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SEO vs. Social Media: Compare and Contrast

So you’re in charge of creating a content strategy, but you aren’t sure where to coordinate your efforts.

It can be tricky: social media marketing and search engine optimization are both crucial strategies for any company that wants an internet presence, but they each have the potential to turn into a rabbit hole of effort and budget if you’re not careful.

Social media marketing and SEO are two tightly interwoven strategies. Both are organic, inbound strategies that focus on building an appealing identity that naturally attracts visitors. -Forbes

Learning what specifically each strategy entails and their respective returns on investment will allow you determine how much time and effort each is worth to you and your business.

Let’s break down the similarities and differences between search engine optimization and social media marketing in five key categories.


Before you can get to the nuts and bolts of creating a strategy, one of the biggest questions to answer is who your intended audience is.

At the core, it’s this simple… social media is for people. SEO is for computers.

Writing for people is about emotions, conversation, connection. Writing for a computer (aka Google) is about taking that conversational approach to the next level- by making sure that Google knows what you’re talking about and for which audience.

That doesn’t necessarily mean one strategy is less complex or expensive than the other, but it does mean each will require a totally different approach. Social media marketing requires a constant recycling of both current and evergreen content that are relevant to current events.

SEO, on the other hand, relies on a steadfast adherence to concrete keywords relevant to your company; those keywords may change incrementally over time, but your audience in general is likely to search the same questions that pertain to your industry. With social media, their inclinations will probably much more varied and dynamic.

The Bottom Line

  1. Social Audiences and their interests are constantly changing; your social media activity has to keep up with their movement every day!
  2. Keywords and rankings are more concrete. Once you know your keywords, you should make small changes every week or so and track the movement.

Strategy Topics

Your strategy is based off of the audience you are writing for.

As a result, SEO strategies are driven around incorporating relevant keywords, and social media marketing strategies are driven around inspiring emotion from people who absorb your content. This distinction will affect the tone and style of your writing.

Let’s use a car dealership as an example. A car dealership might create blog pages that focus heavily on incorporating words and ideas related to its key keywords (‘how to buy a car’, perhaps) and will aim to sound informative and educational. But its social media page might aim to be funny and relatable, with a video about a young mom buying her first car.

The ultimate example: Subaru’s commercial campaign with golden retrievers.

Does it tell you much about the cars? Not even a little. But are those dogs hitting the ‘oh my god they’re so cute’ emotional chord? Absolutely.

Search engine optimization and social media marketing may overlap with audiences, but their strategies will inevitably diverge. Social strategy aims to connect, SEO strategy aims to educate.

The Bottom Line

  1. For social, go emotional.
  2. For SEO, go technical.

Metrics of Success

How will you determine the success of your strategy? SEO is most often measured by page views, clicks, and rankings. Social media marketing is most often measured by shares, engagement, and other forms of interaction. Since your end-game metrics will be different for each strategy, you can’t easily compare one with the other, or plug in the same strategy for both. It’s apples and oranges.

In the same way that your topic will affect your tone and style, so will your metrics of success! If you want someone to engage with your posts, you want to be colloquial and relatable. You want to talk the way they do. If you want someone to download a demo trial, you want to sound like the ultimate leader of industry.

The Bottom Line

  1. For social media, you are measuring engagement (shares, comments, likes, etc).
  2. For SEO, you are measuring page views, clicks, and rankings on search engines.


The output (i.e. amount of time and volume of content you expend) for each strategy varies widely. However, because keywords and optimization for companies will stay more consistent over time, it’s safe to assume that you might expend a large amount of time and effort into an SEO strategy for the near and mid-term. Later on, if you’ve reached your ranking potential, it may make sense to relax a little and soak up the benefits of it over a longer time period.

SEO is all about a ‘slow and steady’ approach. As we always say, it’s a marathon and not a sprint.

On the other hand, social media marketing is also like farming…but for something like an oyster. It requires a more consistent strategy of ‘plugging and chugging’ day in and day out, but the ultimate goal is to find the pearl, that sweet spot where you connect and go viral.

The average day of SEO monitoring might include checking on rankings, tweaking keyword placement, and adding a new blog post based on those findings. The average day of social media marketing would include distribution of both new and old content across any relevant social media channels. Think a combination of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, on average.

The Bottom Line

  1. You should be churning out a lot of content daily for social media marketing, probably on more than one channel.
  2. You should work to make a few cornerstone pieces for your SEO strategy, then fall into a set cadence like a weekly blog and ad spend for certain words.


At the end of the day, your company’s industry type will heavily determine which strategy is most important for you to focus on.

Consider these questions:

Are your customers emotionally or technically driven?

Is your product tangible, or intangible?

Are you selling directly to consumers, or to other businesses?

If your answers lean heavily towards any of the former options, you should make sure to put heavy amounts of budget or time towards your social media strategy. If your answers lean to the latter options, you should focus on creating a powerful strategy for search engine optimization.

Tangible products are most successful when they connect on an emotional level with their customers in the areas where their customers are already interacting. Intangible products, or products meant for large businesses, often fare better with strategies that focus on education and rankings in search.

The Bottom Line

  1. If your industry/product is tangible, emotionally driven, or works directly with consumers, prioritize social media.
  2. If your industry/product is intangible, technically driven, or works with other businesses, focus mostly on SEO.

Guest Author

Caroline Burke – Caroline Burke is a writer & marketer based in Boston, Ma. She specializes in content marketing, SEO and copywriting. Follow her on Twitter.