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No. 1 Way Customers Find Your Website

Social media may get loads of attention from marketers--but it's not the biggest bang for your buck. Here's where you should be putting your money.

Effective marketing starts with knowing how customers find you, whether in traditional ways or online. Among other things, that means knowing how people stumble onto your website.

With all of the attention given to Twitter and Facebook marketing strategies, you might think that, of course, social media is the main driver. But you'd be wrong.

According to a Forrester annual study, search is still the favorite way to go. In fact, not only is it still tops, but it even grew from 2011 to 2012.

What Happened

Social was supposed to change how everyone interacted with the Web. And it has--but when you're running a business at a time of change, you have to keep in mind that people change their habits differently from the predictions of experts, pundits, and others that may have a financial interest in adoption of technology.

Rarely do consumers have such interest. They use what they feel comfortable with and what works best for them. According to this survey of 33,000 online users, search is king, with 54 percent of respondents last year saying that the use search. (They were asked to select all the ways they used to find websites.) That compares to only 50 percent in 2011.

Social networking sites came in at 32 percent--far off from online search, but up significantly from 25 percent in 2011. In that year, taking second place was links from other websites at 31 percent. Last year, those links were in third place at 28 percent.

Sponsored Search Doesn't Pay Off

Interestingly, sponsored search results on Google or Bing did worse. Far worse. About 18 percent of people said that they found websites from sponsored search listings in 2012, although that was up from 8 percent in 2011. Still, given how many companies spend a lot of time, energy, and money on sponsored listings to gain attention, it is sobering to realize just how little attention people pay to them. If you aren't continuing to work on attracting attention from search engines, you're missing the single most important tool available to you.

Last year, email from a company or brand was the fourth best way to get a consumer's attention: 26 percent pointed to responding to a corporation email, versus 15 percent the previous year. That's even better than the 25 percent that responded to an email from a friend or family member (26 percent in 2011).

Last updated: Jun 26, 2013

ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist

Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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