Is Social Media Marketing a New Requirement of SEO?
Here’s an interesting question worth a minute of pondering for any SEO practitioner:
“[I]s it now a necessity for an SEO to have practical social media skills?”
The question came out of discussions he’s had with other members of the Internet marketing community, and he and his friends aren’t the only ones thinking it over and forming their opinions. So since James has opened the discussion up to everyone, I’m gonna go ahead and share my answer to the question.
James Duthie posed the head tickler in a post on SEO Scoop last week called “Is social now a compulsory SEO skill?“
I say no.
One of the most important qualities of a successful SEO is a drive and ability to keep up with the ever-changing search space. Knowing the guidelines set by the engines, the technologies available, and searchers’ changing behaviors requires that the search marketing professional update their understanding on a regular basis.
Accepting that an SEO’s knowledge base is constantly growing translates to keeping up with new trends, technologies and opportunities. So when social media marketing came along, it was easily rolled in to the domain of search engine optimization. And maybe, unhelpfully so.
Adding to the confusion, the distinction between search and social media marketing is further blurred by the search engines’ mad rush to become the social search destination. (In case you’re wondering, Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan spells out what Google Social Search and Bing Twitter Search are in necessary detail.)
But when it comes down to it, despite any overlap, the needs and goals of search engine optimization are different than the needs and goals of social media marketing. One can effectively perform both SMM and SEO, and most of us do both daily, though there’s a difference in how each is approached. So here’s a breakdown of how they differ and distinct the needs of each.
If you look at the intended audience of SEO and SMM efforts, you’ll find a pretty clear difference. As James points out, “One aims to satisfy robots (SEO). The other aims to satisfy humans (social).”
Step one of content development and design: know your audience. If your primary audience is Googlebot, get to know Googlebot and his likes and dislikes inside and out. Have an audience of middle school teachers in the American Midwest? Know their needs, the issues on their plates, and what pushes their buttons.
Similar rules for very different audiences. Keeping search and social separate helps professionals focus their efforts on the right audience.
Of course, all audiences have their unique preferences, and when it comes to search marketing and social marketing, some of these preferences are clearly spelled out in the form of terms of service. A marketer must remain familiar with the terms of service for the stated marketing platform, be aware of any updates or changes to policy, and learn how to achieve success with their goals while staying true to the rules set by the platform. Additionally, a marketer must be aware of the risks involved in marketing through those platforms.
The goal of social media marketing is to communicate with a community of humans. Indirectly, the goal of SEO is the same. But with SEO the attention is focused at the search engines with the assumption that humans will be reached through the engines. So while the eventual goal is the same, the initial one is not and, as marketers know, that makes a difference when it comes to strategy and tactics.
Social media marketing dictates a familiar tone, a multi-directional conversation, quick response times, and a constant stream of content. The approach for social media marketing is to build community through genuine conversation.
Search engine marketing requires a character of authority, in-depth technical knowledge of how the Web works and renders, and heavy analytical monitoring. The approach for search engine marketing is to gain high search engine rankings through perceived Web site relevance and code crawlability.
Of course, there are a number of commonalities and complementary aspects of search engine marketing and social media marketing. Social media can be used as a tool to achieve a goal of search engine optimization, and vice versa. Regardless of who is in charge, the two must go hand in hand. This is true of all marketing mediums — from traditional print ads or radio spots, to the latest opportunities for video overlays and social media contests.
Cooperation and communication are key to a holistic marketing strategy, but with differentiated and critical tasks occurring in both the search and social spaces, I say search marketing and social marketing are both worth representation, resources and responsibilities all their own.