The Battle for Traffic: Organic SEO vs. Social Media Marketing

Posted on: November 16, 2016 by in Local SEO Strategies
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SEO and SMM are like pizza and cheese: you can get one without the other, but, believe me, it isn’t worth it.

Nowadays SEO cannot be effective without well-executed content curation. And that’s where social media kicks in — it helps you unlock untapped potential. Compared to other marketing channels, social media benefits SEO in unexpected ways. It’s not surprising that SEO and SMM have slowly become closely intertwined activities that all businesses want to take advantage of. But how exactly can SEO and SMM work together? Do social media signals affect your site’s visibility in Google? I’ve been investigating this topic for quite a long time and here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. Social media signals don’t influence site rankings
  2. SEO isn’t effective without harnessing social media channels

In this post, I want to highlight the following idea: When you share content on SMM channels you’re not only getting engagement, but also bringing visitors to your site. This in turn helps you boost your site’s visibility: SMM corresponds to SEO and indirectly influences website performance in Google. My analysis shows that SMM impacts SEO much more than you might think. The truth is that, paradoxically, organic channels bring more traffic to SMM-focused blogs than to SEO-focused ones.

Data and methods

To conduct my research, I included in my sample 10 well-known blogs.

Five blogs that specialize in search marketing:

And five blogs that focus on SMM:

During all stages of my research, I also used the following tools:

  1. Ahrefs – for examining sites’ backlinks profiles
  2. Rival IQ – for analyzing the communities of these well-known resources
  3. SimilarWeb – for figuring out from which channels the resources get their traffic.

Without further ado, let’s begin our analysis!

How effectively do SMM blogs trigger user engagement?

First, I went to SimilarWeb to learn which sources drove traffic to these sites in order to determine “winners” and “losers.” I expected that social media-focused blogs would perform much better when it comes to SMM traffic compared to SEO blogs. It sounds reasonable that SMM blogs know better than others how to attract and build relevant communities on social media and then convert them into loyal readers.

Below you can find a graph that represents the distribution of SMM traffic across all the resources studied:

Data was collected with the help of SimilarWeb

The absolute winner is with 2.6 times more visitors from social media channels compared to, which follows it. It’s also worth mentioning that the other two leaders are blogs that are not from the SMM niche: (11.63 percent of traffic coming from SMM channels) and (10.75 percent).

The top three sites that are leading in organic traffic are all SMM-focused blogs that get more visitors from organic results than social media sites. This data supports my assertion about the role of SMM in the SEO process that I mentioned in the first part of this article:,, and received 5 times more organic traffic compared to social media traffic. And the main reason is because users interact with content shared on social media channels.

From examining my own clients’ Twitter and Facebook analytics insights, it’s clear that users are more likely to like or share content rather than click on it. To earn a sufficient number of visitors from social media sources, you need to keep a close eye on what kind of posts not only engage users, but also get clicks. And if your goal is to drive traffic, then you need to focus on writing engaging tweets that will make your followers want to click on them. At the very least, you have to make sure that you actually include a link in your post. Because — let’s face it — we’ve all forgotten to share a link in our tweet at least once.

Speaking of search marketing blogs in organic results, they’re also performing nearly the same as SMM blogs:

  • – 55.27 percent;
  • – 55.2 percent.

After learning how much traffic those blogs received from social media channels, I was quite keen on finding out exactly how they attract visitors. In particular, I was interested in whether the virality of content, as well as the engagement of particular SMM sites, influence the number of visitors these sites get from those traffic channels. Ideally, if users are actively sharing your content on Twitter, Facebook, etc., then it should bring users to your site. Due to the difficulty of collecting data, I was forced to narrow down the list of SMM sites and focus on analyzing how well content performs on Facebook and Twitter.

