The Value of “Social Referrals” vs. “Social SEO” (and Differences!)

By Bob Troia

As companies continue to expand/extend their social footprints, they are increasingly benefiting from both the resulting traffic they are receiving from people sharing content from their websites with others as well as traffic to areas of their website containing user-generated content (UGC) from search engines.

I refer to these concepts as Social Referrals and Social SEO – two related, but very different concepts that any social marketer needs to understand:

Social Referrals:

Traffic to your site via content and/or links posted on social outposts such as Facebook and Twitter by yourself and others.

Social Referrals are driven by a combination of brand-driven referrals (posting a link to your Twitter/Facebook accounts), amplified sharing (consumer retweets), and via built-in sharing tools tied to content on your site.

For many companies (especially those with constantly fresh/dynamic content such as news sites and blogs), social referral traffic has risen to probably the #2 or #3 source of referral traffic (behind organic search and any online advertising).

Types of Social Referral Content:

  • Breaking News (people share this quickly because they want to be the first to ‘break’ this to their friends)
  • Viral Content, such as a funny video or photo (sharing this via Facebook/Twitter is considered ok/non-intrusive versus through email)
  • Online Coupons/Sales/Offers (what can I say, people love free/discounted stuff!)
  • Interesting/Informative Stories/Blog Posts (again, this content acts as social currency for the person sharing it, making them look good/in-the-know – the reality is, many people share this sort of content without even fully-reading the article! I’m as guilty as anyone else)

Social referrals tend to have a very short shelf life, and while true, some of the major search engines are starting to index them, their “relevancy” value in the eyes of search engines diminishes quickly.

Social SEO:

Traffic to your site via search engines, based on consumer-generated content relevancy to keywords.

Social SEO is a side benefit of facilitating user-generated content on your company’s website. For example, consumers aren’t necessarily seeking out information on, let’s say, a bottle of Redwood Creek wine. But, what if the brand has a thriving consumer community of outdoor enthusiasts who love to post/share BBQ and campfire recipes? Over time, the relevancy of that content trickles up the search engine ranks, and eventually can work it’s way to the top! We refer to this valuable, relevant, organic, indexable content as “Google Juice“.

Next, you’ve connected with this consumer based on their interest, while introducing your brand to them in the context of that interest. Not only will they find the user-generated content they discovered as relevant and informative, but they may in turn go on to become a part of your community to connect with other like-minded folks.

(note: Social SEO only truly works if you have also implemented proper search engine optimization techniques into your website, i.e., title, meta tags, <h1>/<h2> html tags, etc.)

Types of Social SEO Content

  • User-Submitted reviews, recipes, photos/videos (with proper meta info)
  • Forum Posts/Discussions/Knowledge Bases
  • Comments
  • User Profiles

The value of Social SEO builds over time, since this content acts as a permanent archive/repository. It also creates a “long-tail” of relevant content, as each piece of UGC becomes in itself an SEO landing page. This makes it easy to measure/learn  what types of content drive the most search engine referral traffic.

Measuring the Impact of Social Referrals and Social SEO

If you are not measuring (both quantitatively and qualitatively) the impact of Social Referrals and Social SEO , you are leaving out a large component of the Social ROI equation! Some examples include:

  • Short term traffic bumps (Social Referrals), long term traffic growth trend (Social SEO)
  • Increase in engagement metrics, time on site, etc.
  • Community registrations, email signups, fan/follower acquisition
  • Coupon redemption/conversion to sales/transactions
  • CRM insights (do social referrals result in larger/more frequent purchases? Are community members who joined via Social SEO more active/engaged than others?)
  • Insights into consumer interests/needs and where your brand is resonating/standing out (i.e., wine + campfire/BBQ recipes = brand positioning)
  • Customer support savings (consumers solving own problems via locating answers provided by other consumers on your community/knowledge base)

Let’s me finish by asking you a question – how did you come across this blog post? Was it via a link someone tweeted or a Google search result? Drop me a line or leave a comment below if you’d like to discuss/debate further!