As more users flock to the TikTok search engine, should we start to rethink how content marketing is approached on the platform? Furthermore, where does Google stand now that TikTok is eating into its search traffic, and how does this impact the overall state of marketing?
TikTok vs Google
As if dominating the short-form video space wasn’t enough, TikTok has now become a thorn in Google’s side.
Data from a US commissioned study showed that nearly 40% of 18-24 year-olds, or Gen-Z, prefer to make web searches via Instagram or TikTok instead of Google.
How do people use TikTok as a search engine?
The idea of TikTok operating as a search engine has become more recognizable over the last year. Gen-Z audiences are using the likes of TikTok and Instagram to search for things to do, places to try, and even what the latest stories in the news are, as opposed to Google’s traditional discovery engines.
TikTok is emerging as a prominent source of news and information for most consumers, not just Get-Z. A UK-based survey highlighted TikTok as the fastest growing source of news amongst adults, while already holding considerable influence over younger users.
For every search related query, TikTok (probably) has a niche community dedicated to sharing content. Though there are thousands of videos and snippets of knowledge available, there is also fuel for misinformation, which has been known to surface in the app.
The development of TikTok points to a broader trend for social media platforms that are being used for seeking information. Things like restaurant recommendations, beauty hacks and travel tips would have once been the premise of a Google search, but now it looks like TikTok is hot on Google’s heels.
The Impact of TikTok Search Engine on Marketing Strategies
TikTok’s emergence on the search engine front highlights how technology is evolving at an increasing rate. More importantly, it shows how habits around acquiring and consuming information are changing.
Gen-Z’s first choice is TikTok, which is preferred over Instagram and Snapchat. Despite having a younger user base, the platform isn’t confined to memes or videos of people dancing. Instead, TikTok is a hub for how-to videos, recipes and beauty advice, mirroring the likes of what Google, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube offer.
TikTok has transitioned into a platform that is used for learning, in addition to enjoyment. The emergence of teachers and medical practitioners that use TikTok to simplify a lesson plan or a common medical misconception shows typifies the shift towards educational content.
The impact on social media marketing
Social media marketing is evolving beyond striving for impressions and engagements, while metrics still matter, its now driving other areas. Marketers must be connected across multiple areas, with SEO requiring more of a focus on social media today with certain platform developments taken into account.
In July 2022, Instagram launched a searchable map feature, which enabled users to see tagged locations around them and filter each location to suit their needs.
Snapchat serves a similar purpose with its Snap Map function, enabling its users to find nearby locations that an account owner, or friends of that account, have visited. Interestingly, Snap also integrated Ticketmaster into the map feature so that users can see local gigs.
With these changes in mind, it’s clear that social platforms are preparing the infrastructure to compete with Google’s search engine.
The impact on influencer marketing
TikTok’s emergence as a contender to Google could shape a new format of influencer content, which would open up an opportunity for influencer marketers to activate influencers in new and engaging ways, tailored to this shift.
We could see influencers in the travel and lifestyle verticals start to tailor their content specifically to TikTok’s search algorithm or Instagram’s searchable map for example. While these types of content do exist, we’re yet to see marketers approach this with search engine optimization in mind. Expect to see SEO become more apparent on TikTok and Instagram, as the number of searches for things to do and places to visit increases across social media platforms.
The impact on wider marketing
TikTok has brought in a new way of digesting search results, and a new expectation for that matter. People are using TikTok for search at a growing rate due to the immersive and visually rich nature of each result. Gone are the days of false promises through search, thanks to the video and imagery on social media, where users can see the full picture.
As new users start to adopt TikTok and Instagram as a more fundamental search tool, Google will have to conjure up “completely new expectations” pioneering an “altogether new technology” said Google senior Vice President, Prabhakar Raghavan at the Brainstorm Techconference last summer.
TikTok as a search engine offers many perks, whether that’s real-time information delivered quickly and concisely, or in a way that’s engaging and enjoyable to digest. This is why Gen-Z finds information on TikTok to be more personalised, real and more valuable than a search result on Google.
This personalization of content and information has helped create an engaging environment where an entertaining user experience is second to none.
What does this mean for businesses?
While TikTok should be commended, it’s important to remember that Google still holds firm at the top. TikTok isn’t as good for researching hard information or recommendations relating to a certain topic or geography.
Google has built its algorithm over two decades and is widely considered a more trustworthy source than TikTok. Google is also a lot faster at gathering information while also constantly trying to improve and keep up with its competitors. While the interface has barely changed since the nineties, the tech behind the interface is constantly changing and updating around the needs of users.
If the TikTok search engine did start to overtake, it’s likely Google would tweak their algorithm to match its successor. If Google can always maintain user satisfaction, offering value to search intent, then Google will maintain its position as the number one search engine.
