Search Remains First, Social Second For How People Find Websites

forrester logo Each year, Forrester Research publishes a report detailing how consumers find websites. The findings are always fascinating, because they reveal different preferences between generations, and the popularity of different discovery methods changes from year to year, sometimes in surprising ways.

For 2012, 54% of respondents found websites through natural search results, up from 50% in 2011. Social networks were the second-most preferred discovery resource, with 32% using them in 2012, up from 25% in 2011 and 18% in 2010. Links were the third important means of website discovery, with 28% saying they found websites from links on other sites, down from 31% last year.

Attention paid search marketers: Just 18% of those surveyed said that they used search ads for website discovery. This is actually an improvement from 2011, when paid search was the least popular form of website discovery, with only 8% reporting that they used paid search ads to find websites.

How Consumers Search, 2012

Forrester surveyed 33,000 online users in the U.S. and Canada to collect its data.

Generational Differences In Website Discovery

Unsurprisingly, the study found generational differences in how people find websites. While natural search results was the clear preference for all generations, social media was the most favored second preference for younger people, with 50% preference for Generation Z (ages 18 to 23) and 43% of Generation Y (ages 24 to 32), with just 22% of Older Boomers (ages 57 to 67) and 19% for the Golden Generation (ages 68 and older) using social media to find websites.

By contrast, older people relied more on traditional media such as television and newspapers than younger people. There were only slight differences in the use of links and sponsored search results between the generations.

The full report, How Consumers Found Websites In 2012, is available for $US 499.

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | Statistics: Online Behavior | Statistics: Popularity & Usage | Top News

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About The Author: (@CJSherman) is a contributing editor to Marketing Land and President of Searchwise LLC, a Boulder Colorado based Web consulting firm. He also programs and co-chairs the Search Marketing Expo - SMX conference series.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • Harry Hawk

    This is as deep a thought as people open their mouths and then eat… Search is for hmmm Search.. Social sites, while they can lead to discovery, are not about search, they are about interaction, building community and friendships, Etc.

  • http://www.craigbailey.net Craig Bailey

    I wonder how many of those respondents know what the difference between a paid search listing and an organic one is. A lot of people I talk with will mention they never click on ads… they just choose one of the results on ‘the left of the search results page’. When I point out that the top 3 or so results are usually ads they are shocked. I further point out the slight colour shading and they note they’ve never noticed that before. Even the text above it ‘Ads related to xxx’ is something they’ve not noticed before. I’d love to know how Forrester ensured this wasn’t an issue with their findings (but not at $499).

  • Pat Grady

    54% / 18% = 3.0x. I smell something rotten too.

  • Jocelyn Ollett

    Can someone explain why the per centages do not add up to 100?

    If the 2012 results are natural search 54%, social network sites 32%, newspapers 18%, then that’s 104%…and with the rest the total is 247%.

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    This doesn’t really surprise me at all. Search is for…well, searching. Most people don’t turn to social to find websites, although they might find them as a result of being actively involved.

  • Adam Wormann

    Jocelyn, I believe that this is because people are using multiple means to access different sites. So, if I used search for some sites and social media for both, I think they would count me towards both numbers. So, it’s really a bunch of individual percents, because some will respond in both categories, as if they are separate survey questions. Make sense?

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