Recently, I aired a podcast with Rand Fishkin, one of the co-founders of Moz SEO. As a leader in the search engine optimization space, he shared some extremely helpful thoughts on organic search vs. social when it comes to you eCommerce site. In this post, I revisit what Rand shared with my listeners, in case you missed the podcast.
What the Data Shows on Organic Search vs. Social
Not surprisingly, what we’ve seen over the years is that social traffic tends to convert at much lower rates than organic. When you’re browsing Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, most of the time you are not in search mode. You’re not looking to complete a particular task.
But when you go to Google, it’s different. When you type words and phrases into Google, you are saying, “I want this solution and I want it right now and I’m hoping Google can send me somewhere that will solve my problem.” This is why search traffic is some of the best you can possibly get.
And one of the interesting trends? For the first time ever, despite retaining their popularity, the major social networks are referring less traffic than ever, while Google has more users than it ever has had. And while that’s also true of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn, content networks are working harder to keep traffic on their websites rather than send it out to someone else.
So one of the ways Facebook built their business-to-business model was by saying to businesses, “Ask your customers to like your business on Facebook.” Nowadays, you can go to a café on a remote island, or a tire store, or a hospital, and see the message, “Like us on Facebook!”, which I sometimes find hilarious.
Another interesting part is that the social networks have been changing their approaches. For instance, Facebook has reduced organic reach dramatically and that has impacted a lot of businesses negatively. I think a lot of people feel like they have built up hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of followers on Facebook expecting to be able to reach that audience. They no longer are and so now are asking themselves, “Wait why did I spend a decade marketing my Facebook page? I helped Facebook’s business but I got nothing out of it.” And I think there is a ring of truth to that.
With Google, I think a lot of people feel the same way. Google was able to win by being a great search engine but also by having access to all of the web’s content and content creators. Over the years, businesses have modified their sites to please Google and build, optimize and structure their content in ways that google could understand and provide all that to google copyright- and trademark- free. And that supported Google’s growth, too.
And these days, Google is providing a lot of that information directly in the search results, answering people’s questions right there so that they never need to visit the website, so for the first time, they are referring out less traffic because that change in the mode of delivery.
How to Deal with Instant Answers in Search Results
This is part of the future that web marketers need to recognize and deal with. But Google still sends most of us a tremendous amount of traffic. If we were to cut in half the amount of traffic Google sends us today, compared to, say, five years ago, it’s still a huge amount and it’s still important to our businesses. So we’re talking about an incredibly important, crucial service. The value of SEO can’t be understated. I wouldn’t ignore social media marketing either because it’s still be a great way to build your brand and to create demand. It’s just that we have to play by these networks’ and search engines’ rules and in different ways than we did a few years ago.
Instead of marketing so much for our Facebook pages or our google maps presence or Twitter, we might consider ways to build up our websites and emails strategies. Why? Because the center of your digital marketing campaign should probably be on your own land, not someone else’s.
Store Owners, Conversions, and Social
It can be very effective, Instagram is particularly good at that because of the way the visual system works but I think that an important piece to remember is that the most successful folks in that sort of context, people who have success with those sorts of advertising on Instagram or Reddit or Facebook or Twitter or Google’s ad network, make their ads very personalized and targeted so it’s not that they hope people will say, hey that’s a really interesting shirt. It’s, yeah, I know you think that’s an interesting shirt because you fit our target demographics and psychographics and behavioral patterns really, really well.
And so on Instagram I’m trying to remember, I think I bought a feminist T-shirt here, via an Instagram ad. In thatches, the marketer almost certainly said, “Let’s target people who live in Seattle, Washington because they tend to politically and socially align with this message and I’m going to target men between the ages of X and Y and I’m gonna look for people who’s whatever household net worth as estimated by the credit card companies that share their data with Facebook, for example, between whatever 50 and 200,000 dollars a year and maybe I’m gonna target a bunch of other things. For instance, I want people who in their past have liked pages from X Y and Z.”
And then I see the ad and I think, gosh, that’s a great shirt, I’m gonna buy it. But I think we should all recognize that what goes into that is an incredible amount of data targeting, they know who you are and what you like and what you’ve done in the past to an incredible degree and that’s how that advertising is able to be so effective.
Social Media Advertising
In addition to being very cautious with your advertising targeting, it’s important to test. So you can start very untargeted and then see who converts and then use that to narrow down and increase your bids for particular audiences, lower them for others, maybe stop showing some people and start highlighting others, look for affinities between groups so that you can broaden out your targeting. This is exactly how a lot of paid social works. You get very very savvy about the targeting itself and creative about your ideas, who might be reachable and effective for your particular business, etc.
Effective Social for Store Owners
I think that conversions and sales can be effective with social, especially social advertising, and that’s where Facebook is building their business. But you can leverage the platforms in the ways that they are allowing and build your business as well. One of the most effective ways to do that is to recognize that Facebook wants to keep people on Facebook. If I can build an effective Facebook group or a page that shares whatever it is, visuals or videos or content that will keep people on Facebook looking at and sharing my content, that can be a very effective way to build brand recognition and awareness, to build trust in a brand and to create demand.
So you can basically have whatever it is that you’re up to, social-related messages that are around your business or events or content marketing sorts of things that stay on the network. Those can all be very effective and you can see a lot of brands doing that quite well.
