The Marketing Main Event: Search vs. Social Media

For Internet advertisers, the main event face-off for 2012 is the on-going battle between social media and search for the attention of advertisers.

On the one hand, search has a much longer, more complete history than social media, and it has been ingrained in the fabric of online advertising for virtually as long as it has been a thing on the Web. This means that search advertising is refined and proven, with many well-established best practices that provide a useful template for all marketers. And perhaps most importantly, search is almost always a major component of any online ad campaign from the very beginning, and rightly so.

However, nothing has altered the way that we all use the Web as quickly or dramatically as social media, which evolved from a way for teenagers to kill some time to one of the very pillars of the Internet in just a few years. Now, marketers use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and a plethora of other, smaller social media platforms to reach out to consumers, expand their audience and intimately engage with users, all of which helps them drive interest and create advocates for their brands.

But which one is better? Where should advertisers be focusing most of their attention? It turns out that Florida-based ad agency MDG Advertising was curious, as well, which led to the company creating a helpful infographic (which you can view below) that compares the two marketing realms in four different categories to see how they stack up against one another based on the various surveys and studies. So who came out on top?

Lead Generation
The first category remains one of the most important goals for many digital marketers: Lead generation. Marketers love to gather leads as they provide pre-qualified prospects, making it considerably easier to market to them and, ultimately, providing higher conversion rates. According to MDG Advertising's survey, both B2B and B2C professionals agree that the combination of search and PPC advertising absolutely dominate in terms of generating useful leads for their business. B2C respondents said that SEO make the biggest impact at 41 percent, with PPC coming in at 24.8 percent and social media marketing clocking in at 34.2 percent. Meanwhile, B2B marketers said that SEO impacts their lead generation by a considerable majority, 57.4 percent, followed by social media marketing at 24.8 percent and PPC advertising at 17.9 percent.

Brand Awareness
While lead generation is dominated by search marketing, it actually ranks second in terms of the top objectives of search engine optimization below increasing website traffic and above generating brand awareness. However, as the infographic explains, brand exposure is listed as the primary objective of social media, according to Web marketing professionals. So, while search engines may be able to help consumers find you, it won't help them know who you are. If you want to generate interest in your brand, turn to social media.

Local Business Visibility
Despite the Internet, many consumers still like to do much their shopping locally, although many still use the Web to find out information about their local businesses, and for the most part, they're using search engines to do it. That is the case if the consumer is looking for information about a restaurant, bar or club, where they'll use search engines 38 percent of the time, "specialty" websites 17 percent of the time and social media just three percent of the time. But it's not just diners and nightclubs that rule the search engines, as search also dominates as the most popular method for users looking for "other" local businesses at 36 percent, followed by specialty sites at 16 percent and social media trailing far behind at one percent. Needless to say, local businesses absolutely must emphasize SEO as part of their online ad campaigns.

I think we all know where this one is going. When it comes to interacting with eager consumers and (hopefully) turning them into brand advocates, social media is the ideal platform, although not by the incredible margins that one might think. A survey of over 600 marketers asked them what they preferred as an interactive marketing tool, and social media came out on top at 65 percent. However, 54 percent of respondents said SEO, while only 34 percent said they use paid search to interact with consumers. This isn't terribly surprising, however, as the nature of social media obviously lends itself to being, uh, social and engaging customers.

And the Winner Is...
...Those marketers that are smart enough to leverage both search and social media as essential aspects of their online ad campaigns. Search engines aren't dumb, and the last two years have seen a massive push to integrate social media into search algorithms, and it seems that with every Google or Bing update, social has a greater impact on search rankings.

According to the MDG Advertising's infographic, 50 percent of marketers said that social media has had an impact on their search marketing efforts, while just 29 percent have actually taken steps to merge parts of their social and search strategies. This has to change in 2013, as the two are going to grow more reliant on one another, as well as more integral to the success on online advertisers, as the line between social and search continues to blur.