Search engines still dominate over social media, even for millennials

November 15, 2018

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For many years people have been proclaiming the demise of traditional search traffic and the death of the SEO industry that supports it. While Google has posted consistent revenue growth from its core search business for the last many years, the pundits are convinced that the proclivity of users to search on a search engine for new information is a relic of the past to be replaced by a rising always-on social media presence.

Every winter, the technology blogosphere is replete with thought pieces about how the coming new year will be the year of social or some innovation. While some may say that foretelling the growth of search in the coming year is akin to heralding the return of the palm pilot; I strongly beg to differ.

As someone who has spent the last decade deeply involved in constructing enterprise SEO strategies, I have felt that this couldn’t be further from the truth. It is my opinion that if an organization chooses to believe that no one will search for them online, they are leaving the field wide open for their competitor to dominate the organic search results.

What does the data say

However, a point of view, even one with industry experience to validate it, is still only an assumption. I partnered with my research colleagues at SurveyMonkey to gather hard data about the true state of search. We collected responses from nearly 4,000 people who had taken surveys on SurveyMonkey. (Read more about our methodology here.)

To understand where search stood as an information gathering tool, we asked questions that put users in specific scenarios. The motivation behind this line of questioning was to give a real-world scenario where a user might choose between search and other available options. As an example, we asked users to choose where they would most likely turn to find a new dentist. The motivation behind this line of questioning was to give a real-world scenario where a user might choose between search and other available options.

Not surprisingly for this kind of need, many people would choose to text or call a friend or family member for a suggestion; however, a higher number 36 percent would turn to a search engine. Only a very small minority of 5 percent would rely on social media. When this data was cut by age, millennials (18-34) were just as likely as the general population to use social media but were more likely to use search than those in the 35-64 bucket.

Social media may be a great option for gathering advice from a crowd, but when the suggestions really matter users still want control over how much and from where they gather information.

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In total, search is still incredibly popular with 97 percent of people conducting at least one search per day. Within the 18-34 age bucket, millennials, the cohort most at risk of migrating to other information gathering sources, 62 percent of respondents conduct at least five searches per day.

Across all age groups, 52 percent of users claimed that nearly all of their daily searches were conducted on their phones and this number was even higher for millennials at 68 percent.

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According to Pew, the usage of social media is still rising; however, only 69 percent of adults login every day. That’s still a long way from taking over completely from search.

Mobile and maps

While the data showed that search is still a force to be reckoned with when compared to social media, the survey also revealed an interesting trend specific to mobile.  Respondents were asked how they would go about searching for directions to a new address. Only 22 percent would enter the address into a search engine while 37 percent would go directly to the maps app on their mobile devices.

Fortunately for Google, they make the most popular maps app in the world; however users skipping the search box to go directly to an app is an indication of the sea change the naysayers have been touting for years. It’s not too hard to conceive a future where users use another maps app not made by Google.

Voice search still developing

On the topic of new technology, voice search does not appear to be as popular as the hype would assume. Only 12 percent of users are conducting voice searches at least once a day and there isn’t that much variability between age groups or gender. In total 36 percent of users have never used voice search. This data indicates that while a user base is building, the transition to a voice-search only world might just be a long time in the future.

When voice search takes off, we may see voice eclipse social media as a source of info as it has the advantages of conversational abilities and unbiased responses. Just like with traditional search, voice search will continuously improve as adoption of the technology grows.

Search lives on

The idea of searching the web with a set of phrases has been around since the launch of Archie in 1990. Even though the search arena has been the beneficiary of a myriad of innovations from AI to voice, the core concept remains unchanged. Given the level at which search has been integrated into people’s daily lives and it’s current usage rates based on the survey above, it is unlikely to decline any time soon.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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