEO or Social Media, but what combination of techniques including other mktg strategies is best suited for communicating effectively with your target audience.

What more can I add? Law is an excellent example, which does strengthen my argument.

Yes, it might be possible to generate something viral around legal content, but it’s unlikely that it would be sustainable.

For we ‘bloggers, we are fortunate in that we can enjoy the best of both SEO and Social Media. But for my clients, it’s just not the same situation…

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