Beyond Google: Social Media Engines First, Other Search Engines Second

I’ve never encouraged a "Google First" or "Google Only" mentality for search marketers to follow. This is where you focus only on Google, figuring the other major search engines don’t matter. Instead, I’ve said that all the search engines are important traffic channels to pursue. Don’t forget the search engines beyond Google! But over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself more and more thinking that if you want to go beyond Google as a search marketer, the other search engines that matter first are the "social media search engines." After them come the other major general purpose search engines like Yahoo, Microsoft and Ask.

Yesterday’s post from Michael Arrington on TechCrunch traffic sources really drove it home for me. Google’s organic traffic — search driven traffic – is his top source. After that, it’s not Yahoo or Microsoft or Ask sending visitors. No, the leading sources are from social media search engines like Digg, StumbleUpon and Reddit. Heck, even Techmeme out distances the major general purpose search engines (my recent Q&A With Gabe Rivera, Creator Of Techmeme article covers Techmeme more). Yahoo does show up in 10th place, but that’s for My Yahoo feed-driven traffic, not search traffic.

Why’s TechCrunch doing so well on Google and not the other major search engines? It could be that TechCrunch is optimized best for Google and missing out on the other major search players. But c’mon. Search marketers know that the major search engines don’t have that many differences in how they rank pages. Yes, maybe if you load your URLs up with keywords you might do a bit better at Microsoft Perhaps if you do paid inclusion, you might see more traffic flowing from Yahoo. But a page that does well with Google generally should have as good of chance as doing well with the others.

Another caveat is that TechCrunch is probably getting Google News and Google Blog Search traffic mixed in with the overall "organic" figures (see this recent stats post I did about Search Engine Land traffic sources to understand this more). Sure, including those sources as part of Google searches overall could help make Google seem an even bigger resource. But the reality is that many sites constantly report that Google is by far search traffic leader.

Rich Skrenta’s post Google’s true search market share is 70% back in December was a great call to renew attention about this fact. My own post after his, Google By Far The Leader, If You Look At Site Owner Traffic Stats, provides some further perspective. Overall, it’s hard not to feel that the other major search engines aren’t major traffic drivers despite the shares of searches they generate. Certainly that stats (daily; monthly) I’ve been doing for Search Engine Land keep reflecting this.

That brings me back to the other major search engines aspect. Over the years, I’d say don’t ignore them — don’t build just for Google. But that really meant to build good pages that should please all the major search engines at once. Do this, and maybe you don’t do well across the board. But you might get a good "portfolio" of search terms where you rank well in one place for a search while a different term at another place sends you traffic.

Not everyone likes that advice. Some want across the board rankings for all search engines, so they go the route of setting up custom pages for each search engine, maybe new domains and so on. I’ve always felt that was overkill. But even more now, I think search marketers need to go the social media optimization route first, then consider how to do better on the other major search engines if they aren’t ranking there.

Social media optimization? That’s the term coined (to my knowledge) by Rohit Bhargavat last year to describe tapping into the various social media search engines that are out there.

Social media search engines? I’ve struggled with this, since I haven’t really considered Digg, Reddit, Netscape and gang as search engines.

To me, search engines are places where people search, they express an active desire, usually through a keyword search. People don’t go to Digg because they’re looking for something. Instead, they want to discover things, to see what’s new, be entertained. That’s not search.

Well, it might not be search, but it’s a kissing cousin, closely related. Google News isn’t necessarily search. Yes, you can keyword search there. But you can also browse. And that browsing behavior is a search. It’s an alternative to typing in "what’s new today in news." So in thinking about this recently, I’ve shifted over more strongly into viewing discovery as a search behavior, seeing the social media outlets as social media search engines.

Search marketers should tap into search engines — and that includes the social media search engines. Neil Patel’s Forget ABCs – The Social Media Alphabet Is DNRS from Search Engine Land yesterday is an excellent introduction to some of these players, for those not up on social media search engines and social media optimization. We’re going to continue doing articles like these and looks at social media players because they crucial and deserve the attention.

The social media engines smaller vertical search engines that search marketers can think "oh, I’m not up on Digg. I might look into it later." Instead, they’re rapidly becoming major search engines you need to think of before those of the traditional players. They are traffic powerhouses you can’t ignore.

In addition, tapping into these players helps you indirectly. Even if you don’t linkbait to get on them, that they may help bring in some of the trusted links that Eric Ward’s Are You In The Circle Of Link Trust? column at Search Engine Land talked about yesterday.

