Legal Web Marketing: Search vs. Social

A client recently emailed me for my thoughts on Kevin O’Keefe’s post “Good law blogs losing traffic from Google?“, specifically wondering about the value of social media vs. search traffic.

Here’s what I told him.

Once you get past the (semi-sensational) headline and into the post, Kevin makes a good observation about not taking Google Analytics data at face value. The fact that many Google referrals now come from an “https” domain do make those visitors appear as “direct visits”, where they were once counted (correctly) as search traffic. This is useful context to the discussion, as direct traffic numbers are showing much higher across all the legal websites we represent. The fact is, Google miscounts a lot of referrals as direct traffic; and it’s been noted by a number of analysts.

But getting into the meat of Kevin’s argument — that optimizing for social media is becoming more important than optimizing for search engines — I think we need to look a little closer.

In support of his assertion, Kevin mentions that “the percentage of viewers coming to my blog from Google has dropped 28% in the last year”.  Giving a single example using his own blog, of course, does not make a trend. Just a personal observance. Kevin invests a lot of his time in social media; I’d wager 30+ hours per week. (Not a critique, mind you. This makes sense; his business is based on selling blogs — but it is more time than most practicing lawyers I know have to give).

With two pieces of the pie: (1) direct visits currently counting high in Google Analytics, and (2) social media referrals growing in size; search traffic has gotten smaller. Why? Well, first of all every blog is different. I’ve observed some websites that have experienced number shifts like Kevin’s experienced; but I’ve also observed mass increases in search traffic over social traffic.

In the case of Kevin’s statistics, there could be other factors at play. It’s possible his personal brand has gotten bigger, and he has more of a following. It could be his SEO game is getting worse, because he pays little attention to it. Or, it could be simply that, as a percentage, the methods he’s investing the majority of his time in are paying off for him.

Or it could be all of the above.

The point he and I would agree on is that it is healthy to have more dedicated readers and relationships. The social vs. search part? In my view, both are means of getting to that destination. Social supports existing relationships better, no doubt. But social also offers little in terms of helping people find your business when they have no prior relationship with you.

Tactics wise, I would always recommend doing both, and to consider how they fit together. Search isn’t going away, and neither is social.

I would never suggest forsaking ‘search for social’ though.  I don’t believe search is dying. The internet is 20 years old. We’ve always searched for things and I have a tough time believing that will end any time soon. Searching for information (or services) is as much human nature as connecting.

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