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For a while now people have been speculating whether ‘social media’ sites, in particular Twitter, pose a threat to Google search as people increasingly choose to ask their network for help rather than search.
I can see this happening in a small way but it is certainly nothing like a Google killer.
However, based in part on our own experience, I have been wondering increasingly how social media could impact negatively on paid search spend, which might be some cause for concern at the search engines?
Charles Arthur at the Guardian yesterday posted his US media sites' traffic shows that Facebook is the new threat to Google piece. Worth a look if nothing else to see the 'Update' - an interesting way to deal with the "how can you/should you ‘change history’ online by editing something you've already published?” challenge.
It says that “Facebook was the #4 source of visits to News and Media sites last week, after Google, Yahoo! and MSN and that the proportion it sends to US media sites has grown dramatically from about 1.2% to 3.52% over the past year, while that sent by Google News has remained roughly static, at around 1.4%."
A bit of a non-story I think as it’s comparing Facebook to Google News. Try those traffic percentage numbers again but against the main Google search referrals, which no doubt top 60%. These numbers pale into relative insignificance when you consider the global search market grew 46% in 2009 or that YouTube is the second largest search engine, or that more than 30% of Google searches in Japan come via mobile devices.
I think there is very little prospect of Google being threatened by 'social media' from an SEO point of view in the foreseeable future but I do wonder about the impact on paid search which is, after all, where Google and other search engines actually make their money.
Taking Econsultancy as a small, and admittedly very niche, case study, we've now completely stopped doing PPC because a) it no longer delivers ROI b) it barely delivered any volume anyway and c) 'Social Media' (mostly Twitter in our case) delivers much more volume and ROI than PPC. Furthermore, social media for us is now much bigger in terms of traffic generation and ROI than Yahoo! or Bing. However, natural search via Google, still dwarves them all, and then some.
But I wonder how many other sites out there are starting to realise that the ROI from SEO, in terms of volume and value, is so much better than PPC that it’s worth focusing budgets and resources entirely on SEO? And that social media can deliver better ROI than PPC while - at the same time - doing great things for brand, customer service, and, yes, SEO through link building and so on?
And, if the above is true, this might be just the slightest bit concerning for the search engines?
One of the arguments for PPC vs. SEO has always been that PPC is ‘faster’ and has ‘guaranteed results’. You can use it tactically, and reactively, in a way that it is very hard to do with SEO. However, I wonder, now that Twitter et al are being integrated into the main search results, and with Social Search, whether, in fact, you can use ‘social media’ in order to do things very quickly and get them into the search engines via ‘social’? And, if so, whether the search engines once again are doing themselves out of paid search revenues in the long term?
It has already happened to us but I wonder whether others will think the same way: that ‘social media’ not only delivers on the SEO front, lessening the need for PPC, but actually is also the Trojan horse into the search results that allows you to communicate very quickly and effectively, further minimising the need for PPC?
With personalised search, social search and 'real-time web' integration it’s all about your network and your ability to communicate with it. That might be a brand network, a professional network, a social network. Google search will become a 'lens' or window for information discovery which has your social graph or brand network filter applied to it; a platform for you to communicate with your customers, and for them to communicate with each other.
I’m sure the idea is that these advancements will allow Google to target paid search ads even better. But I do wonder, if you’re good at this networking and communication, if you’re good at engagement and customer service, if you’re customers actually like you a little bit, then what will be the need for PPC?
Arguably individuals, via the likes of Facebook and personal connections and networks, have already ‘disaggregated’ Google. Maybe brands can do something similar using social media as the Trojan horse into Google’s main search results? Take all of the gain with none of the PPC cost? Invest in the brand, in customer service, in content, in social media and not at all in PPC?
Might this be why Google is looking at using Gmail to challenge Facebook? When push comes to shove, perhaps the Big G doesn’t want stuff in its SERPs that it doesn’t control or own in terms of social media?
What do you think?
[Image by Alaskan Dude via Flickr, various rights reserved]