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Is TikTok the New Google?

TikTok is fast replacing Google as the go-to place for recommendations amongst Gen Z. Why does this matter for your brand?


Olivia Earnshaw

14 Apr 2023

While TikTok may be known primarily as a social media platform for sharing a wide variety of short videos, it’s also becoming a powerful search engine in its own right. If I were to search for something as specific as “Best places for Sunday lunch in South London”, I would see a range of videos outlining recommendations in the area, with dreamy visuals usually shot from a POV perspective and even first-hand advice on which items to order from the menu.

Prabhakar Raghavan, the SVP of search at Google, said in July that “almost 40% of young people, when they are looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search, they go to TikTok or Instagram.” This is partly due to the popularity of TikTok amongst Gen Z and the known engagement with video content when looking for product recommendations and lifestyle content. They want to see a visual representation of something rather than read about it. “Things to do in Verona”, “Rooftop bars in London”, “Skincare in your 20’s”, you name it, TikTok can recommend it and present it in a way that feels authentic.

This authenticity is the key difference between the content that is offered on TikTok in comparison to Google. Globally, an average of 53% of TikTok users* say they trust others to be their real selves on TikTok, and this “realness” is what attracts Gen Z to trust recommendations. For example, if you were to Google ‘top things to do in Edinburgh’, you would see less engaging articles and blogs that most likely feature paid promotions.

However, when searching this on TikTok, you will see vibrant short-form videos with a point-of-view preview from someone that has been to Edinburgh themselves. Within TikTok, users can view like counts to see how many people agree with the video as well as check out comments to view other users’ feedback, which helps validate the recommendation.

Almost 40% of young people, when they are looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search, they go to TikTok or Instagram

On top of this, TikTok’s success as a search engine is largely excelled by its unique algorithm. The “For You Page” holds an endless feed of curated content the TikTok algorithm has personalised to the user’s interests. According to TikTok: “The system recommends content by ranking videos based on a combination of factors — starting from interests you express as a new user, and adjusting for things you indicate you’re not interested in.” Therefore, it makes sense that a user would choose to search for recommendations on an app that supposedly knows their likes and interests over a broader search engine, like Google.

TikTok is well aware of this development and even made an Ad to push the message further. The Ad presented a simple scenario: a father moving into a new home with the help of his daughter. Throughout the clip, you can see TikTok come to the rescue from hacks to freshen up the carpet to quick dinner recipes. As the Father looks increasingly impressed with the content suggestions, the words “Search it with TikTok” appears on the screen.

Screenshot 2023 04 13 at 15 37 07

So, what does this mean for brands? The popularity of the TikTok search engine amongst young audiences holds significant weight when it comes to people seeking information. Social channels act as a brand’s digital storefront, where they can engage with their community and gain potential customers by being discoverable on search. This offers a huge opportunity for brands to optimise their content for TikTok SEO.

Here are 3 things brands should think about when approaching this:

1. Getting on your audience’s For You Page.

What problem does your company solve, and how does that relate to TikTok categories and subcultures? It’s important for brands to tap into a specific niche with their marketing to gain success. TikTok thrives on self-expression and authenticity which makes it the perfect space for subcultures to develop and for brands to connect with these audiences. When a brand is able to authentically speak to the interests of a subculture, they're able to gain credibility and build leverage in influencing conversions. TikTok says to stop thinking about "who" your audience is and to start thinking about "what" interests them. The more consistently you share videos related to your niche and their interests, the more the TikTok algorithm will recognise your expertise and begin to serve your content to the right audience.

For example, take a fashion brand. On one hand, they create content for a broader subcategory (fashion). On the other hand, they delve deeper into niche communities by focusing on specific topics, such as sustainable fashion. Which content do you think will perform better and lead to a stronger connection with your community?

Finding your brand’s niche and targeting these subcultures can help drive incredible value for your business as you establish a deeper, more authentic connection with them through organic content. Think and act as a consumer, not as a brand!

2. Are your customers already searching for you?

As we see an increase in the use of TikTok as a search engine, the importance of your brand being present on the platform is clearer now more than ever. TikTok creates a space for brands to enter conversations and engage with customers that may already be searching for what the brand has to offer. 93% of TikTok users have taken action after viewing a TikTok video. This customer behaviour demonstrates how brands have the potential to gain customers by being discoverable on search. So, how do we make sure we are reaching these individuals?

TikTok pays close attention to "video information" - a category that includes the caption, the sound, and the relevant hashtags on each post. To increase success, brands can add keywords tailored towards your niche into copy, hashtags, and video descriptions. The use of these will help increase the visibility of your content and will ensure users find you when searching for topics relevant to your brand.

To see what hashtags are relevant to your niche, head to the search bar. Figure out what beliefs and interests your target audience is aligned with and type those keywords in. You can immediately see what hashtags are being used within those conversations and the number of views they have.

Keep an eye out for those with fewer views, this could indicate a passionate subculture and potential brand opportunity.

3. Find the players in your niche.

Not only do you want your brand to come up on searches but you want trusted content creators to push your brand further. Consumers visit TikTok for authenticity. This can be used in a brand’s favour as it increases trust with creators on the platform, whether from being known within a subculture or consumers trusting creator content that appears on their For You Page due to the TikTok algorithm.

TikTok creators have spent time and effort building a relationship with their followers by being honest and authentic through their content. By harnessing the power of creators you can also connect with your key subculture in an engaging and authentic way, presenting an opportunity to build relationships with some of the key players in that niche, who already have a voice, a following, and most importantly, an interest in your brand.

To summarise

1) The popularity of the TikTok search engine amongst young audiences offers a huge opportunity for brands to optimise their content for TikTok SEO.

2) Finding your brand’s niche and targeting these subcultures on TikTok can help drive incredible value for your business as you establish a deeper, more authentic connection through organic content.

3) Brands should consider copy, hashtags, sounds, and video descriptions that target their niche. The use of these will help ensure your targeted audience can find you.

4) TikTok creators are a great way to push trusted content around your brand to a specific subculture.

If you ever want to chat through all things TikTok, email us at [email protected]

*Source: Nielsen Custom Authenticity Study commissioned by TikTok, Persons 18+, International: 2/23/21 - 3/2/21, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, Canada, Indonesia, South Korea, n=1000/each region; US: 5/1/2020 - 6/19/2020, United States, n=1034; Global combines US and International markets