Is social the new Google?

During one of our recent projects, we noticed something odd. The website at hand, a shop/blog selling organic products, had over 50% of all page views coming from Google Pinterest.

If you want to learn more about using social media and other essential SEO skills, you should check out our All-Around SEO training! It doesn’t just tell you about SEO: it’ll help you put these skills into practice!

Social traffic from pinterest larger than google analytics referrals

Is this really as odd as we felt it was? When you think about it, social search has been stealing ground from Google search for years, which gave us Google+. A platform we didn’t embrace because we had already gotten used to Twitter and Facebook.

When I was at a camping site in France this summer, I asked some kids whether they still used Facebook. These boys and girls must have been around 10 to 14 years old, and none of them were using it. They all used Instagram instead. Now I know that Facebook’s age policy is to allow ‘children’ from 13 years up, but we all know this age requirement is not always abided by. Tons of younger people already use the network, but there seems to be an ongoing shift (of teenagers) towards Instagram.

Somehow it seems that photos are the new blog posts. Of course, we need text to explain things and start discussions, like in this article. But the ease of taking a picture and posting it, with the main goal to get ‘props’ or comments, seems to be more attractive for these youngsters.

Read more: Images for blogs »

Social engagement and communication

Social networks could be considered ‘extensions’ for your website. Where a website is usually about sending information, the social platforms are used as marketing tools for that website. Besides that, these also allow for support and discussion. A lot of people browse Facebook and see your posts in their timelines on a daily, if not hourly basis. Where the frequency of visits to your website is most probably much lower. It’s an easy way to connect and communicate with your target audience.

With the rise of social networks like Facebook and Twitter (who remembers Myspace?) the question arises whether it’s possible to build that social network solely around your website as well. So without the use of social platforms like Twitter and Instagram. I think only a few sites have been able to do so sofar. IMDB for example seems to have a solid base of frequent visitors. Several online news sites have, and perhaps a number of technology and gossip blogs.

The future is engagement

With the expected ongoing growth of social networks as a whole, the entire internet is becoming more and more personal. And as a result of that, so should websites. Some websites are able to make that happen on the site itself. But the majority of websites simply need social networks to take their site to the next, user-focused level.

My gut feeling tells me it all depends on if you’re able to find kindred spirits among those that comment. Or just having a huge audience so coffee table chats involve topics discussed on your website. Perhaps articles are discussed at WordPress conventions, WP Meetups or WordCamps. We surely hope so.

Social engagement seems to grow as we up our blogging frequency, send out weekly newsletters and actively engage in conversations on social platforms. Social engagement for your website is just not necessarily (or only) built in comments. It involves all other communication platforms as well.

Just the other day, I was discussing some general online marketing issues with online friends, only to realize after 15 minutes we were using the in-game chat for Clash of Clans for that…

Building an audience

Social communication or social marketing is still gaining importance next to, or perhaps as a part of search engine optimization. We will do a series of posts with our thoughts about social marketing over the next months. You can already check out this post about how to promote your products and start earning on Pinterest.

We have thought of a number of subjects to address. But if you feel there is a subject we must discuss, please let us know in the comments. Or reach out to me on Twitter, @michielheijmans. If we pick your subject (and you were the first to mention it), you’ll receive a free copy of our new ebook!

Keep reading: Social Media Strategy: where to begin? »

Coming up next!

35 Responses to Is social the new Google?

  1. Reza
    Reza  • 10 years ago

    Breaking news!! My knowledge grow more..

  2. Nigel Abery
    Nigel Abery  • 10 years ago

    I also like social media but how do you target the “ready to buy” segment instead of people “Browsing”.

  3. Rifat Rahn
    Rifat Rahn  • 10 years ago

    Social media is really good source for visitors but problem is it does not applicable for all sites. Pinterest really work great for travel, recipe, fashion and health sites. I found people usually like these niche images. In social media marketing main things is keeping engagement the customers but most business owner fail on these.

  4. Dario Fumagalli
    Dario Fumagalli  • 10 years ago

    Actually it’s not a big surprise.
    It’s called “diminishing returns”.
    Getting ranked on Google, finding short tailed and even “medium” tailed keywords is getting a chore.
    You, small company, know you are competing against super-massive giants who can out-rank, out-compete, out-anything you and you don’t stand a chance (at least, this is the feeling for a small company entering “the fray”).

    What to do? Go where the market is less super-saturated, where there’s bi-directional interaction (on Facebook you interact with others, you don’t just “passivley stare” at a returned link like watching TV).

    So, there’s nothing new under the sun. We started with the generalistic, passive television approach. Google today is the new generalistic TV. Social networks are more le less focused, younger, with less friction against newcomers and newcomers can carve a niche with their one to one communication skills, something you can’t do by just optimizing SEO for Google.

