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Why you should shift your traffic driving focus from SEO to social media

For a long time, SEO has been at the top of the list of concerns when it came to generating business online. As people took their businesses onto the web, they quickly realised that search engines, mainly Google who have long heldthe market share, were the main way most people came to find websites. Way back when, I worked as an SEO consultant, and spent most of my time explaining to big name clients that they could spend as much as they liked making their site look fabulous, all singing, all dancing, flashing lights and prettiness – but if no one could find it, it really didn’t matter...   

Google cornered the online business world; they had small and large businesses in the palm of their hands as people desperately tried to optimise their sites, tweaking tags, creating content, and link building to appear high up for well used phrases relating to their offering. If you lost on Google, your website and subsequent business lost too, unless you were prepared to pay for advertising on there – but if you ranked well, you made got great traffic and (assuming your site converted well once people got there) you made great wonga.

Google is no longer the only lens through which people view the online world

The days when Google were the only people directing traffic online are gone. Nowadays the landscape has changed; people do not just use Google to find websites anymore. It is not the only big generator of traffic to websites. Many people (not everyone, it must be said) now spend large amounts of their time within the world of social media. People use social media whilst at work, when they’re at home relaxing - many people are on it permanently as they are forever logged in via their mobile phone. Perusing friends’ updates on Facebook; checking out holiday photos on Flickr; updating your CV on Linked In; splitting your sides at the latest video on YouTube; arguing on Twitter with minor celebrities; keeping up to date with your favourite fashion blogger via RSS feeds... I could go on. Whatever the social media utilities or sites a person may or may not use (and it varies enormously from those people not using social media at all, to very active and vocal social media users who are permanently logged in) Google is no longer the only lens through which people see the web.

Who do you trust more – Google or your best mate?

Hyperlinks, aside from direct typing of the URL and bookmarks, are the only other way a person can find a website online. In social media, we hand them around like sweeties to our friends, family members, colleagues, and online connections. The benefit of finding other websites through recommendations and links within social media is that people you know (online or in real life) have personally recommended it to you (unless it’s via an advert on these channels). That’s very powerful. After all, who would you rather take a recommendation from, Google or your best mate? It’s not their optimisation prowess that got them a new visitor, it’s the fact that they offer something good and have earned a word of mouth recommendation.

Does social media activity affect Google rankings?

But do social media and SEO actually tie together when it comes to driving traffic? Google does index social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter (apart from protected Tweets and privacy protected pages within Facebook). Matt Cutts announced in December 2010 that social media activity does affect rankings on Google and the speculation is that this is set to grow as they see ‘how much sense it makes to use it a little more widely within our web search rankings’. They already show keyword mentions in social media in Realtime search, but admitting it does affect the websites’ ranking for search terms on the Everything search is a fairly big sign that Google acknowledges social media and search engines must co-exist if they are to deliver the best search results for their users. I believe social media activity does have a place in Google’s algorithm because, just as the amount of incoming links to a site reflects its ‘importance’, so does how many people are talking about it in social media.  

Content is still king – in SEO and in social media

The first thing I would tell anybody to do if they want to shift budget and time from SEO to social media is to think about the content they could produce to get involved in conversations relating to what they do. Firstly, create content on your own site. A blog is one way of doing this, but it absolutely doesn’t have to be just or only a blog. Then, use social media channels to distribute the content to people you think may be interested. Grow your own presence and then your audience on the channels. And then start having conversations. But it all begins with creating great content, because if you have that, then you have something to share, to talk about. Of course this great content lives at your website so that is being indexed by Google and therefore they increasingly see your site as a great resource on whatever it is your site offers as lots of people link to it... For SEO and for social media, it always pays to create great content.   

You must recognise social media now if you haven’t already, and for more than just traffic sending

In terms of sending traffic to your site, Google et al will remain the main source for a long time for most websites. They are increasingly factoring social media into their search algorithms as they must do to survive. However, with the growth of social media as a place where people are spending a growing amount of their personal time, I can only see Google’s dominance as the source of most traffic declining. Social media is much more than a means of traffic building, so consider its uses as a brand awareness tool, customer services channel, a lead generator - and so on. But to start with, if you haven’t already, make sure that you protect your online business by moving with the times and incorporating social media as a method of sending traffic to your website.