Usually, we visit a webpage for either content or utility. Sometimes when we’re lucky, we get both. So it’s no wonder that in the past few years we’ve seen the rise of content marketing in an attempt to combine the best of both worlds.
When I visit a site intending to buy something transactional, utility is the table stake to get me there. I also want to find out as much as I can before I buy anything; give me reviews, industry news and a way to see what other folks like me are buying. It’s a huge advantage if I can do all of these things without ever leaving your website. Bonus for me because I get everything I want in one stop and bonus for you because not only do I stay on your site, I come back again and I tell my friends about my great experience.
How do we find the sites we visit? If we know where we want to head, we type in the URL and off we go. If we aren’t sure, we typically visit a search engine, throw in a search term and see what it cranks out. If we’re lucky, we have a recommendation from a friend (perhaps through social media) and find exactly what we want. For most of us, I would guess this last approach is the preferred method for finding most things online. After all, a friend’s opinion generally carries more weight than a site’s SEO.
Consumers aren’t the only ones to notice this preference. Erik Qualman has been telling us for the several years in his video “Social Media Revolution” that “we will no longer search for products and services…they will find us via social media.” How will the products and services find us? They will find us via the continuing explosion of social media usage and referrals.
In his October 2012 article in the Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal points out that across the same sites, social sources were responsible for 18% of referral traffic and search sources were responsible for 22%.
How is it possible that social referrals will surpass search in the coming years? Social referrals will continue to rise as our activity increases on sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, where we share things that we love with others. Instantly we can electronically share information with thousands of people whereas in the past we probably would have had ten to twenty face-to-face conversations. This idea of products and services finding consumers is accelerating as we continue to use social media as a way to share what we like, love, need, are looking for and don’t like.
Facebook has just stomped on the gas pedal. By introducing “Graph” search across its massive hold of user preference data, you can group your Facebook search into a specific subset, such as "my friends who like hockey," or more precisely "my friends who like hockey and live in Chicago." You can also filter for things like music or movies my friends like.
For advertisers, by becoming more well-liked on Facebook, they are more likely to be found by folks who are actively looking for their products and services as well as the products that are similar to them. If you haven’t heard of the term contextual search, get ready because that’s how we’ll refer to this new Facebook search capability. And certainly others will be looking for ways to replicate this contextual search functionality.
Similarly, Google introduced its social network Google+, which is unlike other social networks in that it’s not accessed through a single website. Google has described Google+ as a "social layer" consisting of not just a single site, but rather an overarching "layer" which covers many of its online properties. The company clearly recognizes that social referrals will continue to rise in number and in importance and this is a way for it to maintain market share.
All of this brings me to a central question: how will this affect our search behaviors and the ways marketers optimize their pages to be found? As Greg Levitt pointed out in his MediaPost entry from Jan. 9, this changing of the search guard will force marketers to optimize social media content distribution versus tweaking their interaction with search engine algorithms.
Marketers and advertisers must optimize their media plans beyond just SEO. Social recommendations and sharing may end up being much more important. It isn’t just about someone typing in a search term and happening upon your site.
Can users share information about your product on Twitter? Can they send your product as gifts on Facebook? How many users are sharing information about your service on Facebook graph? Are there images of your products on Pinterest and Instagram? These questions will become the norm in the coming years and social media usage and the phenomenon of social referrals continue to rise.
Marketers/Advertisers: How will this affect your channel planning and optimization schemes?