People Are Increasingly Turning To Social Over Search

By: Chris Crum - September 24, 2012

To be clear, people are still turning mostly to search for seeking the answers to their questions. However, the gap between search and social networks is narrowing.

Are you getting more traffic from social media than you were a year ago? How’s it looking compared to search? Let us know in the comments.

There are plenty of sites out there that are getting more traffic from social media sites than they are from search engines. In fact, Google’s constantly changing algorithm almost demands that sites diversify their traffic sources and rely less on Google (the clearly dominant search engine) for the bulk of their traffic.

Doing great in Google now? There’s no guarantee that will last. You’re relying on an algorithm, and algorithms don’t care whether or not they have a substantial impact on your business.

Social media, on the other hand, is much more about people, and regardless of where they share it, people will always share good content, and are not necessarily influenced by over 200 mysterious signals when they share it with their own networks of friends and followers.

With that in mind, it might be good news that social media is apparently gaining ground against search in terms of the traffic it can drive to websites.

Paid Content’s Robert Andrews has a short, but interesting piece on the subject, citing UK Experian Hitwise data indicating that UK visits to major search engines dropped by 100 million through the month of August to 2.21 billion, and dropped by 40 million year-over-year. He shares the following comentary from Hitewise:

“The key thing here is the growing significance of social networks as a source of traffic to websites. Search is the still the number-one source of traffic, but social networks are growing as people increasingly navigate around the web via recommendations from Twitter, Facebook etc.”

This bodes well for Facebook, should it launch its own search offering in the near future, as CEO Mark Zuckerberg has hinted at.

“We’re basically doing 1 billion queries a day and we’re not even trying,” he’s quoted as saying, adding that “Facebook is pretty uniquely positioned to answer the questions people have. At some point we’ll do it. We have a team working on it,” and “Search engines are really evolving to give you a set of answers, ‘I have a specific question, answer this question for me.’”

As Andrews notes, people are increasingly finding answers to their questions in social networks. This is why a Facebook search engine could be worth something to users. It’s why the search engines like Google and Bing have added more social content to search results, and it’s why Google is now failing in its mission to index the world’s information and make it universally accessible.

A recent survey from Greenlight Digital suggested that a Facebook search engine could instantly grab 22% of the market share.

According to recent research from Webmarketing123 (pdf), the number of marketers able to attribute leads and sales to particular social channels more than doubled (leads from 15 to 31%, sales from 23% to 60%) year-over-year.

“Compared to last year, nearly 50% more B2Bs now identify social media as having the most impact on lead generation (2011 vs 2012),” the firm said in its report.

In social media engagement, the firm says, “B2c marketers are ahead with 70% moderately to highly engaged (40% highly engaged), but B2B is catching up, with 63% at those levels of engagement (27% highly engaged), overall, only 1 in 10 have no social
media program.”

90% of B2Bs have some level of Social Media engagement, according to the research, with 63% describing themselves as “moderately to fully engaged,” and 25% “very” to “fully” engaged. The majority of this group, Webmarketing123 says, are seeing a return on their investment. Top areas of investment (for the 60% that spend) are Facebook & LinkedIn (where 40% are active), and Twitter (30%).

Other research from RichRelevance indicates that for ecommerce, Pinterest is increasing in terms of traffic value (specifically average order value).

Webmarketing123 says that 20% of the marketers active on social media aren’t sure if they’re generating leads, and a full 40% aren’t sure if they’ve closed sales attributable to social media.

We looked more at the search-related data the firm collected here.

Are you finding social media to be valuable for traffic? Leads? Conversions? Let us know in the comments.

Chris Crum

About the Author

Chris CrumChris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.

View all posts by Chris Crum
  • SEO Limerick

    Yes but you can’t answer all questions in Social. In Social, you’re not connected to every content publisher, forum, white paper, doctors offices. Your friends haven’t been to every restaurant in every city.

    Are you getting facts or opinions? Which do you want? <<< search or social

    • Nick Stamoulis

      I think you make a great point. Social is great for getting opinions and ideas, but your friends don’t know everything there is to know about everything. There is definitely a value to searching via social networks but it’s not guaranteed you’ll find an answer.

      • Nina

        I share your opinion, social media is for connecting to friends, I don’t know how valuable they to ones business. I like to separate my business from my entertainments

  • Todd

    Done right, it would easy to see how Facebook could take a portion of the market share. This would be a good thing, because competition is healthy.

    Social traffic doesn’t convert – yet. The science of understanding social networks and traffic is improving daily. It is pretty easy to see why Google released +, seeing the writing on the wall in terms of social statistics. I think private and public apps will takeover search at some point – Todd, SEO Visions

  • Pamela

    With the increasing exposure of and to social media, having a twitter, facebook and for business linkedin presence can only help your business address niches and lift visibility.

  • Martin

    Even though, social media is much more about the people, unlike search engines with their algorithms, social networks just don’t have an answer to everything. But Google (usually) does.

  • Sarah

    If you think about the tern social media, it covers many battling leaders, but for the internet, well there really is only one, clearly demonstrated by the term “internet search” being replaced by “google”.

