User intent: Why organic content trumps social media

Don't look for shortcuts. Columnist Drew Eastmead explains why you shouldn't rely too much on social media to drive website traffic to your business.

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typing-writing-blogging-content-ss-1920I recently presented content marketing workshops to two clients in different states. Each company had a large staff of writers to produce online content, and each approached content differently:

Organization A Organization B
Seasoned journalists Young professionals with minimal writing skills
Writing content with academic tone Writing content with friendly tone
Publishing high-quality content, frequently Publishing mediocre content, infrequently

Despite the differences, both organizations:

  • wanted to drive more conversations with prospects.
  • were struggling to gain traction through their original content.

With a common goal and challenge — that of getting traffic to the content they were creating — both organization A and organization B had resorted to the same shortcut: social media.

While social may be a short-term solution to drive website traffic for your business, I believe it is a short-sighted approach — a Band-Aid. By relying too heavily on social media to get your marketing message out there, your business may encounter one or more of these challenges:

Social media can drive low-quality traffic

Facebook and other social channels can be excellent sources of referral traffic for your website. But more page views on your site doesn’t necessarily mean more conversions.

Are your social media posts — or ads — really attracting the kinds of people your business values? I’m not saying they aren’t, but it’s worth seriously questioning.

I have seen many companies who flock to social media, only to share posts with click-bait headlines or images in attempt to drive up their engagement and traffic numbers.

Not only has Facebook cracked down on this practice over the past two to three years, but those who do it are blatantly ignoring user intent. Hootsuite published a useful article last month that outlines five tips on how to write headlines without resorting to clickbait.

An extreme example of clickbait.

An extreme example of clickbait

It all comes down to intent. When someone happens to stumble across your content on social media, there’s little to suggest that they actually wanted to see your content. Conversely, when a prospect types in a keyword phrase in a search engine and chooses to click on your content, you have a very clear indicator that the searcher’s needs align with your site’s content.

In other words, when you focus on organic content development, you’re essentially competing with a handful of content pieces (in the relatively static search engine results page). But in a social media setting, you’re competing against potentially thousands of other pieces of content in the ever-scrolling news feed.

You’re a fish out of water in social media

You know it and I know it. People spend time on Facebook and Instagram because they want to be entertained. They want to catch up with family and friends. They’re rarely on these social networks to be educated, and they’re definitely not there to be marketed to.

Your content on social media, unless genuinely helpful, is just like the ads on TV or on the radio. People tune out.

Social is not a publishing platform

Both organizations I spoke with were actively experimenting with using social as an outlet for publishing their content — not promoting their content. Why?

Simply put, their content management systems were too cumbersome and overwhelming. It was too difficult to add a blog post and have it display correctly on the website. Sadly, I hear this all the time.

So I don’t care what anyone says — the current lot of available CMS tools, including WordPress, is embarrassing. But I digress. Publishing on social media for these teams was just easier and faster.

Of course, social has its shortcomings when used as a publishing platform:

  • You’re diverting traffic away from your website, which should always be your home base. Good things can happen when people visit your site: brand awareness, lead capture forms are filled out, engagement with your content and so on.
  • You have little control over the user experience on social media. On your website, you control the UX.
  • Outlets like LinkedIn Pulse allow anyone to publish content of any quality level. You’re still competing amid a lot of noise (such as the gem below).
  • Social networks come and go (think Vine). Your website is here to stay.
Example of a LinkedIn Pulse post (via Huffington Post).

Example of a LinkedIn Pulse post (via Huffington Post)

Social media has a remarkably short shelf life

More than anything else, website content trumps social media content due to shelf life.

Social Media Content Website Content
Relevancy: 24 hours or less Relevancy: 24/7 for up to ~7 years*
Visibility: Based on prospect’s status as a “follower” or “fan” Visibility: Based on intent (keyword searches)

(*This is based on anecdotal research we’ve done here at our agency, seeing blog posts from as early as 2009 show up for relevant searches to various clients.)

We can think of this comparison in terms of TV viewing. Transient social media content is to live-only airings of shows as permanent website content is to on-demand programming. And we all know what we prefer: DVR content we can pull up if we want, when we want — and we can skip the commercials!

How social and content can support each other

Social absolutely has a place in content marketing. I believe it’s valuable in promoting the original content you have created and published on your website. I only caution digital marketers not to be overly reliant on social as a means of driving traffic.

Remember, content marketing is a long-term strategy — a slow burn. There are no shortcuts. Keep publishing helpful, solutions-focused content, and the audience you’re truly looking for will naturally find you.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Drew Eastmead
Drew Eastmead is the director of content marketing education at Vertical Measures, a digital agency in Phoenix. He leads the company's Content Coaching services and is passionate about teaching, content, and UX. He has 12 years of digital experience, including 10 in New York City, where he managed several large-scale websites. Today, he arms clients with the latest content marketing knowledge and skills to compete in the digital space.

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