Is TikTok the New Search Engine? Gen-Z Seems to Think So

There aren’t many businesses that can calmly and with assurance say that they don’t need a TikTok presence. The reality is that over the last few years, it has become impossible to have a marketing strategy that doesn’t involve this particular social media giant. The reasons for that are many, and one article will likely not be enough to cover them all. The main focus of today’s piece will be slightly different.

For the past three years, TikTok has proven to be the most useful way to market new products and services (especially to younger audiences). It has also been the primary source of entertainment for people between the ages of 10 to 30, an age group that’s quite significant, especially considering that it’s the one that most often buys and uses new products and services. Proof of that is the way “TikTok viral” products get sold out almost immediately, sometimes so quickly that even the manufacturers can’t keep up with the demand (as proven by Drunk Elephant).

The fact that TikTok is the most popular and widely used social media platform by young people is probably not shocking. However, you may be surprised that it’s also becoming the most used search engine.

For over 20 years, Google has been everyone’s go-to place to ask questions, look for tutorials, find recommendations, and search for news. It seems that might be changing, and as unlikely as it may seem, TikTok may be taking Google’s crown.

Can TikTok Become the Most Popular Search Engine?

People have been using Google for all their inquiries for decades – from where to go for lunch to how to change a flat tire. The tech giant has ensured that its influence and usability only keep growing. However, recent trends are starting to show that for Gen-Z, TikTok is replacing Google as the first place to go when looking for any type of information.

In fact, recent studies show that around 40% of young people go to TikTok when looking for a new product to buy, a new book to read, or a place to go to lunch. TikTok is moving away from being just another social media platform that will die in a few years. It’s slowly becoming a more refined search engine – one that consolidates both search behaviors and preferences and is more involved with each customer’s specific behavior and interests. Interestingly enough, TikTok has vastly improved its search engine to accommodate user behavior. Those include predictive text, an AI recommendation engine (that considers CTR), watch times, and more.

If you think that using TikTok as a search engine is a trend that will pass, Google doesn’t believe the same and has already taken it into consideration. During a conference in July last year, Prabhakar Raghavan, an executive at Google, disclosed that the studies we discussed just above show Instagram and TikTok as preferred search engines for young people, a fact that’s clearly posing a threat to Google’s dominance in the field.

For some time, Google has tried implementing photos and videos into its search engine. Since 2019, some search results even feature TikTok videos. In late 2020, Google launched its TikTok competitor, YouTube Shorts, which uses the same format. It has started to include those short clips in search results to combat the younger generation’s TikTok preference.

Why People Doubt the Power of TikTok

Even though studies clearly show that certain generations prefer TikTok as a source of information, many are still doubtful of its influence, with some even claiming that it cannot replace Google as a primary search engine. The main concern of many Americans is that the facts shared on TikTok are not checked, so it’s easy to spread false information. Essentially, that means the news shared on TikTok may be falsely presented with missing points and dates, or they could be completely fabricated lies. That’s one of the reasons why, in the United States, TikTok remains the most untrustworthy tech giant according to users. Those who use the platform claim that while it’s a good way to pass the time, create engaging content, and learn more about your hobbies, it should never be used as a source for news and more serious topics.

What Makes People Choose TikTok Over Google?

Likely the first few reasons why the younger generation prefers TikTok are the following:

  • The younger generation has a shorter attention span – 30 seconds to a minute is the most they can spare;
  • The younger generation doesn’t want to read; instead, they prefer watching and listening;
  • The younger generation is made up of visual learners.

There’s this notion that we’ve all become lazier and have a shorter attention span, which leads to us preferring visuals over text. Most marketers will tell you that your strategy should include tons of short videos, graphs, and pictograms, as people genuinely tend to react better to a photo or a clip than a blog post.

While all that’s true, there’s one reason people often forget to mention when it comes to why TikTok is often preferred over Google: the quality of results.

Everyone knows that companies use Google as a place to post ads. That automatically makes it a less trustworthy source of information, as you never know whether you’re reading a real review or a paid article. What’s more, a TikTok search is more interactive than a Google query 99% of the time. Instead of just looking at walls of text, you can take a quick look at a bunch of videos, see which one has the most views, and immediately watch it. You can also scroll through various videos until you find the right one, and that process takes a few seconds. On the other hand, going through articles usually requires not only more time but also more concentration.

