So you’ve realized, for one reason or another, that it’s time to crank up the volume of your business and invest in digital marketing.

You’ll be faced with an immediate question: there are so many different channels in digital marketing, which one do you try first?

Well, the first step is knowing what each channel does, then we can narrow down your options with some recommendations.

Breakdown of channels


Search engine optimization is the process of optimizing a webpage to increase the volume of traffic entering the site by obtaining a high-ranking position on search engine results pages (SERPs).

SEO is typically a long-term play, can take months of optimization to increase rank and requires tons of maintenance to hold or improve your position.

Paid search

Paid search (also know as pay-per-click – PPC) is a method of online advertising used to direct targeted traffic to websites through search engine results. This is done by bidding on keywords to enable your ads to show for relevant searches.

Paid social

Paid Social advertising involves placing ads on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, directly in the news feeds of targeted users.


Display advertising consists of banner ads on targeted websites that present your product/service to large sets of audiences.


Native advertising is promoting branded content that matches the form and function of the user environment it is served in.

Which one do I choose first?

No doubt there are lots of options to choose from. If you’re a small to medium size business, chances are you’re looking to kick-start your growth and want traffic to come in fast, but also to keep ROI and efficiency as a focus.

With this in mind, you can narrow things down to paid search and social as these are the channels that can bring in volume faster than the others while also offering plenty of levers which you can pull to optimize efficiency.

Paid search

The biggest benefit of paid search is that you’re reaching an audience with high intent – meaning the audience is already searching for your product or service. By choosing the most relevant keywords, you can get your brand, product or service in front of searchers who need it.

The great thing about reaching audiences with high intent is that you are getting the best quality traffic – essentially, the audience knows they want the product/service, so if you are able to capture that audience’s attention, the more likely they are to convert.

Now of course in this situation, you are also competing with others who are trying to get in front of the same audience.

online supermarkets Google Search serp

So your ad will be listed alongside your competitors’ ads, and it’s not just a matter of who has the highest bid, but also the most relevant ad, landing page and user experience. In this situation you need to make sure the product or service you’re offering is advertised as attractively as it can be.

Given the high-intent audience, many verticals have very competitive markets, so the cost-per-click to get your ad in a high-ranking position can get very expensive. A great way to get a sense of the competition and what you will likely be paying is by using Google’s Keyword Planner tool:

keyword planner

Another thing to note is that, in order for search to work, there actually needs to be demand for your product or service. If not many people are searching for it, you really aren’t going to get much traction. This is where social comes into play…


If you have just come up with a new product or service that has never really existed before, or hasn’t become popularized, social is the play for you. Because if people don’t know such a thing exists, that they need it in their life, how do they know to search for it? Therefore paid search becomes moot. (Think Tivo in 1999.)

In the above situation, you will be doing ‘pull’ marketing (a marketing approach used to draw customers to a brand where the goal is to strengthen awareness to the brand/product/service and essentially generate demand).

So you might say, “I can do pull marketing with display as well, so why go the social route?” The benefits of social, and more specifically Facebook, is that you have thousands of different data points to use, different targeting levers to pull, and the ability to really hone in on very specific audiences by using Facebook’s different technologies.

Another reason you may want to go the social route vs. PPC is in the scenario where competition in PPC is very high, making it expensive for you to get in front of your target audience. In a highly competitive environment, not everyone can afford to reach their audience. Facebook is a great way to get in front of your target demographic and familiarize them with your brand.

If you’re in ecommerce and have visually appealing products, then social is another great route to take.

The combination of brand awareness and visual products show that for small brands using Facebook, there is a differentiation opportunity. The opportunity is for brands (which happen to be in a highly competitive market) to differentiate and compete on head terms.

For example: a ‘newer’ high-end fashion line would be going after expensive head terms in search – keywords like ‘women’s clothing’, ‘men’s clothing’, etc. With only text elements in paid search, these prohibitively expensive terms make it hard to differentiate your brand from the sea of competition.

therealreal facebook post

With social, users are not necessarily in a state of purchase intent, so ads serve the purpose of creating demand where it may not have already existed.

Ultimately, both channels have their own benefits in bringing traffic to your site, but if you are in a position where you only want to test in one first, then it’s definitely important to consider the nuances of each.

Sana Ansari is the General Manager of 3Q Accelerate.

via Search Engine Watch

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