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Is word of mouth better than SEO? A side by side look at more trustworthy advertising alternatives

Monday, May 17, 2021
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It’s no secret that consumers have become incredibly wary of advertising.

A recent ClickZ study found that a staggering 84% of millennials don’t trust traditional advertising and a study by Credos found that favorable opinions of advertising have dipped as low as 25%.

As traditional advertising becomes less and less effective, brands must turn to different ways of attracting new customers. Two of the most effective strategies available are SEO and word-of-mouth marketing because they also exist for the benefit of consumers, not just brands.

Regardless of what brands are up to, Google’s goal is to serve the most relevant results for that searcher — and customers leave reviews to help other shoppers have better experiences.

And while the main similarity between both marketing channels is that they share an organic quality that’s intuitive to consumers, there are many differences — and it can be challenging for brands to figure out which approach makes the most sense for them.

Help your target audience find you with good SEO

Did you know that 67.6% of clicks on the first page come from the first five search results? And that 53% of all of all trackable website traffic comes from organic search? That represents a huge amount of market share you could be winning from your competitors by putting more of a focus on organic SEO.

Brand visibility is one of the biggest benefits to SEO. And – unlike word-of-mouth – you’re not relying on others to get the word out about your brand. Google is typically the first place someone starts when they’re searching for a product or service, so the higher you are on the first page of search results, the more eyes you’re going to get on your site. Which translates into more sales for your brand.

There are a few added bonuses as well. Because user experience on your site is such an important factor for Google’s rankings, part of good SEO is improving your site experience so that you can rank well in search. This means a better experience for your site’s visitors, and higher conversion rates for you.

SEO is brand awareness in its most effective form because if all goes to plan, your page will appear for searchers with the right buying intent. The higher you rank for exactly what they’re looking for, the better the chance they’ll land on your site. This is what makes SEO so valuable, even though it can seem complex and challenging.

Organic SEO builds trust with customers

One of the biggest things to remember about organic SEO – and this is both a pro and a con – is that results are not quick. It will take time. But as frustrating as this is, it also means that once you’re ranking well it’s challenging for your competitors to come in and take your spot.

Consumers aren’t stupid. Organic SEO builds so much trust with them because they understand that it’s in Google’s best interests to show them the best search result for that specific search term. Ranking well in search helps them find your business in a quick and natural way, without them feeling like they’re being marketed to.

Let your happiest customers do the talking for you

There are many different types of word-of-mouth marketing. Essentially, anything that has your customers talking about your brand is word-of-mouth. This can include influencer marketing, customer reviews, and even old school face-to-face conversations.

Just like with organic SEO, the stats around word-of-mouth are pretty compelling. 74% of consumers identify word-of-mouth as a key influencer in their purchasing decision and 85% of website visitors find visual user-generated content more influential than brand photos or videos. And that’s just the beginning in terms of word-of-mouth’s effectiveness.

Reviews are one of the easiest ways to implement a word-of-mouth marketing strategy, especially if you’re automating review invitations every time someone makes a purchase. This ensures that you have a lot of user-generated content to highlight throughout your customer journey and that your mix of customer reviews are an accurate representation of how your customers feel.

The biggest benefit to collecting reviews is that they have a wide range of uses for your business. Showcasing them throughout your customer journey can seriously improve your conversion rates. They contain powerful consumer insights that can help you improve your customer experience and increase your revenue. And they’re a great way to build your online reputation.

One main factor that differentiates word-of-mouth from SEO is that you can see results pretty quickly. When you’re looking at reviews and conversion rates, all you need to do is A/B test pages on your site after adding reviews and within a few weeks you should be able to see what your new conversion rates are.

Word-of-mouth marketing and SEO go hand-in-hand

But there’s one more big impact reviews can have on your business that might surprise you. Reviews can actually improve your SEO. Although these two strategies may not seem to have much in common, they’re more connected than you might think.

Islandsurf.com rich snippets

Islandsurf.com's product pages show up as rich snippet results in organic search

One of the biggest impacts reviews can have on SEO is qualifying you for rich snippets in search by including product reviews on your site. And rich snippets don’t just make your site look nice in SERPs – they can increase your organic traffic by 30% and increase your revenue from organic traffic by 677%.

Word-of-mouth strengthens all of your marketing and advertising

Although SEO and word-of-mouth have many differences, the one thing they have in common is that both of them help you build trust for your brand with new shoppers more authentically than advertising does. So – if you’ve been asking yourself if word of mouth is better than SEO – to build trust with your customers, SEO and word-of-mouth actually work best hand-in-hand.

For most brands, it’s worth focusing on these two strategies instead of funneling all of your budget into advertising that might come across as – well – exactly that. It might be tempting to look at this cynically and see these two strategies as no better than advertising. After all, you’re still just trying to sell a product or service at the end of the day. But that couldn’t be further than the truth.

Focusing on these two strategies forces you to actually focus on what your customers need – helping Google show your brand to people who are actually looking for your product, and ensuring your customer experience is so good that your customer reviews can convert new customers.

The key is to make it easier for customers who are already looking for your products — not to try and sell your business to the people who aren’t.

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