Additionally, users share that TikTok results don’t seem as biased as those on Google and contain opinions from different viewpoints. For example, let’s say you’re looking for product reviews on TikTok – you might see one or two ad videos, but just a few scrolls away, you will likely hear the review of an honest buyer, then that of another one. Posting content on TikTok is easy, and many people do it, while publishing blog posts on Google is mostly done professionally – by magazines, newsletters, and brands. This close, personal connection to the person sharing the review makes it more “real.” You can see how someone feels about a product by the way he presents it, and if it’s an ad, it’s typically easy to spot (even without a disclaimer).

In a recent New York Times article, several people between the ages of 20-24 shared how they use TikTok and why they prefer it, and their answers posed some interesting debates. For example, 24-year-old Alexandria Kinsley (who works as a social media coordinator) said she uses TikTok for all kinds of queries – from dinner recipes to films worth watching and nearby happy hours she could attend. She also uses the platform as a social media – a place where she can look at Andrew Garfield’s interviews and dive into weird conspiracy theories.

Nailah Roberts, who’s 25 years of age, claims she prefers TikTok when looking for products or restaurants to eat at, because “you can see how the person felt about where they ate.” Essentially, the fact that it’s another human being making the recommendation (and not a faceless website) makes it much more influential. It’s almost as if a close friend or relative is sharing the information – something that Gen-Z prefers.

TikTok’s New Feature Shows Its Desire to Step Onto the Search Engine Scene

The people over at TikTok have always claimed that they don’t have the intention to turn their app into a search engine. However, the recent feature they’ve been testing out tells a different story.

In the last few months, you may have noticed highlighted keywords in comments that have links to search results in TikTok. This new feature will likely take the app’s ability to spread content to the next level.

What it does is super simple – you can easily spot the highlighted hyperlinked keywords in the comment sections of videos. Once you click on them, it takes you to a TikTok search result for that exact keyword, showing you other videos related to it. These kinds of hyperlinked keywords also appear at the very top of the comments section, thus leading users to click on them. This feature still needs to be developed, as the keywords it picks out are only sometimes the right ones. The tech company didn’t want to comment on this new experiment, but it seems the keywords that get highlighted are the ones most often found in the comment section. This, of course, leads to cases where they’re either worded incorrectly or they’re not all that related to the video itself.

But, as with everything else, the feature seems only to get better over time. Its introduction indicates that TikTok aims for the top search engine spot by expanding its capabilities and improving the user experience.

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TikTok as a Source For All Content

All marketers know that social media platforms have a lifespan. They typically last for two or three years until another platform comes along and takes the top spot. We’ve already seen it happen with MySpace, Facebook, and now Instagram. Logically, everyone expects TikTok to become the next “victim” of this trend.

However, the one thing that keeps TikTok stay afloat is constant creative improvement. Unlike most social media platforms that just start copying after they hit their pinnacle, TikTok keeps developing new ways to make users stay on the app. For example, in the beginning, you could only post 30-second or 60-second videos on the platform. As a content creator, you’d have to post on YouTube for anything longer. Once TikTok noticed that, they quickly amended the rules, and now you can post three-minute, six-minute, and even 10-minute-long videos on the app. This, in many ways, replaces the need for posting on YouTube for a lot of creators. Then TikTok introduced the “stories” format – allowing its users to post several different images/videos in a “story” that disappears after just 24 hours (similar to Instagram). One of the last “inventions” of the app is the “TikTok Now” feature, which copies the popular “BeReal” application and sends users a notification that they need to take a photo at a random hour every day.

TikTok spotted all the use cases that each of its competitors offered and tried to implement them in its own app. Some of its attempts were more successful (the stories, the longer videos), while others were less. Still, TikTok is doing everything to keep its user base on the app for as long as possible, and it’s succeeding.

In the New York Times article we referenced earlier, 22-year-old Jayla Johnson confirms that by sharing that she spends around two hours on TikTok every day and that she’s using the app as a replacement for both Instagram and Google. In her own words, that’s mainly thanks to the algorithm suggesting the kind of content she wants to see, so it’s less work – she opens the app and immediately dives in.

