By Annie Ellicott

As the ever-evolving complexity of SEO continues to escalate, one important trend worth noting is the increasing shift of consumer behavior from using search engines for queries to using social networks for search. YouTube is now the second largest search engine on the web and with Facebook “share of mouse” continuing to climb and the continuing importance of Pinterest in driving traffic to sites, is it only a matter of time before social networks overtake organic search for user searches?

A sample of Shareaholic data across their network of 200k sites (with more than 250 million unique monthly users) showed that traffic referrals to these sites from the top 5 search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing, Ask, AOL) actually dropped by 6% between Nov 2013 and Nov 2012 while traffic referrals from the top 5 social media sites (Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Reddit) increased by 111%.

In combination, the 8 largest sources of social referrals drove 31.07% of overall traffic sites received in June 2014, doubling the 15.55% from these sources logged in June of 2013.

So what is driving this trend?

The power of social media continues to increase on the web as these networks continue to grow in number and size, channeling increasing numbers of visitors to websites. The interconnectivity of logins (now moving to anonymous ones) to apps via Facebook or Twitter credentials, acquisitions by social networks of other social networks (WhatsApp/Instagram/Facebook, Vine/Twitter) and continued rollout of enhanced features and functionality have all contributed to increased user engagement on social media networks. Add to this the new pressure on user growth and earnings at Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, post IPO’s and now operating as public companies, it’s not surprising that their influence and impact is increasing:

social traffic


Shareaholic March-June 2014

But time will tell if especially in the U.S. and Europe, this growth will continue. Take a look at Facebook’s latest user trends as reported in Q2 2014:



facebook users trend

                                         Source: VentureBeat, July 2014

A second trend fueling social search is the increasing complexity of finding information consumers actually trust. With increasing concerns about privacy and our personal data being used to target advertising to us, native advertising on the rise, a “no barriers” open environment on the web for launching new content (good and bad) and a general lack of trust in institutions among Millennials, getting trusted referrals from your posse of friends has become paramount. Word of mouth reviews are still the most powerful driver of consumer choices and decisionmaking… and social networks are the new mecca where your friends’ reactions and recommendations can be found in one easy click.

social media review power

Source: E-Marketer, January 2014

And then there’s SEO. Building social authority via social engagement, social mentions, more sharing of your content via social channels builds social authority with Google. SEO’s know this and they are taking it seriously. Between editorial calendars integrating blogging and social media posts, digital asset creation and increased tracking of social media analytics, good digital marketers are all over Google’s and other search engines’ algorithm shifts towards rewarding social authority. This is sending more content out via social channels (think new music releases) and therefore sending consumers to these channels to find it.

Want to put yourself in the driver’s seat and find out how you or your competitors are doing across the social search universe? Take one of these social search engines out for a test drive:

Need help optimizing your brand for search in an increasingly social world? Just call us…