Could word-of-mouth web traffic referrals eclipse search referrals?

A few weeks ago, a report from Citigroup analyst Mark Mahaney claimed that Facebook usage has eclipsed Google for the first time ever. A summary of that reportphoto illustrate networking - tin cans with a string on Techvibes indicated that “people spend over 41 billion minutes on Facebook every month in the U.S. alone—Google clocks in at just under 40 billion.”

While this report doesn’t mean that Facebook is going to outperform Google in terms of advertising sales revenue any time soon (read my article from last week on the future of online display advertising), it does raise a very important question:

Could word-of-mouth traffic referrals one day eclipse search referrals as the #1 traffic generating source for all websites?

If enough people are referring links to web pages on a daily basis, could their combined recommendations on sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Quora, etc. collectively amount to more referrals than search results on Google alone?

Twitter recently reported that the company now has over 100 million active users. As usage of that platform, plus Facebook and other social media sites continue to climb, the idea definitely seems plausible in the not too distant future. Why else would Google be so focused on making Google+ a success?

I am not implying that search referrals will ever go away – it is too ingrained in our online behaviour not to seek information via search engines. However, as people become comfortable sharing and trusting information online, a new source of traffic generation will become increasingly important. Why? Because consumers will always trust referrals from their close friends and family over ads or computer-generated results online.

Facebook is already the leading traffic source for news websites – who spend less and less money on Search Engine Marketing (SEM) due to the high Cost-Per-Click (CPC). However, retailers and other performance-focused (CPC) advertisers invest more in search because many people research products online prior to purchase. Still, a recommendation from a friend about a product will almost always trump an online ad.

This is definitely going to be an interesting trend to watch in the next few years. Please share your thoughts on how you think it will all play out?

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2 thoughts on “Could word-of-mouth web traffic referrals eclipse search referrals?

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