What Does That Mean for Digital Marketers?

No one expected TikTok to become what it is today. It was first seen as a fun app for children, then it turned into a fun app during quarantine, and now it’s the fastest-growing social media platform out there. The companies that first saw the potential of TikTok as a marketing tool have largely capitalized on that insight and have seen great results. Nowadays, for brands to go viral on TikTok is probably one of the main advertising goals, and perhaps the question of how they can achieve that remains a vital one.

From all that we’ve discussed so far, you’re likely wondering how the fact that TikTok is poised to become the new search engine will affect the platform. How can digital marketers and companies use this change to their advantage?

Well, let’s discuss.

How Can Marketers Utilize This New Move From TikTok?

TikTok is likely only to keep growing as a search engine, but is that enough of a reason to create a comprehensive marketing strategy for it and are those efforts worth it?

Whether TikTok is worth looking into for your company largely depends on your target audience and the kind of product/service you plan to sell. Certain industries and age groups simply thrive on TikTok, and for them investing both time and money into the platform is 100% worth it.

Currently, the top industries for TikTok marketing are

  • Beauty
  • Fashion
  • Jewelry
  • Art
  • Home Interior

When you think about it, you will quickly have the answer as to why. Most of these industries make money selling relatively cheap products to an audience of young people (and women), and the best place to target them is on TikTok. By creating a quick video – whether it’s a review or an ad – you can give your target audience all the information about the product/service and access to a community with something to say about it. That way, the customer is not only interacting with the advertisement, or with your brand, but also with all other users.

However, you have to consider all that’s happening with the current set-up of TikTok, which is still considered to be primarily a social media platform. If it shifts or adapts its focus and also becomes a search engine of sorts, that will give other industries a shot at using it successfully for their marketing purposes.

For example, imagine that you need to know how to change a tire, and you Google it. You will likely get redirected to some 10-minute video from 10 years ago with poor quality. However, say you type the very same thing on TikTok. You will get a single two-minute video, shot in decent quality and likely one that’s easier to understand. If that video comes from a company selling tires, then boom – you got the attention of one potential customer.

This is only one example, but there are many more from various industries, which is why this apparent TIkTok shift that may happen is something brands need to be prepared to utilize.

How can you be prepared? Let’s take a look

Know How TikTok Is Different from Google

You have likely already read a ton about TikTok SEO and how to do it right. However, before that conversation even begins, you need to know all the ways in which the platform is entirely different from Google. Typically, when you type in a Google search, you see results from either a brand that’s paying the tech giant or from one that has the SEO game covered. This is because Google’s primary focus is on companies.

On the other hand, TikTok is all about the user experience. It has something unique to offer: a free, non-curated online space. On TikTok, what matters most is the quality of the content and how relevant it is, more than what kind of reach it can get. Because the platform puts the user in front, your search results are much more individual and updated.

This makes TikTok a more challenging platform for brands, as it’s more difficult to predict how the target audience will perceive the content. However, it does build more trust compared to other marketing tools, as the recommended searches typically come from people who are creating authentic content out of their own desire.

As a marketer that wants to use TikTok, you have to change your point of view slightly. You need to put yourself in the shoes of the consumer in order to truly get the hang of TikTok SEO. While getting views, likes, and saves is important, for your brand to go truly viral, you need the user’s unique perspective.

Find and Use Relevant TikTok Hashtags

Hashtags are the key to getting discovered on TikTok. The first thing you need to do is find relevant hashtags aligned with the content of your video. Of course, this is something you already know, but it’s still worth noting, as many TikTok creators tend to use hashtags that are just viral but have no connection to their content whatsoever. Our advice is to avoid such tactics as they’re not only a giant waste of time but will also get you flagged by the algorithm and may get your account shadowbanned.

Another key rule to remember is always to mix niche hashtags with popular ones. The niche ones are typically less competitive and will help you reach a more targeted audience, while the popular ones are great for exposure. While they’re super competitive, they remain the best way to try and go viral, so finding the balance between the two is important.

Remember that your video’s caption is limited to 100 characters, so even though you have no regulation as to how many hashtags you can utilize, you still have to stay within the caption limit.

