If you’re responsible for driving qualified traffic to a business website, no doubt you’re faced with the problem of deciding where to invest more time and money: search engine optimization (SEO) or social media marketing? As a digital copywriter, here's my answer: It depends. It’s important to understand the quality of business each source of traffic generates.

The best way for me to explain is through an agricultural allegory. (Bear with me: I live in Ohio.)

Imagine the only way you harvested food was to set traps and wait for critters to unwittingly stumble upon them. If you’re clever--and since you’re reading this, I’m certain you are--you’d make sure the traps were set strategically along the most popular grazing areas and game trails. You’d tinker with them occasionally, move them around, add something tempting for your intended catch to nibble…and once in a while, an unsuspecting wabbit would find itself dangling by its foot. Mmmm…do I smell rabbit stew?

But it wouldn’t be enough.

Even if you caught a whole clutch of bunnies thanks to the brilliant placement of your traps, they still wouldn’t provide you with the nutrients you’d need for a healthy diet.

Search Engines Are Traps (Which Isn't Necessarily a Bad Thing)

So it goes with website SEO. The cleverly set traps, also known as the top three to five positions on a web search, garner the most website traffic from qualified leads. This sounds just peachy to you, right? Shovel marketing dollars into SEO content and Google AdWords and bring on the sales!

But what if you don’t have the marketing dollars to purchase prime Google real estate? And better yet, what if I were to tell you that those search-driven transactions are mostly one-timers who breeze through, pay a bill, and are never heard from again?

Even if you’re at the tip-top of every Google search relevant to your industry, search engine traffic is limited in its ability to generate repeat business. With SEO, you’ll have plenty of one-shot sales but not a lot of customer loyalty. That sounds like a fairly desolate business model, doesn’t it?

Social Media Farms Make More Food (And Not Just In Farmville)

Now imagine, in addition to your cleverly set traps, you also have some dense, fertile land in which you plant seeds. You cultivate the seeds, making sure to irrigate and fertilize them regularly. Each year, the land has continued to yield nutrient-rich crops that provide you (and your grass-fed, free-range livestock) with nearly all dietary needs. While the traps have provided you with the occasional meaty morsel, your land has provided you with a consistent, long-term source of food.

You get the gist by now. The social media and e-mail marketing landscape is rich with arable soil capable of producing abundant repeat business through audience engagement. When you become a trusted source of practical information for your customers and not just another advertiser begging for sales, you’ll gain long-term relationships. Repeat customers generate much more money and help to nourish your business so that it flourishes in the long-term.

So here’s how you can cultivate your online customer interactions in three steps:

1)      Plant seeds with meaningful stories.

Storytelling is rapidly becoming an essential business skill. Kickstarter creators, for example, are required to include a video in their campaign profiles explaining the motivations behind their projects and what obstacles they're facing. It’s no longer good enough to tell a customer “We’re qualified to offer you our expertise due to years of experience;” customers want to hear about what those experiences did to shape you and your company.

Think about why Facebook and Twitter are so addictive: we read the stories of our friends in real time and are witness to the factors that change them and the lessons they learn. Even better, we become those influential factors through our comments.

Why should customers care about your business? I’ll tell you why: as they learn your story, they’ll want to be a part of it.

Give these social media storytelling strategies a try:

·         Create a visual narrative on Facebook.

·         Post a TED Talk style video on YouTube discussing the story behind your business and lessons you’ve learned.

·         Connect your followers to the business leaders that have influenced you on Twitter.

 

2)      Cultivate your customers with practical, informative content:

It’s not enough to engage your audience. They want something in exchange for their attention. Give them something they can use: advice, facts and entertainment with a bit of education on the side. This will keep your audience relying upon you as an expert and they’ll share your ideas with their friends so they can sound smart, too. Eventually, you’ll find yourself at the center of a community built around your work.

As a freelance copywriter, I’ve come to rely upon the career advice of a successful freelance blogger. Her e-newsletters appear in my inbox every day; sometimes twice a day. If they weren’t relentlessly helpful, I’d have unsubscribed long ago. But I feel like I’m hearing from a trusted mentor who wants to see me succeed. And through the use of cleverly placed links in the content, the emails have very smoothly, without pressure, guided me to a paid seminar on freelance blogging. I haven’t signed up just yet, but I will soon. If the free information in her newsletters is this good, I can only imagine how invaluable the paid-for knowledge will be.