  5. Kristin
    Kristin  • 10 years ago

    I’d love to know more about how real small and micro businesses can find the time to effectively engage their customers online when they already have so much to do. They need a return on that investment of time – what’s the best way to determine the right amount of time for a particular company to invest? Without that answer, a lot of small companies will opt for zero, I suspect.

  6. Dena Dale Crain
    Dena Dale Crain  • 10 years ago

    I think you’re right on target; no surprises here. Still, we’re only passing through yet another phase. Surely the end will be a single resource, not the present plethora of competing networks that all have their own modus operandi and fans leaping back and forth depending on stats.

    Small ones will, in typical fashion, be beaten out; some big ones (Google?) will be cut down to size; and in the long run some interconnective tissue will hold the whole thing together.

    Hopefully, in those days yet to come, we as users will find our tasks simpler than ever – networking effectively is, for the moment, a nightmare!

  7. Robert Ryan
    Robert Ryan  • 10 years ago

    Great post and totally agree, social is becoming more and more important for traffic and I’ve often noticed that when I have a post that does well on social (lots of Retweets, Plus Ones, Pinterest Pins etc) that I then get more organic traffic for a period of time after that… Anyone else see anything similar happening?

  8. Jo Egan
    Jo Egan  • 10 years ago

    Great post in much valued laymans language. Would love to hear your thoughts on monitoring anticipated development trends for the future web 3.0 and practical advice (in the same laymans language)

  9. Tho 68
    Tho 68  • 10 years ago

    I think is also a best choice for social :)
    My visit that most come from.

  10. Maylee
    Maylee  • 10 years ago

    I did read somewhere else about the use of pinterest, i’ve got a few clients and we tend to use pinterest for those that are relevant. its not just a given that its going to bring in traffic

    • Michiel Heijmans

      I 100% agree. It’s all depending on the site, plus (as always) on how much effort you put in it.

  11. SimonTheSorcerer
    SimonTheSorcerer  • 10 years ago

    Study – with a decent sample size, not based on one client’s one single website – finds that Organic Search Drives 51%+ Of Traffic, Social Only 5%.

    This is tabloid SEO.

    • Michiel Heijmans

      So when I mention building a community and talk about social media, you say it’s SEO. I think it is optimizing your website as a whole. Branding vs SEO, stuff like that. A website is more than HTML/PHP and Google, in my opinion. It also involves people, users. Social media is a great way to interact, perhaps even more effective than just dropping a comment.

      If you still focus on SEO only and forget about things like branding on / and social, you are selling your customers short.

      Some sites have the additional benefit that social actually drives them traffic as well. Some don’t. Depends on the website, right?

      • SimonTheSorcerer
        SimonTheSorcerer  • 10 years ago

        First of all, thank you for taking the time to respond to my comment. Appreciated, really.

        As someone who is making a living online from his website I know firsthand how f****g complicated all this is.

        My answers:

        “A website is more than HTML/PHP and Google, in my opinion. It also involves people, users. Social media is a great way to interact, ”

        Yes indeed the ultimate goal is to build a “brand” and a real audience, not just capturing organic traffic.

        However that takes 5+ years. And what do you do in the meantime? Only waiting for establishing a brand and brand-loyal audience is only for people what the money to pay the expenses of a company and a professional team behind the website for years.

        Of course that’s not 90% of the websites.

        “Some sites have the additional benefit that social actually drives them traffic as well. Some don’t. Depends on the website, right?”

        Yes, indeed, a lot of it depends on the niche of the website. Some are more difficult -almost impossible- , some are easier.

        I hope this puts my original -somewhat brush, apologize for that- comment in perspective.

        • SimonTheSorcerer
          SimonTheSorcerer  • 10 years ago

          There is one question everyone making a living online needs to answer:

          How will I ensure the financial solvency of my online business in the short and medium run without comprising long-term success?

          Cause how you answer this question will make or break your SME business (Small and Medium sized Business).

  12. jonathanwthomas
    jonathanwthomas  • 10 years ago

    I guess it just depends on what you’re selling. I market a unique t-shirt design every week that’s only available for one week. Google Search is useless for this. But Facebook/Twitter/Email is incredibly valuable for getting the most sales possible.

  13. Gifographics
    Gifographics  • 10 years ago

    People are more active on Social Media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and this trend will increase significantly over time. Social media can not replace search engines but can drive instant and huge amount of visitors to a website.
    Instagram and Google+ are best social platform to post GIF image and infographics. Facebook can not hold GIF pictures, yet.

    • Michiel Heijmans

      Are you referring to Google+ because it works, marketing wise and traffic wise, or because it can contain gifs? Just wondering as I feel focus / activity on G+ is less and less.

