Search, Not Social Networks, Help Users Find New Products Online

If you’re counting on your social networking campaign to spread the word about your new products this holiday season, you might be in for a rude surprise. According to a survey conducted by commerce software developer ATG, far more web users learn about products through search engines.

ATG ran its survey online, polling just over a thousand adults in the United States in July 2010. The survey was designed to find out how consumers learn about new products. One question asked those polled to list up to five ways the find out about new products.

More than half of respondents across all age groups cited search engines. Rather surprisingly for those who believe in word-of-mouth advertising – and its modern equivalent, social networking – less than 10 percent of those surveyed cited “links or information on social networking sites” as one of the ways they learn about new products.

The study’s demographic breakdown reveals some interesting trends. A higher percentage of men than women depended on search engines to discover new products (59 percent versus 47 percent). Looking at the percentages based on age, younger adults were less likely to depend on search engines to discover new products. A little under half of the 18-34 age group said they use search engines for this purpose, while more than half of both the 35-54 and 55 and over groups cited search engines as a way they discover new products.

So if social networking isn’t the main way that consumers are learning about new products, what is it good for? A number of surveys have shown its value in product and customer support. This implies that social networking can be important for branding. And if you’re trying to reach a younger audience, you need to use social networks; ATG notes that both social and mobile platforms are becoming more and more important to younger consumers as time goes on.

The way this demographic answered a number of ATG’s questions bears this out. Nearly a third of these younger respondents mentioned discovering a product or service through a social network. Well over a third of them said it was “important” or “very important” that merchants offer an opportunity to interact through social networks. Half of this cohort use Facebook to “like” merchants, interact with others about products, post images and reviews, seek customer service, look for coupons, and even post messages to a merchant’s fan page. And more than 40 percent of consumers aged 18-34 have used their mobile devices to purchase products and services.

So what’s the bottom line for SEO? You absolutely need to continue targeting the search engines, of course. But, especially if you’re aiming for a younger crowd or trying to reach women (and let’s face it, most of you can’t afford to ignore our buying power), you need to build your social networking presence as well.

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