Here are some ideas for showering your customer list with information:

·         Send an e-mail newsletter with links to brief (300-500 words) how-to articles at least 3 times a week.

·         Send links to PDF files of in-depth guides (1500+ words) or e-books (10,000+ words) as a bonus to new subscribers.

·         Update your blog at least once a week with an informative post about current events in your industry.

3)      Harvest qualified leads with irresistible calls-to-action:

Your customers would appreciate more stuff from you. Well, you happen to have plenty of stuff to give them: your services, products, and expertise. No doubt you’re happy to provide them with that stuff—at a cost. It’s business, after all.

Does the cost have to be monetary? If your customers were to provide you with the means to expand your business through referrals, testimonials and social media shout-outs, what would you be willing to give them in exchange?

I recently purchased from a used clothing retailer called thredUP. You’ve probably seen their ads all over Facebook. I was drawn into buying with them the first time around because of those ubiquitous ads; their service turned out to be excellent. Then I got an e-newsletter piece offering a referral discount for my next thredUP purchase if I share a link with a friend who buys. Did I take them up on that offer? You bet I did! I went straight to my fashion Facebook group and told everyone about thredUP and proudly posted my referral link. Plus, I was compelled to purchase from thredUP again not only because I liked the stuff but also because I had earned a discount. I also had the ego-boost one gets from being the first to tell friends about something cool.

Here are some ideas for how to reap the rewards of return business and get those customers to generate leads for you:

·         Do what ThredUP (among other savvy retailers) does: Generate an email offer of a substantial discount on each new customer your current customer refers to you.

·         Post a blog entry with a testimonial contest for previous customers. Have a drawing for a free service/product to whoever writes a testimonial in the comments. Reward any commenter with a discount on a future transaction.

·         Host a Facebook (or Google+) trivia night: Create an event, invite prior customers, and post trivia questions every 5 minutes for an hour. In order to participate, the customer must get at least one other person from their friend list or social circle to join their team. The winning team will get a high-value prize. Between trivia questions, post links to your website.

All of the above ideas are designed to help you envision your online presence as a dynamic content publisher. Today’s consumers are driven by useful information and by intriguing narratives. As a professional in your field, you have plenty of opportunities to give your customers what they need to continue to use your service.

Okay, you’re probably thinking this is all well and good, but when are you actually going to have time to do your job between writing up blog posts and seeding Facebook with buzz-worthy posts?

As a professional freelance copywriter, I can help you with all of that and more. See what I did there? I sprinkled in some information so your interest will bloom and you’ll click this link.

(Just call me Farmer Weaver.)

What’s more, I’m offering you a unique chance to try out my copywriting services:

Share this post on Facebook by tagging qualified friends* in the comments and I’ll ghost-write one (1) FREE 300-500 word blog-style article** on a topic of your choice for your website.  

If your friend ends up ordering content from me, I’ll provide you with ONE WEEK of social media engagement content designed specifically for your business.***

Alright, now it’s time for me to put down my watering can and see if any seeds will start sprouting.

Let me know in the comments:

1)      What friend would most benefit from great website content? (Please tag them or their company’s Facebook Page and list their website address/business name)

2)      What do you want your blog post to be about?

Itty-bitty italics:
*”qualified friend” is a small business owner or decision maker responsible for the content of a website. Sorry, tagging Aunt Gladys the kooky Cat Lady doesn’t count--unless she’s a kooky Cat Lady with a website.
**This offer expires on July 1, 2015. One free 300-500 article per entrant. If you’d like a longer article, I won’t charge for the first 500 words.
*** The extent of the social media content will be determined upon consultation.
This giveaway is in no way sponsored, endorsed, administered or associated with Facebook.    

References:

http://searchenginewatch.com/sew/study/2276184/no-1-position-in-google-gets-33-of-search-traffic-study

http://searchengineland.com/what-seosem-professionals-should-know-about-website-usability-part-2-13905

http://contently.com/strategist/2014/02/03/this-will-be-the-top-business-skill-of-the-next-5-years/

http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/visual-storytelling-on-facebook/

http://speakupforsuccess.com/10135/how-are-ted-talks-and-business-presentations-different/

https://business.twitter.com/success-stories/rukes