Social Media Before SEO Is Putting The Cart Before The Horse

Everyone is buzzing about social media marketing.  You can’t turn your head without hearing about it at a conference.  Marketing and PR professionals are either engaged today or thinking about how to engage tomorrow.  Everyone is suddenly claiming expert status (by the way:  you don’t need a social media expert, you just need a good marketer).

None of this is surprising.  Social media doesn’t require knowledge of technology or staying on top of  trends and technologies.  Not in the same way SEO does.  In comparison social media is easy to get right.  You just need to know how to market to a connected society, have comprehension in sociology and learn the basics behind some pretty easy to use tools.  Some patience helps too.

The truth, though, is social media is not new hasn’t really changed since I’ve been involved in message board and forum culture of the late 90’s/early 00’s.  There are just more people.  And we’re actually a bit nicer to each other.  But it’s still just digital conversations.  Tools change, but the way we interact digitally hasn’t – despite the glorification of certain platforms over others and the new found ability to be anti-social in public (or for some, more social) with the proliferation of mobile.

So here’s the truth:  digital marketing hasn’t changed as much as some would have you believe.  Search is still the number one source of traffic to my web properties by a pretty good margin (yours too, right?).  Sure I’m getting lots of social traffic, but guess what – search still wins month over month, it’s far more consistent and it’s just better quality traffic.

And this brings us to the point:  despite us early adopters shifting our habits and changing the way we use the web with the release of each new tool because we’re infinitely curious doesn’t mean everyone is like us.  Search is still the core function of those seeking content or information.

If you’re engaged in things like content marketing you should become fluent in SEO before social media.  Social media and SEO work together, but without having a search strategy locked down first, you’ll never fully benefit from the intersection.  Neither happens in a vacuum.

Search engine optimization intertwines with social media and the engines will only continue to look at social signals more in the future as more users participate.  Sites like Twitter won’t disrupt the web’s link graph, eventually it could make it even stronger.  But your marketing, your media, your brand – by engaging social without comprehension of search means you’re yielding a higher conversion channel to competitors.

Social marketing efforts before SEO is putting the cart before the horse.

It’s shocking SEO isn’t yet a core comprehension of all marketers when you consider the power behind the ultimate pull marketing channel.  Yet it’s not, because the truth is it’s work to stay on top of search trends, continuously learn new best practices and relentlessly market your site better than competitors.  It’s also an environment where cash is not king, and many tenured marketers who only understand 1-to-many channels don’t know how to participate in that sort of arena.

Unsustainable traffic

Social marketing efforts behind a website that isn’t optimized will produce fleeting returns.  You’ll hit peaks and valleys this way.  The social web is fickle like that, and users navigating the river of real-time see today’s signal as tomorrow’s noise.  Search on the other hand provides infinite life for your best content.  Good content makes your website and the search engines equally more valuable, everyone wins.

No one looks at page 2

Social web users look at page one of our favorite social sites.  We want what’s new, now.  For many, page 2 of Digg, Reddit or even clicking “more” on Twitter might as well be page 50.  If there’s some thought given to SEO behind your social participation your ideas can be extended beyond real-time and given infinite life by the engines.  If not, when you fall onto “page 2,” you’ll live in archive purgatory.

Your campaigns can and will outrank you

If you engage in social media without having an SEO strategy behind it, it’s possible externalities are going to outrank your own content.  I used to be surprised brands would let this happen, but I’ve seen it happen so often that I’m actually surprised when I see the opposite occur.  It’s just so rare people put thought behind this stuff.

You’re leaving traffic on the table

Good social media participation earns links – the organic, editorial kind.  The kind the engines want to reward you for.  But without an SEO program in place, you won’t fully benefit from those links – which are invaluable.  Most companies aren’t cognizant of the value of links they’re earning or how to make those links work for them, especially many engaged in social media.  And they’re only succeeding in letting competitors crush them.

Quick conclusion…

Be weary of social media marketers who aren’t fluent in SEO – you’ll never benefit from the biggest opportunity the web has to offer.  Search may not be as sexy as social, but it still matters more:  it brings more traffic, higher conversions and is sustainable.

Thinking about this a bit further, this actually goes beyond social media marketing.  I’ll just say it like it is:  if you put any marketing or PR before SEO, you’re putting the cart before the horse.  There is a nexus between these items, but you can’t uncover it until you are organizationally savvy about search.

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