SEO trumps social on driving traffic? Not so fast.

A post today in Crain’s comes from an SEOer who claims that SEO is what drives traffic above all else, not social media.

I certainly don’t disagree with him on the power of search engine optimization to be a big traffic driver, but I’ve got at least one case study that says social media can be a primary traffic driver, even over SEO: My own.

First and foremost, let me add one gigantic disclaimer: Everybody’s website and blog is different, with different audiences that behave in various ways. Some people are more searchers and have a great idea of what they’re looking for. Some don’t and stumble upon something they like, then share it with others.

My audience is a little more of the second variety. They find a post of mine, hopefully like it and share it. This isn’t to say my SEO isn’t good because it is. It’s to say that my results from social media have been even better. How so? I’ll list my top traffic drivers over the last 90 days, as thankfully with your help, this blog has continued to go up and up in readership. So for that, I sincerely thank you. Now to the list:

#1 Traffic Driver: Facebook
For me, Facebook is by far the best referrer of traffic to this blog. It’s not even close. It’s like Mark Zuckerberg called up a bunch of fans of mine, put them in a semi-trailer and drove them to my site. Then he turned around and did it again the next day.

Facebook isn’t just tops in referring people to my site but in share-ability of posts.

#2 Traffic Driver: LinkedIn
Again, this is where you need to pay attention to where your audience “hangs out” online. While it seems obvious, I really have to wonder if people factor this into their equation. It’s why I cringe whenever someone says, “You need to be on _____(insert site here)” without ever sitting down with the customer and getting a feel for who their primary target is. Not just demographic stuff but real behavioral targeting. Would you give a potential bride any old wedding dress off the rack without talking to her, getting to know what she likes, understanding what her budget is and taking her measurements before you know what you can recommend? Since many in my audience are businesspeople, it’s no surprise that LinkedIn is a popular place for referring traffic and sharing posts.

It’s right around here that my search engine optimization traffic comes in as a #3 referrer for various terms used. It’s very close with LinkedIn, but L.I. does edge out my traffic from Google slightly. Even so, Facebook crushes it – almost triple the amount of referring for all search engine terms.

Again, before you run into your boss’ office saying, “we need to be on Facebook and LinkedIn” remember that this is the way MY audience is behaving. Yours may be completely different and very search engine oriented.

Other strong Traffic Drivers: E-mail and Inbound links

Behind these three but still very valuable to me in terms of traffic are e-mail and inbound links. You know e-mail, that supposedly ancient method that continues to keep on giving. When a company has interest in a post and wants to share it, they may or may not be a company where social media is widely used. So the next best path is, naturally, e-mail. I’ve had many posts shared this way with traffic coming back to the blog. After Facebook, e-mail is the second highest way my posts are shared among others.

Inbound links have been kind to me as well. I’m referring to sites that picked up my posts and linked back to my site in their own posts. If those sites have high traffic themselves, I get high traffic. This is practically tied with e-mail for refer-ability.

Of course, as the tools of social media are always evolving, I’ll be interested to see how Google Plus plays into the mix as I revisit this list over the next month and quarter. I only expect it to gain more traction over time.

The point of sharing all this is simply that in the case I’ve just outlined to you, both social and SEO are working together to play a fundamental role in increasing traffic and sharing for me. The audience data tells me so. To suggest one or the other is always the go-to method for people is a blanket statement that doesn’t often apply. For some, SEO may be #1 and for others, social may be #1. But rare is the case where both shouldn’t be high on your list. They certainly are on mine.

Memo to a Mayor: Make Chicago the most socially connected city government

A couple months ago, I heard Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce President Jerry Roper tell a story of how Mayor Richard J. Daley (that would be Chicago’s first Mayor Daley for history buffs) used to instruct staff members closest to him to always carry a pad of paper with them. That way, when they saw something in their daily lives such as a pothole in need of fixing, they would jot that down and give it to the Mayor. I’d like to think the pothole in question then got promptly fixed.

I can also remember Newark Mayor Cory Booker speaking on Piers Morgan’s program on CNN about how he successfully used Twitter this past Winter to quicken emergency response times toward those residents trapped by a snowstorm.