In order to measure the virality of the content on those blogs and the engagement these blogs receive on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, I took the following steps:

  1. I took from SimilarWeb the number of visitors (i.e., traffic from Facebook and Twitter)
  2. I analyzed engagement with the help of Rival IQ

As we can see from the table above, SMM websites are leading not only in levels of engagement, but also in traffic. Therefore, websites that successfully build and share content also receive the highest volume of traffic.

However, it is important to have relevant, active users following your social accounts. And you can always evaluate them with the help of Rival IQ, which helps you measure your audience’s engagement. Yet engagement on its own is a very vague measurement, should you need to understand how much traffic you can receive from your social media accounts. For the next step of my research, I was interested in discovering how many interactions you need, on average, to get your followers to click a link.

Based on the numbers from the table above, I found out that, on average, for every 40 interactions, you will only get one click (in case of an SEO community). Despite the fact that SMM communities usually have more subscribers than SEO communities, it’s even harder for SMM communities to get clicks: one click occurs for every 80 interactions on social media. Hence, the problem lies not in the small number of subscribers, but in the small number of active, relevant followers. Relevant users are those who are interested in your content and will click on your links and share them. My tip here is not to grow your audience via “follow-back” strategies; to drive traffic, you need to connect with people who are interested in your message, so that they can spread it further.

If content works so well for SMM blogs, then it should generate a good number of links. This brings us to my next questions: How many links do those sites generate, and who leads the competition?

How well do SEO blogs perform in organic results?

As you remember, at the very beginning of my research, I made the assumption that SEO blogs were more likely to receive referral traffic than SMM blogs. Also, I assumed that SEO blogs should also have a good backlink profile with a large number of authoritative links. It seems only logical to suppose that SEO blogs are outperforming SMM blogs in terms of SEO. To find out whether this is true, I used Ahrefs to check the backlink profiles of the sites from my sample. Ahrefs has an awesome feature called ‘Batch Analysis’ that allows you to pull backlink metrics for several individual URLs and easily compare them.

The screenshot below gives us a clear picture of the domains’ rankings and their number of backlinks:

ahrefs rbacklks final.png

Interestingly enough, has gained the highest number of referring domains, and it has shown the highest rate of Facebook and Twitter engagement.

In terms of referral traffic, has the highest rate (17%) and is followed by two blogs from the search marketing niche: (15%) and (13%). However, all the analyzed sites receive relatively the same number of visitors from referring domains, because all of them are actively sharing content on SMM channels. With the help of this strategy they’re getting links and traffic.

After analyzing all this data, I concluded that social media helps you to get you content seen, which in turn can substantially increase your number of brand mentions on the Web. The better you promote your content across SMM channels, the more referring domains you will receive. The case of supports my statement about the importance of social media channels in link building. As you remember, this blog is focused on SMM, but it has relatively the same number of backlinks as and

To check the relevance of my results, I decided to ask an expert’s opinion on the importance of harnessing social media as part of an overall SEO strategy. Kelsey Jones, executive editor of Search Engine Journal and Founder/CEO of StoryShout, was very kind to share her insights on how social media is powering

“At Search Engine Journal, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in social media referrals over the last year. Our largest referrer is Facebook, with Twitter right behind it. Because of that, we’ve been doing more with Facebook Live and looking at how we share and promote our content on Facebook and Twitter. The more attention and nurturing we’ve placed on our campaigns, the better.”


In this post, I wanted to shed some light on how leading digital marketing blogs focused on SMM and SEO niches attract visitors, and what traffic sources work best for them. It’s quite logical to assume that blogs focused on search marketing should be getting significantly more organic traffic compared to blogs that write about SMM. Accordingly, SMM blogs should be receiving the majority of their visitors from social media channels, since social media marketing is their area of expertise. Yet, I found out that the situation is much more nuanced than that. Drawing on examples using these ten well-known SEO and SMM blogs, we can see that SMM-focused blogs perform better in organic search than SEO-focused blogs. The high levels of engagement SMM blogs receive from social media allow them to get more backlinks and referral traffic, which, in turn, helps them rank higher organically.


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