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Social Media vs Search Engines for Blog Traffic: Who Wins in Content Marketing?


I have posted previously about an ongoing MBA class on content marketing called Marketing with Social Media that I am teaching at a university in Silicon Valley. We just wrapped up our 7th of 11 weeks. And I have some numbers regarding the social media versus search engine debate.

All 73 students started their websites out from zero. No domain. No hosting. No idea of the difference between tagline and ‘tag, you’re it’. No nothing.

Some of them have been posting very faithfully, using specifically the SEO guidelines I gave them for each post. Well, sorta kinda. As much as people, especially students, follow rules in general that is. We also have a great back linking strategy. And and and …

Question: What performs better? Sending people to sites via your social networks or just writing good stuff and letting the search engines do their thing?

Answer: The course is 45 days old. I took three screen shots from Google Analytics. The reader can compare Facebook referrals to Google organic traffic. (I know. I know. There are other social networks. There are also other search engines.)

Compare the following three 15-day time periods.

Feb 17 – Mar 3


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The students worked their Facebook networks and in the end social network traffic outperformed organic search. It makes sense. The sites were still finding their feet and search was still finding them.

Mar 4 – Mar 18

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Click to see a larger version of this image.

Facebook referrals remained constant, but search results more than doubled as well as outperformed social networking.

Mar 19 – Apr 2

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Click to see a larger version of this image.

Facebook referrals dropped a little but organic search continued to increase – another 13%.

At the risk of overwhelming you screenshots and numbers take a look:

Facebook traffic dropped 33% from 617 visits the last week of Mar/Apr compared to 415 the last week of Feb/Mar.

Organic traffic increased 58% from 697 visits the last week of Mar/Apr to 1100 the last week of Feb/Mar.

One more thing – organic traffic grew by itself. That is my students wrote something and turned off their computers, while with social networking, traffic requires the student to write something and do something else, login elsewhere and promote, interact, build, smooze.

I may be wrong, but after a time, the promotion of content elsewhere = on social networks, gets cumbersome, tiresome, and loses its effectiveness. However, with search traffic, as long as the content is meaningful, follows the rules of good SEO, will continue to grow.

Who wins in the social media vs search engine debate when it comes to content marketing?

Blogs win.

Unless, that is, you have a different experience that you would like to share in a comment below.


  • Bill Hartzer

    This is a great experiment. Interesting data. Sounds as if your goal was only traffic–and that can be great. But what really is important is some sort of conversion.

    News sites want traffic. But real businesses want conversions. So, I would be that if you ran the same test using conversions as a test, the search engine referrals would ultimately perform better than social media sites.

    • Bill Belew

      From one Bill to another. First of all thanks for reading.

      I have data that also shows that search traffic converts better than social networking traffic. I will write about that in a future post here if I haven’t written about it already at my home site.


  • Cheyserr

    Very interesting. Businesses should be able to interact and engage with their customers in whatever medium their customers are familiar with. So I think it’s equally important to allocate time for both social media engagement and blogging.
    But I also agree, you presented a very interesting data. Something that we all should think about.

    • Bill Belew


      I have full Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ profiles for the very reason that some clients prefer to communicate with me via those networks. I even have a Twitter account and following.

      But nothing beats people coming to look for and finding you AND you having what it is they are looking for.

      Thanks for reading.

  • Sunayna Gupta

    Yeah right traffic via search engines may take time but they are for longer time duration than social media. Either was both are important in today’s market so comparision can be made but cannot avoid any of them.

  • Eric Pratum

    I was initially going to comment about this only tracking traffic as opposed to time on site, conversions (of any type), engagement, etc, but either way, I like your final point. In the end, the blog wins either way. Who care if the traffic comes from social or search or something else as long as it performs.

    • Bill Belew


      I have the data to compare time on site via visitors from a social network to visitors from search.

      I can also compare page views to unique visitor ratio another great indicator of a site’s quality and reader interest.

      I will present those stats in a future post here as well if I have not done so already at my home site.

      Thanks for reading.


  • Greg

    Thanks for sharing this article and data regarding online marketing. Have to agree with Bill. Website traffic is important for online businesses, but conversion rates are extremely critical to the success of any e-commerce site. Blogging is a great tool to achieve positive results in both web traffic and targeted traffic. When you apply SEO and good quality content, your online marketing campaign will become successful. Again, thanks for sharing.

    • Bill Belew


      The end game is to provide answers to the site visitor. And for businesses that might be a product or service that the visitor came looking for.

      I have found that most active social networkers are spending the bulk of their time trying to get ppl to their site…hence the many short URLs that you see in social network postings.

      I have done some research in to the time spent on social networking sites and the resulting traffic and money in. I will present those findings here in a future post or at my home site.

      Thanks for reading.


  • Neil Ferree

    Strong work Bill. As others have noted, TRAFFIC is the first goal and CONVERSION is a close 2nd. What’s impressive to me was the DURATION and # of Pages Viewed. Obviously, your readers dig your content and not satisfied with 1 page hit and runs. Well done.

    • Bill Belew


      What pleases me is that it is not my content but that of my students. They are just ‘following the rules’ of good SEO content.

      Thanks for reading.


  • Liudas

    Hmm, I was actually hoping that social media traffic will be greater, because my search engine traffic sucks. oh well, will start on focusing more on search again 🙂

    • Bill Belew

      Social Network traffic is easier to get in the beginning but harder to maintain long term and does not pay for itself in terms of time spent and money made.


  • Mark Fogel

    In looking at the results, have you considered the effect the initial social networking had on the SEO results down the line? That is, try the experiment with no social networking head start to the sitet and see if the SEO results climb as quickly as when they had the boost from the SN clicks in the initial time period.
    Without that “control”, the results have to be questioned.

    • Bill Belew


      Yes social networking has been taken into account. Some of the top performing student sites are because they are actively promoting their sites in the social networks. But… the top site has no social network presence at all. Purely organic search.

      Thanks for reading.


  • Jen Miller

    Thank you so much for sharing these results! I’ve found the same to be true with my clients. I was excited to see you list visit duration was higher on organic search, which is what I see happening all the time. When your reader is engaged, no matter where they may find you, you also have a much better chance of them returning and referring you. Would love to see your new vs. return visit stats in this same study, too! A GOOD, safe blog post composed of original material remains one of the critical tools to being seen in search! Still, Google does note that the url has been pushed to social media, so don’t stop using it as a way to spread the word.

    • Bill Belew


      I will share those stats in a future post. At this point I have so many stats/so much info. 60 students posting at a furious pace on different niches with various motivations can teach a guy like me a lot.

      I will share here or you can read about the students’ experiences first hand in the guest writer cateorgy at http://www.billbelew.com. You can ask them questions as well. I am sure they will share.

      Thanks for reading.


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