Some say these examples are from long ago or apply to a smaller city than our own. But really – is the notion that Chicago be the most socially connected city be a pipe dream? No. I don’t think so. In fact, I believe we have the tools and resources to make this possible. And I think a relatively new Mayor in Rahm Emanuel is the perfect opportunity for renewed advocacy and accessibility with governmental leaders.

Let’s start with the ground level.
If someone sees a pothole, we may complain about it and say, “somebody should fix that.” Or we could snap a picture of it and tweet it to an alderman or City Hall with the location of where it is. At the end of this post, I’ll give you their Twitter handle if they have one. Easy enough? You know it is. You have time to use your phone for good in between games of Angry Birds.

Getting City Council More Social
Every Chicago Alderman should set up with a Twitter handle so they can be sent questions in the form of tweets from their constituents and respond in kind. Or use it to listen to relevant conversations going on among Chicago’s most passionate citizens. Currently, only about 1/2 of the 50 Wards have Twitter accounts and several of those are poorly updated (but glad to see my neighborhood’s Alderman, Tom Tunney, doing a good job with the tweets – @AldTomTunney). For more in-depth postings that incorporate pictures and video, having a Facebook page is not the worst idea, particularly since most constituents are likely on Facebook if they are not on Twitter. All you need once you’re set up with an account is to be responsive to the people who most likely live in your designated area – which is, after all, what you were elected to do, right?

Town Hall meetings
What works for President Obama can work at the very localized level too – broadcast Town Hall meetings or other types of monthly discussion meetings on YouTube to bring together roundtables of citizens with their Alderman to discuss topics that need to be raised. Now, I understand that the content at times may be no more thrilling than C-Span, but I didn’t say this has to be recorded in its entirety either. Taking the most useful snippets that are then posted on the Alderman’s site can help convey quick answers to questions that are very top-of-mind for the neighborhood.

Civic Investment
As funding from the private sector is important to help grow our city, each of our Aldermen should also be set up with a page from the leading B2B website, LinkedIn. I’m not merely talking about creating a page, however. I’m talking about creating an outlet for connections between the politician and corresponding C-level executives as well as associations can occur. It takes no time to create this and establish connections. Besides, LinkedIn also has a Polls application and no matter how much they say they don’t look at them, politicians can gain some significant insight and goodwill from polling their constituents on a variety of local issues.

“How do I do this?”
For the politicians: It’s incredibly simple to be set up with the right tools to engage your electorate on a daily basis, including all the ones I’ve outlined above and then some. It’s smart for your visibility, accessibility and yes, your election or re-election efforts. The main point is that what I’m suggesting is a small but important opportunity to improve communication between City Hall and its citizens just a little bit better. The upside is worth the investment of time.

For the people: Courtesy of the people at Progress Illinois, here’s a Chicago Aldermanic Twitter Directory. If your Alderman is on this list, connect to him or her and make the link to government in Chicago just a little bit closer. Don’t forget to follow our Mayor while you’re at it – @RahmEmanuel.

For those who may question the effectiveness of being the most socially connected city…do you really find the traditional way of getting things done in politics marvelously efficient?

That’s what I thought. Let’s give this way a try now.

Every social media cocktail needs a beer chaser.

By now you’ve probably been bombarded with enough posts elsewhere on Google Plus, so you’ll be glad to know this isn’t one more of them. Because what I’m writing about has wider implications than just one tool. It has to do where your entire brand lives in the social media realm.

I’ve come to the conclusion that clearly in terms of social media we should all be on TumblrGoogTwitBookTube.

Sorry for the confusion, but I think others with their behaviors and proclamations of late are just as confusing.

I’ve had it with those who feel another social media tool has to die so that another may live. Maybe it’s the rush to be proclaimed as a prophet of some sort, but it’s bogus. Actually, to be more accurate, it’s dangerous brand strategy and it risks burning the relationships you’ve cultivated.

I really have to marvel at people who are writing about how they are leaving their current outposts because something else has come along that’s far superior.

“We were on Facebook but we’re moving everything to Tumblr.”
“We were on WordPress but we’re going over to GooglePlus. Follow us there!”

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

They’re missing the point of how their own fans and followers use social media, which is to say that we almost never put all our energy toward one channel.

We have a hub and then, many times, we have at least a secondary channel. The most common example I’ve witnessed of this is Facebook for personal relationships, LinkedIn for business relationships. Or LinkedIn/Facebook as primary hub, Twitter as a 2nd, lesser visited destination.

