What’s a Better Investment – SEO or Social Media?

Marketing executives discussing digital investments over coffee

Many companies have limited marketing budgets, so allocating those precious dollars is critical to get the best ROI. Allocating money for marketing online boils down to choosing between SEO and social media marketing, and most businesses believe they can only afford to do one or the other; hence the question: what’s the better investment for your marketing buck?

SEO or Social Media: a Symbiotic Relationship

Before choosing between SEO and social media investments, it’s useful to consider the roles these play in your overall marketing plan. Unfortunately, this aspect of digital marketing is misunderstood. Here is an analogy that defines how each leg of digital marketing supports a marketing plan.

I mean leg literally too.

Visualize traditional marketing activities as being supported by a four-legged stool. The goals of the marketing plan sit on the seat and only one of the legs represents traditional marketing activities. One of the legs is SEO and a third leg represents social media marketing. (We’ll get to the fourth leg later, as it’s a special aspect of contemporary marketing.) Each of these legs together creates an interdependent support system that comprises a larger marketing plan and its goals. Remove, or lessen any of these three legs and suddenly your marketing goal wobble, teeter, and perhaps crash to the ground.

Another important aspect of the interdependence between SEO and social media stems from how search engines index their results for any given search phrase. Today’s search engines are using signals, which are akin to “likes,” “re-tweets,” “pins” and “+1” as communal votes of authority and confidence about the content. These signals are rapidly becoming equivalent to relevant inbound links. This illustrates the importance of social media marketing, and illustrates the need to construct carefully selected keyword phrases in your social content so search engines index the social content properly.

That means if you establish a presence on all the major social networks, it’s easy to dominate the first page of a Google search for “branded” searches. Branded searches are searches for variations of your company name. Once established, a search for business will often populate the first page with results for the website, but also results from Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google Plus, Pinterest, Quora, and SlideShare. If your company has profiles on each social network, you will own the first page for searches for your brand. That really helps if your company name is similar to other company names.

On the other hand, just because you have a jazzy site, it doesn’t mean you’ll get any traffic. In fact, unless someone searches for your brand or company, odds are you don’t have any traffic at all. “If you build it, they will come” doesn’t work all by itself on the internet. Traffic is hard to generate, and to get traffic you must to commit to working to get traffic. Simply put, even perfectly executed SEO isn’t going to ensure your traffic spikes. It’s not that easy, but good SEO won’t hurt you, and it can give you an edge over your competitors if they haven’t optimized SEO as well as you have – especially if your market is competitive.

So What’s the Verdict?

Although social signals (likes, shares, re-tweets, etc.) generated by your social media interest help boost search engine rank for your site’s brand awareness, your carefully-chosen keywords and phrases on your site bring your company more visibility in search engines like Google. These two marketing activities work together to create an exponential “snowball” effect. In other words, they are almost equal, and you really need both of them if you want to push your online presence to its zenith.


If you are one of the companies that has a limited marketing budget, and you are dedicated to improving your online presence, which is best? SEO? Social Media Marketing? If you want to improve your PageRank, but can only afford one initiative, the best way to improve your marketing results is don’t do either one of these. Remember our four legged stool analogy; we’ve covered three legs – traditional marketing (print, video, etc.), SEO, and social media – that fourth leg is the most important marketing activity in the modern market.

What is it? What’s the fourth leg?
It’s the subject of my next article.

If you need help with SEO, and social media, we can help.

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