Is TikTok Becoming the New Google?

4 October 2022

TikTok has become a global phenomenon, with explosive growth and worldwide popularity. And it’s not just other social platforms that TikTok is surpassing. It’s now also rivalling Google. By the end of 2021, Cloudflare’s Radar project showed that TikTok.com was the #1 most popular domain followed by Google.com in second, and Facebook.com in third.

TikTok recently announced an increase in their video description character limit from 300 to 2,200 characters. This is big news in terms of TikTok’s plans. This will allow creators to provide more detail about their content, increase engagement and make their videos more searchable. This might be the next step in TikTok becoming the next big search engine.

Senior Vice President Prabhakar Raghavan who runs Google’s Knowledge & Information organisation referenced TikTok during a conference about the future of Google’s products and its use of AI.

“In our studies, something like almost 40% of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search,” he explained. “They go to TikTok or Instagram.”

At a glance these figures seem surprising, however, Google has confirmed that his comments were based on internal research that involved a survey of U.S. users aged 18-24. Raghavan also explained how younger people were generally interested in more “visually rich forms” of search and discovery, and that wasn’t just limited to where to eat.

TikTok and Google might satisfy different search intents, however, TikTok is beginning to take market share from Google.

Why Do People Search on TikTok?

TikTok is starting to take market share from Google in areas including travel, gardening, and food. It makes sense to search on TikTok when looking for visual information such as food recipes, places to visit, and gardening tips.

However, there have been concerns regarding the spread of misinformation on TikTok. Even though this is a concern on all platforms, it’s more of a concern as there is an unprecedented potential for virality, and a large younger user base who are more easily influenced during content discovery than during active search.

Users have even started to search for TikTok content on Google.

To understand this further, we need to differentiate the two key behaviours on TikTok: content discovery vs active search.

Content Discovery on TikTok

This is the main behaviour and the one we are most familiar with, it’s the content you discover when you are scrolling through the app. This could be on the For You feed, Discover page, or your Following feed featuring the most recent and relevant videos from the creators you follow.

TikTok has been refining its algorithm over years, creating a positive content discovery experience that has gained users’ trust. They’ve helped users discover new restaurants, places to visit, makeup tips and even life and mental health advice.

Active Search on TikTok

Active search is when users type in a specific query or phrase into the search bar, this includes everything from creators, to hashtags, to sounds and videos. Users can easily scroll through content increasing user satisfaction, within seconds you can quickly watch an informative video showing you how to change a car tyre for example.

How Has TikTok Succeeded in Attention and Momentum?

There are many different reasons why TikTok has become a global phenomenon and is only continuing to gain attention.

Short-form video content – Younger audiences, predominantly Gen-Z prefer this type of short video content. It’s quick and easy for consumers to learn tips and follow recipes. This rivals Google which requires more active thought and can take longer to find the information you’re looking for. Short-form video content is growing in popularity and other social media platforms are adjusting to this type of content.

Ease of use – When searching for a recipe on Google it can be time-consuming, once you’ve found the right link you click on it and sometimes have to plough through text, images, pop-ups and ads just to find the recipe. This isn’t the best user experience and TikTok is completely different. You can easily find a recipe and the information you need within seconds, it’s this short-form content with the ease of access that’s causing a snowball effect for the platform.

Always-on game of relevance – Brands need to be ‘alive’ to engage existing communities, be discoverable on search, and introduce themselves to potential customers. It’s important to remember that searching ‘fashion’ on TikTok will yield different results from Google. A hashtag or search on TikTok can generate culturally related elements like people, live events and music that can be filtered based on views and likes. It yields a different set of videos that consumers can continue to relate to. There is a shift from the platform as a channel that drives action across a highly valuable audience that wants the best utility from their search.

Favourable demographic of creators – As an example, if you search ‘What to do in London?’ on Google you’ll have popular tourist destinations come up such as the ‘London Eye’, ‘Buckingham Palace’, or ‘London Aquarium’. Even though these are popular, it’s generally not what younger audiences are looking for. On the flip side, if you were to search the same phrase on TikTok it will show you a range of cool new experiences and exhibitions in London such as ‘The Crystal Maze’ and ‘The Big London Bake’. Within seconds you can watch a video of the experience and gain enough insight to understand if it’s something that interests you.

Google & TikTok Partnership

Last year it was reported that Google started to negotiate deals with TikTok to index their content in search results. Fast forward a year TikTok videos are now indexed, previously there was no TikTok content indexed and ranked.

We don’t know any details about the negotiations and how they will pan out, however, a Google spokesperson provided the following quote to The Information in reference to any search deal talks:

“We help sites make their content discoverable and benefit from being found on Google, and they can choose how or whether their content appears in Search.”

Back in 2015 Google and Twitter formed a partnership and it’s now hard to remember a time when tweets weren’t easily discoverable in search. Although, things are different with this possible partnership as there are reasons why TikTok could be reluctant to provide certain data that Google needs to properly index videos. Google owns YouTube which is now competing for the same audience of short-form videos.

In the long term, a partnership would provide Google with billions of new videos to index in search results, making the search engine a destination for both articles and videos. This could lead to an increase in overall search volume and more opportunities for publishers to be found.

Industries That Would Benefit from TikTok

Users are able to constantly discover new content as the algorithm determines what type of content you’ll enjoy, and topics of interest become small niches with their own names such as food-tok, book-tok, and finance-tok.

There are certain industries that can benefit the most from being on the platform based on data and case studies including:

  • Fashion
  • Beauty
  • Streaming services
  • Sports teams
  • Home & DIY
  • Travel

If you look at the suggested searches on TikTok, you can further understand the value when searching for keywords associated with commercial or informational intent.

TikTok is a great way for brands to increase brand awareness in all industries, with some brands such as Little Moons unexpectedly going viral creating an enormous rise in sales. Duolingo is another great example of a brand becoming unexpectedly successful on TikTok, within the space of 18 months it became a viral sensation and amassed up to four million views on almost every video it posted. This is due to the result of Zaira Parvez’s efforts, the global social media manager at Duolingo.

Conclusion

Is TikTok a threat to Google? Not yet, it is worth the attention of SEOs and keeping a close eye on how this develops.

It will be interesting to see how the platform progresses and if they can continue to grow their older audience further which is already starting to increase. With viewers increasingly having shorter attention spans and expecting concise informative material, it’s only going to grow even more in popularity and become the favourable platform for information for more people.

TikTok is the world’s fastest-growing social platform that can open up huge prospects. If you haven’t then you might want to consider building a presence on this platform and optimise for TikTok search.

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