It’s kind of like a favorite of restaurant of mine that serves a Bloody Mary with a beer chaser of Miller Lite during Sunday brunch – every good primary hub deserves a secondary accompaniment. Much like the primary and secondary ways we consume social media. Or “Hubs” and “Outposts.”

It’s downright rare for us to spend 100% of our time in one place and that’s more than OK. Yet, every single time a new tool comes along like Google Plus, it has to be the Killer of something else. It was the Facebook Killer, the Twitter Killer and the LinkedIn Killer.

Nope. I’m not buying it.

Why can’t we research, experiment and explore? I spend the majority of my time on WordPress, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Not only because it’s what I’m comfortable with at the moment but more importantly, it’s where the people I have relationships with and potential clients are spending their time online. With Google Plus being new, I’ve done my due diligence to check it out because like many other people, I was curious. If enough of my audience is there – and stays there – I’ll deepen my commitment (I wouldn’t get hung up on the 10 million people who signed up for it until we see the staying power months from now).

I remember a much simpler time when we only debated in absolutes between “digital” media and “traditional” media. 

Which was seriously only a couple years ago.

Now, just as social media is gaining credibility in the boardroom as a viable option for marketing budgets – yes, I believe we’re moving past that point – we’re going to complicate matters and confuse them by saying, “No, don’t go here anymore, you want to put all your energy over here.”

“But I thought you said Facebook was equivalent to the 3rd or 4th largest country in the world.”

“Yeah, I did, but it’s on its way out. You want to be on Tumblr. You can do so much more with it.”

“But our audience is in their 40’s. Isn’t that a tool more popular with Gen Y right now?”

“It’s OK. They’ll come around to it.”

Sure. But they’re not all there right now. So it’s more sensible to dip my toes in that water before jumping in with reckless abandon.

This may sound like you shouldn’t be flexible, but I’m actually championing for greater mobility.

Far before this thing called the Internet and social media came along, advertising agencies who had intelligent planners knew that their audience probably watched TV, listened to the radio and read certain magazines. They didn’t tell companies to put 100% of their marketing budgets in one medium.

We shouldn’t be telling people that now.

What I’m hearing is the equivalent of someone not only telling a marketer to put all their money in TV, but all their money in one channel like ABC. That doesn’t sound like good advice, right?

Well, telling a brand to go “all in” on one social media channel is probably along the same lines of competence.

We should be telling people to diversify and plan based on what we have gathered about the way their audience has, is and will behave. If social media is a component of their brand strategy – which it is – we should be treating it as such by diversifying our percentages of time spent on various channels rather than flipping off the light switch while people are still in the room talking.

I’m not suggesting that you should spend time on a dying channel or a channel that’s not reflective of your audience. That would be silly. What I am suggesting is that you should add social media channels rather than burn bridges. We can still be pioneers and sherpas of social media while being true to how our brand’s followers are living today. Then, if and when it appears that either the channel is on its way down for the count or that your audience is steadily trickling away from that channel, you make a move to change your commitment to it. From “primary” to “secondary” to “non-existent” if you have to.

So it’s OK to suggest when appropriate that we should take a hard look at spending time on a new channel because that’s where we believe based on research and conversations that this is where our audience will be headed. We’d be doing a disservice not to communicate this.

It’s just that when you build up a following on any medium, it’s something that’s not only taken time on your part but is a serious investment made on the people who have chosen to follow you that should never be taken for granted.

Sometimes I wonder if brands and gurus remember that before they torch the old place.

Spotify’s here. And Klout Perks are suddenly more valuable.

A music service that I was waiting to land here from Europe has finally arrived and from playing around with it in a short time, it was worth the wait. Spotify enables you to play basically any track of music you like for up to 20 hours per month, for free. There’s also a nice social component to Spotify that allows you to share tracks with others on Facebook or Twitter.

That’s exciting in itself.

What’s also exciting to me is the way I received my invite. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if Klout‘s “Klout Perks” rewards program would be all that impressive right away (the $10 Subway card is cool and “Falling Skies” Survival Guide is nice, but I was looking for even more), but by giving people access to new services by virtue of having a high enough Klout score, select individuals right now can receive an invite to try out the free part of the Spotify service. Suddenly, a score that only means so much to some people gets a little more muscle to it. It means you get tangible goods and services for being strong socially. And that makes improving your Klout score more worthwhile, even if you only give so much credibility to Klout. It also opens the door for marketers to do some good segmenting and invite influentials on Klout to attend events or try product samples.

