The digital revolution has changed a lot of things in the last ten years. But nothing has probably changed faster than how Americans are getting their information. According to a 2012 Nielsen™ study, roughly 274 million people in the U.S. now have Internet access—that’s more than double since the year 2000. Last year, we spent roughly 81 billion minutes on social networks and blogs and 64 percent of mobile phone time was spent using apps. We’re even consuming information on multiple devices simultaneously with 42 percent of tablet owners using them daily while watching television.1
But the increase in gadgets and Americans’ voracious appetites for information poses an evolving problem for marketers: How are consumers finding websites now and how can those trends be incorporated in a marketing strategy?
Tracking the trends. For nearly the last ten years, Forrester ®, a research company, has surveyed online consumers to determine what resources they are using to find websites. Here are some of the key trends they noticed:
Search engines still rule. Not surprisingly, the Forrester survey found organic search is still the primary source of all web traffic. Fifty percent of U.S. online adults use search engines to find websites. While this stat was down 10 percent from the previous year, it was still more than the second-most common traffic driver—links from another site—at 31 percent. The survey also found the number of online adults that use search ads to find websites rose to 8 percent after falling the year before.(2) A different survey by ExperianSM Hitwise found Google™ to still be the dominate search engine of choice with nearly a 66 percent share of searches. Bing™ and Yahoo!® were a distant second with around 11 percent each.(3)
Social networks gaining ground. The biggest surprise in the Forrester survey was that social media sites such as Facebook® and Twitter™ overtook traditional website traffic drivers like email and recommendations for the first time among U.S. adults. The survey reported 23 percent or “almost one in four U.S. online adults say social networks drive them to websites.”(1) Some social media experts are even calling “Facebook the new Google” because for many, especially younger generations, social networks are viewed as the starting point for the Internet. And, considering Facebook passed Google in March of 2010 for the most visited site on the Internet, there may be a whole lot of truth to that statement.(4)
Email losing ground. Another find from the survey discovered that fewer people than ever are using promotional email or emails from friends or family to locate websites. The survey noted the decrease was especially high among older adults but that using personal emails to find websites was still the second-most cited resource for seniors behind search results. 2
Offline advertising vs. offline content. Forrester also reported that, when it comes to traffic-driving resources, all forms of advertising declined this year. It said, “Twelve percent of U.S. online adults use print ads to find sites, 11 percent use TV ads, and only 4 percent use radio ads.” However, offline content such as newspaper and magazine articles “drive almost 1 in 5 consumers to websites, and TV shows or news stories drive 14 percent of consumers.” So while offline tends to deliver more traffic, it’s still important to provide content both offline and online in all the places your audience spends its time with media.
Mobile gains. In another study, the Local Search Association’s “State of Local Search”, reported 77.1 million mobile subscribers accessed local business content as of January 2011. That number was up a whopping 34 percent from a year ago. In fact, local content users now account for one-third of all mobile subscribers, up from 25 percent last year.(5) Nielsen reports that 44 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers now own smartphones and that 19 percent of smartphone users have searched for product information using their device. Sixteen percent have even looked up coupons or deals when the television was on.1 And with numbers like that, it would appear that search via mobile devices is likely to increase in the years to come.
Recommendations. It’s difficult to make broad suggestions that will work for every business. But it’s clear that as consumers continue to use more devices to search for information, creating multiple touch points on multiple platforms is crucial to driving website traffic these days. Generate as many pathways as possible using all available online channels, including organic search, social media, email, paid search, video and online ads. Don’t put all your marketing dollars into one basket and don’t forget about the impact of offline channels such as TV, radio, directories, outdoor, print, direct mail and others. Social media is a growing resource for younger generations while older ones prefer referrals and compelling content. If your business doesn’t have a social media presence such as a Facebook site, you could be missing a growing channel for searchers to find you. But make sure you’re coordinating your marketing strategies to connect with your target audience’s preferred device usage.
1 – Source: Nielsen, The Digital Revolution (April 2012)
2 – Source: Forrester, How Consumers Find Websites In 2011 (December 2011)
3 – Source: Experian Hitwise US survey ending the week of April 28, 2012
4 – Source: Hitwise data for the week ending March 10, 2010
5 – Source: Local Search Association study conducted by comScore, Inc. (2011)