SEO or viral traffic – what’s best for my business?
There are many ways to generate traffic to your website, free of charge or paying, but lately we are seeing that the so-called viral content is becoming popular as one of the most used techniques to attract visitors to a particular website. Unlike other techniques, viral traffic does not come from search engines, but thanks to the online buzz. Its success lies in its relatively low implementation cost and a rapid and very high response rate. Hence, can we say that viral traffic is better than optimization for search engines (or SEO) for a good online positioning our business?
Before giving an answer to that question, there are some differences and similarities between SEO and viral traffic that should be taken into account.
- Speed and complexity
Undoubtedly, viral content generates hundreds or thousands of hits in a short time, so short that it is counted by days. That is why these contents have become so popular. On the other hand, to generate a significant volume of traffic through SEO techniques many companies need months or some say even years. According to consultant Tomás de Teresa, the reason is that a SEO strategy requires optimising your website internally, producing your own content and promoting it properly. "SEO requires time to develop and for search engines to assess it," says De Teresa. Therefore, results can take months to arrive, especially if your site is new. Generating viral content, however, is easier. Basically, you just need to upload a video to YouTube or Vimeo, publish an article or a post on the Internet.
But what makes content, whether it's an article, a picture or a video, go from simply being interesting to become so interesting that we feel the need to share it with others? The New York Times published a comprehensive report on what drives people to share content massively on the web. The results suggest a strong relationship between emotion and virality, although this relationship hides some more complex aspects. According to this study, positive content is much more prone to be viral than negative content. But while sad content tends to be less viral, content that generates feelings of anger or anxiety is more likely to be shared. In general, what causes some sort of emotion is more shared.
A great example is the video created by GoPro to attract people to their brand. The company not only showed the quality of the camera, it also created in the viewer a strong feeling of anxiety, helplessness, and satisfaction with the video’s endearing outcome. As a result, the video has received over 20 million views on YouTube.
But not only videos can generate viral traffic; there are lots of news items that are widely shared. The BBC's online edition, for example, has made a compilation of the top shared news by its readers through social networks.
You can also see what kind of posts have had more impact on the social networks and, therefore, have been the most watched. In this sense, Facebook gathers every year the most shared stories. This is in fact a good way to know what attracts people and take advantage of it.
Despite its benefits, viral marketing is not as sustainable over time as content indexing in search engines, and it usually loses much force a few days after reaching high levels of traffic.
On the other hand, traffic gained through search engine optimisation may be considered more stable. Besides, those who use search engines have an active attitude that makes them prone to act when they find relevant pages, generating quality traffic to your website, highly segmented and qualified, focused on your niche market.
In monetary terms, it is less expensive to generate viral content than to implement a SEO strategy. As we have seen, creating viral content takes less investment because lots of traffic can be generated by just uploading a video to YouTube or Vimeo, for example. Instead, to generate traffic through search engine optimisation it is necessary to invest in knowledge, tools, content and links generation.
The position of your website using SEO is unpredictable, since it depends on the algorithms used by search engines. And, as De Teresa notes, search engines like Google and Bing are secretive about their algorithms, which are constantly changed or updated. For example, Google uses over 200 factors to position a website in its results. At the same time, viral traffic is also unpredictable, as you can't control the impact it will have. The only way to ensure success is to follow the steps to generate viral content that we have just discussed.
To summarise, all strategies to generate web traffic have their advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, what matters most is that you diversify your investments. Many experts believe you should never bet on a single solution, and much less when we're talking about driving traffic to a particular website.