The Way People Search the Web is Changing: 4 Stats Marketers & SEOs Should Know [HubSpot Data]

Maxwell Iskiev
Maxwell Iskiev

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Remember when it felt like Google was the only way you could to find information online? Those days are over.

How search engines are changing to become more mobile and social friendly

Now people are flocking to other channels, like social media, to answer their questions.

Leading them are Gen Z and Millennials, as 29% of the combined group prefer to search for information on social platforms over actual search engines. But that’s not all – generative AI's also coming to search result pages, throwing another wrench in the way we’ve nearly always searched online.

If your brand relies on search traffic, big consumer shifts are coming that you should keep in mind. We surveyed 600+ consumers about their search habits to help you prepare.

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How Consumer Search Habits are Changing

1. 31% of consumers use social media to find answers to their questions.

While close to one in three consumers use social search to find answers, traditional search engines are still dominant, used by 88% of people.

how do consumers search the web infographic

AI chatbots like ChatGPT are also used to find answers to questions, but only by 12% of the population.

Since social search and (especially) generative AI are newer trends and/or technologies entirely, we’ll keep tracking this over time to see if their popularity keeps growing.

2. 15% of consumers prefer to search on social media over search engines.

While just 15% prefer social search over search engines, 29% of Gen Z and Millennials combined prefer social.what percentage of each generation prefers social media search engines infographic

That’s a significant chunk that we think will continue growing every year.

Why? The younger the generation, the larger the percentage of consumers who prefer social search.

When thinking about future strategies, this could be a major shift for brands as increasing members of Gen Z age into full buying power as they get jobs, rise in career ranks, and generate more income than they had before.

Aside from search preferences, you should also keep an eye on generative AI-based search platforms as they become smarter and more abundant.

A small group of consumers (9%) already prefer to use AI chatbots to get answers to their questions over online search or social. Considering these chatbots have only been around for a few months, that's another significant group we think will keep rising every year.

3. Consumers say search engines are still the best way to get information.

All this hype might have you thinking search engines are dying, but SEO teams shouldn't go into panic just yet – if at all. Today, consumers still consider search engines as the most effective way to find answers to their questions.

consumers rate the effectiveness of different web search engines saying traditional search engines like google are most effective infographic

So while alternatives are gaining traction and improving functionality, traditional search is still a go-to for consumers looking for answers, and brands looking to drive traffic, but we'll continue watching in case this changes faster than we think.

4. 54% of consumers primarily use phones to search.

Another major indicator of future trends is that search has gone mobile.

While consistent data from all sorts of studies, and our own research, has shown the importance of mobile search optimization increasing over time, our consumers further prove why it's more necessary to keep mobile device habits in mind.

Just over half of consumers say they use their phone most often when looking up questions online. But, similarly to social search preferences, mobile-first search habits become even more drastic in younger generations.

A whopping 80% of Gen Z use their phones most often when searching. Millennials (62%) and Gen X (66%) aren’t far behind.

percentage of each generation primarily using mobile devices or phones to search online.

This mobile-first approach highlights just how critical it's becoming to optimize web experiences for mobile search platforms and adapt to the preferences of younger generations.

What’s Next for Search?

Only time can tell what happens next, but we’ll be running our bi-annual consumer trends survey again in January 2024 to keep you updated on all the above trends, and if any have shifted.

In the meantime, check out our 2023 Consumer Trends Report or download our other report on the impacts of AI in marketing below.

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