Forrester: Consumers Prefer Organic Search, Not Search Ads, For Discovery

forrester logo Forrester, in its annual report on how consumers found websites during the past year, discovered that 54% of respondents found websites through natural search results in 2012, 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.

How Consumers Search, 2012

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

A Paid Search Disconnect?

In what’s likely a surprise to many search marketers, just 18% of those surveyed said that they used paid search ads for website discovery. This despite the fact that paid search spending is still increasing, according to other studies that track marketing budgets.

Forrester attributes this to the mindset of many search marketers to prioritize sales over other goals. They also note that many organizations still silo their marketing groups, with sometimes literal physical barriers separating search, paid, social or other marketing teams, thwarting collaboration.

Links Aren’t Dead, Just Yet

Contrary to a popular meme that suggests link building isn’t as important as it once was due to changes in search engine algorithms, respondents said that links were an important means of website discovery, with 28% saying they found websites from links on other sites.

And offline sources were also important, with 18% saying they found websites via newspapers, and 15% from TV shows or news stories.

The report also has a surprising conclusion: that Apple, not Google, will be the dominant search engine of the next decade, asserting that as customization becomes more important to consumers, Apple will have an edge in better understanding searcher needs and intent by providing “data lockers” to customers. It’s an intriguing idea, and not entirely far-fetched, given the fate of the entire era of pre-Google search engines.

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

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Search & Society | Stats: Search Behavior


About The Author: (@CJSherman) is a Founding Editor of 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.

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  • Pat Grady

    looks for study showing consumers don’t know the difference between organic listings and paid ads…

  • Dave Chaffey

    Interesting data set Chris, but we should always treat consumer reported data in surveys with caution – particularly with ads since consumers don’t like to admit being influenced by them. Observed behaviour, i.e. through site analytics is what really counts.

    There’s also the understanding factor as Pat says. Social visits I see in analytics for most sites don’t fit with what consumers are saying here – another self-disclosed bias.

    The reality is that excluding brand searches, many transactional sites I look at drive more visits/sales from AdWords than organic since it’s more controllable. If you looked at this data alone you wouldn’t think that was practical

  • Stephen Moyers

    Thanks for the very good post. It’s really great to know that consumers are more likely to click on organic listing as compare to ads. Thanks again for update

  • Infogurushop

    This is good news for SEO veterans! It unanimously proves online users and consumers are aware, intelligent and smarter than Google would have us think. It also shows that Freelance strategic SEO and Social Media rules search results online. Ad agencies, ecommerce and luxury brands are often forced to think PPC as they need instant results but they should consider SEO as their strategic cake and PPC only as the icing.

  • @Amaaanda

    In terms of paid search, I think there’s a large percentage of the population who doesn’t even REALIZE they find new websites through sponsored search ads. It’s like asking people if they like pop-up ads. They’ll always tell you no, but watch your email list jump 30% more every day when you add them. What people say they do and what they actually do tend to be two very different things. :)

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