Search Engine Use Declines Significantly As Young Users Find Their Way Online

There’s a generational divide in the way people search for brands and information across the internet on a variety of devices and apps. As technology matures and ages, new users find their way online, continually changing the way advertisers and marketers find and approach people online.

The Forbes Advisory's study released Monday identified a 30% decline in the use of search engines to search for brand names between baby boomers, 94%, and Gen Z, 64%. 

Mobile device use influences search habits, with those primarily accessing the internet via cellphones showing a slight decrease in using a search engine to discover brands, down from the average to 79%.

More consumers are finding brands through social media, rather than search. On average, 10% of people begin their brand searches on social media, refining searches on engines later. This behavior is more pronounced among Gen Z and millennials, with 21% and 14%, respectively. Some 4% of all respondents, including 11% of Gen Z, exclusively use social media platforms to discover and interact with brands, reflecting a trend toward more self-contained digital ecosystems within social media apps.



Some 24% of those participating in the study only use or primarily use social media to search online for topics such as restaurants, fashion and sports updates, according to the Forbes Advisor online survey of 2,000 Americans conducted by Talker Research between April 12 and April 22, 2024.

For Gen Z, 46% turn to social media for their information. Millennials follow this pattern, with 35% favoring social media over traditional search engines.

There’s an interesting geographic shift. Some 29% of those in the Southwest use social media to search online, the highest rate among U.S. regions. This increases to 38% among those who exclusively use mobile devices for internet access.

One in five people do not feel the need to use search engines, because they can access websites through social media.

Some 18% use social media apps and traditional search engines, choosing between the two based on specific needs. About 24% occasionally turn to social media for searches, but primarily rely on search engines, and 34% only use traditional search engines.

One-third of people only use their cell phone to access the internet. Gen Z proves to be one of the more interesting generational segments when it comes to cell phone and internet use. Seventy-seven percent of Gen Z, those born between 1997 and 2006, said they use YouTube, 77% said they use Instagram, 73% said they use TikTok, 65% use Google, and 59% use Snapchat.

On the other side of the spectrum, baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, tend to use Google’s app most to access the internet. Seventy-six percent said they use Google’s app, 71% said they use Facebook, 66% use YouTube, 29% use Instagram, and 21% Pinterest.

The report makes it clear that younger generations who have not known a world where only search engines like Google and Bing exist have turned to social media for connectivity and information. As technology ages, the data shows a continued shift in the way people use digital experiences, confirming the need for advertises and marketers to develop content for social media and search.

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