TikTok vs Google: A new search engine era?

Adele Webb Written by Adele Webb

6 min read   -  7th May, 2024

TikTok vs Google: A new search engine era?

Have you ever considered using TikTok as a search engine? It might not be your first thought when the giants of Google, Bing and even Yahoo are ingrained in every modern marketer’s mind. After all, we’ve been using them as conventional search engines for decades.

But something quite unexpected has happened to the social media app TikTok; Gen Z has been using it as a search engine, often without making a deliberate choice to steer clear of Google. Far from a passing trend, the digital search landscape is currently experiencing a seismic shift as TikTok emerges as competition worth taking very seriously.

In this article, we’ll dive into just what makes TIkTok such a useful tool to leverage in digital marketing, and how it fits into the ever evolving digital landscape:

Let’s set the scene

The long story short is this: TikTok, primarily known as a short-form video sharing app, has expanded its functionalities to include search capabilities. Due to the sheer volume and diversity of content on TikTok, many users have started to pick up on just how efficient TikTok is as a way of searching for inspiration and information.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, Gen Z are its primary user base, famous for their love of digital trends and social media usage across many apps and devices as a way of life.

So where are these searches taking place within the app? It’s all about the scroll.

TikTok has an incredibly powerful discovery mechanism in its algorithm-driven feed of videos that seemingly go on forever. These serve up fresh content to users 24/7, based on their preferences and previous searches. It’s part of what makes TikTok so popular; not only is it entertaining, it’s an increasingly accurate resource for finding inspiration and information on a given topic, service or product.

The irony of TikTok being used as a search engine is that for many users, the original appeal of the platform was that you don’t have to search for things manually. Videos start playing as soon as you open the app, and the algorithm is at work choosing content for you based on your preferences and digital history.  

Did we mention how popular this app is? It consistently surpassed over a billion monthly active users worldwide. As far as the future of marketing is concerned, if you work in the digital search space, it’s time to take notice of TikTok and explore what it could do for your business as a search engine.

Google vs. TikTok 

Google has long dominated the search engine market, offering comprehensive search functionalities across various content formats. Google has become so famous and commonplace that the act of even using a search engine to find out some information is summed up with the phrase “Google it”. It also stands as a powerful presence in the digital media space, monopolising the majority of the search engine market with over 91% of the global market share month after month.

TikTok, leveraging its vast user-generated content library, is now positioning itself as a viable alternative to traditional search engines. This isn’t new news; way back in 2022 we began to see the app being used for its search functionality. But this style of usage has increased each year, as TikTok has taken notice of how its content is being searched and explored.

The platform's search feature enables users to discover content based on hashtags, keywords, and user-generated metadata, creating a more dynamic and interactive search experience compared to the very manual, legacy style of Google.

What impact is TikTok predicted to have on search?

In 2022, when being interviewed at Brainstorm Tech, the Senior Vice President of Google, Prabhakar Raghavan, discussed how the company’s studies had found that “something like almost 40 percent of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search. They go to TikTok or Instagram”.

He went on to talk about how users are now searching for information online “in different forms than before, visually rich forms”. This is a clear acknowledgement from someone with influence at Google that times are undoubtedly changing.

But does this mean the end of Google, or the conventional search engine?

We think this change could revolutionise the way that the majority of users search for information, as online content becomes increasingly more visual. The platform's emphasis on short-form videos and engaging visuals could redefine user expectations regarding search results presentation. After all, a lot of information can be conveyed quickly in a video, and not all information is best explained via text or links to further websites that may or may not have what you’re looking for. 

What’s more, TikTok's algorithmic prowess in delivering personalised content recommendations may challenge Google's dominance in providing relevant search results. When searching on TikTok, due to the accuracy of hashtags and other metadata, often created by the original uploader of the video, TikTok is constantly increasing its accuracy.

Should you be diversifying - what would be the benefits?

So, what does this mean for you as a marketer? If you were to start testing out TikTok as an option in your next marketing campaign, with its search engine function in mind, what would you benefit from? Let’s break down some highlights.

Reach younger generations
Diversifying your digital marketing strategies to include TikTok can unlock new avenues for reaching younger demographics, particularly Gen Z. Almost 40% of the app’s users are between the ages of 18 and 34, so this is a shortcut to a specific audience age group.

Become visible on a leading app
Making use of TikTok’s search functionalities offers you an opportunity to enhance visibility and engagement on an app that is set to increase its user base exponentially in the coming years. Now is the time to enhance your brand presence on this platform.

Become adaptable
By diversifying marketing efforts across multiple platforms, you can prevent a situation where you become reliant on any single platform and adapt to evolving consumer preferences effectively. In reality, we don’t know what the future holds for any one search engine. So play it safe, and explore all options to improve your experience in the ever-changing digital landscape.

What are the pitfalls to watch out for?

Despite its rising popularity, TikTok's search capabilities may still lack the depth and precision associated with established search engines like Google. Search engine giants like Google have been at it for years, refining and adapting across decades of change, so it’s important to maintain connectivity to Google and other search engines across your marketing efforts.

The platform's predominantly informal and entertainment-focused content may pose challenges for brands aiming for a more professional or informational presence. It’s a platform that is tailor made to enhance the visual experience of its content, but of course many businesses offer vital services and engaging products that aren’t created with visuals in mind.

TikTok's evolving algorithms and user behaviour patterns require continuous adaptation and refinement of marketing strategies to ensure effectiveness. So don’t think you can set and forget a campaign on TikTok. It will change and fluctuate more than a typical search engine algorithm, so your marketing campaigns will have to be just as flexible.

In conclusion

In short, TikTok being used as a search engine marks a massive shift in how users engage with and discover digital content. Google is currently still number one in the search engine space, with a firm monopoly over the majority of the digital market. But the explosive popularity of TikTok for younger generations presents some truly innovative search engine opportunities for brands that are open to exploring diverse avenues of search.

If you choose to diversify to TikTok, you may bring in a fresh audience and creative prospect to your marketing. However, it’s worth working intentionally on staying one step ahead, as TikTok presents a lot of very new and competitive challenges as marketers flock to this platform.

If you’re feeling creative, innovative and a little bit radical, it’s time to diversify and bring in a new engaged audience to your next marketing campaign.

It starts with discovery

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Speak to us today and let’s start growing your business.