Over the years, search marketing components - especially search engine optimization (SEO) and social media - haven't always gotten along. Currently, these two rivals are vying for the same CMOs dollars, and likely will continue to do so well beyond 2011. But data and recent research from the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO) suggest that search marketing and social media must be coordinated.
From an agency perspective, the blending of these two complementary marketing suites makes perfect sense. A lot of questions asked by search marketing researchers can be answered by social media content and activity. And yes, SEOs can still benefit from links placed to targeted websites - even through URL shorteners like bit.ly - because of the value of the links from a "buzz" perspective. The questions that need to be asked when considering both strategies are simple:
Having made its way into annual budgets, search marketing, defined as paid search and SEO, has an excellent start when it comes to being noticed by C-level executives. Social media has a bit more "sexiness" to it, plus a more immediate and sometimes detrimental effect on brand, which is why it has gained valuable Outlook time at a pace faster than search. EConsultancy, which prepared the survey this year for SEMPO, highlights in its recap that:
"Social media marketing budgets are still modest compared to search engine optimization and paid search. Around a third (37 percent) of companies say the budget for social media marketing will be the same in 2010, while 59 percent say budgets will increase. Only 4 percent say budgets will be less this year."
It should be noted that this is a small sample, and that a larger percentage of the companies my agency has spoken with over the past year has indicated they will increase budgets. Additionally, many companies choose to not leap into social media foolishly, but instead spend time listening and understanding the space prior to heavily investing in promoting a community or within existing spaces. These phases often cost less than a mature ongoing search marketing campaign.
Digging into the data a little further, key trends emerge:
Social Media's Value Lies in Branding
Both organizations (72 percent) and agencies (68 percent) reported that they are managing social media efforts, including communities such as Facebook as well as blogging tactics. "Around half of company respondents (51 percent) and 57 percent of agency respondents say branding is the single most important objective of social media activity." Increasing brand awareness and enhancing reputation were regarded as the top tactic for both marketers and agencies. Other goals with a high rate of response included driving actual visits to a Web property and improving customer service and customer satisfaction.
Facebook and Twitter
SEOs and Digg had some ugly fights a few years ago, and MySpace seems to have been written off as the wrong target segment for most marketers. However, budgets have been readily made available for Facebook and Twitter, with about three-quarters of respondents saying they are using them to promote their brands or companies. Warning: Do not take this information and just dive in." As with any campaign, proper planning is required for best results.
Joining Social Media With Other Interactive Marketing
Sarah Holoubek, former SEMPO president, provided in the report's introduction that "the rise of social is a good reminder that search marketing is anything but static." Some may disagree with that association, but the fact is that social media must now have a seat at the interactive marketing strategic roundtable, along will old-timers paid search, SEO, and display/retargeting tactics. Running these tactics from different teams without any interaction will diminish results. For example, SEO teams should be consulted for suggestions on words to be used and pages to be linked to within a social media campaign, in order to get dual value.
Social Media Efforts Can Be Measured
Some have argued about the ineffectiveness or inability to measure social media efforts. This is related to community and brand-building activities, one would assume, and traffic and links to blogging efforts can be easily tracked. Yet, both marketers and agencies responded with the same top three KPIs:
As Google and other search engines become more aggressive in their inclusion of real-time content from blogs and communities such as Twitter, brand awareness as a metric may possibly shift to "reputation management" to some. For SEOs that have long feared/hated C-level obsessive searches for particular keywords, just imagine social media marketers' headaches once a brand goes "hot" and gets real-time results.
The Greatest Challenge: Measure Actual ROI
In contrast to the above, both organizations and agencies feel that the greatest challenge that social media marketers face is ROI measurement. This makes sense, since search marketing has pulled marketers out of the television dark ages with amazing per-click, per-keyword, and beyond insight to every dollar earned. When not measuring the performance of blogs to drive traffic and possibly tying a numeric value to that, it does take more of a TV-like faith to appreciate the brand value.
In conclusion, it's probably best to look at social media and search marketing as being part of the same ecosystem, rather than as a "couple." The synergies that can be gained by managing each area in coordination with other online and offline marketing initiatives are fairly obvious to see. Next year's SEMPO survey will focus even more on how these can be managed together effectively, and also begin to provide trending for this year's new questions.
This column was originally published in SES Magazine in August 2010.
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Chris Boggs serves as president of SEMPO Inc, a search marketing association. He is also the director of SEO for Rosetta, a privately held interactive agency. Chris has been working in interactive marketing since 2000, mostly with paid and organic search marketing. He is a regular speaker at SES and a writer for a number of online and offline publications. Follow him on Twitter at @boggles.
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