SMO vs SEO
Just how important is Social Media and SEO?
SEO (search engine optimisation) is the practise of trying to increase your ranking on search engine results lists, and thus increasing your website hits. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on SEO relating to Google, as it is the leading search engine that people use.
There are a variety of factors that determine this listing, including- backlinks, readability, content, good design, your keywords, how many people are searching you, and even a clean sitemap and how long your site has been listed. But Google’s criteria for what makes good SEO changes, and is believed to exceed 200 factors of varying importance.
SMO (social media optimisation) is the practise of developing your social media in order to generate website hits or custom. This can be done is endless ways, as there is no overall body which sets criteria for you to work towards. The art of SMO lies more in working within the limits and rules set by the social media platforms you operate on. For this reason, the way you practise your SMO is a creative process governed by strategy.
Both SMO and SEO are incredibly important to generate hits to your site. But the basis of this article will put forward the point that too much focus is placed on SEO by businesses, often leaving SMO neglected.
Planting a Seed
The concept of search engines relies on waiting for someone to search for your brand, your product or the problem your product solves.
This means that SEO only works when someone else takes action. Your listing on Google is just sat there waiting for someone to find it.
This is not to be taken lightly though. Someone finding you whilst actively searching for a solution to their problem drastically increases your chances of conversion.
Alternatively, effective SMO plants a seed in potential customer’s minds. It gives you, the business, a chance to communicate with people that there is a problem that needs solving.
By making that first move- communicating that they need your service or product, you are making a connection with them, helping to cement you in their subconscious as a leading provider, potentially giving you credibility and a headstart on your competitors.
Why Compete When You Don't Have To?
By the time your potential customers have got to Google, you are competing with everyone else.
For the more competitive search terms, this can be very difficult to do, especially if you are a small business. Big companies spend huge budgets on their SEO to ensure that their listings are higher than yours, and we all know that people tend not to venture past the first few pages of Google search results. So if your search terms are popular, or you are a new business, you will find it very difficult to compete with bigger, more established businesses.
Social media news feeds are more random by nature, governed by complex algorithms the platform puts in place for the user. News feeds can often show people things they haven’t even searched for, giving you a chance to shine in your own right. Linking with the above point, this grants you an opportunity to reach out to your audience, and convince them that there is a problem that needs solving, and you are the provider to solve that problem.
Search engine page listings are text based, restricting how people see your business.
First impressions matter. Because page listings are text based, it means that there are usually only 3 factors that determine whether a potential customer visits your site over your competitor's. These are-
- Business Name
- Meta Description
A potential customer visiting another site before yours greatly reduces your chance of obtaining the sale. This perpetuates a degree of Information Failure, in this context meaning that customers are making purchasing decisions without knowing all the important information. For example, your service could be far better than a competitor's, but if your audience can't find you or your USP's are harder to quantify, they will go for the one which stood out to them more, meaning that they have made a purchasing decision based on Google ranking over quality of service and branding.
Social media gives you a chance to provide your audience with a lot more information about who you are and what your product does. By using images in your posts for example, you have a great opportunity to put across a message of quality or enforcing your brand to your customers. You are also given a chance to reflect credibility if your 'Like' count is high and your follower ratios are strong, as your audience get a chance to see the size of the business they are dealing with. These factors are very much within your control.
Get Everyone Talking
A platform for engagement from your audience is one of the most valuable things that social media has to offer. One comment can generate a post reach in the thousands.
When someone engages with you on Facebook, their activity appears on their friend’s newsfeeds. Other people seeing your post gives them a chance to engage with it as well, and if they do, their activity appears on their friend's newsfeeds etc. This is the basis of virality.
But the benefits of engagement don’t stop there. Treat each share, tag, retweet, comment or even 'like' as an honour. Engagement is a mark of validation from your audience, it’s like them saying ‘I want this content on my wall to share with my friends’, which can be a powerful motivator to encourage other people to view it also.
One of the biggest issues people have with social media is that it gives your customers a platform for bad reviews. Negative feedback is a rule of business that comes with scale and whilst negative attention on social media is being broadcast to the world, so is your response.
Showing your customers the common decency of replying to their comments gives you a chance to display to your audience that you are trustworthy. Seeing that a disgruntled customer’s problem has been dealt with swiftly and fairly is very a powerful display of credibility, and can often turn a negative situation into a positive, for both the person making the complaint, and future customers.
It is strongly advised that you comment back to negative comments. If a customer has parted with their money to purchase your product or service, has not been satisfied, and then gone to the effort of tracking you down online and posting a comment, you owe them a reply.
