Blog Post for Virginia Media

Not much goes together better than ice cream and cake, other than SEM (Search Engine Marketing) and Social Media. Sure you could have one without the other, but why? While many have speculated over which one out performs the other, there have been positive outcomes supporting the success of combining the two digital strategies for a more cohesive digital plan.

Most are familiar with the benefits of SEM, which leverages massive data troves of search engines to target relevant consumers based on keywords. Meanwhile, social media has quickly flexed its muscles by seeing an ROI from organic and paid advertising through social networks, most notably Facebook and Instagram.

But if you’re trying to choose between these two digital platforms, you may want to rethink that strategy. While each platform has its value, SEM and social campaigns become a stronger digital strategy when paired together because of their strengths and targeting options, as well as their shared goal of driving engagement, traffic, and conversions.

Different But Complimentary

The benefits of the two strategies are apparent, but they’re also very different from one another. Each targets a different stage of the consumer’s path to purchase. As people move in and out and sometimes back into the sales cycle, SEM and social provide exposure at the various points. SEM often targets an earlier part of the cycle, when consumers are doing research but haven’t yet honed in on the type of product or service they want. Social often targets those consumers who are closer to the point of conversion.

Two Approaches to Targeting

Search is an intent-focused channel that relies heavily on a keyword strategy designed to reflect intent-minded consumers. Social media doesn’t have the same sort of intent-focused targeting strategy. Social uses demographics and interests, such as age, location, occupation, interests, etc. to build a character profile of what the desired consumer might look like.

Marketers can set and change these parameters to test how their targeting is working, and they can continue tweaking both their social and SEM strategies to continually optimize their campaigns over time.

How to Create the Mix

Using Facebook increases brand awareness and generates demand. As users begin to learn about your products and services, they further their research through search, where they can be captured and converted.

Leveraging Facebook for remarketing and retargeting is another strategy for converting customers. Let’s say we’ve been successful in getting our ad to high-intent audiences via SEM and we’ve been able to bring them to our site. However, for one reason or another, we were unable to get them to convert. We can leverage Facebook for additional scale on high-intent customers by using remarketing and getting our brand back in the eye of those visitors. We can leverage Facebook’s creative options to take another stab at convincing them (with value props, product imagery, etc.) to convert as well as sending the user to a highly relevant page to finish the job.

If you are a business where users can come and convert multiple times (think ecomm – toy stores, apparel, etc. – or services – spas, food delivery, etc.), you’ll want to use SEM to capture those high-intent users initially. Once they have made a purchase or signup and you have gotten that first-party data (email really), Facebook is a perfect avenue to remind these customers later on about great deals, new products/offerings, etc., to lure them back in for new purchases. Facebook allows you to upload first-party data to narrow out your customer base within their members and will enable you to show your ads directly to that audience.

In the same vein as above, there are a bunch of good options in Facebook to leverage our first-party data to help us capture unique incremental users. Let’s say we have been able to build up a great customer base via SEM. However, often there’s a limited number of people searching for our product/service, and we want to venture out to get our offering to more audiences.

A great way to do this efficiently is to take our customer list (ideally segmenting them out into smaller lists of audiences with a similarity – for example, high lifetime value/LTV, medium LTV, and low LTV) and upload that into Facebook, essentially creating website custom audiences. From those website custom audiences, we can then use Facebook’s lookalike technology to find additional audiences that show characteristics/traits very similar to our customer base.

Double up on your competition by going after audiences who like competitors in Facebook – target them specifically on Facebook and bid on competitor terms in SEM. If we continue to get our brand in front of these audiences, they’ll become familiar with our name, and with the right ads we should be able to capture enough interest to bring them onto our site via either Facebook or SEM.

Why They Go Together

Beyond the benefits of running a diversified paid marketing strategy, there’s evidence that the combination of SEM and social is greater than the sum of its parts. Research shows that campaigns combining paid search with paid social saw an average click-through rate increase of 35 percent. That’s a considerable gain in performance, and it corresponds to stronger ROI for your campaigns. If you aren’t using these two paid strategies together, it may be time to reconsider.