Make Use of the Analytics Feature

Learning to measure your marketing efforts is key to success, not just on TikTok but on any social media platform. You need to know how to use the analytics tab to do that.

TikTok’s analytics panel is pretty good. It shows you how many views your videos have gotten, how long people have watched them, and what kind of engagement they’re getting. Over time, as you post more and more content, that will help you understand what’s working and what isn’t when it comes to your TikTok marketing efforts.

Without analyzing the data you’re getting and adjusting your content according to the results, you’re essentially shooting in the dark as to what you need to do to get the desired results. That is especially true when your features get introduced to the app, and you want to make the most of them. By looking at the numbers and making changes on time, you will make sure your efforts are more effective and efficient.

Don’t Forget That Consistency is Key

If you truly want your brand to get something out of having a TikTok presence, you need to ensure consistency. The algorithm has proven that it values users who post frequently, so if you really want to grow a following, you have to follow a stable schedule.

Of course, you shouldn’t take this as a “carte blanche” to just post all kinds of videos, even ones that lack quality. Posting valuable content is still key, as videos that aren’t engaging or entertaining won’t be shown to audiences as much by the algorithm. To get results as a brand on TikTok, you need to be ready to put in the effort to create and post high-quality content regularly. Only then will you start seeing actual results from your efforts.

However, that’s easier said than done. Initially, you might find producing interesting and creative videos slightly easier. Over time, the more you have to do it, the harder it will get, which is why it’s key that you follow all the current trends going on social media. Not only will they give you ideas for creative content, but they will also make it easier for you to come up with videos that have the potential to go viral and truly entertain the audience. If you stay consistent for a while, you will start seeing (and feeling) the results of your effort as the number of views, followers, and likes will steadily grow.

Is TikTok The Future of Marketing?

When TikTok first burst onto the scene, no one expected it to have the kind of influence it has now. At the very beginning, people considered it to be a fun app for kids. Then 2020 happened, the popularity of TikTok grew massively, and it continues to grow even today.

We all know how incredible the leverage of TikTok as a social media tool has been. From how it changed the music industry to how it keeps creating viral moments and trends, the platform has proven to be a unique trailblazer in the last few years. If it makes a move (which is likely to happen) in the search engine domain, then it might change digital marketing as we know it. The companies and content creators that first saw the potential of TikTok have only gained from it. With the establishment of the new search engine feature, your brand has a chance to get on the next wave that will change the digital marketing game.

Nowadays, most marketing strategies are based not only on building a social media presence but also on building websites, optimizing them and their content for SEO, paying for Google ads, and doing email marketing campaigns. All of that can change if TikTok overtakes Google and becomes the main place for people to ask questions and look for information. That will lead to massive shifts in the way people engage with content. They will want more and more informative, fun, easy-to-understand short videos that bring both quality and efficiency. That, in itself, will lead to an even bigger need for video bloggers and people who create visual content. It will also completely change the value companies place on their blog, their website, and their non-TikTok-related marketing efforts, as it will virtually wipe away the old long-form content format and bring into the spotlight the easy-to-consume content that’s prevalent on TikTok.

It’s undeniable that TikTok could become the future of digital marketing. It has the potential to become a platform that’s sort of like a metaverse – you never have to leave it to find everything you want. Even now, TikTok has incorporated most of its competitors’ features that it used to lack – from stories to BeReals and even online stores. If the platform continues to expand its reach and dive into new territories, TikTok will become the main application for all digital marketers sooner rather than later.

To Conclude

Hopefully, this article helped you understand how powerful TikTok as a search engine can be. It’s a fact now that a search on TikTok is likely to be a faster, more engaging way to find information, and Gen-Z and younger generations’ preference for it is visible. As a company and as a marketer, knowing and acknowledging this development of the social media platform will be vital to producing valuable content that enhances marketing strategies and helps bring in new customers.

The reality is that the popularity of TikTok as a search engine will only grow the more functions the tech giant introduces and the better the user experience becomes. If you’re not yet using TikTok for your business, then maybe it’s time to reconsider. When it comes to search engines, TikTok is the new kid on the block threatening to take over, so you better get an early advantage.

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