Whatever music you want, whenever you want. Free and legally. Was that so hard?

Back to Spotify – if you didn’t get an invite yet, there’s a way around the system. For an extra $5-10 per month, you can sign up for the Premium or Unlimited levels, which may be more worthwhile to you anyway, because the free level is more limited in monthly listening time.

Give it a try and let me know what you think. Don’t worry, Pandora, I’m not leaving you behind – you still help me stumble upon new artists like nobody’s business.

What do you think? Is marketing to influential people on social media networks based on their special score (Klout, PeerIndex) a worthy approach? Or is it superficial to you?

The Google Gap: Useful? Yes. Emotional Pull? Well…

A rather stunning irony occurred to me as I was thinking about the latest tool Google is introducing, Google Plus.

For all the tools I use from Google, I don’t believe I ever got extraordinarily excited about using them before or during the time I’ve actually used them.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of certain tools and highly recommend them. In particular, I regularly use Google Calendar, Gmail, Google Reader and Google Alerts. I’d even describe them to others as “great.”

So what’s the problem? The problem is despite the fact that Google delivers a highly efficient, highly productive group of tools for me, none of these tools have stirred the senses with a “got to have it now” factor. And this wouldn’t be such a big deal if Google weren’t aiming to stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Facebook to be our all-everything place for connections, searching and relationships.

Say what you want about privacy issues, but Facebook owns a great deal of emotional investment from people. It’s the place where their family and friends commonly are when it comes to online community interaction, if not their business associates too. The technology to keep and enhance those connections is important, but technology is almost secondary to why people are there and stay there. This emotion is not to be underestimated.

Take another company, like Apple. Apple has the “got to have it now” factor in spades. It’s safe to say that for a large number of people like you, there’s been at least one Apple product released in the last 10 years that you really, really wanted….NOW. It’s why people had to have the iPod, stood in line for the iPhone and they’re salivating over the iCloud. And if you didn’t have it, you felt left behind. Even with the one product that met a bit more skepticism at first, the iPad, there’s little question now that people who bought into it love what it can do on a personal or business level.

And there it is – the “L” word. Love. There are many companies that produce useful, efficient, productive products that people buy and even keep buying…but don’t love them. This is coveted territory that not everybody can own. Dare I say that Google has never produced anything that’s, well, FUN. It’s never ENTERTAINED. Absolutely, it’s helped me get the job done, find what I’m looking for and keep me organized. But it’s never brought a lasting smile to my face.

Love isn’t always attained by adding more to an existing solution but actually stripping away what isn’t needed. One of my favorite examples here is 37 Signals with their Basecamp product for project management. There’s more emotional pull here not because it’s complicated but because it’s more simple than other tools with just enough to give me everything I need, nothing that I don’t. It doesn’t hurt that 37 Signals is great at customer service and exceedingly quick to inform its customers of enhancements or technical difficulties they’re working on.

And by the way, I didn’t have to wait for an invite to use their software.

Therefore, the Google Gap has nothing to do with technology but an emotional pull. A legion of fans that are passionate about spreading the word to others unsolicited because that product enhances their life just SO MUCH that they want the people they care about to experience that feeling too.

Never had that situation with Google. Never had a “Oh wow, you’ve got to try Gmail” moment. Instead, the exchange goes like this:

Them: “What’s your favorite calendar program?”
Me: “Google Calendar. It’s great.”

That’s not love – it may sound like it at first glance, but it’s not. That’s a positive recommendation that wouldn’t have come unless it was initiated by someone else. To close the Google Gap and be seen in a different light, Google Plus and future products from Google need to be more than just useful and efficient. We also don’t need versions that seem better in appearance but in practicality are more complicated to use.  They have to bring remarkable new categories of technology we haven’t used yet or dramatically strip away the complications of technology we’re using to the point of where it almost feels like a brand new category.

By virtue of his product line, Steve Jobs enjoys this emotional capital. By virtue of the relationships he has ownership over, so does Mark Zuckerberg. If Larry Page wants to stand on the platform with these gentlemen, this is the challenge before him to shape a new chapter of the Google era.