Many internet marketing professionals searching for the best internet marketing strategies have varying poisitions on the influence of social media and SEO as primary marketing tools. This sparked an interesting debate between Joshua Benton of and Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land, over the influence of social media and SEO in today's day and age. The dialogue started with Joshua Benton's article on Nieman Lab where Danny Sullivan commented. Watch the Daily Brown Bag to learn about the discussion that Joshua and Danny shared over the roles of social media and SEO in the best internet marketing strategies, and whether or not we agree with their respective stances.


Hello, and welcome to the Daily Brown Bag. Today, we wanted to look at the recent dialogue between Danny Sullivan and Joshua Benton on I’m Chad Hill, and I’m joined by Adam Stetzer.

Yeah, good morning Chad, and welcome to the Brown Bag. These video responses are really interesting for us because we’re trying to jump into the dialogue that’s happening pretty much in real time. Today, Chad as yous said, we’re covering this blog post at, on the Nieman Journalism Lab and there was a really interesting dialogue between Joshua Benton and Danny Sullivan.

The title of the blog post is 4 Headlines That Will Restore Your Flagging Faith in Journalism, and I think the crux of the post is that social and traffic from social media is overtaking search and that sparked a pretty good debate and a dialogue that we want to add something to; maybe take a contrarian position or two and see if we can continue the discussion.

Search or Social Media?

So, I think what was interesting in here to me, Chad, is just these juxtaposing positions of we hear Twitter and other social media avenues growing so rapidly, it’s been in the news for a couple years and as a percentage of where you get your engagement it is growing. Danny Sullivan makes the counterpoint though back to Joshua that even though as a percentage of overall engagement or traffic, social media is growing, you’re overlooking the total size of the pie. And if you isolate out just your traffic from traditional search avenues, that’s probably also growing in an absolute way year over year. So very important not to confuse percentage of overall traffic versus absolute numbers. And I think he’s saying I don’t know that I really buy that social media is killing search. We always hear this all the time--SEO is dead, search is dead. Danny’s saying no, they’re actually both still growing and the overall pie is growing. And it sparked this interesting debate. I’m interested in your thoughts on this, Chad.

The Diversification Angle

It is interesting, and I think a lot of times people get focused on the shiny new object and we forget about the meat and potatoes that actually drive a lot of traffic on the web. The search certainly is that, and that’s what Danny’s talking about. But I do agree with Joshua in a couple of places. We do a lot of SEO and social media, Adam, so I certainly wouldn’t ever say SEO is dead, but I do agree with him in that if you’re a publication--and he makes a point of comparing Upworthy to The New York Times and just the different traffic generated to those on two sites--if you’re a publication and you’re trying to figure out how do we stay relevant, you don’t want to have all your eggs in one basket.

A lot of people, as they pointed out in the 2000s spent a lot of time doing search engine optimization, but now they're still trying to grow their traffic and don’t want to be beholden to Google. The great example was to Demand Media that was too focused on Google only, didn’t really have a traffic strategy beyond Google and they've fallen on hard times. So, the publications out there trying to stay relevant in this day and age look at Google and say they have kind of a love hate relationship. They need to make sure they explore other ways to drive traffic. On one hand, I totally agree with Joshua on that.

On the other hand, I really agree with what Danny Sullivan was talking about with just the intent behind people who are searching for something, they’re going to engage more on your website. The people who catch a flashy headline are going to click on that, and then they’re going to click on the next ten. So, I think that there are some very important differences between the kinds of traffic and just in general a smart online marketing strategy that is diversified.

Is There a Disctinction Between SEO and Social Media?

Right so you’re taking the diversification angle there, Chad. I think I flipped this around a little bit and come at it from the other side and talk about the integrated marketing strategy, which encompasses both SEO and social media. And I know I’ve been talking about this on Search Engine Watch in my column, for it’s got to be two years now, where these distinctions, and I guess this might be my contrarian point of view and I’m sure in a few comments I’ll get flamed for this, Chad, I don’t really find the distinction is all that helpful.

In 2014, everybody is talking about how content marketing is the heart and soul of SEO--it’s about earning high quality mentions and backlinks and citations, and how can you say that that’s the direction without having social being a part of your strategy? So really I guess my position would be social media marketing is part of SEO, and that’s probably where I’ll get a lot of people from the purists social media side flaming me in the comments, but I’d be interested in having that debate and watching it play out.

Social is a Part of SEO

Why is social a part of SEO? Because as you’re seeking a real audience, and this echoes a lot of what you said, Chad, from the diversification standpoint, but if you’re seeking real audience you have to have social to push it out to; that’s how you build your list. It’s sort of the new email, and I guess we sort of made this argument in a webinar last week. Email is part of SEO and social media as well, because that’s how you notify people who are very interested in your topic that you have an awesome new asset on your website, whether it’s a blog post, an infographic, a video, or whatever else you’ve come up with, and that’s how you get the exposure that will ultimately lead to the backlinks, the citations and the mentions you’re looking for.

So, to me I think the distinction is fun in the industry to argue a little bit about, but I know on the small business side where they’re looking at us saying, guys, just tell me what I need to do. The answer is, you need to get audience, you need to have social, you need to have SEO--you need to have it all. And I’m not sure the distinction really matters all that much; it’s really more about penetration and building a real audience.

Well those are our views, we wanted to further the conversation. We’d love to hear back from Danny or Joshua on this point. We’ll hope you share this video. It’s been a lot of fun joining in your blog discussion. Join us back tomorrow for another Brown Bag.