Using Search To Prove Social Media’s Value

by Jason Falls |

If you subscribe to the notion that social media is a discipline that is most appropriately aligned with public relations, customer service, customer relationship management and similar business channels, you probably have a hard time seeing social media’s link — pun intended — to search engine optimization. SEO probably comes across as a very scientific process, heavy on paid search strategies and with little relevance to the warm and fuzzies you get with social media.

But measuring the warm and fuzzies can be challenging. CEOs understand the value of spending $1,000 on paid search if those clicks can translate to 100,000 website visitors and $10,000 worth of conversions. They don’t often nod and smile when you say, “Well, we have 40,000 Facebook Fans this month!” Unless, of course, they aren’t any more focused on the bottom line than you are if that’s your proof point.

Chris Baggott and I have discussed search engine results and corporate blogging a lot recently. We’re working on a research project together you’ll hear more about soon. In a couple of conversations we’ve had, he has shared with me some ways he shows the value of corporate blogs to clients of Compendium Blogware, his company. I’ve been kicking around the idea and thought this might be useful for you to see.

To prove the value (at least part of the value anyway) of what you’re doing in social media, let’s see what the search traffic equivalency of your organic keyword rankings is. (Hang in there, it’s a process, but easier than it sounds.) There’s a lot of disclaimers I need to throw in about this (largely so the SEO dorks don’t set fire to my blog) but I’ll save those for the end.

To find out the monetary value of your organic search rankings, use a keyword research tool like SEO Book’s Competitive Research Tool or SEM Rush (which actually powers SEO Book’s tool) to get a list of the keywords your website ranks for. (If you know of a different tool, particularly a free one, please recommend it in the comments. Both of these offer some free results, but not a full report without paying for a subscription.) The results will give you a list of keywords your site ranks for, the position it ranks in a given search and the cost per click (CPC) value. (It gives more info, but these are the relevant pieces for now.) That value is what a paid search click sells for in a similar position in a paid search advertisement. (Bear with me.)

For example, SocialMediaExplorer.com ranks No. 2 for “social media strategy” which goes for $0.05 per click; No. 1 for “corporate messaging” which goes for $6.04 per click and No. 3 for “educational blogs” which sells for $2.49 per click. (It ranks for more, but I’m keeping the examples short to explain the point succinctly.)

Now go to your website analytics software. Click through to traffic sources, then search engines to view the keywords that bring you organic clicks. My analytics shows that I generated 644 visits in the last 30 days from the keyword “social media strategy.” The corresponding paid ad goes for $0.05, so my blog generated $32.20 in search traffic equivalency (organic value compared to paid search cost per click).

Example of Google Analytics keyword traffic reportSimply put, if I had to go out and buy 644 visits from that keyword search in paid advertising, it would cost me $32.20.

SME had 11 visits from users clicking on our listing under the keyword “corporate messaging” which is worth $66.44. The keyword “educational blogs” brought 44 visitors last month, which is worth $109.56 in equivalent paid value.

So, for those three keywords alone, my monthly efforts generated $208.20 in search traffic equivalency for Social Media Explorer. I didn’t have to spend $208.20, but did invest time and attention to those subject matters to write the posts that garnered those rankings. (More on this in the disclaimers.)

If you added up all your organic traffic value based on this equation you could say to your boss, “Our social media activity brought in (let’s say) $45,000 in website traffic value this month.”

But wait! There’s more!

Organic search results draw in roughly 85 percent of all clicks on a SERP. Paid search is, to most users, less trusted and not clicked on as often as organic search results. So while our equation above makes sense if you’re comparing apples to apples, you’re actually comparing apples to oranges. The good news is that because organic search results are more trusted and clicked upon with more frequency, you can argue that your monthly value is not worth $45,000 in website traffic, but $45,000 AT A MINIMUM. It’s probably worth much, much more than that. The value of the additional? Not found a brain that big yet. If you have ideas, please drop them in the comments.

Hopefully, this will give you some ROI fodder to think about or even incorporate into your reporting for your social media activities. As you give this process some thought, however, please keep the following disclaimers in mind:

  • This is easy to do if your analytics are measuring a corporate blog or a devoted social media channel. It gets complicated if you want to be all-inclusive and measure the value of where your social outposts rank. (Maybe your Twitter account ranks high for a valuable keyword. You should measure that, but it’s going to take more work to do so and the results will be muddy since you don’t have Twitter account analytics.) It’s also complicated if your social media efforts take place on your corporate website as the social content (blogs, etc.) adds value to the overall domain’s search results. Unfortunately, so do the sales pages and other static content, the age of the site and more. But once you set up the spreadsheet or report and do the research the first time, it’ll go smoother the second go-around.
  • Paid search advertisements normally deliver better conversions because, if done right, they lead searchers to exactly the type of information they’re seeking or at least the absolute type of message you are delivering. Organic results are served up based on what Google thinks your content is about, traffic to that page, the number and types of links that page has and from where, how recent the content is compared to other results and more. You don’t have much control over what Google serves up as organic results. So your $45,000 in traffic equivalency might have cost you that in pay-per-click ads, but with those ads, you might have converted customers at rates 30-50 percent higher (or more) than where the organic results sent folks.
  • On the flip side, I wrote the SME post on the top education blogs one year ago this Wednesday. I pulled in $109.56 worth of search traffic equivalency last month without doing a single thing. It’s the long tail of good web content at play. That post drives search results for my blog to this day. And will continue to do so. If it has produced the same amount each month in the last year, then I spent 2-3 hours writing a single piece of content that has now driven $1,314.72 in value to SME.
  • On a similar note, the history of your content’s ranking matters as well. I’ve ranked No. 1 or No. 2 for “educational blogs” for 12 months now. If a new post on another website hits tomorrow that suddenly has a ton of links, etc., it will still likely take that post a while to knock mine down a notch. The value of ranking high for a term over time has merit.

The great news about all this information is that many smart SEO professionals read this blog. And every time I write about SEO, they provide as much, if not more, value in the comments. If I’m wrong on any of this or missed a few disclaimers you should keep in mind, they’ll tell you below. Feel free to ask for clarification from me or them in the comments, too.

And when you get around to trying it, come back and tell us if you were surprised at the equivalent value of your efforts.


About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).