This means that businesses, for now, need not worry about uprooting their search strategies. However, Google may try to take some of the power away from TikTok by taking a page from its book. Just last year, Google declared new features that would make searching quicker and more visual for users.
Until TikTok can act as a one-stop shop for all information, and creators can understand search intent and user queries better than Google, the platform will struggle to overtake Google completely.
TikTok as a News Source
TikTok is one of the few social platforms that can report an increase in usage around the news. The app’s popularity prevails with young adults, with data showing 26% of all US adults under the age of 30 regularly getting their news on TikTok.
TikTok as a news source for regular users grew from 22% in 2020 to 43% in 2023, ranking TikTok fourth behind Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.
Is TiKTok a reliable news source?
An issue with receiving news from social media has been the accuracy of information. Despite restrictions on political messaging and a growing presence as a news source, TikTok has no safeguards in place to prevent false political information. A study by NewsGuard found that almost 20% of videos returned in a TikTok search contained misinformation. The platform has previously struggled to contain misinformation related to topics like the Ukraine war, elections and COVID-19.
In contrast, TikTok is a great example of mobile journalism, and is a great way for sharing news in real-time
Why do people use TikTok for news?
TikTok’s distribution of the news is packaged using the app’s short-form video format, which typically lasts 30-60 seconds. This means that news content on the platform is easy to consume and can be more engaging.
Take the Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard trial for example. TikTok provided a HUB for those interested in keeping up with the case. The For You page consisted of live streams of the trial, creators reacting and offering their take as well as mainstream news broadcasters posting to the platform to tap into the conversation. TikTok acted as a 24 hour rolling news channel for the trial, which for the duration was all anyone could talk about.
TikTok Expansion into Google Search Results
Google has taken notice of the presence of social media, particularly TikTok and Instagram, enriching its search results with content from both platforms.
The integrations, dating back a couple of years, places videos from both TikTok and Instagram on the search engine results pages (SERPs). Prior to this update, only YouTube videos featured in Google’s SERPs, but with Google owning YouTube there had been complaints around internal bias.
The surge of short-form video content proved too much to ignore, with Google finally incorporating Instagram Reels and video, and TikTok content into its search engine in 2021.
TikTok videos as SERP Features
TikTok videos display at the top of Google’s SERP, displaying a cover image, which when clicked takes users through to the video on TikTok. When searching by a TikTok users account name, Google will display a variation of that creator’s videos, with the meta description highlighting the account’s handle and following.
Will TikTok continue to grow and dominate?
TikTok is predicted to continue its rapid growth in users and time spent on the app.
Between 2020 and 2021, Statista predicted that TikTok would have close to a billion users worldwide by 2025. In reality, it is going to far exceed this. The app had 1.5 billion users in 2023, and this is expected to grow to 2 billion by the end of 2024.
The only thing standing in the platform’s way is the threat of being banned in Western markets due to concerns around data, privacy and an association with the Chinese government.
Should TikTok overcome concerns in these areas, adhering to legislation in Europe and the US, then it will continue to dominate the social media space for years to come.
TikTok Growth since Launch
Launched in China in September 2016, the short-form video sharing app took off domestically before ByteDance launched an international version the following year.
TikTok has grown into a full service video platform, with content available for all types of viewers.
Acquiring Musical.ly in 2017 helped TikTok snowball into the most popular app in 2019 and 2020, with 693 and 850 million downloads respectively.
In 2022, TikTok generated $9.4 billion in revenue at an increase of 100% year-on-year.
As of today, TikTok has been downloaded over three billion times.
What are the reactions to TikTok’s growth?
TikTok’s growth has been unprecedented. The platform has evolved beyond its association with lip-syncing, which had brands doubtful about marketing on it. The rate and sheer size of this growth has since seen the majority of big brands invest in TikTok marketing and its creators.
Google’s integration of TikTok videos in its SERPs, and its acknowledgement of its rise as a search engine shows how far the app has come, and the threat it poses to others in its vicinity. TikTok has become too powerful to ignore, and with that has come backlash from governing bodies in the United States and Europe, who have campaigned against the platform and would like to see it banned entirely.
Goat’s TikTok Search Engine Predictions
Though TikTok provides a new, engaging and immersive way to search and digest search results, it is unlikely that it will surpass Google as the most used search engine anytime soon. However, the app is slowly starting to build infrastructure around the possibilities of search, which means it’s definitely something brands should be keeping up with, especially those looking to reach younger audiences.
Brands need to have TikTok on the radar when planning their overall social media and influencer marketing strategy to ensure they’re capturing the right audiences, TikTok search engine is on the rise, and will become a large part of campaigns in the near future. Visit our services for information on how to get started with TikTok marketing, or help making the most of TikTok as a search engine.