Using Social for Customer Interaction
I think that using social to be available and aware of conversations that are happening around you, your brand, or your space and your products can certainly be effective. There’s a lot of good software out there that can help you with monitoring that stuff. People like Talkwalker, Mention and Fresh Web Alerts from Moz, and the free version of Google Alerts.
And those can be good ways to monitor just conversations on the web or on Twitter and other social networks. I would say too that doing customer support through some of these channels can make sense when you’re a larger brand; if you’re smaller, it can be very distracting.
So if you’re gonna say, “Hey we want someone to pay attention full- time to all these conversations and we wanna be able to react and serve our customers through all these networks,” depending on how big you are, that might be a waste of time.
Yeah, maybe it’s possible that every week you’ll miss two or three people who you could’ve captured through those networks but if you have a contact us page and it’s got an email and it’s got a form field or you have live chat on your website, maybe directing people there until you’re giant-sized is just fine. So I think it can be overkill sometimes to invest too early in that, especially because there are so many web marketing opportunities and I think, to be competitive, you have to put your people and your dollars and your time into the most effective ones.
Tips When Deciding Between Organic Search and Paid Search
Paid ads are a very nice way to begin to understand what key words and phrases are important and what’s gonna drive very high quality traffic (high quality meaning converting traffic to an e commerce website) and from there you can use the list of keywords that are sending you quality traffic and say, “All right, how do we go after these in organic?” And from there, build the content and do the PR and do the link building and the optimizations, technical and onsite, that are required to reach that. And SEO’s a much, much more challenging game than PPC. PPC you can if you craft great ads and you have a great website that converts well and you’re willing to bid high and take some time to build up your reputation there, you can generally win if you’re also building your brand at the same time. Don’t forget that brand preference plays a huge role in this because google will charge less to brands that get more clicks.
The algorithm for paid searches, not just who pays the most but who generates the most clicks, who generates the most interest, so building up your brand with consumers is crucial as well. That being said, in organic search it’s a whole different game, and ranking in that, while very very powerful, is a long-term play. You can spend months or years doing SEO and you’re gonna see returns over quarters, not days.
So I think it pays to be aware of that and have that patience and to recognize you’re gonna have to spend serious optimization and content time, public relations outreach and link-building outreach to be able to win. But the folks who do win, even in places where there’s three or four ads above the folds, you’re still seeing click-through rates on the organic results of 60% plus. That number one organic ranking position is still the most valuable piece of real estate in Google for most searches. I say most because there are a good number that have things like featured snippets or other types of answer boxes where sometimes those are even more valuable.
Visiting Blogs for Single Solutions
I built Moz initially as a blog and for years it was just a blog and as we became a software company, my hope was to always give people information for free. We’re not gonna ask them to sign up with their email address, we’re not gonna put anything behind a paywall, people are gonna be able to get all this stuff and then if they wanna go to the next step and get more tools, wonderful. Hopefully they will remember us and in fact we did see that data so on average at least when I was at Moz it was between seven and 10 visits before someone would buy our software. And the fewer times they came before buying, the less time they stayed a customer.
So if you only came once or twice, if you bought a subscription to Moz on your first visit to the website, chances are good that you’re gonna cancel in the first 30 days during the free trial.
But if you visited us 18 times lets say before you bought, chances were good you were gonna stick around two or three or four years. And that was always a lesson to us that I think worked really well with our business model, which was basically, “Hey, let’s not try to convert anyone too soon, let’s give them time. We wanna build up our brand equity, we want them to know us and like us and trust us before they purchase from us.”
Voice Search and eCommerce
Voice search is no different from keyboard search. Whether I ask my phone a question or whether I actually type in the keys, whether I go to my laptop and I say something versus typing it in, doesn’t really matter. If I get a screen full of answers, really, no change.
I think a lot of times when people say, “I’m worried about voice search,” or “what is the future of voice search?”, what they probably mean is voice answers, meaning devices that don’t show you a screen of results, they instead speak the answer back to you. And my sense right now, based on the data that we’ve seen, is that voice answers, so smart home assistants and devices and voice answers that are provided by Google, Alexa, Siri, Bing, etc. etc., that these are additive rather than cannibalistic.
So the behavior that we have when we talk to our Alexa device or to our Google Home device or to Siri, we get a voice answer back, that does not seem to lessen the number of searches on a screen that we do in a given day, week, month, year. At least not significantly.
So maybe we don’t check the weather by typing it in, maybe we say, “What’s the weather?” But in general we don’t say, “Hey Alexa, plan a vacation.” Where do you wanna go? I don’t care. That’s not how it works, right? You spend hours pouring over screens and looking at tons of hotels and looking at different destinations and looking at different flights and that process doesn’t really change. Same thing with any sort of big purchase, even small purchases. For example, this is cannibalizing like voice answers are cannibalizing a lot of local searches. So people don’t say, “Order me some Indian food.” “From where?” “I don’t care.”
Most of the time, you’re still getting that screen. I think that where voice answers will take some market share is on repetitive tasks. For example, so I think Amazon has talked about this with Alexa where people will reorder the same thing that they already ordered but they tend to not order something new, something they’re unfamiliar with, without seeing a screen of information first. And so I think if it’s hey Alexa order me the same Indian take out that we got last week. Okay yep that might have taken a search away but you calling the restaurant is not particularly different. Same thing with, hey Alexa, reorder us milk and coffee or whatever.
An audio option for this post.