The Tectonic Shift: Social Media Driving more Traffic at the Expense of Search?

(Well may be not tectonic but at least tidal)

Every now and then you stumble across something that effectively explains what you instinctively know: that social media is a lot more than a passing buzz word.  Brian Solis’ recent article contained a lot more than the “10 Steps” title suggest.  Have a read as it’s worth it but here’s what jumped out to me:

Nielsen observed that 20% of social consumers today, use social networks as their primary navigation hubs, relying on contacts and trending themes to point them in the right direction.

There’s little doubt that this is a rapidly growing 20%.

Referral traffic is quickly migrating away from traditional search to social networks, and in some cases, at alarming rates.

I take issue with it being a migration away from search as search is still increasing significantly year on year.  However it is clear that social networks are a rapidly growing source of traffic for businesses.

This statement is supported with the graph below showing how many sites are now getting more traffic from social networks than they are from Google.  That’s a big shift.

Social Networks vs Google

Now it’s clear these are news/information sites but look at Gap at the bottom of the list.  70% or so of what they are getting from Google is significant traffic that brands need to be getting hold of.

If the socialization of search and commerce is driven by any one behavior, it is that of sharing…..This is why providing the necessary means for individuals to not only discover your content, but also readily share it across the social web is paramount to the survival of brands”

“Sharing” is a phrase that has been getting a lot of attention recently and quite rightly so.  Let’s not make the mistake of just thinking it’s about brands.  Sharing is happening however small and non-geeky your niche is.  (As an example and accepting we’re in a geeky niche, I was pointed to this article by several of my Twitter friends including @colingilchrist and @phil_adams “sharing” the article with me.)

With the advent of social feeds—a live stream of friends’ activity shared on social networks like Facebook and Twitter— consumers can more easily rely on trusted personal relationships to determine what’s worthwhile to read, watch, play and buy online.

The above quote from Gigya research nicely explains the “word of mouth on steroids” description often given to Social Media

It is now our responsibility to create and connect meaningful content directly within the places where our audiences communicate with each other… we must optimize that content to improve findability and also integrate the tools and services that simplify the process for sharing”

Which amongst other things = think web presence not just website, and make “sharing” part of your technical brief for your website.  Solis then goes on to give 10 very outline steps for achieving this.  Without taking away from them, one day I might seek to expand on what these steps mean from a practical perspective.

His closing section states that “the future of search is social”.  This doesn’t mean Google will be no more as Google is integrating social into search.  It’s also fair to say that social will never be the be all and end all of search.  However it is a reminder of why social media strategies, including “sharing” are essential for SEO.

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