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Australian consumer search behaviour: A study of privacy concerns and trust

Published on 11/04/2023 by Andrew Blair

We evaluated consumer search preferences and habits in part one of this two-part series. Here, we find out how privacy concerns and trust in information affect consumer search behaviour on online search platforms. Which search platforms do Australians find more trustworthy and why? 

A closer look at consumer search behaviour

The information age, also known as the digital age, has enabled access to an almost endless amount of information. However, it has also enabled access to vast amounts of disinformation. Disinformation is used to deliberately mislead and obscure the truth for deceptive purposes, which means consumers must be cautious when searching for information online. Which search platform do consumers perceive to be more trustworthy, and how do they validate a reliable source of information

Search platforms have increased the relevancy of their search results by using a combination of location and search history, which can improve the user experience by displaying more tailored results. However, how are personalised and location-based search results affecting consumer privacy? In our survey, we compared the preferences of respondents that use search engines with those that use social media to search online. In total, we surveyed 1,075 Australians to gain insights into consumer search behaviour. The full methodology for the study can be found at the end of this article.

Do consumers trust information found through search engines?

Search engines have traditionally been the gatekeepers of online information since the beginning of the internet boom in the 20th century. Since then, the internet has become a massive repository of content, and finding accurate and reliable information can be a daunting task for consumers. 

Of the 95% of respondents who use search engines to search online, nearly half (49%) said they generally trust the information they find but are cautious about it, while for 38% it depends on the query and sources. Only 11% said they fully trust the information they find through these platforms. 

However, when the results were broken down by generation, fewer participants from older generations (baby boomers: 6% and Gen X: 8%) cited complete trust in the information they find on search engines than younger generations (millennials: 16% and Gen Z: 19%). This suggests younger generations may be more inclined to trust content found via this method. 

Most Aussies at times verify information found via search engines

The following graph further illustrates the level of caution exercised, as the majority (57%) of respondents who use search engines sometimes double-check the information found via this method with different sources if they are unsure of its veracity, with another third double-checking it most of the time. 

Gauge chart showing the frequency consumers double-check information with different sources on search engine results

Google has recently introduced new features to its search engine to empower users to evaluate online information and sources. Features such as ‘about this author’ may appeal to those who tend to double-check information and help increase the level of trust among search engine users.

Is information found via social media search trustworthy? 

Social media platforms can be a great tool to boost reach and organic discoverability of information. 43% of survey-takers use social media to search online (38% use both search engines and social media, and 5% use only social media for online searches). To reach consumers that are turning to the search bar on social media platforms, brands may look to implement a social media strategy that targets social media searches. We wanted to know more about how consumers perceived content found via this method.

General trust levels are lower for information found on social media platforms than via search engines

We asked respondents who use social media to search online if they trust the information they find on these platforms, and most (57%) said their trust depends on the search query and source of that information. 28% generally trust the information they find on social media but are still cautious, and only 8% said they fully trust it, which is slightly less compared to search engines. 

Side-by-side stats highlighting general trust in information from search engines versus social media platforms

However, 7% of those who use social media searches said they don’t trust the information they find, whereas the equivalent figure is 2% for those who find information via search engines. As we saw in part one of the study, the second most common answer for why respondents who use both platforms for search generally preferred search engines over social media platforms is because they find the results to be more trustworthy.

Which social media platform is most trusted for information?

LinkedIn was cited most frequently as being very trustworthy (28%) among those who use it for searches, although the number of respondents who use the platform to search for information was only a quarter of the number of those that search on YouTube. 79% of those that search on social media use YouTube, and 46% of these users said the information found on the platform is trustworthy most of the time, while a further 11% said the information is very trustworthy. 

The following graph shows the top five social media platforms where information is rated as ‘very trustworthy’ by respondents that use them for searches. 

Multistacked bar chart showing the top five social media platforms where information is rated as ‘very trustworthy’ cited by those that use them 

Brands looking to build reputation and authority may want to distribute their content on more trusted channels, perceived as a credible source of information. The information found on Reddit was cited by 15% as ‘very trustworthy’ making it rank only second to LinkedIn among users who gave these platforms the highest rating for trustworthiness. Reddit is a social network where users can post content, comment on posts, and upvote or downvote posts. The platforms can provide businesses with a niche entry into a market by targeting groups known as subreddits and driving awareness about their brands. 

We further looked into the breakdown of Reddit users by generation and found that the platform is especially popular with younger generations. Of the respondents that said they use the platform, 22% of Gen Z users said the information on the platform is very trustworthy and 16% of millennials said the same.  

What are the most trusted sources of information?

Nearly half (48%) of the survey participants said they are more likely to trust information shared by a well-known brand, with these commercial sources being trusted by more respondents than scientific organisations (43%). This suggests that effective brand management is vital in maintaining consumer trust. The more effectively a brand can uphold a strong reputation and relationship with its customers, the more trustworthy it will appear. Small to midsize enterprises (SMEs) can therefore leverage their brand reputation to make them a trustworthy source of information while promoting customer loyalty.  

Surprisingly, 38% of respondents cited information from a recognised content creator as a trustworthy source ahead of information from the government (34%) and a news organisation (32%). Of the respondents that cited a recognised content creator as a trustworthy source of information, Gen Z (45%) trust this source of information the most, with levels of trust decreasing among millennials (41%) and falling to only a third of respondents from the older age groups of Gen X (34%) and baby boomers (34%). 

