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Search –vs– Social: Where is the ROI?

Google-Yahoo-Bing-FacebookWith the Holiday shopping season receding into memory, even with the record-breaking online sales numbers and success, the cold economic landscape of 2012 beckons. While online spending will continue to rise, and many economic pundits predicting a firmer, broader recovery in a presidential election year – the big question is where maximum ROI will be found online?

Will spending money on SEO (Google + Bing) or Social Media (Facebook, etc.) generate more ROI?  When we look at SEO, we’re really talking about Google more than any other search engine.  When we talk about Social Media, we’re really talking about Facebook more than any other platform.  So the question is simplified to this – do we spend money on optimizing for Google versus Facebook?

Facebook versus Google

ComScore recently published traffic numbers for the top 50 websites in December 2011:

#1 Google sites 187.1 million unique visitors
#2 Microsoft sites (Bing et al) 177.3 million unique visitors
#3 Yahoo! sites 176.5 million unique visitors
#4 162.5 million unique visitors


A realistic interpretation is that the search engines benefit from consumers research and purchasing behavior, despite the continued increase of traffic to/from social media platforms. When a user is embarking to purchase a product or service, they often start and utilize a search engine throughout the researching process.  Search continues to win with respect to facilitating transactions.

But Social Media Dominates User Time

Social Media advocates will rightly point out that despite lower unique visitors, networking sites like Facebook attract users for much greater lengths of time. Although, this also creates a bit of a challenge as Facebook is built primarily around socializing which creates the marketing issue of how do advertisers appropriately and effectively engage with limited context and without disrupting the consumer experience?

So far, this has been a challenging dynamic to ensure that the engagement remains in-tact while introducing timely offers and messages.  The second item to take into consideration reminds us that we have to measure ROI of every campaign and program.  Facebook highlights amazing Daily Active User metrics, however, we have to remember that (DAU) includes:

….connections via a third-party website that is integrated with Facebook…”

In other words, if you click a “Like” button on a website you visit, or you log in to a website using your Facebook ID or somehow interact using Facebook’s web infrastructure, you are then classed as a DAU, even though you may not have spent dedicated time on Facebook for that particular day.  These numbers are reflected in the annual revenue statistics: Google generates $30 a year per user, whereas Facebook only makes $5, despite many more hours of user time online.


The ROI reality is this: Social Media will continue to grow and deepen engagement, there is no question.  Also, Search Engines will continue to grow and become more effective at providing consumers exactly the product or service solution they’re looking for.  And both, will continue to improve experiences while consumers are mobile.

Both segments of the industry are incredibly powerful, and will remain very complementary to each other.  As marketers, we have to pay close attention to the social media signals that Google and Bing are incorporating, and in-parallel, we have to keep testing and optimizing social media, as we do with our Search Marketing investments to ensure the right balance.


Categories: SEO,Social Media |