Related Topics: Channel: Social | Social Media Marketing


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Michael Martinez

    “But a page that does well with Google generally should have as good of chance as doing well with the others.”

    That’s an oversimplification, in my opinion. Each major search engine hangs its hat on a different algorithm. All the algorithms are looking for a combination of relevance, trust, and community value. But they don’t share the same databases or criteria.

    I would expect no more than, say, 25-35% general agreement between the four majors on top results for a random sampling of queries.

    But ranking differences aside, each engine has a core audience that is drawn toward different interests. They can all share search spikes driven by news and celebrity sensations, but their core audiences are more interested in other things.

  • tallstreet

    social news sites are good sources of traffic, but they arn’t really search engines.

    there are social search engines, that is sites that act like search engines but where people rank the results (as opposed to infering the results from an algorithm) [like ours]

    they do have several advantages when it comes to answering subjective queries, e.g. what is the best blog.

  • Matt McGee

    Danny – I think it’s too much of a generalization to say social media optimization is more important than Yahoo,, etc. For some sites/businesses, sure. But not for everyone. Not across the board.

    Search marketing, like any form of marketing, is about getting seen and heard by your target audience. And if they’re not using the Diggs of the world, putting those sites ahead of Yahoo and would be a big mistake.

  • shor

    SMO, SEM, SEO, TLA meh!

    If your job is to optimize websites for traffic, Follow The Traffic, be it search engines or social media communities or affiliate marketing. Once that is clarified, it is simple to prioritize optimization. The problem is ensuring you have targeted the correct traffic drivers, as it might be great to rank #1 on but what if you could rank #20 on Google and receive twice as much traffic? This is where some sneaky tactics like obtaining a Hitwise report on a competitor’s clickstream or plying a knowledgeable industry expert with alcohol can help :)

    For now, if you are a blogger or a news site, social media networks are important drivers of traffic. The sad truth is web-savvy searchers avoid Live and Yahoo like the plague as we’ve been weaned on Google. It hardly surprises that within our search/smo glasshouse that G & DRNS (thanks Neil!) will overshadow YMA referrals.

  • David Dalka

    For Techcrunch’s audience, I’d agree totally. I’m not sure this would be true for an online retailer or a site with a different purpose than covering web 2.0.

  • Carrie Hill

    Hi Danny,
    Our company does tend to lean towards ranking well in google and then waiting for Yahoo & MSN to catch up. The simple truth is that’s the safe & conservative way to go. We could mix it up and optimize some pages for Yahoo, some for MSN & Some for Google – but honestly in travel & hospitality – Google is king. We see great revenue and results from both Google & Google images – AND – we’re safe in not annoying Google with techniques that might work in Yahoo & MSN.

    We are on the edge of the social media optimization – not QUITE there yet – but getting there. Because our company is large – it takes time to get things done (frustrating but necessary.) Posts like this add ammo to my posiiton as a research & development manager and I REALLY appreciate it!

    Thanks for all you do…..

  • tish grier

    Sites like Digg, Reddit, etc. have limited categories that narrow search to what’s happy for the tech crowd–so the sites do very little for what’s *not* tech. Have you ever tried to enter something into any of those sites that isn’t tech related? Even once you do, the chances are your entry will either founder or gain a very nasty comment from some anonymous nerd. Yeah, I need that garbage like I need a migraine.

  • AEklund

    Sometimes I get concerned when the most wired, most connected, most linked to pundits, most widely distributed technorati’s generalize about how search has work for them, rather than how search may work for others. Danny Sullivan is perhaps one of the most respected, most widely cited people in all of search. It’s no wonder that his site traffic would be heavily impacted by social media sites, etc. but for the masses of others, this is most likely not the case.

    I wish Danny would make a further post on this topic to either rebut my and other’s positions or make another case on the matter. I for one am not sold quite yet.

  • Danny Sullivan

    I don’t know (and don’t mean to imply) that because they help us, they’ll necessarily help others. You cannot draw any conclusions from just one site. But neither am I doing that. Lots of sites are discovering that social media search engines can drive traffic — sites of all types.

    Given their rise, I think it’s well worth any site investing some time to explore them more — hence this post.

    It takes a few seconds to submit to StumbleUpon or some of these other sites. If you want to be sold, well — try it!

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