  • Bob Rodriguez

    Sorry, I don’t buy this. Even if I give the article the benefit of the doubt; social media may increase traffic but it certainly does not increase sales. Because the demographics are more condusive to “lookie loos” than buyers.

    • Frank Gainsford

      Great comment and on the nose. search is for answers to questions, social is about being social and friendly.

  • Bob Rodriguez

    There is a term in the Capital Markets called “time value of money”. If you think that the time that you spend working on social media is worth the return in $$$ than go for it. Otherwise, just do what everyone else is doing. Use social media as a form of entertainment.

  • Miroslav Bonchev

    I don’t think social media has that much of a bright future as many commentators seem to suggest. Perhaps it would still be useful for some types of searches, 5 years from now, but I would certainly not invest in any such service as facebook or twitter, especially for important stuff which has intrinsic value.

  • Chris

    The great thing about search? It’s already attempted to compile the answer for you, from a variety of resources.

  • Tom

    I think it might help us indirectly. We do websites mainly for writers. If someone searches on FB for something about one of our authors, they will most likely find their FB page in the results. From there the searcher might follow a link to our author’s website, but I doubt they would find it directly from the search.

  • AngersAusomeAussies

    I think a little bit of both is good,depending on what one is looking for. One can get both in Social Media also. If one just wants a quick answer, do a search.

  • Alec Ward

    Considering the current value of Facebook shares, which in essence are a considered commercial judgement after the hype and froth has died down, would anybody believe anything that Zuckerberg says ?

    If I want to know something about what somebody said today I will go to twitter, if I want to know something about something and want the answer to reflect opinions and judgements over several months / years etc I go to search.

  • Peter J. Francis

    I sell a service, so referrals are very important to me. My reputation with my clients is fundamentally important. Social media has been growing for me. My conversion rate for referrals through LinkedIn and Facebook is quite high. I’ve noticed that Google+ is falling off, but I’ve recently placed ShareThis links on my site and they have had a very positive effect.

  • Mike Budd

    In a nutshell:
    – exhaustivity => search
    – feeling/recommendation => social

  • Krishna

    It is better to say that the frequent Google Algorithm changes are driving people to social networks that at least have some predictable outcomes as it comes to driving traffic through links and recommendations. It, in fact, is becoming more and more frustrating to adapt sites and businesses to unpredictable and frequent algorithm changes. No body likes to lose everything built up painstakingly because of such changes.

  • Aileron

    I don’t think there is much more FB can do than it is already. Everything else is a complication and the reason FB took off is because of its ease of use, that is already fading fast. Google works because it’s brutally simple.

    If google added a reviews or social media link to its results, then it would excel, but if FB adds search facilities, it will still only be another extra step to an increasingly vapid experience. FB is tanking or flattening. it’s growth prospects are very small indeed.

    • John C

      I think that they are two different animals, and complement each other (search engines and social media). I wouldn’t rely on Facebook because there is so much crap on any given page, hard to filter out the important stuff to the junk we have to clean out most days.

      As far as other forms of social media (Pinterest, Squidoo, etc.) they can be useful, but you’re not getting a full spectrum of information. And we took the Bing Challenge and Bing won out. Nice to see search results not riddles with ads for a change.

    • Leonard

      I find it a little hard to see Google or Facebook a true challenge to each other in the world of search. It seems more like each of them are building deeper in their fields of specialty.

      I noticed that with myself and others, for example, if I want a movie review or inside look at a community event, I can comb through the mass quantities of personal garble on Facebook.

      But when I need something more business specific or purpose ready, I turn to Google-Bing or one of the other Search Engines out their.

      As mentioned earlier, they each have their use.

    • Aileron

      I agree with both of you. The difference though is, sales mostly come from direct searches for the best prices for the best quality. Google or Bing already cover that far better than FB could. Personal reviews and recommendations may help to close a sale, but they won’t create the sale in the same way. That’s the problem FB has.

  • denzil

    I not sure what direction fb is going as far as search but with over 800 billion active users they will Shure have an impact.

    Google is great search engine, that’s not going to change any time soon.

  • Cap’n Cyberzone

    Google almost seems schizophrenic.
    It’s forever changing the rules … forever tweaking its’ algorithms … forever in a state of flux.
    It’s not like there’s a well thought-out master template and bi-yearly it gets tweaked …
    We’re talking weekly … daily mania!

  • Rupesh

    Another wonderful news!! I’d rather on facebook now, instead wasting many hours of each day for just trying to impress google algorithm…

  • Darius

    Hi! I am not sure whether social media got all the answers, internet users are looking for. However, we all desperately need more competition in search engines. So all attempts to make this market more competitive are welcome.

  • Darryl Manco

    Social media (SM) is not a wherewithal. It’s a marketing vertical just as Google. By speculating that SM is going to be the next search for users to find valid answers, is similar to stating Wikipedia is a valid source to quote. I position that as companies refine how they deliver content via social channels this will in turn is what raises ROI. Then again, as online marketers reeducate themselves that chasing an algorithm makes no sense; but instead create content from SM analysis, the sum of the two will elevate ROI effectively.