Online adults in the US are more likely to discover websites via natural search engine results than through any other means, reports Forrester Research [download page] in a new study. Respondents were asked how they typically found websites they had visited in the prior month, with 54% pointing to search, up from 50% the prior year. Notably, social networking sites moved up a couple of notches to the second spot in the website discovery rankings, typically used by 32% in 2012, up from 25% in 2011. Social networks overtook links from other websites (28%, down from 31%) and emails from friends or family members (25%, down slightly from 26%).
Aside from social, a couple of other website discovery sources made big strides from one year to the next. In 2012, 26% of respondents said that they typically found websites as a result of emails from companies or brands, up from 15% the year before. That suggests that all those extra emails from brands are having their intended result.
The other big change was for sponsored search engine results (paid search). Though trailing natural search engine results by a large margin, paid search results were cited by 18% of respondents, a big increase from 8% the year before.
Offline sources had a role too: newspapers/magazine articles (18%) and TV shows or news stories (15%) were used by some.
Predictably, there were some clear age-related trends. Natural search results tended to be used more by the younger than older age groups (57% for the 18-23 crowd versus 45% for those aged 68+), although the gap was far more pronounced for social networking site use (50% for the youngest group compared to 19% for the oldest group). By contrast, the oldest age bracket was more than twice as likely to use newspapers and magazine articles as the youngest bracket (28% vs. 12%).
About the Data: The 2012 data is based on a survey conducted in Q3 2012 of 30,978 US and 2,032 Canadian online adults aged 18-88. Forrester weighted the data by age, gender, income, broadband adoption, and region to demographically represent the adult US and Canadian online populations. The survey sample size, when weighted, was 30,549 in the US and 1,905 in Canada.