      • Gifographics
        Gifographics  • 10 years ago

        I know there are less activity on Google+ but it has huge base of professionals, web developers and tech savvy people. This audience is focused, active and highly valuable for tech/web industry.

        As per my experience, sharing GIF image on Google+ can drive huge amount of traffic to a website. Animated images can drive lots of traffic then static JPEG file.

        • Michiel Heijmans

          Interesting! Thanks for the explanation.

  14. Kem
    Kem  • 10 years ago

    It’s important to match your niche to the right social network. Your food or home decor blog, for example, will get far more traffic from Pinterest than Twitter. Your news site is a better fit for Twitter–a network specificially designed to disseminate breaking news as quickly and widely as possible–than slower-moving Pinterest.

    Your resources are better spent focusing on the right social networks and doing it well than taking the shotgun approach of carelessly throwing your stuff up on every single network out there and hoping people like it. The only followers neglected social accounts get are bots.

    Finally, no human wants to follow a social networking page that is nothing but blatant advertisements. Even major corporations with sizable advertising budgets have trouble figuring this one out.

    • Michiel Heijmans

      I think you are spot on. Pick your weapons of choice and try to use the social platform your target audience is using. Thanks for your comment, Kem!

  15. Amit Roy
    Amit Roy  • 10 years ago

    What I have seen from my experience is that Google plus is growing its user base and also have shown promising results when it comes to search optimization. Recent report from Searchmetrics also mentioned regarding this update.
    What are your thought Michiel?

  16. Sandra van der Lingen
    Sandra van der Lingen  • 10 years ago

    Thanks Michiel for this article! I hope this convinces even more (small) business owners that they can no longer ignore social media.

  17. Vinay Kashyap
    Vinay Kashyap  • 10 years ago

    Hey sorry this one is out of topic but how did everyone else here got a profile pic and I din’t?

  18. Liz Rodriguez
    Liz Rodriguez  • 10 years ago

    Great article! I believe since we now have so more social media platforms and options there is a large shift in choices. Especially when it comes to demographics and age(s) playing the main roles at to which platforms are preferred by users. I look froward to future posts on this subject.

  19. Tommy Landry
    Tommy Landry  • 10 years ago

    I wouldn’t say that social is a replacement to Google, but rather, an additional channel that will help contribute to overall traffic growth. Sure, there’s search available on the various networks, and if you manage community well there are other ways to attract interest. But in the end, search isn’t going away, it’s just evolving. This is why Google launched Google+ back in 2011 even though their market data suggested it was not a good idea. Social is part of the overall game, which is an evolution rather than a mutation of traffic sources. And yes, I like to look at web presence instead of website, where the site + social + anywhere else you’re mentioned (citations, local directories, guest posts, news coverage) all play into the big picture of your online visibility.

    Good food for thought post either way. Thanks for the ideas.

  20. Vinay
    Vinay  • 10 years ago

    This is great for startups who have real stories to share and bad for spammers who abuse keywords..

  21. ashu
    ashu  • 10 years ago

    I use pinterest to find out the topics which are trending. Because a blog post on that topic with great graphics/images have lot of potential to go viral on pinterest giving us huge traffic. Even you can use it for finding related search terms too.

  22. Marcin Nowak
    Marcin Nowak  • 10 years ago

    Really impresive. But are you know a good case, when pinterest is the bigger source of audience? Especially on blog way. Or good bloger sttrategy on pint?
    Thanks for ebook ;)

    • Michiel Heijmans

      Not sure what you mean, Marcin.. Please elaborate!

  23. Salman Ravoof
    Salman Ravoof  • 10 years ago

    This has got me thinking too. I just started my personal blog a few weeks back and didn’t expect much traffic to be honest.

    I shared one of my blog posts on reddit, and boom, I had a spike in the number of sessions. Around 350 unique visits for a blog post for a blog that didn’t even have 100 total unique visitors as of then.

    Social media is a powerful medium. But it’s all scary for individuals like me. We don’t exactly know what clicks and what doesn’t.

  24. Chris Prescott
    Chris Prescott  • 10 years ago

    As a graphic artist, I fully agree with the social media toping google. I utilize Pinterest as another way to display my design work with fantastic results. It seems to fly around like crazy… definitely like having a second website. My images ‘rank’ well with google, but not as well as Pinterest when it comes to traffic.

  25. Kelsey Vere
    Kelsey Vere  • 10 years ago

    Great post, thanks! I find in my personal experience that I do a lot of research and “googling” not on Google at all. I often jump right to Facebook for example and try to find a business or a person. This way I can talk to them directly or comment on their recent activity to show interest. Especially on LinkedIn. I think that social media will become the way for searching and research over and above Google.