This suggests that brands targeting younger generations may be more successful in communicating information through recognised content creators or collaborating with influencers. 

How useful are personalised and location-based search results?

A personalised search tries to understand exactly what the consumer means and give the exact result the consumer wants. Personalised search comprises complex algorithms and uses data such as user language, location, and search history to provide search results specific to that user. How do consumers feel about tailored search results being surprisingly accurate?

Donut chart showing how consumers feel about personalised search results

Most respondents (83%) find personalised search results ‘very’ or ‘somewhat useful’. Over half of survey-takers (55%) said the main benefit of personalised search is that it makes it easier to find what they are looking for. Other benefits cited by respondents were that it can save time (23%), and that they get positively surprised by the results (22%). 

However, of the 18% of respondents that find personalised search ‘not very useful’ or ‘not useful at all’, the majority (40%) are concerned about their privacy. Although there are ways that consumers can take control of their personal data, companies should be proactive in building trust with consumers who access their content.

How to protect customer data 

Businesses can safeguard customer data by preventing unauthorised access to sensitive consumer information with encryption software. The use of built-in encryption, cryptography, and policy controls converts data and makes it unreadable to hackers. SMEs can then reassure their customers about data protection by providing a clear and concise privacy policy, which can help build trust in their security measures. 

Do Australians express the same privacy concerns for location-based search results? GPS tracking in devices and wifi or mobile networks can be used by online search platforms to determine a user’s location and provide search results that are more relevant to their location. 

Single statistic of respondents that find location-based search results useful

Two-thirds of respondents (66%) said the main benefit of location-based results is that they make it easier to find places such as shops or restaurants near them.

How can businesses increase their chances of appearing on local search results?

Businesses can localise and optimise their content to improve their visibility in local search results by using SEO tools to research local keywords they can incorporate to target a specific region. Furthermore, this software can help companies analyse how well their content ranks for local keywords compared to their competitors. 

SMEs should take advantage of the location-based results offered by search engines by setting up and optimising their business profile in listings such as Google Business Profile and Bing Places for Business. This increases their chances of appearing in the results for location-specific queries. 

However, of the 19% of respondents that say they find location-based search results ‘not very useful’ (14%) or ‘not useful at all’ (5%), nearly half are concerned about their privacy. Other concerns can be seen in the graph below.

Bar chart showing the downsides of location-based results perceived by respondents that find location-based results ‘not very useful’ and ‘not useful at all’

Privacy remains a concern for sceptics 

Despite the majority of survey-takers citing personalised and location-based search results as useful, we have seen that the main concern for naysayers is privacy. What actions are consumers taking to address their privacy concerns? 

The vast majority of respondents say they always (33%) or sometimes (53%) take action to protect their privacy when searching, with only 3% saying they never do. 

Bar chart showing privacy protection actions when searching online

Just over half (51%) of the respondents that take privacy protection actions indicated that they share as little information online as possible. Companies should consider this when potential customers visit their site by asking for consent when collecting information. These privacy concerns may be the deciding factor for customers to fulfil online purchases, and companies that are not transparent with a data privacy policy, or ask for unnecessary or sensitive information, run the risk of customers abandoning online checkouts.  

Reputation and optimised search results win over consumers

As indicated from our data, search engines are more widely used than social media platforms for online searches. They are perceived to be slightly more trustworthy by those that use them, particularly younger generations, although users exercise a certain amount of caution with the information they find.

Information provided by well-known brands and recognised content creators is capturing the trust of consumers, especially among younger generations. This may suggest opportunities for brands to increase recognition by collaborating with recognised content creators to attract a wider audience or to target a younger one. Furthermore, recognised content creators are often found on social media platforms, which —as seen in part one of this study— are a popular medium that younger generations use to search for tutorials. 

Brands that research their target customer profiles and the search queries these consumers are likely to use can optimise content for personalised and location-based searches that consumers find useful. However, companies will need to ensure accuracy, reliability, and transparency when providing information to consumers to build a brand reputation for trusted content on a variety of search platforms.

Looking for brand management software? Check out our catalogue! 


Data for GetApp’s Decentralisation of Search Engines Survey 2023 was collected in February 2023 and comprises answers from 1,075 respondents. We selected our survey sample based on the following criteria:

  • Australian resident
  • Over the age of 18
  • Searches for information or content online more than once per month

Respondents were provided with the following definition:

By ‘online searching’, we refer to the practice of using search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, DuckduckGo…) and social media (TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube…) to conduct a specific search for something in particular. This search can be any kind of information on any topic.

Some examples can be searching for tutorials on how to do something, searching for information about a restaurant you want to go to, searching for hotels in a certain city, etc.

When we mention ’search online’, we refer solely and exclusively to the process of intentionally searching online for information about a topic. Within this concept, we exclude activities such as ’surfing’ the internet, or using social media platforms, for example, just to look at the feed.

This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.

About the author

Andrew is a Content Analyst for GetApp, giving SMEs insights into tech, software and business trends. Interest in entrepreneurship, furthering projects and startups.

Andrew is a Content Analyst for GetApp, giving SMEs insights into tech, software and business trends. Interest in entrepreneurship, furthering projects and startups.