Social media and SEO are great tools for content marketing.

Both are forms of inbound marketing, but they differ in many ways.

Content marketers are much more than writers.

They create high-quality, relevant content that brands can use to build their audiences and turn them into leads. But the best content marketers do much more than writing blog posts and product descriptions — they also analyze and report analytics and strategize about distribution channels.

They support your funnel in distinct ways by using social media marketing and search marketing to promote your content.

Search vs. social in content marketing
via Orbit Media

Social media marketing involves connecting with your target audience, building relationships, and generating traffic through social media networks. SMM strengthens the middle of the funnel — the “consideration” stage — by fostering engagement.

  • Visitors who come to your site via your social media marketing efforts are less likely than others to take action because they were browsing a social media network when they happened to come across you. They have weak intent but are more likely to share and spread awareness. Social followers and fans often influence potential buyers.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving your site to increase its visibility when people search for products or services related to your business. The more visible you are in search results, the more likely you will garner attention and attract customers. SEO fills the top of your funnel by creating awareness.

  • Search visitors are more likely than others to purchase but less likely to share or interact. They arrive with a particular purpose, need, or question in mind.

This infographic from Orbit Media looks at the main differences and similarities between search and social.

9 Differences Between Social Media and SEO [Infographic]

Topics: What works best

Social Media

Content that triggers emotions is often the best, especially anxiety, anger, and awe. Social media is a great place to share trending topics.


Research-based content is often the best. For example, detailed how-to posts or articles that answer common questions. Search marketing is a great way to publicize evergreen content that won’t lose its appeal in the short term.

Formats: Types of content that will perform

Social Media

Social media is best for visuals because they capture attention in fast-moving social streams. Videos and images are the most shared online content. Posts with images result in the most likes and shares. Emotional headlines that have punch work well.


Long-form text performs best in search marketing. Google favors pages with 1500+ words and ranks them higher.

When your word count is higher, Google has more information to identify what it’s about. The longer your content, the more often your focus keyphrase appears. In longer posts, you can add more headings, links, and images, in which you can also mention the keyphrase — so more content = more on-topic, high-quality information.

Speed: How quickly you’ll see results

Social Media

While growing a following takes time, posts on social media appear immediately and can have an impact within just a few minutes.


SEO can be slow and unpredictable. It can take days for highly relevant pages to be indexed and ranked. It can take years to gain enough credibility to be able to rank for your most important keywords.

Upper Limits: How much traffic is generated

Social Media

There is essentially no limit on the traffic a page can receive from social media. As a result, an enormous number of people might share a piece of your content and make it viral.


A search engine can only send a certain amount of traffic to a site. Traffic will not exceed the daily searches for a phrase — that is, the search volume for a topic equates to the maximum traffic your page will receive from search engines.

Durability: How long you’ll be successful

Social Media

The majority of visibility and traffic occurs within minutes of posting. While social media may respond quickly, it requires ongoing, consistent effort.


A ranking page can have lasting visibility and be a passive traffic source. High rankings can last for weeks or even months, depending on keywords and what your page is about.

Measurement: How to quantify success

Social Media

It is easy to measure social engagement but challenging to measure reach or impressions. Each social network has its own reporting and metrics, but it isn’t easy to ascertain social media activity’s total visibility and traffic. And Google Analytics doesn’t provide accurate social traffic reports.


It’s easy to measure reach but more difficult to measure engagement. Your “Queries” report in Google Analytics shows search traffic and visibility along with keyphrases, impressions, and clicks. You can see your rankings for each phrase, but quantifying actions is problematic. You won’t know which keyword led to which activity on your website if you don’t have behavior metrics, which Google doesn’t provide.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Milestones for measuring success

Social Media

You can measure your growth most easily by your number of followers. But this isn’t the whole story. It’s vital to build relationships and have meaningful discussions to sustain and grow your network. Social media is best for building genuine friendships. Don’t rely on vanity metrics — they make you look good to others but don’t help you understand your own performance.


Links measure long-term success, but they are only one indicator. Rankings are even more critical, but they shouldn’t be your ultimate goal. Visitors are what you want — a steady stream of targeted traffic. The same goes here re: vanity metrics.

Interdependence: How they overlap

Social Media

Visitors who find high-ranking content are more likely to follow, comment, and share. Social engagement increases over time when visibility via search is high. People searching for solutions and brands can improve the rank of your media profiles.


Links, mentions, and rankings are all the result of good relationships. Therefore, good SEO requires skills such as outreach, list building, and pitching for best results.


SEO and social media both focus on connecting with your target audience. They each benefit from data and research. They approach your goal in different ways but their objectives are the same — making meaningful connections with people.

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