The disadvantages of social media marketing (and why you should invest in SEO instead)

Matthew Finch | 16th May 2017 | Analytics

Case study analysis

I recently read a very interesting study undertaken by Danny Richman of SEO Training London, who looked into the digital marketing activity of over 500 UK SMEs. The full range of data from the study is yet unpublished, however some data has been released surrounding SME digital marketing spend (time and money) in which something quite surprising was revealed.

When asked ‘On which digital marketing activity do you spend the most time and money?’ nearly two thirds of respondents replied social media.

Digital marketing surveyDigital marketing activities survey

Social media measurement

So from this, you would assume that, as social media is the number one marketing channel for time and cost spent, it also brings in the most leads and drives the most sales. Wrong.

A mixture of 200 b2b, b2c and eCommerce sites were then analysed to compare traffic and conversions from organic sources only and the winner came out (unsurprisingly to those in the industry) as SEO.

As you can see from the below graph, money (and particularly time) spent on organic search is dwarfed by that of social media and email marketing and yet it brings in around four times the traffic and eleven times the conversions.

Marketing channels survey

Small business, large ignorance?

Why are small businesses so intent on allocating the majority of their resources to social media marketing when the alternatives are much more profitable?

I don’t think it is to do with it being the easier channel to work out your return on investment on – it isn’t as black and white as organic and email and the value in social is that you are getting the brand in front of potential converting customers who may well come back to the brand at a later date via organic. However, bear in mind that by then it is very hard to attribute the traffic to social if it isn’t direct. This does vary by industry of course, however, the conversion rates on social media are traditionally very low quite simply because people aren’t there to shop – they are using it to connect with friends or more likely to kill some time.

The following graph backs up that point. In a different survey of 300 senior brand leaders, social was placed 8th out of 11 marketing channels in terms of the ability to track ROI.

Marketing channel RIO chart

Graph Source

We know people spend a lot of time and money on social and we also know that the traffic it drives to a company’s website is low and also converts poorly. It is also difficult to track. Logically, there isn’t a business explanation for this, so taking the business out of it, the reason for this mass over-allocation of resources is that people simply feel more confident using and even more so understanding, social media, particularly when compared to SEO. It is something a large part of the working demographic has been brought up with and they are likely to use it daily, thus it feels more comfortable to them.

The benefits of social media marketing

Having an active social media presence and engaging with your customers is seen as a desirable for many small businesses. It can:

  • Increase brand recognition
  • Improve brand loyalty
  • Increase audience insights
  • Improve customer service

This does, though, take a lot of time and effort to maintain. If you have the resources to spend on social then I am not saying don’t do it – just not at the cost of more profitable channels where your potential return is greater.

Why is SEO the answer?

For many small business owners, learning the many facets of SEO and then implementing a strategy on a website is something beyond them, due to the time demands required. But also asking an agency to help out can be daunting. To many, SEO is something for larger companies only and they may feel there is little value in trying to compete with smaller budgets. This is incorrect. When utilised properly, SEO can maximise your chances of getting your website seen by the right kind of audience and for a fraction of the cost of other marketing channels. The comparative ROI benefits have been laid out already. You can have the best website in the world selling the most relevant products your target market requires, but if people cannot find it, there is little point. SEO builds the proverbial infrastructure that allows customers to visit your store. A shop without a road leading to it will get no custom. Don’t be the shop owner wondering why no one has visited again today.

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