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Why Are Search Marketers Getting Social?

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The definition of what is and isn't search marketing is expanding to include other related disciplines. It began with Web developers moving into SEO. A few years ago, SEOs expanded into paid search. Today, one area that more and more search marketers are moving into is social media marketing.

Social media marketers utilize community-based sites like MySpace, Digg, YouTube and Flickr to get a message out to certain groups, to garner links back to their own sites, or to help manage an online reputation by building more pages that will rank in search results for a company, product, or person's name.

A Natural Progression from Search to Social Media?

But why does this new practice fall under the realm of search marketers? And does it make sense? Most search marketers see it as a natural progression of services.

"Social media dovetails nicely with natural search," said Tony Wright, VP of client services at Dexterity Media. "A lot of the skills come from search in linkbuilding, which themselves come from public relations. You have to try to convince someone to link to you."

Search has always been about much more than on-page optimization, or buying search ads. The space is constantly evolving, and because search marketers are often on the front lines of any new trend, they often are in a position to move into new areas that complement search.

"We're all online marketers. Just because search is the dominant form of navigating the Web, doesn't mean that we exclusively work in search. The field is much broader than that," said Rand Fishkin, CEO of SEOmoz.

Fishkin, whose agency offers some kind of social media marketing services for about half his clients, said that he got into social media in the same way many search marketers did: by accident. Being early adopters in the tech space, search marketers were among the first users of many social media sites, and are still heavily represented in those communities.

Other search marketers got into social media more recently, to explore its linkbuilding value. That's the case for Chris Winfield, president of SEO and social media marketing firm 10e20. "At first it was all about building links. I was amazed at how powerful social media marketing was from this perspective. We would release (and promote) an amazing piece of viral content and just sit back and watch the links pour in," he said. "But then I really began to look at it from a much more macro level, and to see how effective it was for marketing online as a whole."

While the link-building value, and the marketing value overall, was low at the start, it has grown along with those sites. But that is still not the primary value of social media marketing, Fishkin said.

"Now search marketers do it for a lot of reasons. The biggest one for me is reputation management, because social media profiles tend to rank well in the search engines," he said. "It's also a good idea to establish your identity on these sites before someone else does.

Social media and search marketing utilize some of the same skills, including general project management and planning, testing skills. Social media also shares the link valuation skills used by link builders to find the most valuable sites and pages to target for placement. It also requires writing skills that SEOs use when optimizing sites, as well as the ability to analyze and adapt to ranking algorithms, in some cases.

"Search marketing is becoming more about marketing, and less about search," said Rob Murray, president and CEO of iProspect. "Really, it's all about what it means to engage a user."

Selling Social Media Marketing to Clients

Clients also seem to see it as a natural progression for search marketers to offer social media marketing services. A growing number of clients are buying social media services along with more traditional search marketing elements. In most cases, they are not coming to the agency asking for social media services, but most do not object to adding them in when the agency shows the value they can get out of it.

"Every client or prospect we talk to is excited with our proposal," Wright said. But there is a challenge for clients accustomed to the measurability of search marketing, he said.

"One of the many challenges with social media is that it doesn't ring the register," he said. "Search has primarily been a direct-response discipline. This may be the branding side of search."

The size and reach of social media sites is growing, as evidenced by a social media report released by iProspect this week. But it's important to keep in mind the comparative size and value of search marketing and social media, cautions Murray.

"People tend to talk about a new technology well ahead of its actual adoption. And for sure, you can still reach two or three times as many people through Google, Yahoo, or MSN. But there is more to life than Google, Yahoo and MSN," Murray said. "Social media is about engagement with the audience. It's not a reach game."

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