More referrals from social media than from search?

There’s a startling assumption buried as a throwaway comment on this post from TechCrunch on Google Buzz’s recent arrival. Apparently, links shared on social networks have been growing to the extent that the mighty Goog is concerned that this phenomenon could start taking eyeballs away from all those juicy paid search ads that keep the lights on at the Googleplex. Is there any validity to this claim? It appears so, if these data points are to be believed:

The Big Money: According to Compete.com, Google lags behind Facebook in driving traffic to major portals like Yahoo, AOL and MSN.

Silicon Alley Insider: This report last year claimed 19% of Google traffic came from Facebook (and that number is growing).

Compete.com: As you can see below, Facebook is rapidly gaining ground on Google. Golden question is what proportion of this audience are clicking on links taking them out of the blue-walled garden and into the wider web?

Anecdotally, I’ve heard on the web manager grapevine that a larger proportion of traffic appears to be coming from social media – eating into the portion of the pie previously reserved for traditional search engines. Another indication of this is the number and attendance of social search sessions at major SEO events like SES.

What does this mean? Whoever owns the largest share of our life streams (the current killer app of social media) enjoys the strongest visibility and all the financial frills that follow. Also, given that we show strong signs of adopting a crowd mentality when being ‘social’ online, the chances of the market fragmenting look slim. We will all congeal our content around a handful of platforms (if that) at the top of this lucrative pile.

And then there’s all those paychecks tied to Google’s golden egg – here I’m thinking more of the huge search marketing industry that has risen up over the last 10 years. Skill sets will shift away from the technical aspects of SEO (goodbye masters of canonical URLs and 301 redirects) to more touchy-feely PR (hello reputation managers and online community builders). Key concepts in SEO are still relevant, like creating modular topic-based content, but there will be some shifts. Rather than looking for links from authoritative sites, we’ll need to understand more about who are the authoritative figures in a network.

Where will Google be in all of this? It looks like the search giant is hedging its bets with the launch of Gmail Buzz: a lifestreaming service that sits atop the versatile Gmail email client. The future is looking distinctly social.

5 thoughts on “More referrals from social media than from search?”

  1. This is an interesting post and I’m amazed it hasn’t got more comments. Your point about the trend in the social media towards market consolidation rather than fragmentation seems right to me, and a useful pointer to those of us looking for alternative traffic sources to Google, both in organic search and paid options.

    I’m actually quite encouraged by the spectacular growth in Facebook and other social media. With the radical changes in Google’s approach, including personalised search, local results, maps and video slots, and live inserts, it really does seem that a lot of traditional SEO is losing relevance.

    Or am I just whistling Dixie?

    Tony Page

    BTW No retweet or social media buttons..?

  2. Whoops! My excuse is that I’m on a 24″ monitor and had it {untypically) maximised, so it was way out on the right! I stumbled etc. your post anyway using my own buttons. Your design is interesting and probably excessively tasteful, one’s senses get blunted by the gaudy dross prevalent these days…
    I found the seminar very interesting BTW, especially because it gave me some encouragement to continue with my own site’s integration with social media. There are still many people who see social media as a fad – possibly blinded by twitter – but the figures speak for themselves.

    Best wishes,

    Tony

  3. Feedback is useful – thanks! How are you integrating social media into your site? Would be interested to learn more.

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