My lasts few posts have focused on the pros and cons of various social networking strategies, from participation on popular social networks to blogging and email list building. But I’d like to take it back to the best method of online promotion there is: SEO.

Why SEO Beats Social Networking

First, a caveat. Social networking can and often should be a part of your SEO strategy. By networking in the right places and with the right people, you’ll get links, which is a big part of SEO. For the ultimate source of traffic and conversions however, SEO will beat social networking for most online businesses.

More Effort, Less Traffic

Social networking is primarily about connecting with people in your niche, and these days it’s most often done on networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Building a following on these networks takes time. And it takes continuous effort. It’s not something you can do and then forget, and it’s not something that’s generally smart to outsource.

For many sites and in many niches, a couple thousand visitors per day isn’t all that much. I’ve built mini sites in a couple of days that have pulled in 10K visitors/day without much effort. A 50K Twitter following would take far more effort. And it wouldn’t be a one time deal. It would require continuous work. Furthermore, those 50K followers aren’t following your site. They’re following your Twitter feed. If you post a link to your site, how many of them will actually go to your site? 5% maybe? If you’re lucky. And you can’t post links to your site every day without looking like you’re only there for self-promotion.

John Aguiar said in the comments on this post that at the time he made it, his 80,000 Twitter followers were sending him 500 to 1,000 visitors per day:

I dont know the 80,000 followers I have yet Twitter sends me 500 to 1000 visits a day to my blog.

Twitter is the best free tool you have to get traffic and build your brand.

Although he’s got 115K+ followers now, he’s following 67K people and looks to spend an incredible amount of time on Twitter.

Is the time it takes to build a massive Twitter following worth 1,000 visitors per day? Surely not if you compare it to SEO. I’ve built multiple sites in a couple of days, spent less than $1,000 on link building, done nothing else to promote them, and had them each bring in thousands of visitors per day. Compare spending less than a week in total on a site and getting many thousands of new/unique visits per day to spending a year building 80K Twitter followers that gets you 500 – 1,000 visitors per day. There’s really no comparison.

Visitor Intent

Your Twitter followers are always the same people, most of whom are using the social network to communicate with friends. With search based traffic on the other hand, every single visitor is actively searching for something you’re providing. Which do you think is more likely to convert and make you money?

You can’t beat search for bringing you visitors who are more likely to convert. They’ve gone to their computers, navigated to a search engine, and typed in a query looking for something in particular. When they click on your site, they’re going there to fulfill a need at that moment in time. If you’re selling a solution to that need or providing advertising that satisfies that need, your chances of making money from that visitor are relatively high.

Most people using social networks on the other hand are not looking to make a purchase. They’re looking to communicate with friends or see what people are up to. When you send them a link to your site, they’re far less likely to purchase something or click an ad, as they weren’t looking for what you’re giving them in the first place.

Less Effort, More Unique Visitors, & Higher Conversions

SEO beats social networking because it takes far less effort to build a larger stream of unique visitors who are searching for exactly what you are providing. For most businesses, SEO traffic is more likely to convert than social traffic too.

Again, I’m not implying you shouldn’t be doing any form of social networking. If you’ve got a great site, you probably should. But in most cases, if you know what you’re doing, SEO is going to lead to more traffic and more conversions…more money.

Why SEO Beats PPC

This is a tough one, and it’s not true as often as SEO vs. social networking. PPC is also searched-based, so visitor intent is high. And because the top PPC ads are displayed on top of the organic results, especially for commercial queries, you can get more traffic from PPC than SEO.

But there’s a cost, and it’s often prohibitively high.

Barriers to Entry & Prohibitive Bid Prices

SEO takes knowledge and experience. Most self proclaimed SEOs don’t know what they’re doing, so if you do you’ve got a serious advantage over the majority of your competition. The knowledge it takes to be a good SEO is a barrier to entry compared to PPC.

Anyone can start a PPC ad campaign. It only takes a few minutes. And many new entrants are inclined to try to get into the first 3 spots above the organic results, bidding the cost per click up above profitable levels. Most long time PPC marketers know that competitive phrases are generally priced so high that profit margins end up being very low or even negative.

While SEO is also extremely competitive, if you’ve got the knowledge, the cost of getting and staying at the top is usually lower. It’s true that ranking naturally takes more time than setting up a PPC campaign, and that with certain strategies your ranking is going to be less stable than what you can achieve with PPC. But there’s no guarantee that profits from PPC will remain stable in the face of competition that can bid up the cost per click.

SEO can bring you a large, constant stream of new visitors that’s nearly free once you’ve got a great site ranking at the top. PPC will always cost you, for every single visit.

Why Content Isn’t King

This one is easy. It’s not Field of Dreams. If you build it, they will not come. It doesn’t matter how awesome your site is. Without promoting it no one is every going to see it. Do a search for anything. You’ll find plenty sites in the top 10 that have poor content.

You can get a site with poor or mediocre content to rank in the top 10 through SEO, but you can’t get a site with great content to rank with no SEO. Great content will help you rank better because it will be easier to get links to a great site. People will be more likely to spread it. But great content alone is nothing.

Social networking and PPC both have their place, and content is indeed very important. But there can only be one king…and for traffic and conversions with maximized profits, it’s SEO.

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