But remember these points-
- Don't indulge aggressive or false comments
- Don't rise to provocation
- Deal with all comments fairly and swiftly
It's well established that in the digital age, social media has absorbed a large part of the customer marketing process that word of mouth used to fulfil. This is great news for businesses, as not only can you see what people are saying about you, but you can also manage the situation.
Whilst you can't control what's being said on external sites such as Amazon or Google Reviews, by being present on social media, it encourages customers to post on there. With diplomacy, you can direct customer frustrations to your private inbox, which not only gives your customers a direct line to 'rant' at you if they need it, but it also takes these frustrations away from a public platform to a private one, allowing you to have shown that you are swift and fair publically to potential customers, and addressing your disgruntled customer's grievances directly, which they may appreciate.
Long Lasting Connections
A search engine hit from a potential customer is, in many cases, a one off interaction. So maybe they do visit your site again, maybe they even purchase from you.
But if someone follows you or 'likes' you on social media, that is a sign from them they are not only interested in you and your brand, but also, from that point onwards, they expect to see updates and information from you, meaning they are more likely to stay up to date with future products and services you can offer them. This is great for customer retention and could lead to more sales in the future.
Unless a person makes the decision to actively unfollow you, a like or follow also gives you the chance to market yourself over a period of time, which is known to be a very effective method of marketing.
So what's more important?
The answer is that both SMO and SEO are incredibly important components in your digital marketing toolbox. It is down to you and your marketing team to work on a strategy that combines both SEO and SMO practises to maximise good quality exposure and fulfil your business needs. If done correctly, you will find that they fuel each other.
It is very important that you understand the differences however, and appreciate the value that both practises bring to your brand.
SEO is an inactive strategy, and waiting for your customers to get to Google can actually work against you. For example, working hard on traditional marketing techniques is only worthwhile if your audience are going to pick you over your competitors- how many times have you made your way over to an aisle in the shops intending to pick one thing up, only to walk away with something else? The same principle applies with SEO.
Google is like an information superstore, with millions of products and services to choose from, all in one place, displayed at the same time, and not enough opportunity to differentiate yourself from everyone else. SEO is a zero sum game that big business tends to win hands down.
Best SMO practises are active. If you network, engage and build relationships with your audience, you are setting up a long lasting channel of communication with them, allowing you to share promotional content on a level that SEO and traditional marketing methods don't offer.
Furthermore, long term customer satisfaction is arguably positively affected by reaching out to your customers before they ask Google to help them solve their needs. By enforcing your brand on social media, you are helping consumers in their decision making process. The Paradox of Choice puts forward that more choice negatively impacts the consumer, as there is a greater feeling of regret after they've made their decision, leaving them feeling like they are missing out on all the other decisions they could have made.
Now, let's assume that your audience will not venture past the first page of Google. That still leaves up to 9 other competitors they could click on instead of you, assuming you've even made it to the first page of your search term. By reaching out to your audience first via social media, you are helping to simplify this decision process, and thus decreasing their feeling of regret. This is because the customer's choice could be limited- having been directed to your website from a friend's comment on your post, or an eye catching image, for example, allowing you to capitalise on impulse decision making.
This way, you are still given far more opportunity to communicate with your audience than via a search engine, allowing them to make a more informed decision faster. They may see your pretty image and read your post content, but still move on if it does not appeal to them.
Of course, you want to rank as highly as possible on Google, that's a clear goal that all businesses should strive towards. But in many cases, this is not a practical solution without significant investment, and often beyond the means of small businesses or start-ups. SMO is a great way to support your marketing methods so that you can shine in your own right and put across your USPs before the audience even gets to Google- and if they are quick to consult Google, wouldn't you prefer they were Googling your business, rather than the wider problem that your business solves?
Too Much Choice
What do you do with this information?
Understanding the differences between SEO and SMO is only the first step. What you do with this information is just as important as the understanding.
Whilst SEO is important, it has varying levels of priority depending on a whole range of factors relating to your business. However, we believe that, in general, the best part of your investment is better placed in SMO instead of SEO, for the overall benefit of your brand.
To maximise the impact of your SMO, your key priorities should be-
- A high quality, SEO friendly website which ranks 1st on a Google search of your brand name
- An overall brand image which accurately reflects your vision
- Positive following/follower ratios on follower based social media
- Good quality followers comprising of your target market
- Social media growth
- Positive social media engagement
- Links to your website wherever appropriate
- Fresh, valuable and engaging posts
It is important that you find a branding solutions provider that you can trust and can meet your requirements. Many agencies that focus on SEO and web design charge monthly fees for their website packages, costing you unnecessary money that you could be spending on developing those long lasting connections on social media. The only ongoing fees that you should only be paying are for hosting and the transactional fees for your ecommerce.