Having worked in a wide array of marketing channels – both online and offline – we’ve got a good perspective on their relative effectiveness. Every marketing channel has its pros and cons depending on your goals, target audience, internal staff capacities and budget.
These days, a lot of businesses, nonprofits and start-ups focus their resources on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like because of their low cost and the fact that so many people spend so much time on social media. And we don’t deny that social media can be an effective platform for building an audience, promoting events, spreading the word, etc.
But even if you’re not spending money on ads in social media platforms and you’re just taking the “free” approach, they still take a very crucial investment: your time.
The question every marketing activity should be able to answer is this: what’s the return on investment (ROI)?
When we look at it in terms of ROI, in our opinion social media is a shiny object.
We like to look at data. And the data shows that search engine marketing is a much more effective channel than social media, with proven ROI.
One of the most important data points in the for-profit world, namely revenue, is helpful when thinking about whether to prioritize social media over search engine marketing.
Google’s 2016 revenue from its AdWords paid ads program was $79B vs. Facebook’s $26B from its advertising program the same year. Granted, Google has a much more mature business model (Facebook only started selling ads in 2012, whereas Google started in 2000), but still, the numbers speak.
The reason advertisers spend more with Google is that it is proven to deliver ROI. What Google delivers, by matching websites to user’s keyword searches (queries), is customers searching for the precise products and services offered by advertisers. For many queries, Google search users are ready to buy, or at the very least ready to engage with a brand.
Most of us know from experience that social media, on the other hand, is full of questionable content, clickbait and distraction. When was the last time you clicked on an article or link in social media and then actually engaged with the website you were sent to (beyond reading the one linked article)?
Did you click around on the site? Sign up for an email newsletter? Buy something? Probably not. Most likely, you went right back to Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, because you wanted to get back to seeing baby pictures, cat videos or whatever it was that you were there to do in the first place.
That’s the challenge for social media — the ROI has largely not been proven except for a handful of clickbait-generating, advertising-based media companies like BuzzFeed. In 2012, GM famously decided to drop advertising on Facebook entirely (of course GM still continued with its “organic” Facebook presence and Ford was undeterred at the time).
In our talks with some industry experts, even big multinational brands only expect a 3% ROI from social media. In our minds, 3% is less than great.
The reason is this: social media is essentially a closed system. Facebook and Twitter don’t want you to leave their sites or apps because that’s bad business for them. They earn more money when their users stay in the system and view more ads.
Search engines, on the other hand, send traffic straight to a website where they can find more information, sign up for an email newsletter, make a purchase or donation, etc. And that was exactly what the search engine user was there to do in the first place.
So compared to search engine marketing, social media is still largely unproven. Large for-profits know this, and we would argue that non-profits, social entrepreneurs, start-ups and small- to medium-sized businesses should know it as well. In fact, since smaller organizations usually have limited marketing resources (both money and time), we’d argue that this is even more important for them to know.
Of course we’re not recommending that our clients forgo social media entirely. It’s a very powerful medium that deserves resources. But it’s a question of priorities.
When we perform keyword research for our clients, we almost always find that they’re missing out on hundreds if not thousands of monthly visits from people within their target market. These folks are precisely interested in the topics that our clients know so much about; they’re part of an untapped target market that’s ready to engage, “buy”, or join the cause.
Optimizing your business or organization’s website to attract the traffic from search engine users on those topics will have a clear and measurable ROI not just in the short term, but over the long haul.
After all, search engines are here to stay. The latest estimates show that people enter 2 trillion searches into Google per year. That’s 167 billion per month; 5.5 billion per day; 63,000 per second. And those numbers have been going up every year since the birth of Google.
Are you sure your organization is showing up on Google when people are looking for you? Even when they’ve never heard of your organization? That’s the power of search engine marketing, and it’s no shiny object.
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Header Photo Credit: Ben LeFort