Google has reigned as the world’s most popular search engine for over two decades with very few competitive threats – that is, until TikTok arrived. According to a Google executive, “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”.
To most internet users over the age of 25, it’s hard to imagine how anything could beat out Google, so why are teens making the switch to TikTok as their preferred search engine?
It’s all about the visual and interactive experience
Gen Z is the first generation to have grown up alongside the growth of technology and social media, making them an extremely unique and visually-driven age group.
A focus group held by Social Media Strategist Adrienne Sheares gave us insight into the minds of teens and their search habits. The key takeaway from this focus group was that to Gen Z, consuming videos is simply easier and more efficient than reading.
Receiving the information you’re looking for in the least possible amount of time is a big driving force behind the shift to using TikTok as a search engine. One focus group participant stated, “you don’t want to read, you just want to see exactly what you search for”, which is exactly what what TikTok provides.
For example, searching for the “best patios in Vancouver” on TikTok presents you with hundreds of videos that quickly showcases the highlights of each location, making it easy to quickly swipe through the feed and crowdsource information to inform a purchase decision. TikTok comments are an added layer of reference, allowing users to verify the accuracy of the video’s review through the opinions of commenters. The results of a TikTok search also present a more authentic and truthful representation of users’ opinions as most content is organically shared user generated content, rather than paid advertisements.
Typing the same search query into Google presents a less streamlined, visual and interactive experience than TikTok, as users have to read through text-heavy reviews and blog posts to gather information. In a New York Times article, an avid TikTok-searcher expressed that the results from TikTok “don’t seem as biased” in comparison to Google’s, adding that she values hearing “a different opinion than what ads and websites optimized for Google say.”
A one-stop shop for lifestyle content
TikTok has become Gen Z’s most used social media platform, where they spend an average of 90 minutes each day swiping through videos. With over 1 billion monthly active users, chances are that someone, somewhere, has made a video about just about anything you could think of.
According to Sheares’ Gen Z focus group, the majority of TikTok searches are within the lifestyle category, such as fashion, beauty, travel and entertainment. To illustrate this for the non-teenage reader, where Millennials might turn to Pinterest or Instagram for fashion and home decor inspiration, or Facebook for keeping up with friends, Gen Z turns to TikTok.
Though Gen Z is happy to use TikTok as their primary information source for most topics, Sheares’ noted that the generation is very internet-savvy and they understand that misinformation is something to be mindful of when watching consumer-created content. So when it comes to important topics like news and health, Gen Z still relies on Google.
TikTok has taken notice of the rise of TikTok search users and is now working to make search an even bigger function on their platform. The platform has been testing new updates like a “Nearby” feed view that shows users content posted in their location and linked keywords that appear in captions and comments, linking directly to the search page.
Though we likely won’t see Google fall from its position as the top global search engine, social media apps like TikTok are giving consumers a new way to search and discover in a more visual and interactive way.
Jump on the bandwagon
Brands can leverage TikTok’s efforts to take over search from Google. TikTok just announced that video descriptions can now be up to 2,200 characters, which allows creators and brands more space to add what their video is about, improving the likelihood of being found in search.