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Customer Acquisition: SEO vs Social Media

August 29, 2013

Simon Fryer
Simon is CandidSky's Search Director, with strong roots in organic SEO and analytics, and a disturbing passion for spreadsheets.

As we all know, social media has boomed somewhat in the last few years. More and more businesses – both B2B and B2C – turned to social media as a new way to acquire customers and many people are decreasing investment more traditional online marketing such as search engine optimisation in favour of platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest in an effort to reach out to their target audience, but how effective has it been?

A survey carried out in the late 2012 by the The Creative Group reported that 62% of markers were planning on increasing investment in Facebook and Linkedin marketing.

The question is – are they just buying in to the hype?

As initially reported by Barry Adams, In 2012 Forrester produced a study that analysed 77,000 online transactions in a two-week period. They found that only 1% of those transactions had any influence from a social media channel.


Forrester also reported that “Forty-eight percent of consumers reported that social media posts are a great way to discover new products, brands, trends, or retailers, but less than 1% of transactions could be traced back to social.”

This represents a startling gap between what marketers and consumers believe is driving sales and the reality of the situation.

In July 2013 a study by Custora also showed that the real drivers of online transactions were organic search, pay-per-click and email marketing, by a long shot.

acquisition growth

It’s easy to see why people have turned to social media. It has a huge reach and target audience, and with recent developments in organic SEO presenting new challenges for the industry, marketing on Facebook may seem like an easier option. However, the statistics don’t lie.

The main problem I see with marketing through social channels is a question of user intent. Social platforms aren’t the online high-street; that position is reserved for search engines for the foreseeable future. We don’t rush to Facebook or Twitter when we want to buy something… Selling to someone when they are engaged it is a far better strategy.

Every Business is Different

Remember, though, that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to marketing online. Many businesses have had great success through social media, and there are some platforms which stand out as drivers of revenue in the social world.

Pinterest, for example, is it the third most popular social networking site, but it has a large number of users in a medium to high income bracket who are looking for products for their homes, weddings and wardrobes. It’s estimated that 69% of Pinterest users have found a product, via the site, that they have gone on to buy – this is compared to just 24% of Facebook users who have done the same. It also draws more referral traffic than Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube combined. You can read Emily’s post on using Pinterest for ecommerce for some tips on getting started.

Similarly, Linkedin has proven to be highly successful for building high-value B2B relationships, with 65% of B2B companies reporting that they have acquired a customer through LinkedIn.

So what’s the answer?

Search marketing is beating social media to a pulp, although purchasing habits may change over time. Despite poor performance on the customer acquisition front social media has become the cornerstone of customer service. Furthermore, we can’t assume that this is the case in every instance; you’ll need to understand your market and audience in order to establish which is the best route for your marketing.

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